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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Revisiting the Creche

Long, long ago, in a rather lanky house at the top of the hill, there lived a little girl who loved her mother’s Christmas creche, which lived on her mother’s bookcase every Christmas. It was not an expensive or magnificent creche. The little structure was covered with bits of bark and moss that tended to get dusty, and the little plaster figures were not elaborate. The little girl loved it because she was a girl who loved stories, and there was a story for this creche. It had been a gift to the little girl’s mother, from her older brother, one Christmas.

And so, the little girl grew up with the solemn idea that a creche ought really to be something a loved one gave to you, rather than something you buy in a store.

And one day, that little girl married a Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow. They had a little girl of their own, and she was a little girl with clever hands and sharp eyes.

Years went by, and the little girl with clever hands and sharp eyes noticed that her mama mentioned the story of the gift creche, but never owned one. So one year, she and her Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Daddy built a simple, spare, and just-right creche for the mama, and populated it with the same style of plaster figures the first little girl’s mother had been given, and gave it to her for Christmas, where it was given a place of honor as the focal point of the family’s Christmas celebrations.Mantel

The only thing that bothered the little girl with clever hands and sharp eyes was that the nativity figures did not look exactly like what she saw in her mind. But her clever hands were too young and unskilled to produce what she saw in her mind, and her sharp eyes needed to be even more sharp to do the work she wanted to do.

The little girl grew into a tall girl, and her hands became ever-more nimble, and her eyes ever-more sharp, and one year, she looked at her mother’s lovely creche, with the simple plaster figures that had never quite suited her, and decided to revisit the creche.

And so, she worked in odd moments, and hung a curtain across the doorway, and insisted everyone knock on the door lintel, so the creche might remain a Christmas secret.

A few days before Christmas, when this tall and lovely girl set about decking the cottage to celebrate, she quietly placed the re-painted creche in its place on the mantel, and waited.

It took her mother a few days to notice, but when she did, this is what she found:

The Angel, Bending Near to Gaze

The Angel, Bending Near to Gaze

Three Regal Kings come to Worship

Three Regal Kings come to Worship

A Mary and Joseph with Overflowing Hearts

A Mary and Joseph with Overflowing Hearts

A Mother Rapt with Joy in her Sweet Baby

A Mother Rapt with Joy in her Sweet Baby

A Renewed Gift--as Christmas Renews Us Every Year!

A Renewed Gift–as Christmas Renews Us Every Year!

And the mother was transported instantly back to the little given creche on her own mother’s bookshelf, and she was filled with happiness, for gifts that are given again and again in love are always the most happy gifts.

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It’s not feasible to detail every bit of our  Christmas this year (we had a lovely celebration with loads of components), but here’s the short version of everything that made it feel special for me, my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow, and our Minions:

1: Eldest dressing as an Elf, complete with super-glued ear cartilage (pointy!) and added freckles, to pass out candy canes at the Thanksgiving Day Run to Feed the Hungry. It’s her third year participating, and I’m amazed each time that my Non-Morning Person child drags out and hits the ground chipper to go help at the race. She’s Rawthah Nifty.BethEyes

2: It’s our third year of skipping a Christmas tree. I kind of love it. We decorate wreaths all over the house (windows, doors, “vegetable” door (the vestibule, or enclosed front stoop, as named by Miss Spicy Child when she was 5), set the Nativity in a prominent place on the mantel, arrange the angels and fairy lights, and add lights and ornaments to the Yule Mustache.

It’s simple, everyone gets involved (which nearly killed my Eldest this year; she is getting a taste of how painful it can be to an Oh-So-Slightly-Neurotic Big Person to allow small people to “wreck up” a wreath in their own personal style, which mostly seems to involve putting so many ornaments on willy-nilly that no greenery is left visible. And they all clash.), and there’s zero stress for me.

The Minions get to Install Christmas their ownselves, which really helps everyone feel connected and participatory. Both the Yule Mustache/Nativity and the Connection/Participation elements are illustrated in this charming picture of Sisterly Love and Caring:

Beatings

(Click to embiggen and see all the Loving Detail.)

3: We had another Christmas that involved very little traditional shopping, and a whole lot of scheming and plotting instead.

