Celebrating Christmas with ParentLife!

Over the years, we’ve posted quite a bit about Christmas here at ParentLife Online. As you celebrate Thanksgiving and look forward to the Advent season, I wanted to provide an easy way to look through all of the Christmas and Advent-related posts here.

Making Christmas Traditions


Thinking about a Pet? – “After talking with a rep from the ASCPA about a ParentLife article, we found that many families adopt pets at Christmastime. Our monthly Real Life Solutions writer, Dr. Linda Mintle, has some good advice for families considering getting a pet.”

Holiday Safety Tips – “In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to prevent them from swallowing or inhaling small pieces. Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a young child to eat them.”

The Advent Season – Three Advent books to share with your children.

That Perfect Christmas Card – “Select a photo with special sentimental value. Don’t worry about the finding the photo where everyone looks ‘perfect.’ ”

The Perfect Gift – Short review of a Christmas movie featuring a ParentLife writer!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – “Our time with family was precious, traffic or no traffic! These are the occasions that make lasting memories for parents and children alike.”

Holiday or Headache? – “What have you been doing because it is expected or a habit but could probably be dropped from your schedule?  What truly makes Christmas meaningful for you?”

Christmas Ramblings – “I was dreading putting out the Christmas decorations with a toddler underfoot, I was sure finding time to Christmas shop was going to be next to impossible, and I was concerned that all of the holiday festivities would throw Jack’s schedule completely for a loop!”

Helping Kids Connect with Jesus – Advice from prolific children’s book author Dandi Daley Mackall.

More Childproofing Tips for Christmas


Exposing Children to Drinking Relatives – A Q&A with Dr. Linda Mintle.

To Santa or Not to Santa? – “Hamlet almost had it right. ‘To be or not to be’ is a great question, but for many Christians, ‘To Santa or not to Santa’ is truly the question to ask in December.”

Choosing the Right Toys Per Age Group – “The toys your children want are not necessarily the ones that are of great quality or of any value for that matter, but they are the ones advertised constantly.”

Christmas mantle


Blended Life: Making Holiday Plans – “Perhaps the hardest time to juggle a blended family is during the holidays. How should time be split? How do you even begin to decide?”

Christmas Gift Guide: Baby to 2 Years

Christmas Gift Guide: 3 to 8 Years

Real Life Solutions: Christmas with Family – “You and your husband need to make a plan that makes sense for you and that you can manage. Then talk with your families and see if you can agree on an arrangement.”

Christian Christmas Music – “I realize that perhaps saying ‘Christian Christmas’ is an oxymoron, but in our society … it’s sort of necessary.”

10 Kid Gadgets for Holiday Travel


Fun Traditions and UnTraditions – “Families were encouraged to celebrate meaningfully and playfully in ways that create lasting memories, not lasting fatigue.”

Gifts That Give Back – “But I don’t know that our Christmases would have suffered without half of those things we wished for on long lists.”

Celebrating Jesus’ Birthday – “Use a child-friendly manger scene to teach the Christmas story to younger children. They can make their own manger scene out of blocks, fashioning figures from toilet paper rolls.”

Helping Children Celebrate Christ This Christmas -“With the celebrations of Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Santa Claus, it is easy for many messages to be infiltrated into the true message of Christmas.”

Need a Gift Idea? – Reviews and comparisons of some of the craft/toy subscription kits like KiwiCrate, Citrus Lane, and Green Kids Crafts.

Real Life Solutions: Divorce and the Holidays

Strategies for Reducing Stress During the Holidays – “If she is terrorized by the sight of a big stranger in a red suit, respect her emotional distress and show your support by not forcing her to sit on Santa’s lap.”

Christmas Break Training 101: Making Yours a Success – Whether you’re sleep training, potty training, going to a big kid bed, or more, Christmas break might be a great time to do boot camp.

