Celebrate Christmas Your Way


In a Hallmark movie, there’s going to be hot chocolate, a small town, and a business-oriented boyfriend from the city who’s going to get dumped for a small-town veterinarian, craftsman, or goat farmer who rescues abandoned dogs in his spare time. You celebrate Christmas by winning a ginger-bread house, Christmas cookie, or snowman building contest and then gasp as they flip a switch and light up a rather pedestrian community Christmas tree.

In real life, you and your spouse may get the most out of celebrating Christmas by doing very different things. I’m a huge fan of Christmas. Celebrating the birth of our Lord is worthy of extended focus, but depending on your “sacred pathway,” you may draw meaning from activities that don’t do much for your spouse. In the next few blogposts, we’re going to go through the sacred pathways (from the book of the same name) to help you make this season even more meaningful. The great news is, knowing each other’s pathways, as well as those of your children, will help make the celebration special for everyone. These aren’t exclusive ideas; you can incorporate many of them in the same house.


If you’re a naturalist, you’re likely going to want to cut down your own tree. An artificial tree may be more convenient, and in the long-run, perhaps even cheaper, but you’ll miss the opportunity of hiking out into the woods (you’ll avoid grocery store parking lot pop-up stores if you can), and cut it down. And once that tree is in your house, you’ll want to smell it, not just see it. If you’re married to (or raising) a naturalist and are worried about the needles falling and having to dispose of the tree in January, give a little on this one. The hassles may not be worth it to you, but they will be to your spouse or child.

Evening walks or sitting out on the porch could be your most cherished times of worship. Looking up at the stars (that now come out so early) and thinking of the star that marked Christ’s birth, will fill your heart.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in a place that gets snow, keep Isaiah 1:18 at the front of your mind: “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

I like to walk in the dark during Advent so I can ruminate on Isaiah 9:2: ”The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Winter is a much different experience for naturalists than spring or summer, so embrace the natural spiritual messages that this stark season offers.




If you’re a sensate, your best avenue to worship usually incorporates the five senses: taste, touch, sound, smell, and sight. Christmas seems designed for someone like you. You can thank God for the unusually flavorful tastes and smells of the season with breads, coffees, cookies, and candies. Pause to think about how God is so good that He doesn’t just give us “fuel” for our bodies; he created us with the delightful capability of relishing each bite. Our potential to enjoy what we eat speaks a lot about the kind of God our Creator is.

You’re likely to feel reverence if the room is dark and you’re sitting in front of a lit tree. Bask in the wonder, the ceremony, the meaning… And if you can smell a candle in the background and hear some orchestral or other music proclaiming the truths of this season, you’re going to feel very full spiritually, indeed. Think, less TV, and more moments like this that engage your senses rather than putting them to sleep.

More things to ponder: a crackling log in the fireplace, your favorite soft and comfy morning clothes, a festive place to sit, and your devotional time “cathedral” will be set. Don’t just decorate the house for how it looks, though. Think about creating a festive place to specifically meet with God that you naturally want to gravitate to early in the morning or late at night. What senses do you need to unlock so that your worship will be at its’ most attentive level? Create a place that fosters that.


As a person who embraces ritual and symbol, celebrating advent is tailor made for traditionalists. Get that advent calendar and make it a daily ritual to read the Scripture or eat the candy.

At the start of Advent, have your own advent wreath with the appropriate candles ready to be lit. Henri Nouwen offers a tremendous prayer with which to begin Advent:

Lord Jesus,

Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do and seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day,

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.

We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.

To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”


If you’re a true traditionalist, you’ll already know that you’ll read that prayer every week you light a new candle, not just once.







You’ll probably appreciate having a creche in a very visible spot, particularly one that has meaning for you through the years. A quick suggestion to younger couples: if you want to have a lifelong manger scene (and traditionalists usually do), buy a couple extra figurines of “baby Jesus.” Toddlers and puppies steal baby Jesus all the time. And a manger scene isn’t really a manger scene without Jesus…

If you’re married to a traditionalist, accommodate their need to get the tree on a certain day, or go through a certain ritual on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning. The present will always be connected to the past for them, so the more you can let the past in, the more meaningful it will be for your traditionalist.

Christmas, of course, is made for symbols: candles in the window, lights, an angel or star on top of the tree, and houses lit up throughout the neighborhood. When Lisa and I were in Europe one summer, I watched her be mesmerized by a famous painting of Mary and baby Jesus. I took a quick photo of the artist and name of the painting and found out that you can get amazingly good (and not as expensive as you might think) reproductions painted these days. Perhaps you’ll have a favorite painting or two that you bring out every Christmas season.

If you’re married to or raising a traditionalist, accommodate their need to have rituals and symbols, and you’ll increase their enjoyment and worship in this season.

Next week we’ll look at how ascetics, activists, and caregivers can get the most out of this season.

Just a reminder that I am offering signed copies of my books for Christmas.  You can place your order between now and December 5th here.

This article originally appeared here.

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Gary Thomas is writer-in-residence (and serves on the teaching team) at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas and author of 18 books that have sold over a million copies worldwide and have been translated into a dozen languages. He and his wife Lisa have been married for 30 years. Please visit his amazon link.