Monday, November 24, 2008

One Week Until December 1st

I know this week is crazy with Thanksgiving and family gatherings. I also wanted to point out that there is only one week until the 1st of December. That means if you are planning on doing an advent calendar it's time to pin down at least what you are going to do for the first few nights if not the entire month. There are many different ideas for advent calendars on this site and others.

Personally I usually try and do an activity advent calendar for the kids and a scripture one for our family scripture study. I make a list in my notebook of activities and then the night before I can choose an activity that works with our schedule for the day and put it in the form of advent calendar I use (my mother uses Christmas socks, I use a Christmas house with doors and windows).

Skip To My Lou posted today another idea for a stocking advent calendar and commented in her post that "advent calendars are a wonderful way to prepare our hearts and be reminded daily how special this holiday is. If we want it can be a holiday to be savored, anticipated and enjoyed and not something we feel we must get through."

Planning can make or break an advent calendar so be sure to get a head start. If you have any ideas for activities to include please share!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kids Handmade Holiday

A kids crafting blog that I follow called The Crafty Crow has put out the word that they are doing a Kids Handmade Holiday series of posts for the month of December. I am very excited to see what they share. I believe that handmade gifts have more power to touch hearts (especially grandparents') and are a big part of giving of yourself.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Homemade Gifts

Every year the ugliness of commercialism becomes more prevelant. We simply do not watch TV and thus don't have to see all of the commercials. Catalogs are thrown out. One way to help us focus more on giving is to make homemade gifts. I remember my family doing this as a child and those are the presents that I actually remember. With a little bit of encouragement, children are so very good at giving of themselves.

There are many blogs and websites that do homemade Christmas gift idas. Some of the major blogs do a special series of posts this time of year dedicated to homemade gifts. One such blog is Sew, Mama, Sew. They are doing their 2nd anual Handmade Holidays. Every day in Novemeber they are posting gift ideas focused on people who might be on your gift list ie. college student, grandparents, gift exchanges, teachers, pet lovers etc. (They did this last year and there is a link to those posts. This years are all supposedly all new ideas). Seeming as we are nearing the end of November there are quite a few posts filled with ideas.

I will add a link list for those blogs I find that are posting about homemade gifts. Don't be afraid to be creative and get your kids in on the action.

Please comment if you have any ideas to share or have found blogs with good ideas.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Very Good Christmas Read

If you are looking for a good way to prepare yourself for a meaningful Christmas celebration, a good book was just released this year called "A Child Is Born" by W. Jeffrey Marsh. The author breathes life into the Christmas story as it is interwoven with the insights found in the Joseph Smith Translation, coupled with commentaries from modern Prophets. Food for thought for the entire Christmas season--very inspiring!

The Christmas Symbols Story

This story was submitted by my sister-in-law Charis from her personal files. She commented that she often skips the story and goes on to do what Santa does to teach the Christmas symbols.

Late one Christmas Eve I sank into my easy chair. Admiring the tree with it’s decorations, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing… The kids were in bed the gifts were all wrapped: the milk and cookies were in their place for Santa. It wasn’t long before the tiny twinkling tree lights lulled me into a deep sleep.

I don’t know how long I slept, but all of a sudden I opened my eyes and there stood Santa Claus himself next to my Christmas Tree.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot just as the poem described him. But he was not the “jolly old elf” of Christmas legend. The man who stood before me looked sad and disappointed with tears in his eyes.

I had to ask, “Santa, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

“It’s the children” Santa replied sadly.

“but the children love you.” I said.

“Oh I know they love me and the gifts I bring them,” Santa said. “But the children of today seem to have somehow missed out on the true spirit of Christmas. It’s not their fault. It just that the adults, many of them not having been taught themselves, have forgotten to teach the children.”

“Teach them what?” I asked.

Santa’s kind old face became soft and gentle. His eyes began to shine with something more than tears. He spoke softly. “Teach the children the true meaning of Christmas. Teach them that the parts of Christmas we can see, hear, and touch are much more than meets the eye. Teach them the symbolism behind the customs and traditions of Christmas we now observe. Teach them what it is that they truly represent.”

Santa reached into his bag and pulled out a tiny Christmas tree and set it on the fireplace mantle. “teach them about the Christmas tree. Green is the second color of Christmas. The stately evergreen with its unchanging color represents the hope of eternal life in Jesus. Its needles point heaven ward as a reminder that man’s thoughts should turn heaven ward as well.”

