Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Afterthoughts & Precious Books

I hope December 27 finds you relaxed and filled with warm Christmas memories. Christmas Day was wonderful, but it's busy here every year, with cooking being the main frenzied activity, as we chop, chop and chop some more for a complicated stuffing recipe, a sweet potato casserole, an apple pie, and mashed potatoes. The cranberries are boiled with orange juice and a cup of sugar, so they're easy, and the green beans are just steamed, so very easy too. But boy, it's hours before the meal is done and hubby and me can sit down and relax. 

We've thought about making a simpler holiday meal over the years, but the truth is we would miss the special foods. It would behoove me to make some things ahead of time, but what can I say? With four kids, each day has enough work of its own.

In a house with four children, it also takes the first couple hours of the day to straighten the house, wipe down the bathrooms and dust and vacuum for a guest, with the children's help. We have them open presents early, not on Christmas Day, because of the meal prep and anticipating needing their help on Christmas morn. This schedule allows us to make time to play games with them, help them with a new toy, and just enjoy a non-frenzied day before a big day of cooking. This year we chose Christmas Eve morning to open gifts, followed by a church service at 4:30 PM, and cookie social afterwards.

Christmas day I left the dinner dishes for late night, and after dinner we did our Christmas Nativity play with our friend Dean's help, followed by devotions and round robin prayer. Husband's sister sent my girls the Frozen movie, so we watched that later. Dean had never seen it, and we had only seen it once, a couple months ago, as we never noticed it in our town library, but finally put it on hold from another library. Dean was curious to see what all the hoopla was about. I warned him it's not a man's movie, but he enjoyed it nevertheless. 

It's so wonderful to have a Christian friend here on Christmas and Easter. The first eight years we lived here we were mostly alone on holidays, with a couple exceptions. The kids love having a guest, but they don't want to be away from home on holidays. Truthfully, as much as having help or trading with the cooking would be nice, I don't want to be away from home either.

Paul made these cookies, with the girls' help. 
Our family in our mismatched Christmas outfits
Our friend Dean with our boys. We knew him in California from our church singles group. Seven years ago he also moved to Ohio, but we only connected with him two years ago. 
Miss Beth loves dolls and dress-up clothes. She's an amateur actress and dancer and for every Christmas, every birthday, she asks for a doll and a princess dress. No variety, just the same thing every year and she's a happy camper.

Don't miss these Christmas books. They're worth putting on hold and finishing before New Year's, or anytime.

Shooting At The Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 by John Hendrix
Copyright 2014

SynopsisShooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I who experiences an unforgettable Christmas Eve. In a letter home to his mother, he describes how, despite fierce fighting earlier from both sides, Allied and German soldiers ceased firing and came together on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday. They sang carols, exchanged gifts, and even lit Christmas trees. But as the holiday came to a close, they returned to their separate trenches to await orders for the war to begin again.

John Hendrix wonderfully brings this story to life, interweaving fact and fiction along with his detailed illustrations and hand-lettered text. His story celebrates the humanity and kindness that can persist even during the darkest periods of our history. Back matter includes a glossary, additional information about World War I and the Christmas Truce and its aftermath, and an archival photograph taken during the Truce.

About the Author: John Hendrix’s books include John Brown: His Fight for Freedom, a Publishers Weekly Best Book and New York Public Library Top 100 Book, and Nurse, Soldier, Spy, by Marissa Moss, which received a Eureka! Children’s Book Award and Booklist Editor’s Choice Award. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

My Notes: The writer is a pacifist, which I gathered from his introduction, but regardless of whether you think World War 1 was necessary or not, this book is beautifully done, humanizing both sides and illustrating what Christmas is truly about--hope and love. It's a wonderful history lesson as well as a worthy Christmas story, for children 6 and above, (some might say 2nd grade and above). The text was engaging, and not too wordy or too long for my six year old.

The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg, Copyright 1997

Synopsis: Review For those who cringe at the creeping materialism surrounding Christmas, a pious story about the origins of the candy cane is definitely a change of pace. A stranger arrives in town one dreary November and begins hammering and sawing away at his newly rented storefront. When a small girl offers her help, she's in for a childhood fantasy-come-true, as it turns out all the shelves and counters are being built for a candy shop. After offering young Lucy gumdrops and lollipops, Mr. Sonneman launches into the history of the candy cane. With his guidance, she discovers that the upturned candy is in the shape of a j--for Jesus. Right side up it looks like a shepherd's staff. And the red stripes? The blood of Christ from his terrible whipping. Lucy and Mr. Sonneman set out on a quest to share this story with everyone in town. Their message (and their gift of the pepperminty red-and-white sticks) brings the whole town together in a joyful celebration of Christmas (and candy).

