Mixing the Sacred Christmas Holiday with Secular Traditions


A Fresh Approach to Christmas Giving through the Three Gifts

As Christmas fast approaches, your thoughts are probably turning to stocking up the pantry for holiday meals, scouting out the sales for your Christmas list and, most importantly, preparing to spend time with the ones you love the most. Christian parents in particular are thinking of ways to rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas by celebrating the birth of Christ with their children.


Some Christians take part in various holiday season traditions – setting up nativity scenes, watching re-enactments of the night the Savior was born or baking a birthday cake for Jesus – as a reminder about the true celebration of Christmas. Parents sometimes feel torn or frustrated with the gift lists and the secular emphasis on children to make Santa’s “nice list” in order to receive their favorite gift.

While trying to mix the sacred holiday with secular traditions, one Raleigh, N.C. family has found a way that works well for them. The Tillers discovered the art of limiting Christmas giving by going back to biblical text found in Matthew 2:11:  “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” 

In this text, three gifts were given by the Magi to Jesus – gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Tiller family uses the three gifts as symbols when giving to each of their children: one to represent gold, one to represent frankincense and one to represent myrrh.

Jim and Sharon, his wife of 17 years, have eight- and ten-year-old-sons whose birthdays fall in November and December. Between birthday gifts and Christmas presents, gift excess was becoming an issue. They decided they wanted something different for a Christmas experience and wanted to set new traditions.

“At a young age, they were getting too much,” Jim explained. “We wanted to focus on Christmas as the time of celebrating Jesus’ birth rather than gifts focusing on the children.”

Three gifts were given by the Magi to Jesus – gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Tiller family uses the three gifts as symbols when giving to each of their children: one to represent gold, one to represent frankincense and one to represent myrrh.

The Gift of Gold

The gift of gold focuses on the principle of great value and worth. When the Wise Men presented gold to Jesus, it was a gift fit only for a King and held in great value – especially during that time. Parents can explain to their children the significance of this gift as a sacrifice, just as Jesus’ life was of great worth — ultimately costing His very own life for the sake of our souls.

With this gift, the Tiller family gives the largest and most expensive gift to each of their sons. Examples might include a basketball goal, a new bicycle or a video game. The Tillers also wrap the gifts with gold paper to reemphasize the meaning.  

The Gift of Frankincense

The gift of frankincense focuses on the inward being and spiritual growth. It is known for its healing power, curing everything from infections to headaches. In present times, it can act as an antiseptic or anti-inflammatory for medicinal purposes. Through the symbolism of the cleansing and purification to meet with Jesus, this gift relates to how Christians meet and grow closer with God.

The Tillers have given Bibles, worship CDs, and devotional books as past gifts. This gift can be wrapped with white paper as a reminder of the sacred white incense that Jesus received from the Wise Men.

The Gift of Myrrh

The gift of myrrh symbolizes the outward and aesthetic anointment to cleanse our bodies. Myrrh was used in historic times as a scent in oils, perfumes and embalming liquids. In present times, it still acts as a rich aroma in lotions, soaps and oils. Myrrh was used to anoint Jesus as part of his burial preparation, reminding people how He ultimately had to die for the world’s own purification and cleansing.

This gift is a great reminder to children that ultimately Jesus was sent to die for our sins even though He came to earth as a baby. The Tillers remind their boys about the sacrifice Christ made in order to restore right relationship with God and provide eternal life for us. Some gift ideas include body wash, hair products, towels and combs to represent the gift of myrrh. Wrap this gift in earth-toned paper to symbolize the dark color of this spice. 

The Ultimate Gift

The Tillers found great success in implementing this giving strategy during the Christmas season with their children. By focusing on the ultimate gift of the birth of Christ coming to save us from our sins, the Christmas season no longer centers on the selfish desires to gain all the gifts on a wish list.

“The best reason to do this is because it centers Christmas on the birth of Christ and takes what has now become a secular holiday back to a religious holiday,” Tiller said. “Many families have joined us in this giving concept and we hope that this will be passed along to future generations.”

For more information and tips on giving, contact the National Christian Foundation of Raleigh, e-mail the Raleigh office at raleigh@nationalchristian.com.

Article adapted and used with permission by the National Christian Foundation of Raleigh

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