When Grandma and Grandpa Don’t Celebrate Like We Do

Your Christmases may have been hang-loose back in the B.C. years — before children. You were thankful for Jesus, but you didn’t give much thought to how the event was observed.

Now you have young children who soak up everything. It’s important to you that your traditions turn your hearts toward the things you hold most precious — the things you most want your children to cherish. You want them to love the Son who gave up his heavenly glory and power to become a squirmy, noisy, drooling, cuddly, helpless human. You long to see them trusting their lives to Jesus who was born so he could die for them.

You choose activities, decorations, and gifts that will fill your hearts and minds with Jesus. A manger scene becomes the visual focus of your celebrating. You think of ways to be generous so you can be like God who gives us every good thing we have. The children have books about Jesus’s birth, and you read the story from the Bible.

But there’s a catch. Everybody else is celebrating as they always have. They don’t seem to pay much attention to the amazing, life-changing gift of God. Maybe “everybody else” includes your parents and brothers and sisters. And maybe you spend time with your extended family at Christmas.

You don’t want to cause disruption in the family, but you don’t want your children to be confused or hindered in their growing faith. You’re trying to help them understand as much about God as they can at whatever age they are.

What can you do?

Ways to Make the Most of It

First, are your parents believers? If so, respectfully talk about the emphasis you want in your home. See if they might be receptive to some changes. Perhaps they’ve just been sliding through Christmas by habit, and would be glad to become more focused. But be tactful and understanding if they don’t want to make changes. Remember they are important people in your life and perhaps had a large part in bringing you toward your faith in the Christ you celebrate.

If your parents are not believers, your most earnest prayer is not foremost that they observe Christmas in a certain way, but that their hearts turn to Christ. Yes, it is good to explain the importance of Christ in your celebration, so they will come nearer to understanding what they see in your home and in your lives. But realistically, you can’t expect them to change their Christmas until their lives have changed direction.

In either case, as time passes, mention one or another of the ideas you have for celebrating, but do it in a non-confronting way. This will show where your heart is, and give occasion for your idea to be tried, if someone is willing. In fact, often it’s better to save these Christmas-related conversations for other times of the year, well before the relational stresses of the season might begin to press, and when you don’t risk seeming to challenge and ruin the plans that someone has already made.

Perhaps your larger family would honor your desire to read the biblical Christmas story sometime during the family gathering. Or maybe not. I heard of one family that wouldn’t even stand for that, but they would let my Christian friends lead them all in singing carols. So they “just happened” to choose only *Christ*mas songs.

Another family that was resistant to anything Christian had lots of children at their holiday gatherings. One year, friends of mine took along their children’s dress-ups and helped all the cousins act out the Christmas story. It was a hit, because most of the adults think whatever the kids do is cute, and most parents enjoy it when somebody else is occupying the children for a while. So the children gave them all a bit of real *Christ*mas.

Does Christmas have to be at Grandma’s house? Or could you invite everyone to your house one year? Yes, it would mean lots of extra work for you. But if the family celebration is at your house, you can have more say in how it will be done.

You may be worried about how your children will cope with the differences between your celebration at home and the large family gathering. In my experience, children younger than two or three will probably not even notice, and children older than that have a great ability to take such differences in stride. You’ve seen this ability when you explained, “Kelly may be allowed to ride his trike around the corner, but we have different rules at our house.” Or you may have said, “Jennifer’s parents may let her call adults by their first names, but we do things differently.”

Your Own Home Is Most Important

I hope that throughout the season you talk about what you’re doing and why. Explain to your children what God is like and what he did. Tell them why you chose these particular symbols for decorating. During Advent, surround and fill yourselves with Jesus. If you have all been getting ready for Christmas together, then one day of another sort of celebrating won’t have much influence in comparison.

With that kind of background, you can remind your children what your activities and traditions mean, but that Grandma and Grandpa have different ways of doing things that are not exactly the way you prefer to do it. Children are usually adaptable enough to handle this.

Even if your larger family doesn’t want to make any changes, take heart. What you do consistently in your own home with your own immediate family has the greatest influence on your children.

Whether or not anyone in your larger family is responsive to your ideas, make sure you set aside time in your own home with your own immediate family for celebrating true Christmas. This will focus your hearts on Jesus, and will have the most lasting impact on your children — and you.

It may be difficult to find the time. Perhaps you will plan to be with the large family group on Christmas Eve and at home on Christmas, or vice versa. Or maybe you will save Christmas morning for your small family before you join the others in the afternoon. Or perhaps others in your extended family might prefer a special family holiday gathering earlier or later in December to help lessen some of the pressure of Christmas day. However difficult it may be, your small family needs a block of time for its own celebration of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior.

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)


“What you do consistently in your own home with your own immediate family has the greatest influence on your children.”