Rainey Christmas Traditions
About the Guest
What’s Christmas like at your house? That's what we asked Dennis and Barbara Rainey, and they were happy to oblige us. Hear what the Raineys have done over the years to celebrate the yuletide and keep Christ as the focal point of their Christmas celebrations.
Barbara RaineyAfter graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Cru® in 1971. With her husband Dennis, whom she married in 1972, the Rainey’s cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry committed to helping marriages and families survive and thrive in our generation. Barbara is a frequent speaker and guest on FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s award-winning nationally-syndicated daily radio broadcast. She is the author or coauthor of...more
Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
What’s Christmas like at your house?
Rainey Christmas Traditions
Bob: You have probably already spent a little bit of time thinking about this Christmas season and about how you want to keep Christ at the center of the season in your family. That’s easier said than done; right? Here’s Barbara Rainey.
Barbara: Moms are busy, and I know moms are busy because I remember how crazy it was for me at Christmas to try to pull off anything that was meaningful. I had a zillion things going on all the time; and as much as I wanted to do things that were meaningful, it was always a challenge to get it into the schedule, to get everybody together, and to plow through and do it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 28th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Barbara Rainey joins us today with some strategies for how to make this a truly Christ-centered Christmas. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. Thanksgiving officially in the books—your wife’s favorite holiday is done for the year.
Dennis: Yes, yes. I want to ask you. What did you do this past weekend after you celebrated turkey day?
Bob: Well, the holiday weekend—you know—what people do. Maybe a little shopping, a little football, kind of kick back, relax, take it easy. What did you do?
Dennis: Let me tell you the ritual at our house. We kind of close the door on Thanksgiving; and on Sunday afternoon, I get this look from Barbara that I immediately—now, because we’ve been married for almost four decades—you kind of get it by this point; okay?
Bob: You know it’s coming. Right.
Dennis: Yes, you do. And—
Bob: And by the way, we should acknowledge that the woman who gave you the look is in the studio with us here.
Barbara: And I’m giving another one because I’m not sure where you’re going.
Dennis: Yes you do. She kind of points to a little cottage that—well, first of all, we don’t have a garage; alright?
Dennis: The garage got taken over when we raised six kids to have a playroom with a ping pong table—that all got enclosed. We had to put our junk somewhere, you know. So there’s a little cottage out there.
Bob: A little cottage?
Barbara: It’s really a storage facility.
Dennis: It is a storage unit.
Barbara: But I refuse to call it a storage unit because—
Dennis: It’s a storage unit.
Barbara: I want it to be cute, so we call it “the cottage”. (Laughter)
Dennis: When Christmas is upon us, she points to the storage unit; and I begin a trek that had to be very similar to the children of Israel in the wilderness.
Bob: What? The wise men experience?
Dennis: Going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth; and I carry boxes in—boxes, because Barbara does love Thanksgiving. That’s her favorite, but Christmas wins for the most number of boxes. She’s got figurines, ornaments. I mean, we’ve got ornaments, Bob. I’m convinced we could decorate the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.
Barbara: Now, now, now, now, now, now. You are stretching the truth, significantly.
Dennis: But it really is a favorite holiday of hers because it does represent our Savior’s birth. She loves the traditions that surround Christmas because we’ve made so many in our four decades together.
Bob: The house does get a little bit of a makeover right before the holiday; doesn’t it?
Barbara: It does.
Bob: And has it continued to get a makeover even though the kids are out of the nest?
Barbara: Yes it does, but things have changed a bit as to what I do and what I don’t do. We are not currently doing a full-sized Christmas tree.
Dennis: Changed a bit? I mean—
Barbara: Okay. So?
Dennis: Here’s the reality. We no longer have a giant tree; alright? Which usually—
Bob: She called it a full-sized tree.
Dennis: Full-sized tree, which caused great—
Barbara: Our ceilings are only eight feet tall. We could never have a giant tree.
Dennis: That’s true. That’s true, but it always felt “giant” to me. Instead of hauling in 150 boxes, we only have to haul in 50 now.
Barbara: Oh, my gosh; I can’t believe the numbers.
