It’s the time of year when there is no shortage of advice on how to get the most out of your Christmas. Whether you are planning a celebration worthy of Good Housekeeping, or so exhausted that you are looking for ways to cut back before a single strand of tinsel has been hung, there is plenty of well-meaning advice to be had.
But if you are a Christian—and last time I checked Christmas was still a Christian holiday—it matters not whether your Christmas is simple or sumptuous as long as it is sanctified. To “sanctify” something means to set it apart for a holy purpose. Christmas is the setting apart of a certain time of year for the holy purpose of celebrating Christ’s birth. Here are seven ways to sanctify your Christmas by keeping Christ at the center.
1. Observe Advent
While the world at large is ready to dive into Christmas the day after Thanksgiving, liturgical Christians believe in the importance of preparing for something as momentous as the birth of God’s son. They do so in various ways: by committing to personal prayer and devotion, attending Advent worship, or otherwise taking steps to restrain the festivities and indulge in some reflection and penitence.
If you’ve never given much thought to the season of Advent, consider doing so this year. Dialing things back for a few weeks before charging full speed ahead into Christmas will keep the focus where it ought to be: on the Babe of Bethlehem.
2. Go to Church
Maybe you’re already in the habit of doing so. Sadly, an awful lot of people who celebrate Christmas aren’t. If you are one of them, you are only cheating yourself! Christmas is about Jesus, and the best place to meet Jesus is at church.
Find a church that offers a Christmas service on Christmas morning rather than conveniently at 3:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Church should be the main thing on Christmas, with gifts and food and parties squeezed in around the edges rather than the other way around. If you have never been to church on Christmas morning, treat yourself to something very special and do so this year. There is truly no better way to welcome the Christ child than to lift your voice with your fellow Christians in the holiness of a Christmas morning sanctuary.
3. Display a Crèche
Make sure that somewhere in your house there is a crèche, or manger scene. If you have children, it should be one they can play with, using the figures to act out the Christmas story. It could be something as simple as a nativity-themed set of window decals or a set you make yourself out of clothespins or popsicle sticks. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to tell the story.
4. Read the Christmas Story Out Loud
Speaking of the story, read it out loud with your family. You can find it in the second chapter of Luke and the first chapter of John. Consider choosing one of those chapters and committing it to memory this year. It will be one of the best Christmas gifts you could give yourself.
5. Don’t Cut Christmas Short
On December 26 the world will be ready to move on, but for Christians who follow the liturgical calendar that’s when Christmas is just getting started! Celebrate all 12 days, and top them off by observing Epiphany, also known as the Gentile Christmas.
6. Listen to Real Christmas Music
Listen to actual Christmas music as opposed to songs that celebrate Santa or snow. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but it’s the former that will stay with you, help sustain you in the faith, and provide true comfort when Christmas has gone and real life has taken over again. There is so much wonderful Christmas music out there that the run-of-the-mill Christmas stations ignore. Here are a few places to start.
7. Wear Your Faith on Your Sleeve
Invite your friends and family to church. Be like Linus and tell those around you what this time of year is all about. Don’t be afraid to say “Merry Christmas!”
Sanctifying your Christmas is not about making yourself holy or being a good little Christian so God will love you more. It is not about purging all secular traditions from your celebration of the holiday. It is about letting the Gospel of Jesus Christ have its way with you.
There’s nothing wrong with the “fun” parts of Christmas—the snow scenes and toylands and Santa movies and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But if that’s all our celebration contains, we are only cheating ourselves. The snow will melt, the toys break or be outgrown, and the delicacies be eaten. But a Christmas rich in Jesus will follow you through the year.
Sanctifying your Christmas by taking steps to keep the focus on Christ is not something you have to do but something that as a Christian you get to do. Steep your Christmas in Jesus, and let him sanctify you as only he can do. Merry Christmas!