Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 12

I know ... I'm getting this one in just under the wire! It's the middle of the night, and we're in the midst of packing for a trip we will hopefully be taking tomorrow, provided the road we need to drive on to "... be home for Christmas" stays open amidst a gazillion inches of snow and freezing rain!

I couldn't think of a better book to end the Twelve Books of Christmas with than this one ... "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus". I had never even heard of it until about three weeks ago, when my mother-in-law asked if I'd ever read it. On one of her trips here, she brought me her copy ... purchased in 1972. A beautiful, well-preserved book ... with a timeless message.

Today ... this very book arrived in the mail for me. A gift from my mother-in-law. I don't plan to read it to my kids just yet ... maybe not even next year. But, I think this is the one I'll pull out when they finally look me in the eyes and asked me the question, "Mom ... is Santa real?"

"Yes, Virginia..." centers around a little girl (Virginia ... obviously), who asks that question. The older printing of the book provides a bit more back story than the new printing, explaining that Virginia's dad, upon hearing the question, tells his daughter to ask The New York Sun ... because what they say is always true.

So ... she writes to the editor of the New York Sun.

The treasured, timeless response by Mr. Francis Pharcellus Church, in the year 1897, was eventually turned into book form. And, thank goodness for that ... it is a classic and is as wonderfully relevant today as I'm sure it was back then.

Enjoy ... and blessings to you this Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Books 10 and 11

My family and I love everything about Christmas ... the joyous spirit, the generosity, the kindness that seems to be more abundant this time of year ... and, yes, Santa too! But, we also celebrate Jesus' birth as the reason for everything Christmas!

So, with that in mind, I'm doing a double-book-post today ... about two legends ... that of the Christmas Tree and the Candy Cane.

Have you heard the one about the Candy Cane? Not the joke ... the legend? It's so cool. A stranger comes into town, and sets up a candy shop (you can just hear the children's cheers!), where he introduces a mysterious, oddly-shaped red and white striped confection. The townspeople soon learn that the candy cane is a special Christmas candy because 1) it is shaped like the letter 'J' ... which stands for Jesus, born on Christmas day; 2) if you flip it the opposite direction, it looks like a shepherd's staff ... for the shepherds in the field, watching over their flocks by night; 3) it has red stripes ... representing the blood Jesus shed when he died on the cross; and 4) it has white stripes ... to represent pureness and sins washed away by the blood of Jesus.

In "The Legend of the Christmas Tree", a family in search of the perfect Christmas tree makes their way through thick fog to a tree farm, which seems to appear out of nowhere, and is operated by a kind, grandfatherly man who seems to have been expecting them.

They notice three large, beautiful ... and perfectly identical Christmas trees ... one of which has a lovely, silver box sitting beneath it.

The man explains to the family that the trees and the secret in the silvery box tell the legend of the Christmas tree. And so, we learn that 1) one tree has three corners, representing God in three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; 2) trees were first decorated with apples and twists of bread to tell the story of the tree in the Garden of Eden; 3) Martin Luther then put candles on his tree to represent the story of Jesus' (the light of the world) birth; and 4) people in Europe then added beautiful ornaments to their trees, as a way to celebrate Jesus' birth.

After hearing the legend, the family is given the perfect Christmas tree ... and the beautiful silver box, with instructions not to open it until they have finished decorating their tree. Any guesses on what was in the box?

A star ... the Christmas star ... with a note that reads, "Just as the wise men found Jesus under the star of Bethlehem, may all who see the tree that is under this star hear and understand the true meaning of Christmas."

Blessings to you and your family this Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house) - Books 8 & 9

Little did I know, until we received the first in the series as a gift a couple years ago, that Hallmark published their own Christmas picture books. The first book - "The Snow Must Go On! A Way, Way Off-Broadway Adventure" - shifts the focus away from the North Pole ... to the South Pole.

The penguins and snowpeople of Antarctic Springs are out to prove they can do Christmas just as well as that well-known wonderland up north! So, they decide to put on a holiday show to convince everyone that they, too, are joyful and jolly.

After much rehearsing, they are ready for their debut. But, it dawns on them that all the town's members are IN the play ... which means no one left to watch. No worries ... Santa and his reindeer arrive just in time to watch the show, and - to quote Santa - they prove that "... North, South, East, or West, it's the joy inside our hearts that counts at Christmas!" Amen! Oh, and parents ... make sure that - when it comes time to sing the part of the rock-and-roll penguin - you're ready to do your best Elvis impression! It's a guaranteed giggle every time!

In the second book in the series, "Snow Happy to be Here! The Slightly Silly Story of the Snowblatt Family", the story starts with little Snow-Ellen (Snowblatt Family daughter) asking the question, "Where do we come from, and why were we made, and how did we get here from there?"

