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Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Traditions

I love family traditions, and this time of the year they seem to abound!  November and December are filled with numerous activities, events, books, and traditions that we enjoy together as a family.  In November, we assemble boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  This is always a highlight for the kids to select items for their box and figure out how to get the most things for the money they have to spend.  As we head into Thanksgiving weekend the Christmas decorations come out, the tree goes up and gets decorated, the lights go up on the house, and our favorite album – Behold the Lamb of God comes out.  The week before December I am often finalizing our advent plans, thinking through ways to make the month of December relaxing and enjoyable, and planning numerous ways to make memories together as a family. 

Here are some of my favorite resources, ideas, and traditions that we enjoy together as a family!

~Advent:  We incorporate some different things into our advent reading each morning.  For the second year, I am using Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree Advent Family Devotional with the older kids for our daily reading every morning.  I had already printed and laminated the ornaments last year so we are using them again on our Jesse Tree.  I wanted to do something special with Callie that is more on her level, so this year I am using Truth in the Tinsel with her.  Every day we read together and do a craft together to make an ornament for our Jesse Tree.  She adores this time and it has been a blast having something special to do with her every day. 
Ever since Hailey was a toddler, we have used Noel Piper’s burlap calendar in December.  This calendar is geared toward young children and now our older kids love doing the simple reading while the little girlies put the figures on every day.  Sadly, this calendar is no longer being made, but you can get the simple daily readings here on Noel Piper’s blog.   By the end of the month our kids can recite it by memory!  We enjoy doing this short activity over dinner every day.  One last thing we do over advent season is to take time every Sunday in December to have an extended time together.  We light a candle on our advent wreath, talk together, read the Bible together, sing songs together, pray together, and of course eat cookies together!  My brother has pulled together a wonderful weekly advent plan that we use every Sunday. 

noel calendar

~Books:  There are numerous books that we love to pull out at this time of the year.  Here are some family favorites:

Keeping Holiday by Starr Meade – My parents first introduced our children to this book and now it is a beloved tradition to read it every year.   Starr Meade writes a wonderful allegory of faith and the search for God through this beautiful and well-written holiday story. Snuggle up under a blanket, pull your little ones close, and read this captivating story together.

keeping holiday

I have already mentioned how much we enjoy Andrew Peterson’s album Behold the Lamb of God. Well, about a year ago this book – Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative was released. We have just started reading this in the evenings, and we are thoroughly enjoying it. The stories come alive and make it hard to read only one chapter each night! This book is designed to read 1 chapter every day from December 1st through December 25th, however this book could be read at any time during the year.
behold the lamb of god

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus – This is a wonderful selection to read along with your devotions during the month of December.  I keep this on my nightstand  and often read a selection each night before bed.  This book is an anthology of Advent readings collected from the writings and sermons of 22 classic and contemporary theologians and Bible teachers.
come thou long expected Jesus

Some favorite children’s books include the following:
Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd-Jones – Everyone who reads this blog is probably well aware that we adore The Jesus Storybook Bible, also written by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  This adorable children’s story is written in a lovely poetic way that perfectly captures the wonder and awe surrounding the birth of Christ.  The illustrations are beautiful and simple.  Song of Stars is about the coming of Jesus and how all of creation is waiting for Him!  This is a favorite of Callie and Emma’s, but even the big kids enjoy listening.
Song of the Stars
The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale – This classic story is another favorite to read at both Christmas and Easter.  Each of the three trees have a dream, and each tree’s dream is fulfilled – although not precisely in the way that they anticipated!
The Tale of Three Trees

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado – This sweet story is about a lamb with a crippled leg who feels left out because he can’t run and play with the others.  But God has a special plan for his life that only he can fulfill!  This book beautifully illustrates the love of our Father who loves us in spite of our blemishes and sees each one of His children as special just as they are.

