A Merry Little Evangelical Christmas

Now that Dane is three and starting to understand about Christmas, we’ve been doing our best to tell him about the birth of Jesus. About God come down and God with us and the baby in the manger.

So far, I think he is mostly just confused.

The other night, before I knew what was happening, I heard myself say, “Maybe we should make a cake for Jesus since Christmas is his birthday!”

I’m not totally sure where this came from. We were not a bake-a-cake-for-Jesus kind of family growing up, though I know many in our church who were. It was one of the many ways families tried to focus on the “Reason for the Season” in the evangelical world I come from.

“OK!” Dane said quickly, as he is a huge fan of birthday cake of all kinds. Then he thought about it for a minute. “But how can he eat it? I can’t see his hands!” (We talk all the time about how even though we can’t see him, God is here. Dane’s still trying to wrap his head around that one. To be honest, I am too.)

“Well…he won’t eat it really. We’ll eat it.”

“We’ll eat God’s birthday cake?”

“Um. yeah.”

“But Jesus wants some cake too. How can he eat it, Mom? I don’t want Marty to get God’s cake!” he said, distraught about our terrible, food-snatching dog.

And that’s about how that went. For another ten minutes.


It’s a tricky thing to navigate with your family, and over the years, the evangelical culture has done some zany things to try to keep the focus on the Christ-child during the Christmas season.

So this is for all the ones who grew up trying to “keep the CHRIST in CHRISTmas.” A little evangelical Christmas quiz of sorts.

Here’s how it works: You get one point for every question you can answer a hearty yes to. Additional points are available where noted. When you’re finished, post your grand total and any other evangelical Christmas memories I might have missed in the Comments section for a chance at a little prize!

You’ve had yourself a merry little evangelical Christmas if:

1. There is a photo or shaky video somewhere of you on a church stage around age four, singing “Little Drummer Boy” with 30 other kids. (2 bonus points if you are simultaneously beating on an oatmeal- or coffee-container-turned-drum. 5 bonus points if you are crying.)

2. You ever sang “Happy Birthday,” to Jesus. (2 bonus points if there was a cake with “Happy Birthday Jesus!” written in frosting. 4 bonus points if there was a full-fledged Jesus Birthday Party, complete with balloons and gifts.)

3. You memorized all the words to Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven.” (4 bonus points if you ever sang it to your family with a towel wrapped around your head to make you look like Mary. You can also give yourself 4 points if you memorized “Grown Up Christmas List” from that same album and ever contemplated singing it personally to Santa at the mall.)

4. You’ve made your own nativity out of any of the following materials: salt dough, clothespins or empty toilet paper tubes.

5. You know that a candy cane is really a “J” for Jesus. And if it looks like a cane, it’s only to represent the shepherds that came to the manger. (2 bonus points if you know what the red and white stripes symbolize.)

6. You watched McGee and Me! Twas the Fight Before Christmas at least once every year in Sunday School. (2 bonus points if you can remember the gift that Nick wanted to buy for his mother. 4 bonus points if you had a secret crush on Derrick Cryder, Christmas Pageant Bad Boy and Nick’s arch nemesis.)

7. Your church ever used any of  the following items in its annual Christmas pageant: A cabbage patch doll. A water-baby. Bathrobes (for shepherds). Or bath towels (for head coverings). (Give yourself 4 bonus points if you ever took part in a live nativity and your coat smelled like goats for one week.)

8. You’ve ever said, “I’m giving you this present as a reflection of the greatest gift there ever was — Jesus!”

9. You ever had a nativity up in your yard. (2 bonus points if it was inflatable. Another 2 if your baby Jesus went missing at least once. And 4 bonus points if you had one of the ones where Santa is kneeling before the manger)

10. You recognized Steven Curtis Chapman immediately in the sappy Christmas movie Christmas Child. (4 bonus points if you recognized Megan Follows and couldn’t stop thinking of her as Anne Shirley. 2 bonus points if you sang along during any point while watching that movie. Another 2 points if you own the movie currently and have watched it once already this year.)

11. You owned a sweatshirt, mug or key chain that said one of the following phrases: Jesus is the Reason for the Season or Keep Christ in Christmas or Wise Men Still Seek Him. (2 bonus points if you’ve had all three at some time or another.)



12. You ever dressed up with your family in a nativity-style photo booth. (2 bonus points if you agreed to be a sheep so that your little sister could be Mary.)

13. You’ve ever lectured someone about using the abbreviated Xmas rather than Christmas or about saying Happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

14. When you think of the original nativity, it’s hard not to imagine everyone as Precious Moments’ characters…thanks, in part, to Timmy’s Gift, the movie.