Mama and Papa Snowblatt agree that the question is good and thus begins the tale of how snowmen come to be ... from snowflakes falling from the sky to the funny stuff we humans dress them in! An adorable tale with amusing pictures, that ends with a secret revealed ... it's the creator's smile that brings snowmen to life!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 7

Oh my, do we ever need our mittens these days! Ever since reading "The Snowy Day" ... the snow ... and ice ... haven't stopped!

This adorable book, targeted at the preschool age group, is a delight to read, and the pictures are so wonderfully charming.

On each page, children (and adults too ... go ahead ... feel the mittens) can feel the little boy's velvety red mittens, as he experiences the joys of winter ... catching snowflakes, throwing snowballs, licking icicles, and making a snowman.

And on the last oh-so-cozy page ... a picture of the little boy (with requisite steaming hot chocolate in hand), his red mittens, and his snoozing kitty warming by the fire.

A short, sweet, perfectly cheerful book! Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Perfect Moment

This past Monday, the quote on my daily desk calendar read, "To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold." (Author Unknown).

I love it when a quote makes you stop and think, has special meaning to you on the day you are hearing/reading it, or reminds you of a special moment. For me, the quote did the latter ... it took me back to the day before. My family was acting as Greeters at church. There weren't too many people to greet, as we were in the midst of a snowstorm and many people weren't able to make it in that morning.

My kids, bursting with joy at the fact that snowflakes were falling from the sky, could barely contain themselves, and were splitting their time between greeting duties and standing outside in the snow.

My three-year old daughter came in and excitedly exclaimed that they had caught some snowflakes on their tongue " going like this!!", at which point she leaned her head back, opened her mouth, and stuck out her tongue! Our interim pastor, Pastor Wally, just as excited at the prospect, joined my kids outside. What a sight it was to see tall Pastor Wally, standing next to my 6-year old son and three-year old daughter, as they all leaned back and tried to catch snowflakes on their tongue.

At that moment, I was thinking two things ... 1) Pastor Wally is such a great sport and really good at being 'in the moment' with kids; and 2) They are experiencing true bliss!

Yes, it was necessary to stand out in the frigid air to catch the snowflakes, but - as this quote alludes - it was totally worth it. And, quite frankly, I don't think any of them were feeling the cold at all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 6

Over the past two nights, each of my kids have requested this enchanting book. "God Gave Us Christmas" is part of the popular "God Gave Us..." series by Lisa Tawn Bergren. With a lovely message and beautiful illustrations by David Hohn, I consider it a perfect read for the holiday season. I would say it is aimed at the preschool age, but my 6-year old son enjoyed it as well.

The main character, Little Cub, has a lot of questions about Christmas including, "Who 'vented Christmas?". When her mother responds that God invented Christmas, Little Cub wants to know if God is more important than Santa. Her mother responds in the affirmative, but Little Cub is still a bit intrigued by Santa, and wants to find him. Her mother explains that Santa is quite hard to find ... but, God can be found in many places. Thus begins a polar expedition where Little Cub learns that God can be seen in everything from the Northern Lights to the melting glaciers to the flowers peeking from the ground.

Santa Claus is given props for reminding us about wonderful things like generosity and care, but the main message focuses on God - and Jesus - being the reason for Christmas.

A gentle, sweet, and warmly illustrated story about the true meaning of Christmas ... what could be better to share with your little ones?!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It Worked!

We read "The Snowy Day" last night and, apparently, its magical powers are still in tact ... this is today's view of our backyard! Sledding in progress ....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 5

This book is special in our house ... because it's slightly magical. But, more on that in a moment.

I know this is not exactly a "Christmas" book, but it sort of is ... winter, delicate snowflakes falling from the sky, enough snow to sled and build a snowman ... what could be more Christmasy than that (think "Frosty the Snowman" ... "Dashing Through the Snow" ... "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow"!)?

"The Snowy Day", by Anna Milbourne and Elena Temporin, is adorably illustrated and explains - in a simple and fun way - what makes it snow! And, oh, all the things you can do in the snow ... sledding and snowball-throwing and snowman-making. And, did you know that animals hide away in warm tree hollows and thick fir tree branches when it's cold and snowy? Oh, the things children will learn, all the while enjoying a sweet story and charming pictures.

OK, back to the magical part ... last year, my son (then 5) handed us this book to read and, after we'd finished, informed us that reading the book would make it snow that night. And ... it did! We were delighted to open the curtains that next morning to find our neighborhood blanketed in white snow. After that happened, the book automatically earned some magical credits! We've read it once or twice this year, with no luck. BUT, we're going to make sure to read it again this weekend ... according to the local meteorologist, we may just see some magic happening again this year!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 4

Who doesn't love Mouse, cautiously protecting his beloved red, ripe strawberry from the big, hungry, mysterious Bear in "The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear", by Don and Audrey Wood? The sweet, simple story and vibrant illustrations easily capture the attention of a wide age range.
And, how lucky are we that there is a Christmas version featuring our favorite characters ... with a twist!