Merry Christmas from William Summey

The Doggie in the Window – “Christmas is an exciting time to bless our children, and you may be thinking about finally giving in to their request. Here are some things to consider before adopting a new pet.”

Keep It Going: Service after Christmas


Preparing for Advent – A little about the popular resource Truth in the Tinsel and another fun Advent family activity.

15 Unique Advent Calendars

He Sets the Lonely in Families – “Bless others by taking them into your family and loving them. It will set a wonderful example for your children and who knows … you might be entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2).”

5 Favorite Christmas Cookie Recipes

Real Life Solutions: Preventing Kid Mayhem During the Holidays – “Remind yourself that during the holidays, kids are out of their routine, sleep in strange beds, get little sleep, eat too much sugar, and get a lot of attention from family members”

Wrapped Up with a … Oh Wait, I Forgot the Bow – “The thing is, if you love cutting out letters while listening to carols and sipping peppermint tea, I think it can be holy. Perhaps wrapping gifts is one of your favorite things. Perhaps it is a gift God gave you to bless others. It’s just not mine!”

Special Needs Families Can Celebrate the Season Too! – “Special needs parents often feel isolated. I encourage you this season to reach out. Reach out to just one other family, or friend. It might take some work, but it will be worth it!”


Operation Christmas Child: Packing Shoeboxes for Children, with Children – “Explain gently that these will probably be the only gifts this child will receive this Christmas. Answer questions in a straightforward and truthful manner, but don’t over-explain.”

The Relief You’ve Always Wanted for Christmas by Ann Voskamp

Joy in the Midst of the Messy – “Our joy is not found on the presents – although that is a pretty great part of the season – or the traditional Christmas events. Our joy is found in knowing that Christ is with us now. In these moments, in the middle of our circumstances.”


Building Holiday Traditions within Your Family – “While struggling to celebrate this most commercial of American holidays without letting the secular emphasis take over, we found a mixture of fun traditions balanced with sacred traditions that did the trick for us.”

A Simple Gift Kids Can Make


I will update this list as we add to it this year and in the future!


A Simple Gift Kids Can Make

Made by kids coffee mugs

Last Christmas, the kids and I discovered this fun craft that is so simple! They made coffee mugs for all their grandparents and aunt and uncle, and a platter for the other aunt and uncle who are newlyweds. Their sweet drawings were a big hit. This gift is sentimental, adorable, and inexpensive – you can’t beat that!

Here’s what you need:

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Have kids draw on clean mugs/dinnerware however they want. You will want to prep the paint pens since they take a minute to get going, but then the kids can do the drawing themselves.

Bake your mugs/dinnerware in the oven for 30 minutes. Let cool.

THAT’S IT! Seriously!

These should be dishwasher-safe, too, although I haven’t tested that hypothesis.

Do you have a favorite easy gift for kids to give?

[Craft inspiration from Glued to My Crafts.]

Building Holiday Traditions within Your Family by Linda MacKillop {GIVEAWAY}

Making Christmas Traditions

As the product of a broken home, building a sense of safety, security, and continuity in the lives of my four sons became a priority as they grew up. We wanted them to have a strong foundation filled with assurance that certain activities would happen on a regular basis, and ultimately showing them the steadiness of both their parents and God. In the midst of a changing world, we wanted them to count on certain events returning each year, each month, each day—like dad coming home from work in the evening, mom being available after school, supportive family members to show up for their activities, and the fun of birthday and holiday celebrations.

Traditions mark the arrival of a special event, but they also provide sought-after predictability and continuity. Holiday traditions, in particular, mark special occasions as both a promise that the celebration returns yearly and as a reminder to kids that some days stand out more than other days because they are the basis and reminders of our faith. These moments are so important and influential that we celebrate them with regularity. By tradition, we remember Christ’s sacrifice weekly or monthly (depending on your church tradition) by taking Communion. By tradition, we baptize our children. By tradition, we baptize them into the faith through the passing on of knowledge through stories and reading.