15. In your teen years, you owned one or more of the Happy Christmas CDs: the Christmas punk-rock and ska take on classic Christmas carols. Because nothing says Silent Night like a couple of trombones and an electric guitar and some guy screaming at the top of his lungs. (Give yourself 1 point for each album you own. 2 points if you still know where they are. 4 points if you’ve ever sang a punk-rock version of a Christmas carol yourself.)

Total up your score! The person who has the most points (and if it’s a tie, the funniest additional memories, as judged by me), will win a $5 Amazon gift card. Contest closes at midnight on Friday, December 21st.

85 thoughts on “A Merry Little Evangelical Christmas

  1. I only got 11 points but that was quite a trip down memory lane. My family still listens to our cassette of Amy Grant “Home for Christmas” when we go to get our tree, and I did make up a dance with a friend of mine to “Breath of Heaven” that we performed at our school Christmas pageant. Oh, the heartfelt sincerity of a teenage girl!

    1. I feel like you should at least get 5 additional points for choreographing your own special Christmas dance. (I wonder if Amy Grant knows how many made up dances have been inspired by her music. My 9yo BFF and I had one to “Baby, Baby” from the Heart in Motion album. 😉 )

    2. i totally had a dance to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree!” I think it was Amy Grant…my friend and I were only 4 and 5 years old repsectively at the time…

  2. Regarding #12, I was part of a living Bible thing at my church for years. It tells the story of the birth of Jesus, but they do the prophecies and a few scenes from the of Jesus too. It was pretty intense… and cold! I was a shepherd for years, so I was in a pen with about 5-6 sheep where about 4-6 angels would be lifted up above the trees in a kind of lift thing on a train track that hovered them out above the trees. The shepherds then lead the crowd to “Bethlehem” where we looked around for the nativity set up. It was a good time for a high school kid, but my goodness, what a lot of work! How many points does that get me?

    1. Every year we take our boys to one of these living nativities that a nearby church puts on for the community. I think being part of one these should be double your point total because for little kids and the grown ups with them, this is actually a pretty great experience.

    2. Instant 10 points for being an actual shepherd in the cold for the live nativity. And your church gets mad props for having actual hovering angels. That’s incredible.

  3. How about bonus points if you got to play Mary in your church’s Christmas play and ride a fake donkey on wheels that some man in the church constructed (he also crafted a larger version for the Easter play, for Jesus’ triumphal entry). 😉

    1. I love it! Please tell me that the wheels were squeaky. 4 points for being Mary. (It would be more except I’m secretly jealous. I’m one of the many who always *wanted* to be Mary but got stuck being a shepherd.)

  4. I heard an argument on Fox News – “The Five” – yesterday about whether or not it was some sort of compromise to spell Christmas with an “X”. The guy who brought it up weakly said theologians (I love when non-theologians talk about theology. It’s as embarrassing as when I, a non-pediatrician, talk about pediatrics). “The ‘X,’ he said, is the Greek symbol for Christ.” And the other 4 Merry-Christmas-greeting, nativity-scene-at-city-hall-believing talking heads agreed that must be a mistake. In a way, it’s even better, giving credence to the roots of written revelation of the Messiah! It’s kind of like (ok, not really) why I celebrate the Xmas decorations coming out in stores and on city streets before Halloween. I hear all the superstar Christians around me decry it (a violation of Thanksgiving mostly). It’s a badge of real maturity to be critical at this point. Trying to figure out why ever being critical of anything is a sign of sincere passion for Jesus. Anyway, I’ve decided that decorations and music as soon as possible is better. I can’t get enough of Christmas! I’m taking it all in this year like never before! I went to my first church-christmas-show on 11/30 (not even December). It was as cheesy and ill-performed as ever, though it unmistakenly prided itself in its high performance quality (yikes! Lincoln, NE is still a very small town)! Anyway, I decided then and there that I get to use any expression of any kind for as long as possible to draw my heart into wonder and ponder, like shepherds and Mary. Like Dane, maybe.

    1. “Trying to figure out why ever being critical of anything is a sign of sincere passion for Jesus.” Yes. Love your attitude toward Christmas. Perfect.

  5. Okay so I got 24 Points, I am being so naughty right now during my kid free writing time and sitting here blog surfing and scoring myself on this quiz. Bad bad.

    Also to #1 I’d add two bonus points if you were the little girl lifting your fancy dress over your head to show your tight-clad business to the entire congregation.