--sing “I lived in Heaven”

Santa reached into his bag again and pulled out a shiny star and placed it at the top of the small tree. “The star was the heavenly sign of promise. God promised a Savior for the world and the star was the sign of the fulfillment of that promise on the night that Jesus Christ was born. Teach the children that God always fulfills His promises and that the wise will still seek Him.”

--Sing, “Stars were Gleaming”

“Red,” said Santa “is the first color of Christmas.” He pulled forth a red ornament for the tiny tree. “Red is deep, intense, vivid. It is the color of the life giving blood that flows through our veins. It is the symbol of God’s greatest gift. Teach the children that Christ gave His life and shed his blood for them that they might have eternal life. When they see the color red it should remind them of that most wonderful gift.”

--Sing “Did Jesus really live again”

Santa found a bell in his pack and placed it on the tree. “Just as lost sheep are guided to safety by the sound of the bell, it continues to ring today for all to be guided to the fold. Teach the children to follow the true Shepherd who gave h is life for the sheep.”

--Sing “Christmas Bells”

Santa placed a candle on the mantle and lit it. The soft glow from its one tiny flame brightened the room. “The glow of the candle represents how man can show his thanks for the gift of God’s Son that Christmas Eve long ago. Teach the children to follow in Christ’s footsteps. . . to go about doing good. Teach them to let their lights shine before men that all may see it and glorify God. This is what is symbolized when the twinkling lights shine on the tree like hundreds of bright, shining candles, each of them representing one of God’s precious children, their light shining for all to see.

--Sing “I am trying to be like Jesus”

Again, Santa reached into his bag and this time he brought forth a tiny red and white striped candy cane. As he hung it on the tree, He spoke softly, “The candy cane is a stick of hard red and white candy. White to symbolize the virgin birth and sinless nature of Jesus. The shape J to represent the precious name of Jesus who came to earth as our Savior. It also represents the crook of the Good Shepherd, which he uses to reach down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs that, like sheep, have gone astray. The original candy cane had three small red stripes which are the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed and a large red stripe that represents the shedding of blood of Jesus so that we can have eternal life. Teach these things to the children”

--Sing “The Shepherds Carol”

Santa brought out a beautiful wreath made of fresh fragrant greenery and tied with a bright red bow. “The bow reminds us that the bond of perfection which is love. The wreath embodies all the good things about Christmas for those with eyes to see and hearts to understand. It contains the colors red and green and the heaven turned needles of the evergreen. The bow tells the story of good will towards all and its color reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice. Even the wreath’s very shape is symbolic, representing eternity and the eternal nature of Christ’s love. It is a circle without beginning and without end. These are the things you must teach the children.”

--Sing “Families can be together forever”

“But where does that leave you Santa?” I asked. The tears gone now from his eyes, a smile broke over Santa’s face. “Why, bless you, my dear,” he laughed. “ I, too am only a symbol. I represent the spirit of family fun and the joy of giving and receiving. If the children are taught these other things, there is no danger that I’ll ever be forgotten.”

“I think I’m beginning to understand at last, “ I replied.

“That’s why I came” said Santa, “You’re an adult. If you don’t teach the children these things, then who will?”

(For music and words see the LDS music site)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Christmas Articles from LDS Living

My sister-in-law was kind enough to point out that in the current issue of LDS Living there are multiple articles about having an organized and spiritual Christmas season. Unfortunately they have drastically limited the availibility of these articles online (I don't know if you can just buy the current issue somewhere in Utah without subscribing. It looks like they put full issues up online, but the one up there currently is the May/June issue- not helpful).

I have linked a couple articles I was able to find.

Some Lessons Learned by Lloyd and Karmel Newell
Simple Gift Ideas by Heather Holm
Simplifying the Christmas Season by Dawn Frandsen

A true story of Christmas service: Circle of Love by Janet Peterson
FHE Plan: Christmas
FHE Plan: Appreciating the Spirit of Christmas Music

Simple Gift Giving

I came across this post from Simple Mom about keeping gift giving simple and focused. She made the point that more often than not our memories of Christmas are not of what gifts we received but "involve being with people, laughing, playing, crafting and baking, going to Christmas Eve church services, and just being together celebrating the season. That’s what your kids will value as adults, too."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Planning Notebook Pages

I came across today a darling blog that has designer pages you can download for your notebook (if you are doing the three ring binder route). Tricia-Rennea art and illustrations has calendars, project lists, menus, and weekly sheets for both December and November. She also has a lot of cute stuff not related to holiday planning. Check her out!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Quote: Gifts

Rings and jewels are not gifts but apologies for gifts.
The only true gift is a portion of yourself.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gift Giving

Part of a family home evening can be spent deciding what gift each member of your family is going to give to Jesus. Each person writes on a paper their gift--something that they will do to help others, or an attribute they need to work on, etc. Then the paper is rolled into a scroll and tied with ribbon. This can either be placed on the tree or in an empty creche or basket, and may be shared on Christmas.

