Giving and gratitude: Teaching children through holiday traditions

Years ago, our family decided to begin a new Christmas Eve tradition: Spaghetti! We wanted to add a little spice to the menu, knowing the traditional turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce could hold their own.

I set up the camcorder on a tripod, and we all had a fun evening, laughing at the extra attention and being polite toward each other for the camera!

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

– Deuteronomy 4:9

My wife Rita created another helpful Christian tradition early on with our four daughters. At Christmas, after one of the girls opened a present she was instructed to walk over and thank the gift giver. Rita knew a child’s (even an adult’s) tendency is to jump into enjoying the gift without expressing gratitude to the giver. This simple strategy of being thankful first, put pressure on us as parents to model the same!

This tradition in our family has continued for years. One beautiful example of Christmas joy happened when one of our grandsons, at just three years old, expressed his gratitude to us on a red sheet of construction paper scribbled with a purple crayon. A child’s simple heartfelt thank you brought tears to our eyes.

In the Scripture above, Moses gave Israel a very clear command to be intentional in their instruction of their children and grandchildren. He reminds them to remember what the Lord had done. Stories of his faithfulness were not to fade from their hearts. These people of God had suffered under slavery but were delivered by the Almighty’s miraculous deeds. Nothing they or their children faced could extinguish their experience of the Lord’s salvation. Emotionally recounting stories of God’s goodness gives mental word pictures that remain. Lessons in the Lord’s faithfulness inspires gratitude for his love.

“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them”

– Acts 15:12

Accounts of our answered prayers prepare our children to pray and thank God. One simple idea is to record your family prayers on the left column of a prayer journal and write the answer to those prayers on the right side of the page. Update your prayers weekly with your child and review how the Lord has answered your petitions.

Gratitude is as much caught as taught. Talk over meals about God’s work in the people you encounter at work. Describe how he has been faithful in their lives to overcome obstacles. Celebrating Christ’s birth points our children to the Lord’s generous love and gift of salvation.

Perhaps you designate “Thankful Thursdays” to write thank you notes with your children or grandchildren. Quietly and consistently thank people for the blessing they are in your life. Have stamps, envelopes, stationary, and pens together in a bag, so you are prepared to sit down for 20 minutes and write a couple of notes to those who need your encouragement. Keep it brief, and make sure to pen a verse from Scripture that reminds you of the person you are writing. Instruct your child or grandchild to always thank everyone, even their parents. Maybe write thank you notes for this year’s gifts. Consider Christmas traditions to create warm family memories that build gratitude!

“Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David”

– 1 Kings 3:3

Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach me how to teach my child and grandchild gratitude.

Application: What is one simple way to instruct my child to be grateful?

Related reading: Genesis 50:16; Proverbs 1:8, 4:1; Ephesians 6:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:9

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