and the joy and excitement of celebration --
all to be found in many American homes this time of year.
From the preparation and celebration of harvest and Thanksgiving to the last day of the Twelve Days of Christmas, there is a wonderful feeling of love everywhere, and as homeschooling families, we can take this time to learn, prepare our homes and our hearts, and share with others throughout the year.
At our house, we begin planning for the holiday season by preparing unit studies on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. This has become a regular tradition here, and one that is eagerly anticipated year after year. With each year of holidays comes a new slant or area of interest for our learning adventures, and we have never worked on any unit study in the same way twice! We use these holiday studies to help us grow in our knowledge as well as giving the children more time to thoroughly prepare for and understand the meaning of the holidays -- the history, literature, geography, science and music represented within the holiday theme.
In this article, I would like to focus on studying Christmas as a family unit. What does Christmas mean to you and your family? Ever take a close look with your family, asking them what they think? Write down their comments without criticism or discussion. Then, ask them what they like best about Christmas and then what their favorite holiday tradition is -- if they are old enough to understand. This is a great way to begin the Christmas season, and is usually a real eye-opener! What significance do you give to the true meaning of Christmas?
I first wrote the Christmas Unit Study to meet this need in our own home. We wanted to study this with the children, learning together and drawing us all closer in your own celebration. We were tired of the commercialism that had worked its way into Christmas and had to reflect very closely on what and how we had celebrated in the past, as well as finding ways to focus on the true meaning of Christmas -- the reason for the celebration -- His birth. We worked with the children to define what Christmas means to our family and what we would like to change. How could we celebrate Christmas with our family, our church, our neighbors and our community with the right emphasis? After all, this event we are celebrating was foretold in almost 400 different prophecies in the Old Testament - quite a fulfilling event when our Savior was born! Why shouldn't we celebrate it as least as much as we do the birth of one of our own babies?
Like me, you probably get overwhelmed with catalogs in the mail this time of year. But recently, one that we received really caught the attention of one of the children. It has a picture of Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus on the front cover, but it is somehow very different. My son looked at it and said, "Look, Mom -- they had a baby! Look at how happy they are!" Unlike so many other nativity scenes where Mary and Joseph have rather nondescript faces, this one shows them as parents getting a first good look at their new baby -- utmost joy and pride and awe and love. Their expressions also reflect what I imagine that God felt about then, too -- pride and love for His own Son.
We have tried to look back at the expectations we had before each baby was born -- the joy, the fear, the concerns and the love. As we talk about these feelings of expectations, we can connect them to the feelings of God's children as they heard for so many years about the coming of the Savior and their own feelings of expectation. Then, how Mary and Joseph must have felt with their own special knowledge about this baby and Who He was. You can celebrate Advent to take a close look at the prophecies, the Birth and what His coming means to you as Christians. We do things like learning some of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and having the older children look to find where each of these prophecies were fulfilled. God does keep His promises, doesn't He!
We also include some geography, following the path of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and try to understand what their trip was probably like. They had to travel just under one hundred miles over rough roads, using their feet and a donkey for transportation. It took them at least a week to make the journey -- contrast this for the children, using some other trip that they remember that was about that far, and how you covered the distance in under two hours.
We study what the area was like during that time of year -- quite a bit like where we lived in Florida several years ago -- no snow! It would have been a warmer climate, and citrus would have been getting ripe, with plenty of olive, date and palm trees. The children were so amazed to find out that the first Christmas weather was so much like that of Florida -- so then they asked, why do we associate so much snow with Christmas?
Another big question -- why exactly do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th, anyway? After hearing both sides of the argument over whether Christmas is a Christian or a pagan holiday, I decided to do some research of my own to include in the study and the findings were very interesting. Before the fourth century, Jesus' birth was celebrated on January 6th, along with the Epiphany. Then, as Christianity moved through Rome, Pope Liberius of Rome, in 353 A.D., researched historical records to try to establish the actual day of Christ's birth. Remember -- the whole journey to Bethlehem was to participate in a census and pay appropriate taxes -- record keeping! As a result of his work, the Pope decided to make December 25th the official day of celebrating Christ's birth.
Now, for the 12 days of Christmas. I was reading a beautifully written book recently, The Christmas Book by Alice Lawhead. The author has a whole section about slowing down the frenzy and focusing on the meaning of Christmas. She offers ideas like celebrating Christmas throughout the original 12 days of Christmas, which begin on Christmas Eve and continue until January 6th, which is the celebration of Epiphany, marking the Wise Men's visit to the Baby, the first visit of Gentiles to see the new King. Why not make cookies and have more of the festivities throughout those 12 days with family, instead of spending December in a flat-out rush to get it all ready for that one day, and be so eager to have it all out of the house! This way, we can avoid the let-down of December 26th and keep the focus of the celebration where it should be. We also use this study to learn more about the many Christmas traditions, those celebrated in this country as well as other countries. These might include the Yule Log, mumming, the days of posadas, and on and on. Have the children help with the research and then share their findings.
Use the season to read some classics aloud in the evenings while everyone is working on Christmas projects. Consider books like The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Dodge, and, of course, we read the Gospels of the Bible.
As children get older, there are two books that they might enjoy, Two from Galilee, Love Story of Mary and Joseph and Three from Galilee, the Young Man from Nazareth both by Majorie Holmes. These books have made the people and the nativity so much more real to all of us, and added new depth and understanding to the event on a human level.
There are so many books about Christmas available now and most of my favorites can be found at local Christian bookstores. Some of them are One Wintry Night, by Ruth Bell Graham, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson, 101 Ways to Have a Christian Christmas by Brenda Verner, and The Scriptures Sing of Christmas: An Advent Study of Christmas, by J. Ellsworth Kalas.
It is my hope that you all relax and enjoy the holidays, learning and sharing as a family, and that the adventures will bring you many happy memories in the years to come. May God bless you and your family abundantly!
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious unto you;
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.
Copyright 2008 Amanda Bennett