I have read of families that have decided on a service that takes the effort of every family member to carry out and that is their gift to the Savior. I have known of empty nesters where the husband and wife choose a charity to do a sevice for or contribute to and write their intention in a card that is then placed on the tree and opened on Christmas morning, each spouse receiving from the other the surprise of charitable giving.

The Christams Jars is a beautiful story about saving spare change throughout the year in a jar and using that money to very carefully choose a specific way to help fill the needs of someone. The amount does not have to be large to touch someone's life.

To simplify and turn away from materialism some families give each child 3 gifts (like the wise men). If a gift is for the entire family, such as a game or a larger gift it is said to be brought on the back of a camel traveling with the wise men.

I also assign each child in our family a reindeer name to write on the gift tags so they cannot 'tally' up number of gifts under the tree or guess what their gifts are and become overly focused on what they are 'getting'. These reindeer names are recorded in the notebook.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pita Bread and Bread of Life Symbolism

Pita Bread Recipe for the Bethlehem Dinner Menu

Read John 6: 35 and discuss it's meaning while this bread bakes in your oven. Children like to watch this bread puff up while it is baking, and flatten when taken out of the oven

1 pkg yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 cups flour
1 1/4 t. of salt
1 t. granulated sugar

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add sugar and let it sit for 5-10 min. Meanwhile, mix flour and salt, pour in yeast mixture. Slowly add 1 cup of warm water and mix.

Flour your work surface, placing the dough on it and kneading for about 5-10 min. until dough is elastic. Coat a large bowl with olive oil and place dough in it, turning the dough to coat with olive oil. Let rise until doubled.

Roll out dough into the shape of a rope. Cut the dough into 10-12 small pieces. Roll out each ball of dough with a floured rolling pin into circles about 5-6 inches and 1/4 inch thick.

Preheat the oven to 5oo degrees and place your rack at the bottom of the oven. Bake each circle about 4 min.. When the bread puffs up, turn over and bake for a couple of min. When you take it out of the oven the bread will flatten out. Serve bread dipped in hummus.

There is also a Bread of Life video about Christ on the Jesus Christ website done by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Christmas Stories

Collect children's books containing stories that illustrate the true uplifting meaning of Christmas. Wrap them, or enlist an older child to wrap them, place them in a basket and open them one at a time to read. These books should inspire a feeling of compassion, service and a desire to follow the example of Jesus.

Some of our favorites:
*The Christmas Train by Ivan Gantschev (A true story, with layers of meaning--unfortunately out of print, check online)
*The Three Trees
*A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (could be read out loud as a family)
*The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke (President Monson likes this)

Or collect stories from the Ensign or Friend or from online, and compile into a notebook that can be read a couple of nights a week leading up to Christmas.

Some stories online:
Three Trees from Sugardoodle
The Story of Silent Night from Sugardoodle
The Christmas Orange from Sugardoodle
Advent Story Book complied by Melissa Dillon submitted on Sugardoodle

In the past we have put together some stories and thougts on Christmas and placed them in numbered envelopes to be read each day and called it "A Walk With Christ" especially effective with older children and teenagers.

Read excerpts from the book Jesus the Christ by James Talmage to gain spiritual and historical insight into the events leading up to Christ's birth. An audio file of the book can be found and downloaded for free here

Multimedia about Jesus Christ

Prophets and Apostles Share Testimonies of Christ- audio file submitted to Sugardoodle. Includes Christmas music and a list of who is speaking and the original reference.

Special Witnesses of Christ- videos of the current Prophet and Apostles testifying of Christ

2007 Christmas Devotional- videos featuring Gordon B. Hinkley, Thomas S. Monson, and Henry B. Eyring; the first presidency at the time

Bread of Life -video

Jesus the Christ- audio file of the book by James E. Talmage. Free download.

