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Editor's Introduction

Neil's comments about teaching "Christmas Traditions Around the World" were originally posted in's old "Psalm 13 Lounge" where Rotation friends used to share their frustrations and consolations. As you can see, they touched a nerve. We later moved this discussion into our Birth of Jesus forum as a resource and collection of ideas.

Though this discussion started many years ago, you are welcome to post your thoughts. Over the years, various "for sale" Rotation curriculums have included "Christmas Around the World" units. even used to have some, ...but they eventually fell by the wayside during various edits of our site.

"Putting the Birth of Jesus back at the center of our Advent teaching"

[Begin Rant]

Over the years, various churches and curriculum publishers have created "Christmas Around the World" -style lessons, either in traditional or Rotation format. These lessons can be summed up by the phrase, "How do children in Sweden celebrate Christmas?" Similarly, publishers will offer or churches will ask for lessons about "The Friendly Beasts" at the birth of Jesus.

I get it. Some churches get bored and look for attractive creative "themes" for their Advent Sunday Schools. So they get attracted to making Knack and Swedish meatballs and making Pepparkakor (ginger snaps, woohoo!),

The problem is, Christmas is not about traditions.   It's about the Birth of Jesus, the Coming of the Messiah, why, how, who for. What we need to do is GET CREATIVE about TEACHING that story, not how they eat pumpkin and walnut pie in Albania, or why Danes roast chestnuts, or a better way to make marshmallow mangers).

Similarly, "The Friendly Beasts" are not part of the Christmas story. They are completely cute, but completely peripheral. The humble setting in to which Christ was born IS theologically relevant. I know, I know, kids love animals. But this is Sunday School, not public school.  (Forty years of dumbing down Advent hasn't worked.)

[I do love some of the creative ideas that have camels and sheep teaching about Jesus, but some of the "beast" resources settle for "cute" and the food lessons settle for making a tangential connection to Jesus. The kids remember the craft and not the content. At its core, Rotation is a reaction against "settling."  Creative ideas are not our goal, they are our starting place. You can see creativity PROPERLY applied in our Writing Team Advent lesson sets.]

No, I'm not part of the "Keep Christ in Christmas" faction that wants to re-insert religion into a growing secular society. I want to keep the FOCUS ON CHRIST in our Sunday Schools --and do so creatively.  

A Proposed Test:

If your Sunday School kids can tell you the Christmas story from Matt and Luke, and know a little of John 1, and understand the basic meaning of it for their lives, then it is ok to do a rotation on "Christmas around the world" and "the friendly beasts." Until then, I suggest churches stick to creatively focusing on the Bible's story, and not the sentimental traditions from a bygone (and perhaps "never was") era.

[end rant]

Looking forward to someone who can set me straight.

<>< Neil

P.S. Came across this disturbing "gingerbread Jesus" which kind of says what I'm trying to say. Great discussion starter, don't you think?



Images (2)
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  • gingerbread-jesus
Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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I second that! We did "The Real 12 Days" TWICE at my congregation! I don't mind looking at the story from the different players' perspectives, but you're right - we're getting too secular. The Story is enough!


It becomes especially clear that the secular world is already creeping into the true Christmas birth story way too much when children insist that Santa was there at the manger with the shepherds and wise men. On too many occasions have I had "regular" church goers (not visitors) try to include Santa. We can't assume they know the real story. I agree that the Bible needs to be the focus of the Advent and Christmas season rotations.
I gave my high school class last year, a quiz that I'm sure I got off of rotation, and they were simple questions that all of us should know. The high school kids laughed when I told them we were taking a quiz about the christmas story. What was funny, was how much they didn't know. We need to stick to the story, agreed!


I'll bet that Tara's quiz was this one (written by Neil): click here

I found that by selecting FIND and typing in "Christmas Quiz" and then un-selecting the option to Search Current Forum Only.

Neil, I think that you don't need setting straight. I think that the rest of us needed it.

Here's what we've done for 6 years of Christmas Rotations:

  1. Messengers of the Covenant: Angels and Shepherds - See our lessons Art, Cooking, Storytelling, Video.
  2. The Wise Still Seek Him (focus is on wise men) - See our lessons here
  3. Jesus’ Birth through the Eyes of Isaiah - used the Writing Teams lessons: here and an Art lesson I wrote: here
  4. The Jesse Tree - used the free lesson set from Cornerstone (no longer available).
  5. Christmas Through The Eyes Of Mary - this one isn't posted and won't be (it's a long story and involves me having a burst brain aneurysm in the middle of writing this one.)
  6. Birth Narrative - which tells the whole story - See our lessons: here


[Updated to add link to first set of lessons.  Volunteer Moderator updated links.]