In "Merry Christmas, BIG HUNGRY BEAR!", little Mouse sets out to protect his Christmas presents from Bear, just like he did with his red, ripe, juicy strawberry. But he then learns that, while Bear would love a present, he never gets one ... not even from Santa [gasp]! In fact, Bear spends Christmas alone, with big tears falling from his big, hungry eyes.

Well ... that does it ... this make Mouse quite distraught, and we see our timid Mouse transform into a brave and generous friend, as he trudges through cold and snow to bring presents to lonely Bear on Christmas Eve. He makes it to the cold, dark cave and begins his work ... adding bling to a tree and placing presents underneath. But, in the midst of his work ... he hears a noise that sends him scurrying for cover. Is Bear coming to get him? Quite the contrary ... Bear has left Mouse a present (a LARGE one), and - though we never see Bear - we know a friendship has blossomed.

A sweet story with stunningly beautiful illustrations that make you feel warm and cozy inside! A perfect read for a winter's night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 3

My family loves the "If You Take/Give ..." series by Laura Numeroff (illustrated by Felicia Bond). No matter the animal ... mouse, moose, pig, or cat ... you find that if you give them an inch ... well, you know!

The Mouse is back as the energetic main character in "If You Take a Mouse to the Movies", with his owner - a little boy - dutifully attempting to keep up and provide all things necessary to keep Mouse content!

Giving Mouse popcorn at the movies leads to a whole string of silly, holiday- and winter-related antics, where we also learn that Mouse can create ornaments and decorate a Christmas tree like nobody's business. Of course, the story ends after coming around full circle ... with the boy and mouse heading back to the movie theatre.

This and the rest of the books in the series are simply delightful ... guaranteed to be a fun read for both children and adults! And, this one in particular - with its snowy and Christmas-y scenes - is a perfect pick for the holiday season!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 2

Santa Claus … love him and the joyful spirit of giving he brings to Christmas. I believed in him for a long time. I don’t remember the turning point when I went from a staunch believer to one who believed in the magical feeling he brought to Christmas, but knew it was my parents leaving the goodies. I do remember, over the course of several years, having questions … logistical questions that made me doubt the whole flying reindeer, down the chimney story. But, I never expressed my doubt out loud or asked questions of my parents, nor did I transfer any of my uncertainties to my three younger sisters.

Fast forward to me as a parent … still loving the magical feeling that Santa brings to Christmas, loving watching my children excitedly pour over toy catalogs as they carefully choose what they will request from Santa, and feeling just a tad bit of guilt as they ask a million and one questions about the Man in Red! After all … I’m kind of lying … which, as we’ve ingrained in our children’s heads … is generally enough to put you on Santa’s ‘naughty’ list! Did my parents feel this way? They never said anything to me. My transition was just … natural. It just happened.

So … I’m trying, gently, to weave in the true story of St. Nicholas. When I was in college, I did a semester of study abroad in Austria. I was so fortunate to be there during the holidays and experience the celebration of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. On this day, children awaken to find their shoes filled with chocolate gold coins, oranges, and other special gifts. This day is a celebration in honor of St. Nicholas, a real person who lived in the fourth century and was the very model of love and generosity. While he and his generosity are believed to be factual, they sparked the larger-than-life legends and tales of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

“Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend”, by Julie Stiegemeyer, is one children’s book that attempts, through a fictionalized story, to paint a picture of the true St. Nicholas. It’s a tad overtly didactic (I tend to prefer covertly didactic :-)), but that’s okay, it gets the message across. And, it has a great ‘Dear Grown-Up’ section at the end that nicely details the life of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

So … for now, we’ll read this book, talk about the real St. Nick … and hope that Santa and Saint Nicholas (a.k.a. the truth behind Santa) someday in the future meld nicely into one another without drama!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Twelve Books of Christmas (at least in our house!) - Book 1

OK, we actually read this one year-round . . . it's just too good to pack away for 11 months of the year. If you read my July post regarding Karma Wilson and her 'Bear...' books, you'll know our family is a BIG fan. And, this is the very book that started the 'Bear...' craze in our household.

In "Bear Stays Up for Christmas", Bear's friends make a valiant effort to keep him awake for Christmas. Their efforts are successful ... but all that hard work keeping Bear awake makes Mouse, Hare, Badger, and the rest of the friends VERY tired. That's OK ... Bear's got them covered, and he works through the night to ensure a special Christmas for all of them.

The rhyming text is perfection, and the illustrations are so warm and cozy, it makes you want to snuggle up with Bear and his friends in his lair. It's targeted to 4-8 year olds, but the pictures, lively characters, and catchy rhymes make it perfect for younger children as well ... my 3-year old girl and 6-year old boy both love it to pieces.

If you're looking for a warm and fun holiday picture book classic for your family, "Bear Stays Up for Christmas" is guaranteed to please ... even when it's not the holidays!