Dennis: There was not a room in our house that didn’t have something that called to mind the reason for the season.
Bob: Well, does this go all the way back to the first Christmas you were married?
Bob: Have you always been kind of a “let’s decorate, let’s get the house ready for Christmas”?
Barbara: “No,” to the first question. It hasn’t gone all the way back. Yes, I have always been a “let’s decorate the house and get ready for Christmas.” It grew with the children, though, because when the kids were around they—kids just soak it in to putting stuff up for Christmas. They talk about it constantly; they can’t wait for it to arrive.
I remember one year, I think we put up three trees. We only had the one that we bought for the living room; but the kids went out in the woods and cut down a couple of cedar trees. They had one upstairs, and they had one in the playroom. They made their own stuff. It kind of changed shape throughout the years, depending on how many were at home and what their—
Dennis: The shape got bigger, and bigger, and bigger.
Barbara: But now it’s contracting.
Dennis: It is contracting.
Barbara: There you go. Thank you very much.
Dennis: It’s fascinating. It really is fascinating.
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: Over time, Barbara, you would hear other moms talk about things they were doing with their kids, and you really had an agenda for what is about a four-week period most years, between the end of Thanksgiving and Christmas. That agenda was to capture the kids’ imagination and point them in a spiritual direction.
Barbara: Absolutely. I did not want Christmas in our house to be all about four weeks of, “What I’m going to get,” and, “What I get to open,” and, “What’s in it for me?”-kind of mentality. We worked really hard to focus on the real reason for Christmas and to talk about that.
I also focused really hard, Dennis and I both did with our kids, on helping them think about what they could give, and what they could do for others, and make what they might be getting secondary or even less, if I could possibly do it. We focused—we just really worked hard to keep the focus on the right emphasis.
Dennis: What Barbara’s talking about—being focused on what you’re giving another person—was even implemented on Christmas morning when we exchanged presents. Instead of going and picking the present that’s addressed to you, instead you’d go pick a present that you’ve given—
Barbara: Yes—that you’d gotten for somebody else.
Dennis: Yes, and hand-deliver it; and then that person opened that present, and they went to—
Barbara: And then it was their turn to go give.
Dennis: Right. And so it was focused on not “What am I receiving?” but—
Barbara: “What am I giving?”
Dennis: “What am I giving?” Again, it’s back to the spiritual significance that Christ came and dwelt among us—and that really is God’s greatest gift to us.
Bob: Yes, but you’re competing with a culture that is screaming at you and at your children that, “It’s all about gifts and get”—
Barbara: Yes, that’s right.
Bob: And it’s all about fun and there’s not a lot about Jesus. So what were some of the things that you did to try to tune down the noise of the culture and turn up the spiritual emphasis of the holiday?
Barbara: Well, two other things, in addition to the whole gift-giving thing where we’d tried to train our kids to think about what they were giving instead of what they were getting, and those two things were –one is, I really worked at playing hymns about Christmas, songs that talk about Christ and talk about Him coming to earth. We didn’t play very many Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman secular kinds of songs around the Christmas holiday.
And then the other thing we did is we tried to make a really big deal of putting up the Nativity scene every year. The Nativity scene that we used for many, many years is one that Dennis brought home from Israel. He went to Israel when he was—what?— 21, something like that. We weren’t married. He brought home for himself a souvenir which was an olive-wood Nativity scene. That was the one we used for probably the first 20 years of our marriage with our kids.
We always made a big deal of putting out the Nativity scene. I wanted that to be the focal point for our kids, more important than decorating the tree, even though that was still a fun part of the season—but focusing on putting that out, talking about who the characters were. We always put it in a prominent place so that it was kind of the center. Even though the tree was larger, the Nativity was in a more important place.
Bob: Did you keep Jesus out of the scene until Christmas morning?
Barbara: Sometimes we did that because I thought that was a great idea, but we’d forget to put Him in on Christmas morning. (Laughter)
Dennis: Talk about the ultimate—
Barbara: The ultimate insult. Yes, it just didn’t always work because the kids would get up, and they’d be excited about Christmas morning, and we’d forget to go get Him.
