The Architecture of a Most Memorable Family Christmas



Cries of the Heart - Part 3

I love Christmas music and all it represents. In my little hillbilly town of Branson, we begin Christmas around November first with miles and miles of Christmas lights all over town! Silver Dollar City has Christmas shows and endless themed light displays. Every theater in town sings Christmas songs for tourists who come into town from across the Midwest. Now that it actually is December, I can safely say “Merry Christmas.” Luke spoke of the Christmas angel who said is best, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” I sincerely and prayerfully hope this letter will help your family “make a memory” this Christmas that no one will ever forget.

“A family that fails to plan, plans to fail,” Dr. Howard Hendricks would often say as he inspirationally spoke to moms and dads in conferences across the nation.

Unfortunately, for most American families, the greatest family season of the year is built only around a well-dressed tree and lots of packages adorned with shiny ribbons and wrapping paper scattered around. The hype of new toys and clothing all too often disappears with the trash bag stuffed with torn paper and tattered ribbons and is anticlimactic considering the time and expense required for the 30-minute celebration.

In the special edition of Time Magazine entitled, “The Science of Happiness” researchers discovered that great family memories and the happiness of both parents and children did not result from gifts given and received but from experiences that families created and enjoyed together.

Filling the Christmas tree with toys, clothing, and video games can often produce a little more than the thrill of a passing vapor that quickly vanishes with the children into their rooms before Santa and the reindeer have scarcely disappeared from the rooftop. But the unforgettable stories that are remembered and affectionately told years later from well-planned family Christmas experiences are the DNA of scrapbook pages and non-removable smiles carved on the hearts of family members young and old. The wonderful thing about great family Christmas memory building is that you don’t have to travel to Disney World or Cabo to make them magical. Doin’ stuff together with a focus on Jesus, the Christmas child who became our King, in every conversation is what unforgettable family Christmases are all about.

How about this Christmas before the gift wrapping begins, declare Christmas 2020 the “I’m Third” Christmas never to be forgotten.

Perhaps you can begin, together as a family, by coloring and cutting out “I’m Third” symbols for the tree or creating “I’m Third” artwork to post on a wall or refrigerator or bulletin board. God First, Others Second, and “I’m Third” is the formula declared by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39. We have taught “I’m Third” at Kamp for 92 of our 96 summers. Everyone knows the motto well! “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” – Jesus

You could read the infamous Johnny Ferrier “I’m Third” story we share with our Kampers to inspire the tree decorating festivity and set the pattern for the season.

Perhaps each child and each parent could participate in a contest to see who could create an “I’m Third” idea around a cash gift of $20 or $100 for the entire family to participate in giving (i.e. toys or groceries for a less fortunate family or run around town with $5 bills to put in each Salvation Army red bucket with a candy cane for each bell ringer). Go hiking, fishing, biking, camping out, or serve at a soup kitchen together and point out (perhaps with a prize) every “I’m Third” deed or word aptly spoken. “I’m Third” adventuring is really fun and completely changes the landscape of the “me first” Christmas gift opening experience. One teen K-2 Kamper, when given this challenge, took his $20 and bought peanut butter and bread. After making sandwiches, he distributed them to the local homeless community.

For a true “I’m Third” Christmas, discuss as a family before the first gift is opened what “GOD FIRST” means by giving each family member one of the following Bible verses to read and describe what God is saying:

  • Psalm 103:1
  • Psalm 145:3
  • Psalm 96:4
  • 1 Chronicles 29:11
  • 1 John 3:1
  • 1 Peter 1:3
  • Ephesians 1:18-19
  • Philippians 2:9-10

Then do likewise with “OTHER’S SECOND” distributing and sharing the following Bible verses:

  • Philippians 2:3-4
  • Philippians 2:5-8
  • Acts 20:35
  • Luke 6:38
  • 2Corinthians 9:7
  • Galatians 2:20
  • Galatians 5:24-25

Finally, let each family member unpack the words “I’M THIRD” using the following Bible references:

  • Philippians 3:7-8
  • Philippians 3:13-14
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
  • Romans 5:8
  • John 3:16
  • 1 John 4:18
  • 2 Timothy 2:21
  • Joshua 1:8
  • Colossians 3:17


To cap off the discussion you can play these two Christmas songs recorded by a Kamp dad and set the mood for the time to open gifts.

On This Christmas Night – Song

When Christmas Comes This Year – Song

A most memorable “I’m Third” gift opening experience is built by doing a creative family gift exchange with each family member drawing another’s name. Open each gift slowly and deliberately and have the rest of the family do a “love bombardment” as the gift is opened. A Kamp-style “love bombardment” is when each family member gives a series of compliments, thank you’s, and positive character qualities to the one opening the gift. It is an amazing experience for everyone!

Check out what Linus has to say about it from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and make the most joyful Christmas memories your family has ever known.

Together for the kids,

Joe & Debbie-Jo White

KEYWORDS: Behavior, Spiritual Identity, Purity, Relationships, Family,