Christmas is coming! Whether that fills you with excitement or dread, Christmas is that special time of year when it is just that little bit easier to talk about Jesus, and we get to plan special activities with our families, in our churches and our SRE classrooms.
It can be challenging to find an exciting way to help children see the importance of Christmas when they already ‘know the story’. (Youthworks Ministry Advisor Tim Beilharz has written a great article about why you shouldn't be afraid of repeating yourself at Christmas.) But it is great that the Christmas story is familiar to many children. They know about Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus in a manger, the shepherds and the wise men. This knowledge frees us to help children focus on why the story matters and what it means. Let the children remind each other of the different people in the story, and what they did, and said. You can then direct them to see how this story fits into the bigger picture of what God is doing in his world.
One way to do this is to ask ‘How does the Christmas story fulfil the promises and hopes of the Old Testament?’ A good children’s Bible, like Marty Machowski's The Gospel Story Bible, can be helpful. Another question you could ask is ‘How does Jesus’ birth look forward to what he will do and say?’ Sharing which part of the story you love can also point children to the examples of grace at the heart of the story.
Here are a few more ideas that you can build on and use in your family, at church or in your SRE classroom this Christmas:
Repurpose your prayer cubes
You may have seen these useful items before, where each side has a picture or word to use as a prayer prompt. However, a nice big foam or cardboard cube can be used in a variety of other ways:
Add a picture of one scene of the Bible story on each side. Children can roll and tell that part of the story or one thing about a person from the story. This might mean the story gets told out of order, but you can always use another set of pictures to put the story in the right order afterwards as a way of recap the lesson. This will reinforce learning after you’ve already told the story.
Put a different question on each side of the cube. After the Bible time, children can roll the cube and attempt to answer their question. Some potential questions include: What did God do in the story? Who is the most important person in this story? What was the most surprising part of the story? What could we pray from this? Where do we see God’s grace? Another idea is using sentence stems, which could be used instead of questions. Each side gives the beginning of a sentence that a child can complete in their own words, such as: The best bit of this story is… In this story I learnt...The big idea we learnt today is...
Choose a different game for each side of the cube. Depending on your context, choose games that suit the purpose and time you have with children. In SRE, short games that allow you to reinforce the memory verse or key learning point, such as charades or Pictionary using the Bible passage as useful. At church or home, these can be longer games or Christmas-related activities such as a favourite family card game, writing a few letters to post to friends, or making a new decoration for the room.
You could also create a cube that includes a mix of all these suggestions!
Wrapping Paper mysteries
Part of the joy of gifts at Christmas is the mystery of what could be inside that wrapped box. Some ideas include:
Unwrap the nativity characters together. Instead of just pulling out the box with the Christmas nativity figures in it, wrap them up and make it a game of unwrapping each one in turns. Talk about each one as it is opened: How does this person fit into the story? How do you think they felt when they heard about Jesus?
Play pass the parcel. Each layer could include a few verses on the inside of the wrapping, along with a small treat. Otherwise, the wrapping itself could be a picture that the children then need to work together to put in the right order. The treat could be an item that fits with the story too. If you’re really creative you could use oven-baked clay to make little figures or items such as a sheep, a star or a wise man’s gift. Or, you could work together with children to create a pass the parcel type activity to give as a gift to another family or Sunday School/SRE class.
There are many varieties of advent activities that involve opening a box or bag each day in the lead up to Christmas. All of these can be adjusted to fit the age of the children you are caring for.
Give children something to work on over the Christmas break. It might be a memory verse, a set of Bible readings, or a song to learn, all building on what you’ve already been learning and talking about through the year. This might take some effort to put together initially, but how great would it be to start next year with children reporting back on what they’ve been thinking about over the holiday?
A memory verse activity. This could include a few options of challenges that children select from, like turning the verse into a song, making a bookmark or picture with the verse included to stick in their room, or a few pages of pictures to colour with activities to help them understand the verse. Another challenge could be telling three different people about the verse and what it means in their own words. Ask them to draw a picture of the person they told and write one or two sentences about how the conversation went.
Create a mix-CD or Spotify playlist for families. Music is a great way to learn and reinforce what children are learning from the Bible, as Youthworks' Ministry Advisor Emma Collett shares in this article. This could be used as they travel to and from holidays and Christmas events, encouraging the children to learn the songs that will be sung in Kids' Church, SRE or Kids' Club in 2019.
Make a ‘party bag’ for each child to take home at the end of the year. It could include a booklet of colouring pages that reinforce the lessons, or Bible passages to read with space for children to draw a picture alongside.
Celebrating Christmas is worth the effort. What good ideas have you seen or tried?