    Also maybe it’s just in the dutch reformed tradition but we got an orange and a hershey bar every year for participating in the Pageant.

    Regarding 6: AHHHH McGee and ME! I’m so glad someone else shares that memory still. Although my most memorable episode is still the one with Tornado and the dramatic branch through the window…

    And on 15: Do I get points if I’m listening to David Crowder’s “Oh Holy Night” as we speak?

    1. i totally loved McGee and me. i did have a crush on nick’s archnemsis and still have flashbacks of the tornado one (i still count from the time of the lightening to the sound to figure otu distance, courtesy of that movie)

      and totally. either the girl pulling her skirt up in front of everyone, the kid picking his nose, the kid grabbing the microphone or the kid yelling ‘HI MOM’…at least 1 or 2 points for each

      1. Yes, yes, yes! Points for all those crazy loveable four year olds misbehaving on stage.

    2. Yes! When I think about Magee and Me, I only remember that tornado. And the cool opening scene with the marble thing.

    3. Yes, 2 points for lifting your dress (you totally would, Leanne) and 1 for the David Crowder. And I’d forgotten all about that tornado one. The branch! How could I forget?

    1. This made me laugh out loud. I’ll have to think about that. This comment alone might have won you the gift card. 😉

  6. How about points for being that family that took their Christmas Card picture at Newport Beach, CA, on 12/25, proudly displaying to the jealousy of all who are willing to be honest that a white Christmas is highly over-rated in comparison?

    1. Only if you were all wearing white shirts and blue jeans and holding hands walking.

  7. OK, I want points for RIGHT NOW listening to Sirius Country Christmas music. Jeff Foxworthy just sang the 12 days of Christmas: “12 pack a Bud…10 of Copenhagen…9 years probation…5 flannel shirts…2 huntin’ dogs…”
    Who says this isn’t worth every minute we’re wasting on it!?!?!?

  8. With number three, not only did I memorize the words and sing it for my family, I also proudly held one of the two solos for that song with our school choir in high school. I sang {and cried – the one tear down your cheek kind} my way through it because…in a world as cold as stone must I walk this path alone? Mary got me and my teen angst.

    1. It is a great song. I had a few weepy moments over the lyrics myself. I love the image of you on stage with a single tear running down your cheek. 🙂

  9. Well, I’ll get the lowest score of 0!

    This is the result of a Fundamentalist upbringing. In the ‘fundy’ churches there was NO MENTION OF CHRISTMAS at all because, as everyone knows, we don’t *really* know when Christ was born and it’s His death that is the more important event to celebrate. So- no nativities, no Christmas pageants, no decorations in the auditorium (it wasn’t called a ‘Sanctuary’ because there are no sacred places when Christ lives in our hearts), no Christmas songs in December, no Jesus birthday parties (I was an adult before I ever heard of such a thing), no candles, no reading about Jesus’ birth at anytime during December, no Christmas Eve services, etc and so on.

    It left us free to celebrate Christmas in all it’s hedonistic glory. No feeling guilty about getting gifts or participating in the pagan traditions of the season! Decorate, shop, bake, wrap, sing carols, watch holiday movies to your heart’s content, just don’t mention it on Sunday morning.

    (I hope the sarcasm is completely evident in this comment because trust me, it’s there.) 🙂

    1. I grew up “fundy” too, but this does not at all describe what I knew to be a fundy Christmas. Just goes to show that, while any one “stripe” thinks they ARE fundy-ness…how many different stripes there actually are. Something I’m learning more and more lately. Kinda mind blowing actually.

  10. I lost track after 10 points…so yeah. At my (public, county) elementary school we put on a Chili Supper each year at Christmas and somehow we always ended up singing at least 5 songs from that Amy Grant album. The grand finale was “Grown Up Christmas List,” and it was common knowledge in the third grade that when the principal heard us sing it she would become teary-eyed.

    1. Yep. Five bonus points. Which puts you at a respectable 21. 😉 I’d be willing to give you a few more if your baby did something highly embarrassing during his Christ-child debut.

  11. I only scored a 4 and I’m thankful for that.

    I think my age may have something to do with it. I was already in college when much of the above references started popping up for little kids. And as I have no kids of my own, I’ve missed much the further promotion to the next generation.

