Bright lights, cookies, presents, and Santa Claus. That’s usually what young children think of when it comes to Christmas. However, it’s important for them to learn what we really celebrate each December 25th. This year, families with toddlers and preschoolers can introduce their children to the real reason for the season with Jesus Came for Me: The True Story of Christmas written by Jared Kennedy and illustrated by Trish Mahoney.Q: What’s the best way to communicate the message of Christmas to your toddler?
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is just to read and tell the story. According to child psychologists, a “narrative” function emerges in children by age three. That’s just science recognizing the truth that God made the human brain so that we think in stories. Preschoolers are definitely able to grasp the basic plotline of a good story, and from a young age, toddlers also begin to tell stories about their daily lives. As they grow, kids begin to make up even more stories about themselves—about their toys and about imaginative adventures they’re going on. Hearing and telling stories give kids a sense of rooted identity.
But another big thing is creating family traditions that help you tell that story well. That can be as simple as a bedtime routine or something special you do together as a family at Christmas. Our family will read our Christmas devotional then ride around local neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights. When our preschoolers were buckled into car seats, those drives were short. As they grew older, we added a stop at a coffee shop for a cup of hot chocolate. And our kids remind us to do that year after year even now that they’ve become teenagers.
Q: So much of Christmas in our culture revolves around gifts, decorations, and Santa Claus. Is there anything wrong with participating in all those aspects of the holiday season? How do you connect the dots between those things and the true meaning of Christmas for Christians?
There’s no way around it, pretty much every kid in America is going to know about Santa Claus. Thanks to Coca-Cola, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and Bass Pro shops everywhere, the jolly ole’ man in red is a cultural Christmas staple who probably isn’t going away any time soon. Honestly, I think it’s fine to enjoy the Chipmunks Christmas album and Gene Autry—those were the hits in my house growing up—and enjoy other holiday songs too. It’s okay for your kids to experience joyful aspects of our culture. In fact, those can be great connecting points with neighbors who don’t know Jesus. But we must remember that it is our job to teach kids about the true meaning of Christmas—about Jesus’ incarnation and birth as a baby in Bethlehem. As I’ve already said, I think it’s important to make sure telling the true Christmas story is a tradition in your home, and the main emphasis in your Christmas celebration. There’s all kinds of ways to do that: Making a birthday cake for Jesus, using an Advent devotional, or just reading the story again and again.
There are two things I’d encourage you to keep in mind. One, recognize that we live in a very materialistic world, so work some traditions of giving to others without expecting anything in return into your schedule. Maybe that’s just baking a pan of cookies for the neighbors. Second, I think we need to remind kids from a young age that Christ’s love isn’t earned. Jesus came as God’s free gift. Whether it’s Santa’s naughty list or Elf on the Shelf, there can be a real emphasis in our culture on behaving well in order to get gifts as a reward. But the truth is that Santa is not our judge. If he really was making a list, there are days when all of us would be taken off the “nice” list. Deep down, we’re all still sinful in our hearts.
Jesus, being born of a virgin in a little manger in Bethlehem, was the only person who made it onto God’s “nice” list. And we have hope because, through faith in him, God has made it possible for us to be added to that list as well! He sees us in all our sin, but he still gives us his good and perfect gifts.
Q: Does your family have any special traditions at Christmas that center around Jesus?
We do. Each year, we use a Jesse Tree to tell the Christmas story. In our home, the Jesse Tree is a tiny one-and-a-half-foot discount store Christmas tree. On it, we hang a laminated paper ornament for each day of Advent. Each ornament on the tree represents the story of a person in Jesus’ family tree. The idea of using a Jesse Tree to celebrate Advent (and the name Jesse Tree) comes from Isaiah 11:1 which says, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of David, Israel’s greatest king. And it was from David’s lineage that Jesus came. Before each symbol is hung on the tree, we read a Bible passage or a story from the Bible.
Q: Can you share more about Beginner’s Gospel Story Book series, including the story Bible itself?
In The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, my goal was to trace God’s perfect promises through fifty-two Old and New Testament stories, to retell them in simple and compelling ways with toddlers and preschoolers in mind. Each gospel-centered story highlights God’s tale of redemption through Jesus and the unexpected and surprising ways that God’s grace and mercy are revealed throughout the Bible.
Jesus Rose for Me is the first book in the storybook series. It includes the four Easter week stories from the story Bible but in a durable, board book format. Jesus Came for Me is the second. A third board book is coming out in July 2021. It’s a board book about Jesus’s miracles, and it’s tentatively titled: Jesus is Bigger than Me.Jesus Came for Me
by Jared Kennedy, Illustrated by Trish Mahoney
October 19, 2020 / Board book / Retail Price: $11.99
Print ISBN 978-1-645070-49-8
Religion / Christian Ministry/ Children  About the author Jared Kennedy, MDiv, ThM, is the co-founder and managing editor of Gospel-Centered Family, a ministry that helps churches and families share Jesus with the next generation. He also serves as the Children’s and Family Ministry Strategist for the Sojourn Network, and is an adjunct professor at Boyce College. 
He is the author of The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, Are You Close to God?Jesus Rose for Me, Jesus Came for Me, and God Made Me for Worship. He has also helped to develop two VBS programs, Proof Pirates and Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet
Kennedy blogs regularly at Gospel Centered Family and contributes to The Gospel Coalition, ERLC and He Reads Truth.  He and his wife, Megan, have three daughters.
Read more from Jared Kennedy at He can also be found on Twitter (@jaredskennedy).

Trish Mahoney is a graphic designer and illustrator in Seattle where she runs The Mahoney Studio with her husband, Patrick, also a designer and illustrator. They have two children—both budding artists too. Trish illustrated The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible and is also the illustrator for the God Made Me series
 New Growth Press publishes gospel-centered Christian books, small group, and children’s Bible resources for discipleship, biblical counseling, and missional ministry. For more information about other releases from New Growth Press, visit  Copyright © 2020 New Growth Press, All rights reserved.
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