John Shafer had his first birthday this month. When his mother, Kathy Shafer of Augusta, saw her 4-year-old William make a grab for the baby's present, she'd had enough.
The boys were arguing over toys -- toys that they really didn't need but others did, she said.
So she talked to her sons and daughter, Katie Stewart, 2, about the importance of giving, especially at Christmas. The Shafer children chose toys that they were willing to part with and mom bagged them up and gave them away.
Mrs. Shafer, whose family goes to Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, said that they should focus on Christ at Christmas, not on whatever Santa is bringing.
Augustans, like the Shafer family, are looking for ways to make the time leading up to the birth of Christ more than just a shopper's countdown. They hope to preserve the season's spiritual meaning, to honor a baby born in a stable.
Mrs. Shafer has also asked friends to pass her any toys they didn't want, she said.
When she nails down a location, she plans to invite one or two churches to a private sale at bargain prices. Proceeds will go to Miracle Making Ministries of Augusta. "It will be small scale, only what I can manage -- I've got three small children. But maybe next year with more planning, I can do more," she said.
Friends Carrie Brigham of First Presbyterian Church and Kimberly Knox of Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church are going to have a private birthday party for Jesus on Dec. 18, but the gifts will go to a couple of needy families instead, said Mrs. Knox.
The women got the idea when they were talking about teaching children the meaning of Christmas and focusing on Jesus's birth, said Mrs. Knox.
They will read the story of the Nativity in Luke's gospel to their children, serve cake and ice cream but will give no party favors. "The whole point is for them to give something," she said. "We want to teach them at an early age."
About nine years ago George "Curt" and Cindy Biggar of Martinez invited about 30 people for a Christmas in Georgia concert. "My wife is a fantastic musician. She's got the voice of Amy Grant and the range of Sandi Patti," he said.
The party has grown to a catered affair at Savannah Rapids Pavillion with the help of his mother-in-law, caterer Anita Holland, and sound man Tim Prather. The Biggars send out about 100 invitations. Guests can bring others with them.
This year they are expecting around 500 people for the event at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6.
With Mr. Biggar on the keyboard and Mrs. Biggar doing the vocals, the couple will perform traditional and seasonal songs along with their own music.
The hit of the evening is when the Biggars's four children -- Calie, 11, Christopher, 9, Joshua, 8, and Jeremy, 6 -- sing Rocking 'Round the Christmas Tree.
Mr. Biggar, whose family attends Bayvale Baptist Church, estimates they spend $2,000 to $3,000 a year on costumes, props, invitations and food for the event, but there are people who would never go to a religious event otherwise -- even if it is Christmas.
For information about Christmas in Georgia, call 854-1371.
Roy and Linda Parnell's children -- Dale, 17, Michael, 15, and Amanda, 14 -- learned a lot about Advent traditions growing up. They used Advent calendars with daily scripture readings and an Advent wreath with a candle marking each of the four weeks before Christmas, said Mrs. Parnell.
The children would prepare the bed for the baby to be born, she said. "For every good thing they did that they told me about, they could put something soft in the crib. When they got up (Christmas), there was the baby," she said.
The Parnells of Evans attend Catholic Church of the Most Holy Trinity. They started the traditions very early because they knew the children would be going to public schools. The parents wanted them to understand their religious heritage and to also get away from the focus on presents, she said.
Michael, a 10th-grader at Evans High School, said that he understood why his family practiced Advent traditions but most of his friends thought it was weird. "I knew what it was -- it was a symbol -- but I did not know what to tell my friends," he said.
The practices have helped him, however, get more out of Christmas, he said.
Amanda, 14, an eighth-grader at Evans Middle School, said that her school friends didn't understand either. "But it helped me understand that Christmas is not about Santa Claus but about Jesus," she said. "Now I really understand what it is about, what Jesus came for."
Virginia Norton covers religion for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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