Friday, December 31, 2010

Merry Christmas (and Happy New Year)!

I know a lot of people have already ripped down their decorations, but technically it's only the seventh day of Christmas, with five more to go... so I'm not actually late in wishing you a merry one! ;)

We've been cozying up at home all week, enjoying new toys and games and books and each other, after a lovely Christmas Eve and Day...

I caught the boys' cough and sniffles the day after Christmas, so I've done a lot of lounging, dreaming about renovating our kitchen this summer, making kindergarten plans for Littlest, and catching up with old friends on Facebook.

I think I was feeling a little manic (in my own lazy way) after the Christmas goodies I ate, and now I want to spend New Year's weekend just knitting and reading... and maybe a little reflecting on 2010. (Scott wants me to give up baking for Advent next year, but I swear we didn't eat that much sugar! And aren't these gingerbread reindeer the cutest?)

But tomorrow's a new month and a new year, so this cold needs to go out with the old!!

We'll get no help from the weather -- we woke up to frost this morning, the coldest morning of the season so far. We already traded in Christmas cookies for frozen fruit smoothies, but now it's time for hot cider and chicken noodle soup!

How are you spending the last day of the year?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's beginning to feel...

  ...a lot like Christmas.

The pageant...

The baking...

The gaming...

A tiny bit of last minute crafting...

 The cold, rainy weather (with one afternoon of sunshine and a mad dash to the park)...

The waiting... it's almost here!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Preparing for Christmas

The lights are up, the stockings are hung, the decorations have been out for two weeks...


The tree is finally complete, the shelves have been dusted, the toys decluttered, laundry folded and put away, fridge and freezer stocked, three batches of cookies baked. Everyone has helped to make the house festive...

We've had our first Christmas party with friends.

My shopping is just about finished. (My crafting was hardly begun.) The packages that cluttered one end of my dining table for three days have been mailed.

Even the weather is ready for Christmas. The mulberries -- the last trees to change color each December and announce the impending arrival of Christmas -- have dropped their leaves, carpeting the neighborhood in bright yellow shag. The rain has been cleaning the air outside.

So, when will my heart be ready? Why does it feel so heavy?

I simplified. I planned. We made our own fun when the plans were derailed. The derailing continues, but that's to be expected. Two colds and the flu in the middle of sugar and stress season.

I am off my diet, friends. We've been reading our Advent book, but I haven't been doing my own devotions. I am not taking care of myself, nor am I spending enough time with the Lord. We are all suffering for it. The house may look festive, but our hearts are not feeling it.

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
--Matthew 3:1-2

I have a week to spend down on my knees, to let Him teach me patience while I cry out in impatience, to put my eyes back on Him, where they belong. I have a week to slow down, and give my energy to my family, who deserve it.

It is a long journey, this wait for the arrival of the King.

On the rink

We hosted our Christmas party for our little homeschooling group at the ice rink this year. The kids had a blast -- I just wish I'd remembered to take more pictures off the rink! Some of the kids didn't skate, but everyone enjoyed sharing Christmas cookies and catching up with old friends.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Making our own holiday fun

On Wednesday, I got out the art supplies, opened up the laptop to Kathy Barbro's instructions, and told the boys it was time to make some Nutcracker art!

One of our good friends is in our local ballet company's production of "The Nutcracker Suite" this weekend, and we planned to go see her dance yesterday. I thought the pictures would make a sweet gift, along with some homemade sugar plums.

My boys don't care to break out the art supplies very often, but they really enjoyed this simple project. Didn't they do a lovely job? I really didn't want to give these away when they were finished!

As it turned out, yesterday was The Day That Would Not Go As Planned. It was also a good example of why you shouldn't plan too much holiday fun for one day -- just in case someone gets sick and you have to cancel EVERYTHING.

No Nutcracker ballet... no Christmas party at the park with the homeschooling group... no getting the Christmas tree.

We managed to have some fun anyway! I had all our supplies for the graham-cracker "gingerbread" houses we were planning to make at the Christmas party, so I whipped up some royal icing, turned on the Nutcracker station on Pandora, and they got to work...