    1. There’s still time Janice. I bet you can watch McGee and Me on YouTube or something! And Christmas Child on DVD! And I’m sure you have some empty toilet paper tubes around to make a nativity… 😉

  12. People. I was raised mainline (Methodist) and I am counting about 37. So many memories here: Timmy’s Gift, Christmas Child, Birthday Party for Jesus with cake and balloons… plus Amy Grant pretty much defines Christmas music to my family and we grew up singing solos/duets in church so… haha

  13. We didn’t have a Santa kneeling in front of a nativity at home, but we did have a real live Santa come in at the end of our candlelight service and kneel at the altar for a moment before the nativity. Also, never cried during Little Drummer Boy (loved it, actually) but I did yawn for most of my first time playing Mary. haha

  14. Oh dear Lord. 26 freaking points.

    Every Christmas morning before we can open presents, we gather around a coffee cake for some Jesus and prayer time. Only in the last couple of years did I manage to convince my mom that we no longer needed to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Seriously, in my 30s, singing happy birthday to Jesus on Christmas morning. Not pretty, bless my family’s hearts.

    Also my mom has a ceramic Precious Moment nativity set someone painted for her in the late 70s or early 80s. It’s probably the inspiration for Timmy’s Gift. I could probably share many more stories but I’d like to go back to the sweet little place I like to call denial.

    1. Yeah…I think that the whole “Happy birthday Jesus” thing has an expiration date. Cute when you’re 3. Less cute when you’re 30.

  15. Santa kneeling at the manger! Awesome! One of my Christmas memories is listening to Evie’s “Come on Ring those Bells” Christmas record.

    1. I totally sing “Come on Ring those Bells” with my kids. It’s such a sweet little kid Christmas song.

    1. Oh that is not good. I just watched it with my 3yo and he said, “Mom! I love that song! Let’s watch it again!” So thanks for that.

  16. I’m slightly embarrassed to log in at 24 points. Dear sweet baby Jesus. Literally.

    I was always an angel in the Christmas pageant. I attend the church of my childhood, and those slightly discolored white satin sheets and gold tinsel halo headbands are still in the supply room.

  17. I got 18. The Happy Christmas albums killed me. They’re upstairs in my desk drawer. Until then I had hardly any points at all. Guess I’m a late bloomer with evangelical Christmases.

  18. 26 points. But I think I should get triple points for:
    a. Acting in my church’s production of “The Gospel According to Scrooge” two years in a row;
    b. Writing the Christmas play at age 11 for the 5th – 8th graders at my tiny Christian school [with a friend’s help]; and
    c. Being a children’s pastor for 5 years and passing on the legacy of kids’ Christmas musicals to a whole new generation!!

    Yes, apparently I celebrate Jesus’ birthday through the stage. And yes, my college degree is in theatre :).

    1. I have never heard of “The Gospel According to Scrooge,” but of course that would be a thing. 2 points for that. 4 points for writing the Christmas play. And 2 points for passing on the madness.

  19. What a whole load of fun & reading through all the comments. Scored 4 but I am probably too old & non-American…
    (#7 when our son was three we had the earliest realisation that we were raising a colour coded fashionista – he hand-picked his shepherd’s outfit from the selection, complete with a perfectly co-ordinating tea towel as headdress)

    1. I love that. My 3yo has definite opinions about wardrobe too. I thought I had dodged that bullet by not having a girl. Not so much.

  20. I don’t do math but I am competitive enough to need to know, how many bonus points do you get if you were the start of the terrible flu that the ENTIRE church got because every kid in the church was allowed to help blow out the candles and then every single person who got a piece of cake at Jesus’ birthday party was puking on Christmas eve? (They stopped the candle thing after that year. You’re welcome.) Also, how many bonus points can I earn for still remembering my line in the Christmas pageant when I was in the first grade and my name got randomly pulled from the jar of names of girls who want to be Mary? (I am Mary. I am glad to serve the Lord. BAM!) Also, can I have bonus points for coming undone to Breath of Heaven every single time to this day? (It would make me feel a little better about it.)

    1. Oh my gosh, Abby, the flu story! That’s the best! 4 points for that. 2 for remembering your Mary line. And yes, Breath of Heaven still gets me from time to time too. 2 points for that. 🙂

  21. 3 points. My childhood–and evidently my adulthood, too–was and has decidedly not been very evangelical. However, after I moved out of the house in 1995, my mom did put a giant, plastic nativity up. I was over there tonight and I kept thinking someone was in the front yard. Creepy.

  22. Dang, I only have 13. Does it count if I led official Birthday Parties for Jesus©? I think there should also be points for Mary Envy: that is, always playing an angel when the best part is undoubtedly the virgin dressed in blue.

    1. Yes, 4 bonus points for leading the official birthday party for Jesus. And I had soooo much Mary envy. Definitely that was the star role. (2 points.)

