When my children were young, I wanted to make sure they understood the true meaning of Christmas amidst the commercialization and Santa fixation that often surrounds this sacred holiday. So, one year I decided to throw a birthday party for Jesus and invite the children in our neighborhood.

I sent birthday invitations for a mid-December gathering asking that the gift purchased for the party would be a wrapped toy we could donate to a local ministry’s toy drive. My children were thrilled to help blow up balloons and put up colorful streamers in preparation for the big day. We made a sheet cake and wrote “Happy Birthday, Jesus” in frosting, and placed a few candles to blow out when we sang the traditional birthday song.

The day came for the celebration and so did a dozen children from our neighborhood. As they entered our home, we led them to a table with craft supplies to make an ornament of baby Jesus swaddled in cloth and lying in a small wreath manger.

After the children finished their ornaments, I read from the book of Luke, chapter 2, in the Bible where Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was almost ready to give birth to Jesus. Then we invited them to play a game. This was a modification of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” Instead of a tail, I made a dozen “Mary” cutouts and we tried to pin Mary on the donkey!

Next, children decorated sugar cookies—and ate them! We had secretly arranged for “guests” to arrive while they were decorating their cookies. There was a knock on the door … and we led the children to go together to see who it might be. One child was selected to say, “Who’s there?” before opening the door. Then they all heard, “It’s Joseph and Mary and our newborn son, Jesus!” The children were delighted when they opened the door to see a man and woman dressed in ancient clothing and holding a newborn baby.

We invited our guests in and gathered around them, bringing the gifts we had purchased for Jesus. As the children brought their gifts, we sang, “Away in a Manger” and taught the children simple hand motions to the lyrics.

We finished our evening together by lighting the candles on the cake and singing “Happy Birthday” to baby Jesus. We blew out the candles together and served cake to each child.

As the children left with their ornaments, we gave them goodie bags along with invitations to join our family at our church’s Christmas Eve service.

This tradition became something that our children and the children in our neighborhood looked forward to every year. Eventually it got so big that we moved it to our church and hundreds of children joined in the tradition. Even today, my adult children fondly tell stories of those parties when we gathered together with friends and family to focus on Christ during the Christmas season.