James Bernardin's old-timey acrylic and colored pencil illustrations are reminiscent of Norman Rockwell, but depict both modern and biblical times. Candy canes will never taste quite the same again. (Ages 6 to 9) --Emilie Coulter

My Notes: My library only had a shorter, board-book version of this story available this year, but it's beautiful, wholesome, and powerful. A well-told story worthy of your Christmas celebrations every year.

An Amish Christmas by Richard Ammon Copyright 1996

SynopsisThere is excitement in the air on Christmas Eve day at Maple Hill School and it is hard for the young scholars to pay attention to lessons. That afternoon parents and young brothers and sisters will pull up in their horse-drawn buggies to celebrate the season with student skits, poems, and a Christmas carol sing. Christmas Eve in Amish Country also means the usual round of chores, feeding the animals, and milking the cows and cleaning the stalls. But a dusting of snow makes the evening magical.

Two days of Christmas are celebrated by the Amish in their own special ways. There are always the chores, but there is also simple gift giving, in the spirit of the wisemen. There are visits to relatives by horse and sleigh, big family dinners, and the fun of getting together with cousins and friends to sled, build snowmen, and ice skate.

All too soon, the holiday is over, and Amish youngsters return to school filled with memories of two days overflowing with family and fun.

My Notes: This book is not a story, but an accounting of how the Amish typically spend Christmas. It's a cultural lesson mostly, but the non-materialistic view of Christmas is valuable and could spark great conversation about how to keep Christmas meaningful and simple. Each member of the Amish family receives just one gift, for example. The book doesn't glorify the Amish lifestyle, but instead, just portrays it sensibly and respectfully.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo, Copyright 2007 (and a newer, 2010 version with a different cover than pictured below)

Synopsis: It is just before Christmas when an organ grinder and monkey appear on the street outside Frances’s apartment. When it’s quiet she can hear their music, and when she looks out her window at midnight, she sees them sleeping outside. Finally the day of the Christmas pageant arrives, but when it’s Frances’s turn to speak, all she can think about is the organ grinder’s sad eyes — until a door opens just in time, and she finds the perfect words to share. With this luminous tale, Kate DiCamillo pairs with Bagram Ibatoulline to offer a timeless holiday gift.

About the Author & Illustrator
Kate DiCamillo is the author of The Magician’s Elephant, a New York Times bestseller; The Tale of Despereaux, which was awarded the Newbery Medal; Because of Winn-Dixie, a Newbery Honor book; and six books starring Mercy Watson, including the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride. She lives in Minneapolis.

Bagram Ibatoulline has illustrated many acclaimed books for children, including Thumbelina, retold by Brian Alderson; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Great Joy, both by Kate DiCamillo; The Animal Hedge by Paul Fleischman; Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinderbox and The Nightingale, both retold by Stephen Mitchell; The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M. T. Anderson; and Hana in the Time of the Tulips by Deborah Noyes. He lives in Pennsylvania.

My Notes: A meaningful tale about the danger of forgetting the least of God's people, like the beggars on the streets or the orphans. A little girl, unlike her mother, is not willing to look away and pretend there aren't people who are cold and hungry on Christmas Eve, and everyday. Her simple child-like love, simple reaching out, are priceless and inspiring. This one is a must-have,


Margie said...

Merry Christmas to you and your sweet family!

Christine said...

Thank you, Margie! Good to hear from you and I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Happy New Year!

Tesha Papik said...

I am glad to read you had a blessed Christmas! I agree that having company makes the day a little more special:) did you read The first Christmas night? It is a sweet twist on The night before Christmas... Make sure to look for it next year if you missed it! I pray the you have a blessed 2015!!!

Beth Bullington said...

It sounds like a fun day. I am glad you have family photos. We need to get some and I am sure we will have mismatched shirts as well. I love your book suggestions. Have you seen the Sainsbury's 2014 Christmas ad? That is the store I shop at all the time. I think they did an excellent job making the video.