Dennis: One thing we did do, though, on Christmas Eve—that evening, of course, we’d have the special meal that the girls and I prepared. I mean, we took over the kitchen, shooed Barbara out. It started out to kind of be a one-man show with a little group of toddlers hanging around; but as the girls became young ladies, they really helped with that Christmas Eve dinner.
We turned it into a feast; and at the end of the feast, we’d read about the coming of Christ and His birth in Bethlehem. I always thought that was really important, to open the Bible and begin to read the story about the Savior and who began to seek him out—the wise men, the shepherds—and talk about that as a family. Again, children are young. They have to have symbols to be able to capture this, but I think reading the story is very important.
Bob: A few years back FamilyLife put together a resource designed for families. You were talking about a Nativity scene. We came up with an interactive Nativity scene for families, with young children in mind. Each of the pieces in the Nativity scene was in an individual box. Box number one had the angel, and box number two had Mary, and then Joseph. The kids would open the boxes and take out the figures and put them in the Nativity scene as Mom or Dad read the Christmas story from a booklet that we’d put together.
In the last few months, you’ve been involved in a project here, Barbara, to give that resource a little bit of a makeover. What was the objective behind a new version of What God Wants for Christmas®?
Barbara: Well, a couple of things. One is that it’s such a great resource because we just had a Nativity scene, and we didn’t really have anything other than opening the Bible and reading Luke 2. What this resource does is—it is designed so that it can be done over seven days, or you could do it all in one day if you wanted to.
But there’s a portion of a poem to read for each character, and it talks about who that character is, what that character’s place was in the grand scheme of things, and it tells the story of the Nativity in a creative way.
The other element that’s in the new updated version, that I’m really excited about, is an audio CD that has the poem; and it’s sort of acted out—I guess that would be the best way to say it—with different voices playing the different parts of the characters in the Nativity. So you can do this as a family, but then the kids can listen to the story over and over again on their own.
Because moms are busy, and I know moms are busy because I remember how crazy it was for me at Christmas to try to pull off anything that was meaningful. I had a zillion things going on all the time; and as much as I wanted to do things that were meaningful, it was always a challenge to get it into the schedule, to get everybody together, and to plow through and do it.
So I’m excited about the CD because if all else fails and you can’t sit down and read the book, your kids can listen to it. They can hear the story of the Nativity.
Bob: There are seven boxes in the Nativity set, but there are only six figurines. Box number seven is—there’s a little bit of a mystery attached to that.
Barbara: There’s a little bit of a surprise in the last one. That’s correct.
Bob: And in fact, in box seven, you get a chance to see what God wants for Christmas. The kids really—there’s some anticipation that’s built early on. They get excited. They can’t wait to open box seven and see what’s in there because they know it’s something special.
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: I don’t know if we want to give it away—
Barbara: I don’t think we want to give it away.
Dennis: I don’t think we want to give away—
Bob: —what’s in box number seven.
Dennis: I think they need to find it. You know, one of the things that I like is a page that’s black and white. Well, let me just read it for you:
“Twas the week before Christmas, but nobody knew. No stockings, no ornaments, no gifts or good news. All the world had lost hope; all the people felt fear. Now listen, I’ll tell you why Christmas came near.”
When Barbara came up with this, it was a pretty profound experience. I felt like I lost my wife to writing this book of poetry about Christmas for the better part of three or four months. But there was a time when this phrase that I just read came to you, and it was really a pretty cool experience.
Barbara: Most of the poem had been written, and I just had words float through my head for weeks on end. But most of it had been finished and one night, or one early morning—I can’t remember now which it was—between either going to sleep or waking up in the morning –it was one of those moments, and those words just popped into my head. I rolled over and grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote them down because I thought, “That’s it. That’s the way to get into this. That’s the way to introduce—”
Because really and truly, that’s the way it was. The Bible stopped 400 years before Christ was born. There were no more words written, no more words spoken that were recorded in the Scripture for the people, and the people really did feel hopeless. The Romans were ruling in that time and people were afraid. They didn’t know what the future held.