New sleeping caps, a big box of homemade and handed down fashion doll clothes, a big bottle of maraschino cherries that don’t have to be shared, a packet of crackers and herbed goat cheese, little flashlights and measuring tapes, new aprons, a book full of cookie recipes (that we already owned, but Lefty really, really wants me to make cookies with her as Head Minion, so she wrapped it up and gave it to me), antique books from second-hand shops, a bin of fabric remnants to be used for future doll clothing, homemade toys, a hand-bound leather-cased sketch book, new watercolor art for website headers (possibly for this one, too; I’ve not decided, but I can tell you that having a Real Artist in the family is a very handy thing to arrange)… there were a lot of secrets floating about the house for the past month or so, and much in the way of shifting alliances as various family members worked on delightful surprises for others.

And my Darling Husband and Devoted Offspring went together to design and have made an apron with some truly touching artwork, depicting their Vast Adoration and Respect for a wife and mother (me!) who has a need to make sure everything proceeds in orderly and scheduled ways, and also has kind of short arms:

Apron1

Because truly, who wouldn’t feel loved getting a T-Rex apron for Christmas? It joins my Bosoms-Added T-Rex from Mother’s Day, and the mini plastic T-Rex they brought home from the beach in a Live Hermit Crab pet carrier, just to freak me out about Inappropriate Pets We Can’t Take Home on the Plane.

4: We shared some danged tasty celebratory foods. Pies, cheesecakes, cinnamon rolls, BBQ ribs, cayenne wings, pot stickers, salads, veggies, fish… all homemade and tremendously tasty, to enjoy ourselves and share with others at work, and church, and play. (And I was tickled to successfully copy the shape of an apron Eldest was given last Christmas, in brand new and Rawthah Snazzy fabric.

Apron2

5: Some amazing Church Music. I don’t have a picture for this one, because how can you capture so many amazing moments? We kicked it off with a community concert at the start of December, kept going with a short tableaux at a church party, sang together at home, found a fantastic new album (and downloaded that and the sheet music; thanks for the lovely gift, Husby, even if I did just inform you about it when you got home from work that night. You have excellent taste in my music.)   Eldest and I have been prepping to sing together this coming Sunday, and can I just say? Birthing someone who sounds a lot like me at her age (but with better training than I had) is the closest I am ever going to come to singing duets with myself, and it’s very, very nifty.

Christmas Eve, we drove over and hung out with the Presbyterians for a midnight service, to worship and “ring in” Christmas, and it was the absolute, bar-none, positively most wonderful way we could have spent those last preparatory hours before Christmas morning. Lefty konked out about 20 minutes in, and spent the rest of the service drooling peacefully on The Boy’s leg, but Spicy kept herself awake to hear the splendid choir, a meaningful sermon, and sing along with a congregation of happy believers. Lit candles, bell choirs, joyful carols… and then out into a truly silent midnight, feet crunching over snow in the nearly-zero-degree weather, under the open cathedral of stars. So, so, so very good!

6: We didn’t worry about pictures on Christmas morning. Instead of spending all our time recording it, we just enjoyed it. And it was really fun.

7: We have amazing family. When one of my little brothers and his wife saw a Facebook post about Lefty’s mid-December request for a train for her imaginary pet sheep, Baby Timmy (who is a girl), and read of my refusal to buy real trains for make-believe baby sheep, they decided to send Baby Timmy a train, to be opened by Lefty. When the package arrived, the card said only, “Merry Christmas to Baby Timmy, from all the gals down in the motor pool.”

Lefty saved Baby Timmy’s gift for last, and we did break out the camera for that bit of opening, so we could share the excitement and delight with a set of loved ones across the continent. We don’t need to do Santa. We have tremendously magical people in our own gene pool, who make our hearts smile!

7.5: Same lovely “gals down at the motor pool” opened up the chance to help with a service project they organized. It is truly a lovely thing to see loving people work together to make the lives of strangers a bit more comfortable and easy. This has been a great year for seeing the compassionate works of others, helping wherever we can, and rejoicing that there are such good things in the world!