Family Home Evening Ideas and Resources

The Birth of Christ by Deseret Book
Christmas Service by Ivy Bonhorst on Sugardoodle
The Christmas Orange on Sugardoodle
The Christmas Story from the Friend (For Little Friends, includes interactive pictures to help tell the story)
The Birth of Jesus Christ brought Joy to the Earth from Primary 2 Manual
Christmas Quiz from the Friend

Stockings Advent

We made an advent calendar out of small baby and child sized Christmas socks that attach to twine rope with small wooden clothes pins and hang at the fireplace. Each day the children find a small note with an idea for a Christmas activity or a small treat. Many of the ideas are just for fun, but mixed in are ideas of things to do for service for someone else, like make a Christmas card, make and deliver a treat to a neighbor, write your testimony of the Savior or draw a picture of the shepherds, etc.

Symbols of the Season

In the book, A Child Is Born by W. Jeffrey Marsh, the author states that, "Christmas symbols are everywhere. We can succesfully mix the two (the symbols of Christmas and the Savior) and enjoy both, without hastily and guiltily retreating into separate worlds each Christmas season--if we allow one to bear witness of the other. Each Christmas custom and every Christmas symbol can help us remember and appreciate more, some greater truth about Christ."

Teach your children of all the symbols of Christmas. We can actually feel spiritually uplifted living in the world of candy canes, wreaths, lights and all the trappings that go with Christmas if we use all of these holiday trappings to remind us of the real meaning for celebration. We can look at the following symbols of Christmas and see a deeper meaning.

Candy Canes--the shepherd's crook
Evergreen Wreaths and Trees--eternal life
Stars--the star of Bethlehem
Christmas Lights--The Savior is the light of the world
Santa Claus--the spirit of giving
Candles--Jesus is our true source of light and shining light to a dark world

Julie Slagle shared an idea on Sugardoodle for an advent calendar using the symbols of Christmas and scriptures to go along with them. She also included an ornament and an activity for each day.
Another posted on Sugardoodle that has pictures and meanings

Family Service

Do a small kindness for Jesus. Do a service for someone in your family such as secretly making a bed for someone and leave a small figure of the Christ child at the site of your service. That person then has to do a kind thing in secret for someone else in the family. We try to keep a couple of these baby Jesus figures (you can sometimes find these at the Dollar store and Walmart) circulating throughout the Christmas season. It helps if a parent or an enthusiastic child is in charge of reminding people to keep this going. It is wonderful to have a spirit of service in the home!

Hang Christmas stockings early in the season and encourage family members to place notes of appreciation, love and noticing the good deeds of another and read them on Christmas.

Place a basket of straw near your nativity and encourage family members to take a piece of straw and place it into the manger each time they do a kind deed for someone else. This idea was used for an Family Home Evening idea posted on Sugardoodle


Collect nativities from around the world reminding your family that "every knee will bow and every tongue confess." Nativities representing different countries remind us that we are all God's children.

It is wonderful to have a set or two that the children in the family can touch without worry of breaking.

At the beginning of the Christmas season, purchase a nativity set to give away. Wrap each piece of the nativity in pretty paper or celephane bag and tie up with a bow. Each night for 12 nights leave a piece of the nativity at someone's doorstep, leaving the Christ child on the last night. Our children have always loved the secrecy and close calls of being found out.

It is always exciting to unpack the Christmas decorations each year. Why not make a special event of setting out the nativity and retelling the story with the figures at the beginning of the season. It only takes a little bit of time to remind our children or grandchildren the true meaning behind our Christmas celebrations. Some familiies do not set out the figure of the Christ child until Christmas eve.

Bethlehem Dinner: Spinach Pies

Spinach Pie recipe for the Bethlehem Dinner Menu.

2-10 oz blocks of frozen spinach
1 onion, finely chopped
4-5 Tbs of lemon juice
2 Tbs oil
salt and pepper to taste

Bread dough

Defrost spinach under running water in strainer. Squeeze out excess water with hands. Sprinkle with salt and alow to sit in strainer for 15 minutes. Mix with all the ingredients. Pinch off 2 1/2" balls of dough and roll out into 4" squares. Put a heaping tablespon of filling on each circle (kind of in a triangle shape, pointing to one of the corners of the square). Fold up from the bottom of the triangle and bring in the sides to the center. you will have formed a triangle. Press down seams firmly and pinch ends together.

Place on greased cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil. Bake at 400 until golden brown.

Bethlehem Dinner: Baklava

Baklava Recipe for Bethlehem Dinner Menu for those of you interested in making it yourself. I usually go the easy route and buy it at the store.