And into that darkness of their lives and into the darkest time in the calendar, God chose to send His Son. It was an exciting moment to get those words because I really believe God gave those words as an introduction to why He sent Jesus to us.
Bob: Barbara, if you were going to use this resource with your kids today, if your kids were still at home—and for a while, you had kids from the ages of two to 12.
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: There was a ten-year gap, six kids. How would you use it if you had toddlers and teenagers running around the same house together?
Barbara: I would have my older kids read the story. It’s one of the things we’ve done at Thanksgiving. Now that we’ve got grandkids, who are old enough to read, we engage them and allow them to be the ones to read the Thanksgiving story. I would probably have my older kids read the story, and I would probably be refereeing the younger ones as they anxiously wanted to open the boxes. I would have them have to wait until it was the right time.
I do think this is a resource that is something that a family with wide age ranges of kids can use because it’s designed for younger kids to understand; but the words and the poem are intriguing enough that teenagers will be fascinated to listen to it because it’s not a little kid’s story. It’s a grown-up story.
Dennis: I just want to kind of take some of the pressure off of moms and dads or grandparents who may be listening and thinking about implementing this into their Christmas tradition. Reduce your expectations, especially if the children are under the age of five or six. I just remember that some of these traditions that we did were absolute chaos. I mean, it was not this—
Barbara: It was not Norman Rockwell.
Dennis: It wasn’t. They weren’t all these children sitting with their hands in their laps, smiling wonderfully as you read the story and as you pull the figurines out. I mean, they may be throwing the figurines at each other, or arguing, or fighting over who gets to open the box.
Barbara: Probably arguing and fighting over whose turn it is.
Dennis: Yes. No doubt about it. I would just say, “You know what? It doesn’t have to be perfect. To execute this, you just need to do it. You just need to keep pressing into it; and when there’s spilled hot chocolate, or tea, or whatever you have as you read this, don’t worry about it. Just keep a sense of humor and keep moving.”
Bob: And it’s nice that the figurines aren’t olive wood or porcelain.
Barbara: That’s right.
Dennis: Let me just comment about my olive wood keepsake that I bought in 1971 when I went to Israel. By the time we finished with our kids, the shepherds’ staffs were gone.
Bob: Yes; right.
Dennis: Half of them were there in some, and the chains that were wrapped around the camel’s bridle—
Bob: Had been snapped off?
Dennis: Oh, my goodness. Those were olive wood chains.
Barbara: And several of the camels only had three legs, instead of four. (Laughter)
Dennis: But the good thing is, “Jesus survived.”
Bob: He made it through. (Laughter)
Dennis: We didn’t lose Him in the process.
Barbara: That’s right.
Dennis: He really was the center of it all. You know what? The big, expensive Nativity scenes—that is not what this is all about. It’s about memories; it’s about story-telling; it’s about reliving; it’s about experiencing Christmas.
Bob: It’s great to have a figure that a four-year-old can pick up and you’re not worried about, “Is that going to break? Is it going to drop?” Dennis talked about this moment not being crowded out of Christmas. I want to ask you about the white-bearded man who shows up every year at Christmas. I just—
Dennis: You just have to get into something controversial.
Bob: Well, I just need to alert the parents who are listening. We’re going to have a candid conversation.
Dennis: You’re talking about Uncle Ralph? (Laughter)
Bob: We’re going to have candid questions about Santa Claus. If you don’t want your children to hear our candid conversation about Santa Claus, you may want to switch stations or busy them with something else because I’m just going to ask you, “Where did Santa fit in at your house and were your kids aware of him? What did they believe about him? How did you handle that?”
Barbara: We allowed our kids to believe in Santa Claus, but we didn’t make a big deal out of it. When they figured it out, we went, “Yep, you’re right. It’s no big deal.” We did have stockings; and we put stuff in the stockings, too. But it wasn’t a big ritual tradition to read “The Night Before Christmas”, which is the Santa story. It’s a great poem; it’s a classic poem. I think we had it as a book; and I think our kids knew pieces of it, but that wasn’t the centerpiece of Christmas for us.
Bob: Did they write letters to Santa?
Barbara: I think that, “No, they didn’t write letters to Santa,” because, again, I was emphasizing what they gave to their siblings and friends and not what they were going to get. They never made a list for Santa.
Bob: Did you take them to the mall, and did they get their picture on Santa’s lap?
Barbara: I think we did a couple of times, but we didn’t go to the mall for the purpose of them getting a picture. The picture that I remember, that’s so funny, is when we had four. Rebecca was a baby, and I went to the photo shop to pick up a roll of film because nothing was digital. I walked in, and the photo shop had a Santa.
So my kids said, “Oh, can we go see Santa?” I said, “Sure. Why not? Go on.” So we went up there, and they all climbed in his lap; and I had my camera, or else they were taking photos. I can’t remember. I put Rebecca up in his lap, and she just howled. She screamed. She was terrified. I have this little Polaroid-sized snapshot of my four kids, and she’s just screaming her lungs out. (Laughter)
But no, we didn’t make special trips to the mall so they could sit in Santa’s lap.
Bob: He was there, but he wasn’t the center.
Barbara: Well, I didn’t want to make a big deal of him by trying to totally dismiss him because it’s so much a part of the culture, and kids talk about it at school. Sometimes when you over-emphasize it by trying to get rid of it, it almost makes it worse. We just kind of ignored it and minimized it; and yes, it was there. Our kids did write notes for Santa when they left cookies and milk for us to eat, but even that didn’t last for very long. They figured it out pretty quickly.
Bob: How are your kids handling this with the grandchildren?
Barbara: I don’t know what all of them are doing, quite honestly, but I think the older ones—I know the oldest one is pretty much doing what we did—not making a big deal out of it—but they have stockings and the kids get presents on Christmas morning that supposedly just showed up overnight; but they’re not making a big deal out of it, either.
Bob: You are going to send all of the kids a set of What God Wants for Christmas; right?
Barbara: Oh, yes. I sure will. (Laughter)
Bob: And then you’ll call and say, “Have you used it yet? Have you used it yet?”
Barbara: I might, but I don’t want to pressure them.
Dennis: And the reality is, we designed this resource for our kids, for our grandkids, but also for our listeners, and for their kids, and their grandkids.
Bob: I think even those of our listeners—and some of them have already got the What God Wants for Christmas Nativity scene—but they don’t have the book that goes with it. Actually, we have redesigned the Nativity scene; and I think we’ve given it a very nice facelift. The first version of this is something our family enjoyed; the new one is even nicer.
You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the entire package—the Nativity scene, the poem that Barbara has written, the book that’s included in with the interactive child-friendly Nativity set.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on What God Wants for Christmas. Some of you, when you see this, are going to think to yourselves, “You know what? We ought to get a number of these and use them as Christmas gifts in our neighborhood, with our family, or friends.” It’s a great way to share Christ with friends at Christmastime. In fact, if you want to order multiple quantities, there’s a reduction in the price for additional quantities that are ordered.
Again, get more information when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Ask about the What God Wants for Christmas interactive Nativity set for families, and we can get it sent out to you.
I should also mention here, Barbara wrote a book a couple of years ago called When Christmas Came, where you took the Bible verse, John 3:16, and really examined that verse line by line in light of the incarnation, the coming of Christ at Christmas. It’s a beautiful gift book.
In fact, we’re making that book available, this week, to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife with a donation. We are listener-supported. Your donations are what keep FamilyLife Today on the air in this city, and in all the cities where we’re heard all across the country, and online as well, all around the world.
So, “Thanks,” to those of you who do help support the ministry. We’re hoping here at year-end you will consider making a generous year-end contribution. Again, request a copy of Barbara’s book, When Christmas Came, when you make a donation. All you have to do is go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, click the button that says, “I Care”; and when you make your donation there, we’ll send a copy of Barbara’s book to you.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, make a donation over the phone, and just ask for a copy of Barbara’s book, When Christmas Came; and we’re happy to send it out to you. We so much appreciate your financial support of this ministry.
And we hope you can be back tomorrow when we are going to continue to talk about how we can make this Christmas a more Christ-centered Christmas. We’re going to talk about the age-old controversy, real trees versus fake trees. We’ll discuss that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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