Last edited by Luanne Payne
Wow Carol...I had forgotten about that post.

I'd still like to hear from folks who have bought Rotation curriculum which includes "Christmas Around the World" lessons. How were they?

I have sarcastically referred to such rotation topics as "sounding like a Women's Association Christmas Theme" rather than legitimate Bible lessons for Sunday School. Eh, but I could be wrong. Cool
We have not done Christmas Around the World, but we did do Easter around the World a few years ago. I think it would be a waste of time if you spent the ENTIRE class time exploring different customs (Los Posados, Christmas cookies, the "real" St. Nick, etc). Just as it would not be a good use of class time if all you did in Cooking was make lion cupcakes when studying Daniel or watch a movie (secular or Christian) for the entire time in Cinema without discussing it, etc. I'm not thinking of any specific lessons--just throwing out thoughts.

You might find a great lesson based on a Christmas custom from around the world, and an iffy lesson based on Mary or the shepherds or the Magi(again, not thinking of a specific example). What makes the difference is what you do with the class time that you have. Does everything you do have a "purpose" (besides filling time)? Do the activities teach about the Bible Story. Do they relate to the lesson(s) that you want the kids to learn from that Bible story? Just my $.02
I realize this was posted a long time ago, but it's nice to get fresh replies,right? When I started at the church where I currently work, they had a copy of PowerXpress, "Christmas Around the World". I have never even looked at it, as just the title turns me off for a Sunday school lesson. Because of the way our Jr/Sr High programs are structured, I already worry about my students' not getting enough basic bible stories once they head into the upper grades. So, no "Christmas around the World" in our Sunday School. We currently have the students on a four year Scope and Sequence. Christmas is taught chronologically by story over the four years:
1. Mary and the Angel
2. The Nativity/Birth
3. Shepherds and Angels
4. Wise Men
Of course, we always makes sure to tell the whole story each year, for context and for visitors, but we focus the workshops on the main aspect scheduled for that year.
There are my two pennies.

Originally posted by Neil MacQueen:
Wow Carol...I had forgotten about that post.

I'd still like to hear from folks who have bought Rotation curriculum which includes "Christmas Around the World" lessons. How were they?

I have sarcastically referred to such rotation topics as "sounding like a Women's Association Christmas Theme" rather than legitimate Bible lessons for Sunday School. Eh, but I could be wrong. Cool
Last edited by Rotation Friend

While it might be considered off topic, I think a rotation based on the real St. Nicholas might be interesting during the Advent season.  Primarily because so few Christians or children realize that St. Nicholas was a real person and a follower of Jesus Christ.


Yet, St. Nicholas, if used as a rotation, should focus on how he lived out biblical teachings on caring for the poor, facing persecution for Christ's sake, and hearing the call to ministry.  St. Nicholas would be more of a launching pad to move kids into a rotation on Christian living as taught through Scripture (and coincidentally lived out by St. Nicholas).  This would be the only non Christmas Story rotation that I would suggest if it were biblically centered and Christ focused.

Originally Posted by Scotland UCC:

While it might be considered off topic, I think a rotation based on the real St. Nicholas might be interesting during the Advent season.  .....


I think that's a really interesting idea Ron.  Makes my brain turn.


The first thing my brain asks, however, is what is the "real" St Nicholas story?  From my reading over the years, it seems we know very little about Nicholas' story, as it too became almost mythologized (legendary? whats' the word?)


Second thing my brain suggests is to do this in a "special program," rather than giving up four weeks of Advent Sundays.  


Third thing my brain loves is the idea of kids imitating Nicholas by secretly giving gifts to those in need at Christmas. In various churches I've been part of, we've collected gifts at Xmas time for just such purposes.  Even the secular society does it through "toys for tots" etc. Would be brilliant to "rebrand" that church gift collection as "Gifts of St Nicholas."  Good teaching opportunity.

I just learned about a new documentary film, "Saint Nicholas: The Real Story" that is coming out this year, directed by Stuart Bennett. I don't know whether it will be appropriate for children, but it's something to watch for.

Also, we are having a Saint Nicholas Day event this Sunday (December 6) to honor the real man.  The website has been a great resource for me. It includes some teaching ideas and many crafts and games. One of the activities we will do is changing a foil-covered chocolate Santa Claus back into Saint Nicholas. 


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