2 lbs. phyllo dough
6 cups walnuts, chopped
2 cups rendered butter (see recipe below)
1 tsp cinnamon1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup confectioner's suggar
2 cups Attar (recipe below)

Mix nuts, sugar, spices, and 1 Tbs. butter.Grease 12x17 baking sheet with butter. Place two layers of baklava phyllo on the baking sheet, brushing lightly with butter. Continue this process until 1/2 lb. of dough has been layered. Spread the nut mixture evenly over the dough. Lay the rest of the dough, following the same procedure. Do not grease the last layer. With a sharp knife cut into diamond shapes. Heat the rest of the butter (about 1 cup) and pour on the tray.

Preheat oven to 400. Place the tray in oven, then reduce to 275. Bake from 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Cool for 10 min. Pour cold syrup (attar) evenly over the surface. Rendered Butter(another warning: this makes way more than you will need for one batch of baklava, I know Jon shrinks the recipe down accordingly)

5 lbs. Sweet butter
1/2 cup flour

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add the flour. Cook on low heat until foam disappears from the top. When clear, remove from heat and cool. Pour the pure butter into jars. Be careful not to pour the salty residue. Note: Rendered butter is used in Arabic pastries. Stored in jars it will keep for many months without being refrigerated.

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 Tbs. Lemon juice

Mix sugar and water and bring to boil. Add lemon juice and boil for 7 more minutes. Cool. Makes 2 cups Attar.

Bethlehem Dinner: Stuffed Grape Leaves

Recipe for part of the Bethlehem Dinner Menu.

1 jar grape leaves (found by the pickles in some grocery stores. Safeway carries them)
1 1/2 cups ground meat, raw--traditionally lamb but I use beef
1 c rice (uncooked)
3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cinnimon
2 tbs butter (use if you are using a lean meat)

Mix the above ingredients together well. This is your filling for the grape leaves.

Remove all the grape leaves from jar carefully, unfold, separate, and rinse leaves. Remove stems with a knife, place 1 tsp of filling near base of leaf (around where the stem was) fold in sides and roll up the leaf like a cigar. Should be very tight or it will come unrolled while cooking. Place in a large sauce pan, add 1 (8oz) can of tomato sauce and water to cover the rolled leaves. Sprinkle with salt and bring to a boil.

Cook covered on low for 50 minutes, checking to make sure there is still water and the leaves are not burning on the bottom. Test to make sure the rice is cooked in the leaves. Add a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and heat through. Serve warm or they are good cold too.

Tip: I use a small plate on top of the grape leaves in the sauce pan with the lid on to old the leaves still while the water is bubbling. This helps to prevent th leaves from coming unrolled.

Arts and Crafts

I love children's artwork and always have some displayed in prominent places in my home. At Christmas it is wonderful to sit down with your children or grandchildren with paper and art supplies and encourage them to draw or paint pictures of the nativity. Encourage their creativity and you will be rewarded with the sweetest artwork that reminds your children and you of the reason for the season.

Help children to make their own nativity. We have done this with simple cut out shapes of felt that were then played with on a flannel board to retell the Christmas story. We have used wooden spools bought at the craft store and painted, and playdough and clay shapes molded by small hands.

We have bought a big slab of red potter's clay and made small clay lamps that are similar to the lamps used at the time of Christ. Even teenage boys like the process of lighting these.

Look for more arts and crafts in the weeks to come. We will link to many of the amazing things other people are doing.

Three Kings Game

We use very inexpensive figures of the wisemen (my most recent kings were from the dollar store) or you could draw or have a child draw the kings, or use 3 big fancy buttons that fell from the wisemen's cloaks.

Each night before bedtime, or after the kitchen is cleaned up from dinner etc., have someone in the family hide the 3 wisemen. We start in a room in the house that is farthest away from the nativity set. The wisemen are hidden, the children find them and that is all there is to it, but for some reason children love doing this. The next night someone else hides them and they are moved a little bit closer to the nativity, eventually going through most of the rooms in the house until on Christmas they finally find the Christ child.

Bethlehem Dinner

We look forward every year to setting aside a special evening which we call our "Bethlehem" dinner. We prepare foods that the Savior may have been familiar with. Our menu includes dishes that have been in my husband's family for generations that originate from the Jerusalem area. We play soft Christmas religious music and eat by candlelight and clay lamp light. We have a short devotional or share some historical facts about the time and places Jesus lived in.
(Click the link for a post with the recipe)

Stuffed Grape Leaves
Spinach Pies (you can also buy these at stores like Costco in their frozen section labeled as Spanakopita)
Pita Bread
Mediterranean Olives
Grape Juice
Cucumber Salad
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