And yes, there was a lot of finger-licking happening! (I know, Bad Mom! Don't put sugar in front of sick kids! ) Fortunately, the sick kids weren't eating the frosting. And they were HAPPY!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Taking back St. Nicholas

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there...

But why stockings? Why does Santa put gifts into stockings? (And why are today's stockings enormous and so obviously not for wearing?!)

According to one story about the real St. Nicholas, the original stockings belonged to three maidens who lived in his province of Lycia.

Their father, having lost his fortune, was unable to provide for their dowries, and the girls were going to be sold into slavery. When Nicholas heard this, he was greatly troubled, and determined to help secretly. Late one evening, after the family's stockings had been hung up to dry, he threw a bag of gold through the window -- and the gift landed in a stocking.
Do you remember the moment when you stopped believing in Santa Claus? Or do you still believe?

Did you debate whether to tell your kids about him? Did you worry that when the spell of childhood magic was broken, you'd be left with a disillusioned, cynical son or daughter who has trouble believing in miracles -- even believing you?

I worried, too. And yet, I couldn't let go of the magic, the miracle of Santa.

Maybe I was especially blessed with faith as a child. Maybe my mother just did things right. I don't remember a moment of disillusionment. I don't remember when I recognized Santa's handwriting as my mother's. I know I did -- but she continued to sign presents "From Santa" even into my adulthood!

I know that finding out one's parents have been filling your stockings has traumatized a lot of children. I didn't want to stop believing in Santa. My mother never made that necessary. I don't remember her lying about it. But she may have mentioned that parents could be elves.

Being one of Santa's elves has been more complicated than I anticipated. For one thing, I realized I hated giving up the credit of my planning, purchasing and generosity to a man in a funny red suit I'd never even met. But therein lies my lesson...
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
--Matthew 6:2-4 
One thing seems clear, St. Nicholas wasn't looking for credit for his generosity.

I don't want my kids to stop believing in the possibility of unseen generosity. I'm determined to remain a faithful elf. But the questions are coming.

St. Nicholas, please help!

Is Santa Claus real? Absolutely. But most of the modern images we see don't look much like him.

St. Nicholas was a real boy, an orphan in third century Asia Minor, whose parents were Christians, and who grew to be a faithful servant of our Lord. He was the youngest person ever to be appointed a church bishop, and was revered for his faithfulness, charity, humility and commitment to justice. More churches are named for him than any other saint.

Bishop Nicholas served on the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 335 A.D., and so had a hand in writing The Nicene Creed. Miraculous stories followed him even after his death on December 6, 343.

In many countries, Santa doesn't come on Christmas Eve. He comes the night of December 5, so that the children find gifts from St. Nicholas on the morning of his feast day.

Only for the last 200 years or so, beginning in the United States, have the traditions of St. Nicholas Day been combined with our celebration of Christmas.

Did you do anything to observe St. Nicholas Day yesterday?

I was less prepared than I hoped to be. I gathered books about St. Nicholas from the library, and we broke out the Veggie Tales version of St. Nicholas: A Story of Giving last week. Our busy weekend interfered with my desire to have the house decorated and gingerbread cookies baked.

But, of course, St. Nicholas wasn't really about gingerbread. We had our friends over, and store-bought cookies sufficed. The kids wanted to play the Dreidel game, so the St. Nicholas stories waited until later.

The Real Santa Claus: Legends of Saint Nicholas (Phyllis Fogelman Books)Eldest was especially interested in the beautifully-written stories about Bishop Nicholas in "The Real Santa Claus" by Marianna Mayer. Littlest enjoyed the tale of "The Baker's Dozen."

I'm intrigued by the idea of separating Santa's activities from the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus, although I don't know that I'm ready to change our Christmas morning tradition. I do share the concern about Santa Claus and gift-receiving interfering with the celebration of the coming of the Messiah.

I have always told my boys that Santa loves Jesus and the gifts that arrive from him on Christmas morning are his way of celebrating Christ's birth and teaching us generosity. We have a long way to go to emulate St. Nicholas's example of caring for the poor and needy as Jesus told us to do, but we are learning.

Have you told your children about Bishop Nicholas of Myra? Does the Spirit of Christmas live on at your house in the form of Santa?
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