8: I had the opportunity to stitch a hen.hen6

This past summer, when the raspberries were in full leafy splendor, one of my Spicy child’s dear pet hens died. Daisy was smallish, fluffy, red (with touches of black and brown). She was a wonderfully cuddly bit of henfolk. A few weeks after her funeral, Spicy cuddled up in my lap and said that she didn’t want one right away, but sometime later, she thought she might like a nice cuddly fake hen that looked like Daisy Chicken, so she could snuggle her always, and not be so sad about Daisy away in Heaven, because waiting for the Resurrection was going to be rather hard.

I know. Reach for the hankies, right? This kid manages to yank my heart out through my tear ducts on a shockingly frequent basis.

So I stitched a hen, of soft red melton wool, about the same size as Daisy Chicken at 1 year old, and copied the shape of her “wobbles” from pictures we had.

hen2

Her wings are attached with feather stitch (appropriate, no?), and it took me awhile to find the right threads to match the amber-and-black of her eyes.

hen5

I finished her in time for cuddling Christmas night, and Spicy swears that when she got up in the middle of the night for a drink, Stuffed Daisy was still cozy warm when she climbed back in bed.Waif4

Bonus: Spicy is willing to share hen-cuddling with Lefty the Dickensian Waif, and both girls are happy.

hen4

Spicy and Daisy: Contemplative

Our year is coming to a close with a really lovely and peaceful span of days, and I am so very contented and full of ideas for the coming months. As we step into the Twelve Days of Christmas, I hope your days really are merry and bright, and full of love and peace and joy and hope. Happy Christmas!

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Hark!I love a good hour-long musical devotional, but the reality is, we can’t always get little kids to sit still and reverent for a long time. This very short (10 minutes or less, depending on significant pauses in the narration and whether or not the little angels jab the shepherds, and vice-versa) Christmas program has the feel of the Cousin-Designed-and-Directed Nativity plays put on in the family room of Grandma’s Houses everywhere. And really, the more home-grown, the better!

We’ll be using it for our congregational social this week; it would work for a family party just as well. Enjoy!

Picture a Christmas Tableaux

Remember, it’s a really dreadful time of year to be a jerk about copyrights. I’d love you to share this, but don’t re-host it. Just link back, and the whole Universe will acknowledge your general Decency, Goodness, and Awesome Karma.

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Well-established fact: I adore music. It is my primary mode of worship, and it makes my life happy.

I also really like designing devotionals and programs and special worship services. This particular program hit me upside the brain one day, and I had to get out of the shower to write it all down immediately. (I’m thinking of getting one of those surveyor’s tablets with the write-in-the-rain paper. It could be quite useful.)

I knew I was to use several hymns that are not traditionally “Christmas” songs, but which communicate beautiful messages of the Savior. I knew that Mary and Joseph had a duet, that there was a lullaby at the very end, and that the entire congregation would sing a grand testimony together with the choir, just before a benediction. I knew the narration needed to be scripture, with only a little extra. It was all there, just waiting to be combined into an uplifting celebration.

So here’s a Christmas Eve (or even Christmas Eve Eve) devotional service, totally free to share and use (just please keep my copyright notes intact). The overall PDF file contains notes for the director, the script, and the music arrangements, all together, so it make take a few minutes to load.

Believe, A Christmas Devotional

All the musical selections are taken from the standard LDS hymnal , with one number from the children’s songbook. This allows for maximum congregational participation, and speedy devotional preparation, as many choir members will be familiar with the majority of the pieces. You may download music from LDS.org (go to Resources, Music, and launch the Interactive Music Player.)

I have written a few special arrangements, variations, and descants that are inspired by historical arrangements and harmonies; sheet music is provided in this packet, and is licensed to be photocopied for choir use. Only hymns that are licensed for incidental, non-commercial use have been selected for this devotional.

I have also included a printable program; combine it with Christ-centered art of your choice. If budget allows, consider having the program printed on good gloss cover stock, with the image in full color, and the text in black-and-white on the matte reverse. This allows the program to be framed and displayed in congregants’ homes for the Christmas season and beyond.