In our home, we had traditions for each holiday, Christmas especially. While struggling to celebrate this most commercial of American holidays without letting the secular emphasis take over, we found a mixture of fun traditions balanced with sacred traditions that did the trick for us. We always had similar food each year, and the food is still expected today, now that our sons are grown. Chinese food on Christmas Eve (because way back when, most other restaurants closed on Christmas Eve so people could celebrate the holiday); sour cream coffee cake made from scratch on Christmas morning; and turkey, Ritz cracker stuffing, corn pudding, and pumpkin chiffon pie arrived at the table for Christmas dinner.

I find my sons must think about these dishes before they come home for the holiday, because they most certainly expect to see them on the table when they arrive. In addition to food, we always read the Christmas story, set up a manger scene in our living room, set out luminaries to light our way after the Christmas Eve service into the house, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

M is for Manger

Age-appropriate reading material, in addition to the Bible story about Christ’s birth, also offers the opportunity to teach about Christ’s entrance into the world. M is for Manger by Crystal Bowman is a wonderful book as the youngest children among you to begin to learn the great story of Christ’s arrival. This book is designed to become a family classic you will be able to return to each year until your children outgrow its simple format—unless they request the familiar story be read again – even to their own children.

Someday your family traditions may have to morph, and may disappear altogether as parents age, but for now, bask in the safety and warmth of them. Each family needs to develop their own traditions, but we suggest you begin with an idea as simple as M is for Manger that allows you to begin tradition-building early. Gather your young ones together this holiday season and form some lasting memories.


More about M is for Manger: Travel through the alphabet with this beautiful rhyming storybook that tells the story of Jesus’ birth. Begin with the angel who tells Mary that she is God’s chosen vessel and follow along until you reach the zillions of stars that paled in comparison to the star that announced the birthplace of the newborn King. Beautifully illustrated and written, this book will be a classic for parents to read to their children every Christmas season.

Sneak peek:
Mary gently wrapped her son,
then rested in the shed.
She placed the newborn Savior
in a MANGER for his bed.

Want to win a copy of M is for Manger? Leave a comment telling us about your favorite Christmas family tradition! We will choose five winners on October 16th. [GIVEAWAY CLOSED]

Congratulations to our winners!

  • Lacey
  • Maddy
  • Amy Tolley
  • Jennifer Cervantes
  • Maryann

Joy in the Midst of the Messy by Ellen Stumbo

Joy in the Midst of the Messy
source: jjjj56cp

Parenting a child with mental health issues is the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Parenting techniques don’t apply, and trying to reason with a child who is convinced a shark will attack her while she sleeps means sleepless nights for the parents, too.

It’s exhausting.

I hear friends say, “My son used to do that too! We gave him melatonin and that helped settle him down.” Or, “My daughter used to have illogical fears too, she grew out of it.” The thing is, mental illness is not fixed with melatonin or time.

For us, mental health issues stem from trauma. We adopted our daughter before her fourth birthday from a Ukrainian orphanage. We know she endured abuse, we know there was trauma, and not just one traumatic event, the essence of her situation is surrounded by trauma.

It’s hard.

Holidays are a time of celebration and cheer, but for our family these times seem to bring out more anxieties and emotions that are too big to control. She can go from crying to laughing within minutes, unable to explain what she is feeling, or why she is feeling it.

Where do we find the joy of Christmas?

Our joy is not found on the presents – although that is a pretty great part of the season – or the traditional Christmas events. Our joy is found in knowing that Christ is with us now. In these moments, in the middle of our circumstances.

Christ is in the middle of the hard. He is the middle of the messy. I can cling to Him and know that He will handle things for me. And there is no greater joy than to know I don’t have to do life alone, I do life with the One that became flesh to save me.

This is the joy of the Holidays, to know Him, to have Him, to know His great love for me, and for my hurting child.

