In Advent, we prepare we prepare for the coming of Christ, both his entrance into the world as a child, and his second coming. If we wish to truly keep these themes then giving presents should not be the prime emphasis of Christmas. Santa Claus can be a problem. As for myself, my children have never been taught that there was a Santa Claus to bring them presents. We have talked about St. Nicholas and who he was and how he morphed into Santa Claus. Personally, I think the countries which celebrate St. Nicholas Day (6 December) have it right. Let St. Nicholas give out presents on the 6th of December, and just keep them away from Christmas (and of course be honest and tell the kids he is a man dressed as St. Nicholas, not the real one). Of course the Spanish have a good habit too. Presents are given on Epiphany (6 January) in remembrance of the gifts given by the wise men.
As to Santa Claus, be real and honest with your children. I have known some children who were horribly disappointed to find out that Santa Claus was not real. I have also seen some kids make the jump, “Well Santa isn’t real, is Jesus real? We need to be careful as to what we are really presenting. As to removing presents from Christmas, this probably won’t work unless you are just starting your family out.
Now to put presents in their proper perspective. Since our church is one of those which has a Christmas Eve service (Jewish days begin at sunset, so to the Jewish way of thinking anything after sunset on the 24th is actually Christmas), for out family we open one present after the church service and save the rest for morning, after our morning family devotions. If you belong to one of those churches which still have services on Christmas day, I would suggest opening the presents when you get home from church. This will help the kids see that Jesus comes first. My mother made us wait an hour between opening presents. During that hour we would eat chocolates and marzipan and either try out the new toy or try on the new clothes, or start reading the book. Do give your kids books for Christmas. Get them excited about reading. Aside from salvation, love of reading is one of the best gifts we can give our children. I also have a friend who does something similar, except that she also makes her kids write a thank you note to the person who gave the present. A wonderful way to teach good manners.
Gifts of course should match your circumstances. Remember, big showy expensive gifts don’t always show love. Often it is the practical gift which does. I remember one year at a gift exchange, I spent a fair amount of time sneaking around to find out just what it was that Carolyn wanted (a piece of cloth with flower pattern so she could make herself a new dress). It was inexpensive to me, but the look of joy on her face was wonderful. Unfortunately our children, like their parents often want the newest most expensive new toy. One needs to ask whether the kids really need that or gadget, whether it really help them, and whether it will still be in use in one year. Games (I am thinking of board games and card here, not computer games) usually get played over the years and help keep the family together. Bible Trivia is one of my favourites, as are Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders (of course parents need to make time to play these with the kids too).
Of course the real focus on Christmas should not be the gifts, nor the meal, nor the family. For close to fifteen hundred years, the main focus of Christmas was the birth of Jesus. The puritans and other groups who first came to the US often did not celebrate Christmas, because it had become frivolous and a time for people to get drunk. As the industrial revolution came upon us, it did indeed become a time of carousing. Hallmark and others have converted it to family time so they can sell more cards. Thanksgiving and Christmas were originally religious holidays following times of fasting. Having a feast was the Biblical way of praise and thanksgiving. Look at the Passover. And whether or not a feast was commanded in the Old Testament, there usually is one for each celebration, including the Sabbath. Family has become associated with these holidays because for many it is the only time people are free. Sadly in today’s society many people are forced to work on Sundays or in the evening, making that family time even more important, yet it is never to be the focus. That must always be Jesus.
By the way, do keep an eye on your family and friends. Christmas is a popular time for suicide, and we can often help prevent it by reaching out. Call your local college, and find out if there are kids who cannot go home, and invite them over. Singles or older or younger people who live near you, but have no family close by may be overjoyed if you invite them over for dinner, or even to snack and have egg nog. Christmas is also a great time to tell people about Jesus.