  23. I honestly didn’t take the test, sorry. Kinda busy this morning, and since I’m a day late and a dollar short due to the magic of email subscription, the conversation is kinda over and I’m just a wannabe, anyway 🙂

    That said, no fair making fun of Little Drummer Boy since I’m going to do it as a serious drum solo for church, my first real drum performance ever. So, mocketh thou me notteth. 🙂

    Second, my daughter just told me last night that a candy cane was actually a J for Jesus, and the red was the blood and the white was the body. No, I have never told her this, a friend at school passed it on to her. Yeah, a public school, ya know, where there’s no Christ in Xmas, and all that. So, fear not, the message(s) of Christ aren’t even hidden in the horrors of a secular school, no matter how much the we Christians insist that the Gospel is being stifled.


  24. I had to quit counting because the score was too too high! Great memories! I was a pastor’s wife for many of those years, so I would add…..directing a christmas pageant that included the wise men rapping to a DC Talk tape as they walked down the aisle toward the baby Jesus. The only way I could get my 9 year old son to participate!

  25. Do I get points for making fun of people that did #13, and then got in trouble with leaders at church? And what if I was too old for the Happy Christmas CDs to be in my teenage years, but still got them because I like Starflyer 59? And I am probably one of the few that even knew they were on those CDs?

    You are missing any points for those that believed any of that “Santa is just Satan in disguise – look how close their names are spelled!” stuff 🙂

  26. “6. You watched McGee and Me! Twas the Fight Before Christmas at least once every year in Sunday School. (2 bonus points if you can remember the gift that Nick wanted to buy for his mother.”

    Bwahahahaha! It was a music box and it played Carol of the Bells!!!

    Also, I’m pretty sure I had a ceramic pin that said “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, and I think it may have lit up…

  27. Ok, if I add all the extra points from the comment section (still crying every dang TIME I hear Breath of Heaven, my daughter was Baby Jesus, etc.), I come in at 31.

    And though it may not be particular to evangelicalism, except in its extreme dorkiness, my family has an awesome Christmas card picture story. We were in Germany at Thanksgiving, visiting Oberammergau. My mother loves the fairy tail frescoes painted on many of the houses, so her dream was for us to all pose in front of the Little Red Riding Hood scene…in matching sweatshirts…when my three sisters and I were all in our twenties and three of us were married! (The guys had matching green sweatshirts, while the ladies sported matching red. My newborn nephew wore a snowsuit shaped like Snoopy.) My dad set up the tripod, but the only way he could get all TEN of us in the frame and still see the fresco was to shoot from across the street! So my dad would go set the timer and run through traffic like a crazy American to his spot at the edge of our carefully posed group. But there was no way to stop the busy noon traffic, so we have a lot of pictures of half of us grinning like idiots behind a tour bus or or delivery truck. And a lot of pictures of my dad dodging little Euro cars. And a few of all of us smiling, perfectly coordinated and centered below the big bad wolf, and my dad’s face redder than my mom’s sweatshirt. For the Christmas card, they ended up using a picture they took early that morning at a castle wall.

  28. So, My darling little grandson walks up to his mom and proclaims that he doesn’t want any “stuff” for Christmas. “That’s not what it’s about, mom!”

    Yikes! Where did he get THAT idea? The little Advent Conspirator!

    I really don’t care about keeping Christ in Christmas. What I (and my grandson, apparently) care about is keeping Christ in our giving … to the poor … to the homeless …. to the imprisoned …. and to those who mourn.

    1. On a side note, I scored like negative 10 or something. I grew up in a church community that educated, not indoctrinated. My kids knew that Santa was really just some people celebrating the life of the Saint that his name was derived from.

      Santa kneeling by the manger is good. Now put some pigs (unclean) in with the lambs, sheep. turkeys (new world), corn stalks (new world), and chickens and that’s about as tacky and tacky does.

  29. 23 points. i laughed loudly throughout the whole list, it’s truly fantastic.
    i am also a little ashamed to admit that i, as a children’s pastor, have continued the toilet paper tube nativity tradition with our 3-4 year old class. (hides face in shame)

    on a more somber note, i just blogged about all those lovely cliches we like to use in evangelical land…this is the first year i really feel like Christ has been central to my Christmas, and it has nothing to do with inflatable nativities or bathrobed shepherds.

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  31. I know every song on that Amy Grant album. Does that count?

    I actually had the SAME conversation with my 4-year-old yesterday. I told her Grandma would bake Jesus a birthday (coffee) cake on Christmas. “But how will He eat it?” Well, we will eat it for Him. Yeah, that’s not weird. Hehe.

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