Like most families, Christmas is the most exciting time of year in my house. The traditions during the holiday season create a distinctive family unity and identity that seems to get passed down with slight variations from one generation to the next. We find the anticipation of the arrival of Santa Claus to be a fun part of that tradition.
However, the Christmas gift list making seemed to start earlier and earlier each year. Like most parents of faith, I often dealt with the internal struggle of how to put more of our family’s focus on the true purpose of Christmas Day. We participated in Secret Santa gift giving, baking treats for neighbors and reading Luke 2 on Christmas Eve, but it still didn’t seem like enough. I knew we needed a daily reminder of Jesus Christ as the reason for this wonderful season.
It was during one of those internal monologues several years ago that a new idea for a December tradition started to take shape. I realized celebrating the mortal birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas morning has more meaning if His life and mission are better known and understood. From my experience as a mom of young boys and a background in teaching, I knew that scripture stories could be understood by very young children. This kind of daily studying could also be meaningful to older children, youth, parents and grandparents as there is always a new level of understanding and faith that comes through continuous study of the scriptures.
However, the challenge that first Christmas was finding a way to present the idea of a nightly devotional to my kids. I knew for my young boys it would need to be visual, tangible, and exciting. In a moment of inspiration the idea came to make 25 simple ornaments that represented our favorite scriptural accounts of the Savior’s life from His birth, through His death, and then His resurrection. A couple of those first ornaments required a bit of a stretch of the imagination or at least an explanation on how it tied to the story. I scoured all the craft shops in the surrounding community looking for items that would fit both the narrative and the aesthetic I was going for. Do you know how hard it is to find a wooden donkey?
Starting on December 1, 2008, I concealed the first ornament in a small gift box and let one of my young boys open it up. You know how much fun it is to open something before Christmas Day, right? He pulled out a star-shaped ornament and hung it on our tree. Then we read a few verses from Luke chapter 2 about Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus. There was definitely some customization of our discussion to fit the capacity of our boys whose ages ranged from toddler to barely older at the time. We continued with the same steps each evening until the 25th. We loved incorporating the available media resources from LDS.org and watching The Life of Christ Bible Videos, pictures from the Gospel Library and using quotes from General Authorities to enhance our nightly devotionals.
In our experience it seemed to me that we succeeded in evening out the ratio of gospel centered discussions with conversations about gift wish lists and jolly old elves. Our home was definitely blessed with the kind of spirit that comes when you start to focus more on things that really matter.
And that spirit has continued through the years. Now, our boys are all in school—ages ranging from first grade through middle school. We use the same ornaments. We discuss the same stories and teachings. Now when they reveal the ornament for the day, they know what the story is. They can tell it in their own words. We discuss why it is important, what we can learn from it, and how we can apply what Christ teaches us in our own lives. Each time we add a little extra layer of insight building on their growing gospel knowledge and maturity.
Friends, neighbors, and relatives that we shared this new tradition with were eager to give it a try in their own families. I provided them with a materials list and the set of daily scriptural references that match each ornament. They also struggled to find the right materials and had to make do with what was available. The response I received was overwhelmingly positive. I started feeling that this tradition was something to be shared outside my circle of friends.
The daily devotional materials are provided for free on 25daysofchrist.com for all to use. Whether or not you choose to purchase a kit, make your own, or decide that ornaments are not your thing, I invite you to try something similar in your own home. Taking the time to focus on the life and mission of Jesus Christ will be a meaningful tradition for yourself and your family and will bring the true spirit of the season into your home.
The website, 25daysofchrist.com, was open for orders starting in the Fall of 2012. The goal was to assemble a very modest number of kits that contained materials, except paint, that are required to finish a complete set of advent ornaments. Also included is a book that compiles all the scriptures, quotes and additional media available to use for each story.
There was a lot of anxiety that first year as I thought there was no way I can recoup the cost of a few hundred kits as I did not even know a few hundred people! My fears were unfounded as the idea struck a chord with many families. Despite attempts to increase the number of available kits each year, we continue to sell out before Christmas. Over ten thousand families now share our experience and we love to hear the clever personal twists they put on their own family devotionals.
Kati Oliver has a degree in Early Childhood Education from BYU and taught for a few years before staying home to raise her family. During this time The 25 Days of Christ came to life and thus began her accidental entrepreneurship. Just recently she has also gone back to the classroom as a substitute teacher. She resides in WA state with her husband Nick and her three boys.
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.