Ellen Stumbo Head Shot




Ellen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor. Visit her atellenstumbo.com

Wrapped Up with a … Oh Wait, I Forgot the Bow.

source: Bugs and Fishes

I thought about doing something like this for my presents this year. Really, I did.

Just about every year I try to convince myself that pretty wrapping matters, it will make people feel special, etc, etc.

And every year I wrap up my gifts in dollar-store paper, sometimes covering a cardboard Amazon shipping box, and stick a 200-for-$1 label on it. Because, really, does it matter?

I was contemplating this yesterday. I’ve always enjoyed wrapping; I rarely use gift bag. Unwrapping is half the fun, right, especially when you’re a kid? But the fanciest I ever get is making gift tags from old Christmas cards, and it’s been three years since I even did that! Looking at those meticulously cut letters, all I see is extra time I don’t feel like I have in this season. My naptime quiet minutes are few.

The thing is, if you love cutting out letters while listening to carols and sipping peppermint tea, I think it can be holy. Perhaps wrapping gifts is one of your favorite things. Perhaps it is a gift God gave you to bless others. It’s just not mine!

At Christmas, I LOVE reading Christmas books to my kids. Every night, and all the time. I would read 10 in a row while they snuggle up on me. I love baking cookies and other goodies to give to people. Anyone! Everyone! Those are my special things, the things that make me feel alive, God-given loves, I think.

In our Post-Pinterest world, sometimes we think we need to be good at everything. Everything must be picture-perfect. But y’all, to make things look good, I have to do a whole lot of creative cropping. I am just NOT good at everything – and I’m guessing you aren’t, either. It’s OK to admit it and happily dive into those things that we do love, while eschewing the tasks that just aren’t important to us. (As long as those aren’t biblical things, of course!)

I wish you a simple Merry Christmas and a happy, imperfect New Year.

5 Favorite Christmas Cookie Recipes

Do you still make cookies at Christmas? Fudge? Other family favorites? There is something in me that just feels like I MUST bake cookies in December. Two years ago – since I was pregnant last year – I made cookies for weeks. Our kitchen overflowed with red velvet crinkles, chocolate chips, and iced sugar cookies.

When I was growing up, we spent a whole Saturday make cut-out cookies and decorating them precisely – from reindeer to stars to, on occasion, a dinosaur in a Santa hat or Bob the Tomato. I try to carry on this tradition with my children, too. I think my daughter is to the phase now that she’ll really have fun this year!

Here are my favorite Christmas goodies to make. Share yours in the comments!

christmas cookies



He Sets the Lonely in Families


My family moved to Richmond, Virginia, when I was 8 years old – quite far away from where my parents grew up and where all of our extended family lived. Dayton, Ohio, was a LONG trek now, and with two little kids my parents decided we’d go for Thanksgiving OR Christmas.

One of those first Christmases we were in Virginia alone, I remember a strange guest around our Christmas tree: my dad’s work friend, who had recently had a broken engagement and was suffering heartbreak. We loved having him among us, and he gifted me with my very first (and only) Paula Abdul cassette tape, for which I will be forever grateful to him.

Fast forward a good deal of years, and I am 22. It is my first married Christmas, and I live in Nashville, Tennessee, far away from my own parents and even my husband’s. I started a job in customer service on November 1, leaving me with no vacation time and the inability to take any even if I had it, due to the nature of service jobs.

I cried in my office one day over the injustice of it all. Christmas had always been steeped in tradition for my little family unit and the thought of those traditions continuing without me was enough to make me physically ill. I wanted my mommy.

Lo and behold, one of my motherly co-workers invited me and my new husband into her home for Christmas Day. They made us feel like family, let us hold the new babies and pet the dogs and call Miss Sheila’s elderly mama “Grandmother” like they did. It wasn’t my family … but it was enough. And it was a blessing.

So here is my holiday advice: don’t get so wrapped up in your own family unit that you don’t see the hurting, lonely people around you during the holidays. What’s one more mouth to feed at your  buffet? Bless others by taking them into your family and loving them. It will set a wonderful example for your children and who knows … you might be entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2).