Ideally, this devotional should be shared in the evening; there is the unique feature of a postlude hymn, sung as a lullaby from the choir to the congregation, and to send everyone home in the silent, peaceful night, anticipating the joyous celebration of Christ’s birth in the morning… well, it’s just really cool. I dare you to sing the last number without getting a bit verklempt.

It’s Thanksgiving Day. I’m thankful. We are all so, so very blessed.

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I know there are many households where Christmas traditions are writ large in granite, and are henceforth Never To Be Altered. While I think it’s kind of nifty to have some elements that are unchanging, we’ve had such a wide variety of celebrations that I’m finding I prefer a more flexible tradition. Without the expectation that each year will be identical and perfect, we’re open to a lot of new experiences and alterations and variations, and that seems to leave me with something wonderful every year.

This year, some aspects of our celebration were similar to previous years, and some were new, and altogether, it’s been lovely!

Again this year, my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow dressed as Father Christmas for the Thanksgiving Day charity race, and Eldest went with him as his elf, Merry. (Christmas. We’re nerdly in our punfulness.) Since it was a full 45* warmer this year than last (it was REALLY cold last year), we had a fantastic time. I neglected to take pictures.

Again this year, we didn’t put up a tree. Our bitty cottage really has no floor space for one, and there’s no way to rearrange to fit one easily. So, we decorated the mantel (handmade by that Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal fellow!), the kids each decorated at least one wreath, and the whole decking of halls was accomplished without blasphemy, because we packed things away very neatly last year. (In March. Don’t judge me.) Also, I neglected to take pictures.

Adapting from last year, we put the creche in the center of the mantel, flanked by angels. Last year, it was on the piano. I like it better on the mantel, tucked in with the Isle of Sky chess set king and queen, an odd tiny Father Christmas figurine or two, and the felt camel, horse, sheep, and goat a friend gave us (from Outer Mongolia. Really. Not being hyperbolic there. They were bought in Ulaanbataar. Outer Mongolia. SO COOL!)

(Oh look! A picture!) (more…)

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I have a “thing” about worship services, particularly at Christmas and Easter. Since music is my primary mode of worship, on those holy days, I really enjoy a service that’s heavy on sacred and inspirational music, with a bit of scripture tossed in the mix.

In my prior incarnation as a Church Lady Choir Director, with 45 quite talented people under my baton, I got to write several such services. And since this one is just sitting around in my hard drive, why not share it, right? Details after the jump… (more…)

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Christmas Eve

I think we’re ready.

We’ve made and assembled pleasant treats for the breakfast stockings. We’ve wrapped and tissued and bagged all manner of wondrous gifties. All the little ferrety hidey holes have been raided, and each person’s secret stash of Christmas joys have been labeled and added to the pile of presents at the hearth.

We’ve lit the candles, and strung lights around each window, even in the Vegetable (which is really a vestibule (which is fancy for “enclosed front porch”), but when Spicy decides on a term, it often sticks. She’s really cute.) I’m seriously considering leaving the lights up in the Vegetable all year round, as the glow is so welcoming and festive.

We’ve decorated and hung the wreaths, including one on the back door for Spicy’s hens to enjoy. “My sweet little chickens need Christmas too, Mom!” says she, and who am I to argue?

My Nativity creche, made by the hands of the Eldest and her Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal father, is arranged on the piano.

And, we have decorated the Yule Mustache.

Having no floor space in our charming little cottage, we debated such solutions as hanging a tree upside down from the ceiling (still no airspace in which to hang it) or even stapling it flat to the ceiling (crossed off as too dang weird.)

No, this year, we skipped a tree.

We went Pre-Prince-Albert (as dear Albert was the particular German fellow who brought the Christmas tree into popular usage outside of Germany, in the late 1840s), and instead, decorated the mantel (cunningly made by my own Prince Consort) with a large evergreen bough that looks just a bit like a lovely mustache, waxed neatly to points at each end. Our Yule Mustache is cheerful and pleasing, and I’m not sure I want to go back to a tree, ever! (I’ll bend, though, if the family decides they want one whenever we get more floor space.)

Rebel against the Holiday Industrial Complex: allow yourself to simplify, and enjoy the beauty of our season of holy anticipation and rejoicing!

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