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Discussing religion, spirituality and values. Amy Umble is the religion reporter for The Free Lance-Star. You can email her at
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Keep the season’s Grinches at bay


As a child, one of my favorite things about this time of year was watching the Christmas television specials. I could always count on “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” to put me into the holiday spirit.

The one show that I didn’t look forward to watching was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The green-skinned Grinch with the “heart two sizes too small” struck fear into my innocent little-girl heart. I hated the fact that he went to Whoville to steal their Who-hash, roast beast and, worst of all, their presents.

I watched the Grinch again last week and even though my grown-up heart was still just a little frightened by him, I was struck by something new. As a child, I never watched the last part of the movie to see that it had a happy ending. I missed the part where his heart grows “three sizes larger” as he returns all of the presents and joins in the celebration.

As I hurriedly go about my day, trying to keep up with all of the extra demands on my schedule that come this time of year, I realized that we also have a Grinch trying to steal our Christmas.

No, we don’t have a little green man in a Santa suit running around snatching our presents and food, but we do have jam-packed schedules, traffic in Central Park, long lines in the stores and the endless search for that hot toy that our children “must” have this year.

These things and many others threaten to ruin our Christmas holiday and keep us from reflecting on the true meaning of this time of year—celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

So how do we, as Christians, keep Christ the center of our Christmas season? While I certainly don’t have this completely figured out myself, I would like to share a few of the things that our family has started to incorporate into our celebrations.

Starting Dec. 1, we begin to reflect on the Christmas holiday with a Jesse Tree Advent Devotional. Starting at Genesis, this devotional follows the thread woven throughout the Bible and how it ultimately points to the birth of the Savior. My children love placing the ornaments that go along with each reading on the small tree we have set up in our kitchen.

After our reading, we light a candle on the simple wooden advent wreath the sits atop a side table. This wreath includes a wooden carving of a very pregnant Mary riding a donkey. Each night, we anticipate the birth of the Christ child along with her as we move her bulging figure one more day closer to Bethlehem.

When we set up our Nativity scene each year, we leave out the baby Jesus. Every day, as we walk by the empty manger, we are reminded of our own emptiness before we met Christ. On Christmas morning, instead of running down to the presents piled under the tree, the first thing my children do is run to the Nativity so they can place the baby in the manger.

Finally, before we open any presents on Christmas Day, we read the account of Christ’s birth from the book of Luke. Hearing the familiar words is a great reminder of what we are really celebrating that day—the birth of Immanuel, which literally means “God with us.”

These activities have enabled us to keep the Grinches at bay as we, like the Whos of Whoville, celebrate a very happy ending to our year. I would love to hear from you, as well. As Christians, what are some traditions that your family uses to focus on the true meaning of the Christmas season?

Heather Ablondi is a women’s ministry speaker and author who resides in Fredericksburg. Contact her at


These resources will give you more details about the traditions described in the column:

  • Jesse Tree Advent Devotional: (free when you subscribe) or
  • Advent Wreath:
  • Christmas Morning Bible Reading: Luke 2:1–14