If there's one family that knows a thing or two about busyness around the holidays, it's the Bates.
Gil and Kelly Jo Bates of "Bringing Up Bates" fame have 19 children together, and their family just keeps growing as their children begin having children of their own. Needless to say, Christmas is anything but a small celebration in the Bates household - it's a busy day full of hope, cheer, and laugher. And, amid all the hustle and bustle of the season, the Tennessee family makes an extra effort to ensure they focus upon the reason for Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.
Just in time for December 25, Kelly Jo shared with The Gospel Herald her family's Christmas traditions, tips for keeping calm during the holidays, and the creative ways they strive to keep Jesus Christ the center of the holiday.
Season five of "Bringing Up Bates" airs January 5th, 9 p.m. EST on UP.
GH: How do the Bates prepare for the Christmas celebration with so many people involved ?
We pick a day that's close to the holiday to have a family party, then we travel to the grandparents to spend Christmas Eve. Since the entire family meets for Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, I try to be very flexible on Christmas, by choosing a different day to celebrate so that couples can visit their in-laws. This means our family Christmas gathering has diminished in size, but not in heart. For the children that are able to come and for the 15 that still live at home, we watch old Christmas movies together, listen to Christmas music, decorate together, shop, make gingerbread houses, enjoy hot chocolate, drive to look at lights, share the Christmas story, and of course, there's the big party with lots of food, presents, and fun!
GH: What tips would you give other parents on this busy day?
When you think of Christmas, you hear phrases like "Christmas cheer" and "Goodwill toward men!" Yet, if we aren't careful, the busy schedules, shopping frenzies, and anxiety overload will cause us to nitpick one another and complain and wreak havoc on our relationships, instead of bonding them. When the holiday festivities are over, the presents are tucked away, and the food has all disappeared, it'll be the memories with our friends and loved ones that remain. So my advice to others would be to slow down, don't let time pressures and other stresses affect your disposition. Stay bright, warm, encouraging, loving, patient, forgiving, welcoming- so that everyone's thoughts of Christmas truly are "Merry!"
GH: What are some traditions your family enjoys?
Our traditions are probably very similar to the ones that hundreds of families across the globe experience, but each year is just a little different and just a little more special because we recognize the precious gift we've been given through Christ, and also the gift of time that has been granted us. Of course, what would Christmas be without the Christmas story?
So, that is first and foremost on our list! And we all know, part of the fun of Christmas is pulling all the decorations out of storage while thinking of new ways to display them or new ways to involve family members. Just adding those little touches of red and green with Christmas music playing seems to start the excitement. It's also quite a fun tradition to pile into a car and just drive through the areas that are packed the fullest with Christmas lights! The conversations and excitement shared on the ride builds lasting memories. There's the usual fanfare of giving gifts that fills the house with giggles. Another tradition is the week of Christmas we watch an old Christmas movie each night (One of our family's favorite, and this year's pick, is "It Happened on 5th Avenue").
GH: Amid all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, what are some ways you ensure that your family remembers the reason for the season - the birth of Jesus Christ?
It is extremely important for us to keep Christ as the focus of the holiday, so it's something the family hears and is talking about regularly. They hear sermons, family devotions, and Christmas hymns that all point to this. Over the years, we've tried different "experiments" to help us really focus. We tried to downsize our gift giving, moving it to a different holiday, to help the kids be more grateful for all the presents they received from relatives and friends - so there wasn't just a huge overload all at once. We tried to pick different things we could do as a family to emphasize our need to focus on giving to Christ - whether it was a donation to a Bible printing ministry, mission fund, or something like Operation Christmas Child. We tried to visit nursing homes, hospitals, or communities to take gifts and go caroling. We tried to put messages on the wall in our decorations that would remind us to focus on Christ. We tried to make the manger scene the focus, rather than the gifts. The traditions are all fun and exciting, but our hearts desire is really to celebrate the birth of our Savior. It might not be the actual time of year Christ was born, but any chance to focus our attention on Him is a chance to show our gratitude. Many things like shopping, gifts, decorating, Santa, parties, and such can distract us from the most important reason to celebrate, so we constantly have to slow down and make time for Christ in Christmas!
GH: What is your message to those who get discouraged by the commercialization of Christmas?
Although some might get discouraged about the commercialization of Christmas, it's important to be a light, and the best way to do that is by making choices in your own home to have the right priorities. We must remember to still show kindness to others, even though they may have different priorities and different views. Part of the beauty of this season, for a Christian, is that it gives us an opportunity to share Christ's love with others. One of the best ways to make a difference is to BE different. That doesn't include being different with an ugly attitude or arrogant spirit. It means choosing for myself and my family to keep the commercialization of Christmas in check, but we must also choose to not miss the joy of the season by focusing on others instead of focusing on the Christ of Christmas!