When Jessie Weaver is not busy being the resident ParentLife Blogger, she writes at Vanderbilt Wife and also for magazines like HomeLife and ParentLife. She lives in Chattanooga with her husband, where they run after three little ones (ages 5, almost 3, and 8 months). 


This post originally published December 13, 2011. 

15 Unique Advent Calendars

15 advent calendars

December is creeping closer. I’ve already told you about two favorite Advent activities we try to do around here. But I also love Advent calendars, don’t you! We have a sweet little one with drawers now that my mom made. But here are some fun ones you could make, buy, or download to be prepared for December 1!


  1. Free Printable Bible Verse Advent Calendar
  2. DIY Toilet Paper Roll Advent Calendar
  3. Felt Christmas Tree Kit (buy it here)
  4. Paper Bag Advent Calendar
  5. Chalkboard Countown – buy it from Etsy or draw your own on a chalkboard decal or regular chalkboard
  6. Chinese Take-out Box Advent Calendar
  7. CHRISTmas Tree ($5 download)
  8. 25 5×7 prints ($35)
  9. Button Cone Advent Calendar
  10. Print a Nativity picture and color in one star each night (free printable).
  11. Love Came Down Pocket Calendar
  12. Basic Chocolates and Little Doors Calendars
  13. Coffee Cups with Gifts Inside
  14. Glitter Tape Advent Bags
  15. Stenciled Muslin Bag Advent Calendar

Do you use an Advent calendar? What kind?

Preparing for Advent

I know, I know. I don’t want to skip over Thanksgiving! I love it! But if you want to make a meaningful experience for your children this December, it might take some prepping.

I wanted to share with you my two favorite Advent activities that I’ve been doing with my (little) kids the past few years.



My lovely friend Amanda has such a heart for helping parents reach their kids for Christ. A few years ago, she wrote this e-book called Truth in the Tinsel. It’s an Advent experience: a 25-day guide with Scripture, crafts, activities, and application to help you tell your child the whole Christmas story – from Isaiah and the prophecies to the cross.

You can see my personal post about it here. But I just have to tell you how much my daughter enjoys this. I think this year, now that she’s 5, it will be even better. The Bible stories and truths are really starting to sink into her little heart. And I think Truth in the Tinsel is one of the best ways to fight back against secular Christmas. Make your focus Jesus … not presents.

{I love Amanda’s FAQ post if you have any questions about it!}


Last year I also put together a list of 25 Jesus-centered Christmas books on my own blog. I wrapped each one in Christmas paper. Last year, each night in December the kids picked one book to unwrap and read. They thought this was the BEST THING EVER, and I loved the time reading together and again, reinforcing the true meaning of Christmas.

I would really urge you to take December as yours as a parent. Refuse to go to every party and event if you need to. Spend the holidays impressing Scripture and truth on your child’s heart, so you can emerge from December refreshed and in awe of God’s great work through Christ.


Keep It Going: Service After Christmas by Tobin Perry

Hands of Love
source: jeffsmallwood

Service shouldn’t just be one month of your family’s year. Make it a lifestyle. Here are few tips to help you “keep your serve on” all year long.

  • Put it on your calendar. Whether it’s an established ministry you’ll be helping or a something informal you’ll do as a family, put it on your calendar—weekly, monthly, or whatever you can do.
  • Tap into your family’s interests. Your family will keep doing what they enjoy doing. Make what you’re doing a family decision.
  • Get involved in ongoing missions education. Southern Baptist missions education resources are designed to help your family become missions-minded believers. Servanthood is a big part of that. Visit www.namb.net/missioned or www.wmu.com for more information.
  • Debrief each service experience. Being intentional about discussing what your family did will help keep everyone on the same page. Sometimes children and adults see the same project very differently.

Tobin Perry serves as the online editor for On Mission magazine at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga.