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CHRISTmas: A Time of Celebration

Dr. Peterson and his wife, Brooke, share their journey as a family in thinking about how to celebrate Christmas


One Sunday, while Brooke and I were teaching a children’s small group, the conversation was about Christmas trees and the beautiful ornaments. Brooke asked the group, “Who knows why we celebrate Christmas this time of year?” Every single child said, “To get presents!” Even after much probing and questioning to focus on the true purpose, not a child in the room could tell us that Christ’s birth is the real reason we have the privilege of celebrating Christmas. One child even prayed to “bless the presents she would get!” Our hearts grieved to hear this conversation and how our culture has commercialized this special time of year. We want to share with you our journey as a family in thinking about how to celebrate Christmas by sharing our stories about Christmas and what has brought us to the point where we are today.

Dan’s Story: I have wonderful memories of Christmas with family, receiving lots of presents, leaving cookies for Santa, and opening up stockings on Christmas morning with my family. My Dad would always read from Matthew 1 or Luke 2, but my heart craved and longed for what present I was about to get. I did grow up thinking Christmas was the time I gave presents to others, but mostly it was about receiving presents for myself. It was always my tradition to call all my friends to ask them what they got for Christmas and compare presents. I do not fault my parents at all for our Christmas traditions; we have wonderful memories together. It is due to the sinfulness of my own heart that I was focused on self and receiving. When I was dating Brooke, we had a discussion about Christmas and I was intrigued by her family’s paradigm shift in thinking about how to celebrate Christmas . . .

Brooke’s Story: As a child, I remember waking up very early with the anticipation of Christmas morning. Four small children dressed in matching Christmas pajamas would run down the staircase as Dad was videoing the memories. All four children would be so anxious to see what presents would be waiting for us under the tree!

This was our typical attitude toward Christmas until my parents noticed how each year we were becoming more greedy and self-centered, thinking only about what we were going to get for Christmas. This was a day that was supposed to be focused on the birth of our Savior. As my parents would hear comments, “Is this all?” “I like her toy better . . .” “He has six presents and I have five presents . . .,” their hearts were troubled. Christmas to us had become presents and materialism, much like the children who were asked at church why we celebrate Christmas, until one year my parents announced that we were no longer going to get presents. The four children ages 13, 12, 10, and 7 looked with wide eyes at each other, thinking our parents were only kidding, but soon realized they were serious. We were all devastated! This did not mean that we would never get a present again in our life, but my parents were convicted that Christmas was not the season to shower children with presents. We were only becoming more selfish as well as misunderstanding the true meaning of Christmas. Instead of presents, my parents decided to give each of us a sum of money and we could choose what gospel-centered organization we would give to. It started taking the focus off self to thinking about others and enjoying being with family. We had many holiday traditions such as making gingerbread houses together, putting up our tree with sparkling cider and cheese and crackers, and walking on the plaza (in Kansas City) to see the lights. Each year we looked forward to our special family memories and what ministry we were going to pick to give to instead of receiving. Reflecting back as a parent myself now, I cannot believe the strength it took for my parents to make such a dramatic decision, but I thank them for their faithfulness. My heart has been changed forever toward the season of Christmas.

The main purpose of why we wanted to write to you about this important issue this month is not to give you a directive of how you should celebrate Christmas but to stimulate you to think about how you are celebrating Christmas and the lifetime effects your traditions may have on your child(ren). May we unashamedly point to the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who came to bring “redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68).

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen…” (Luke 2:20).

May we always walk glorifying and praising God for giving us the Christ child!

Here are a couple of family recipes that we enjoy:

Peterson Family Recipe: - Boiled Custard (November 1971)

  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • Dash of cinnamon

On top of double boiler heat milk and sugar to boiling point but DO NOT BOIL. Beat eggs until foamy and add to mixture. Stir constantly until mixture coats the spoon. Cool and add flavoring.


Brooke's Wassail

  • 2 quarts apple juice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp orange peel
  • 1/2 tsp lemon peel
  • 1/2 cups sugar

Heat and serve.

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