The Crippled Lamb
Some other fun traditions include:
~Making cookies together: The kiddos favorites are the cut-out kind that they get to decorate!
~Movie Nights:  There are certain movies that we only pull out this time of the year, so we tend to have more family movie nights – homemade popcorn and hot cocoa are the perfect compliment to any movie night!
~Visit a live nativity or drive through a light display:  Every year we try to do at least one of these.  In the past we have driven through Hershey Sweet Lights while visiting family.  And for a live nativity, my friend’s dad’s church sets up a 13 scene live nativity – it’s in NJ, so a little drive, but well worth the visit.  Check it out if you are interested in seeing a live nativity!
~Drive around to look at Christmas lights: Start bedtime routine as usual.  Have one parent make popcorn and hot cocoa and place them in the car (with Christmas music playing!). When the kids climb into bed, they will find a ticket hidden. The kids are instructed to grab their slippers and head for the car. Upon entrance to The Minivan Express, you hole punch the ticket, and travel around looking at all the beautiful lights.  Be sure to plan in advance where you are driving so that you actually see beautiful lights!
~Make a gingerbread house:  This year we are actually going to mix it up and make a Nativity instead using this idea!
~Random Acts of Christmas Kindness: I saw this idea and we are hoping to make this a new tradition.  While we won’t be doing something every day, we are performing a few different acts of kindness to others.  I love watching the kids get excited about giving to others!
~Christmas Eve PJ’s: Every year on Christmas Eve our kiddos get to open one present – of course by now they know that it’s always the same thing … new winter PJ’s!  I pre-wash them so that they can put them on right away and then we snuggle up together and watch a movie together while eating popcorn and having hot chocolate.  They enjoy this tradition so much that they wear their PJ’s all day on Christmas Day too! 
~Buy treats like Peppermint Joe-Joe’s from Trader Joe’s!

Give Thanks

For many reasons Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love autumn and the crisp, cool, and sunny weather that it brings.  I enjoy the reflection and intentionality of Thanksgiving that calls us to ponder anew on all that we have been blessed with.  And while I desire to install an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness every day, there is something about Thanksgiving that holds it out in front in a unique way.  I think one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is that there isn’t anything to draw attention away from the real reason we celebrate.  We still get to enjoy time with family, delicious food, and a vacation of sorts as we take the week off of school … but more than that is what we get to focus our attention on.  Giving Thanks!  I love reading books, doing crafts, making yummy food, and reflecting on the wonderful blessings that I have been given which I am completely undeserving of.  Tomorrow morning we will enjoy homemade cinnamon rolls and later this week I will be making homemade dinner rolls for our family gathering.  To bless my hubby I made a huge batch of Chex mix.  We have also been enjoying homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte’s!  But other than eating/making yummy food and enjoying our break in school, here is what we’ve been doing this week to celebrate Thanksgiving …

Reading Books – Here are a couple of favorites that we’ve been reading …
Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving
Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving 

Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember
Thanksgiving - A Time to Remember

We’ve also been reading through these Thanksgiving Calendar Connections cards that are a free printable.  We have them in our Calendar Pocket Chart for this month and have been enjoying learning more about the history of Thanksgiving, including all twelve claims to the first Thanksgiving.  These cards are geared for mid-late elementary aged children, but we read them all together during our morning Bible time.
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Every day we add more leaves to our Thankful Tree.  This year, I printed and laminated the leaves from Ann Voskamp’s thankful tree and also printed and laminated these leaves in different colors.  We use sharpie markers to write on them instead of dry erase markers so that they don’t wipe off as easily.  Magic Erasers take it right off and then we will be able to use them year after year.  For the past few years, we’ve made new feathers for our turkey, but this year we decided to make leaves for a thankful tree instead.  The kids had fun gathering branches in the yard and have been enjoying adding leaves to it every day.  Here is our thankful tree for this year so far:
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We also made Indian and Pilgrim families using empty paper towel holders!  I found a cute idea on pinterest and knew that the kiddos would love it.  The older 3 were a huge help with cutting and gluing, and the younger 2 were a huge help with making a mess!  But in the end everyone had a blast and our families look pretty cute …
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Of course our families have a daddy, a mommy, 4 daughters and 1 son!
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Apart from my salvation, my hubby is the greatest gift and blessing that I have been given … so thankful for him!
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“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

Happy Thanksgiving!

thankfulness and joy.

One of my favorite parts about fall and November is the reminder of all that I have to be thankful for.  Every year, the kids and I enjoy different activities and crafts to celebrate this season of giving thanks and while I am grateful for the extra emphasis on thanksgiving this time of the year, my desire is that we learn to be a family who gives thanks every moment of every day.  I was also once again reminded how easy it is for me to complain and grumble about the very things that I am most grateful for. 

I’m thankful for a large, warm home – but do I really need to clean the bathrooms again, sweep, and mop the kitchen floors again.

I’m thankful that our kiddos have been blessed with many books, toys, crafts and dress-up – but really, when will they learn to pick up after themselves so that I don’t have to be the one picking up their messes, again.

I’m thankful that we are able to eat 3 meals every day (plus snacks) – but finding the time to make all of the meals, snacks and also clean up from breakfast, lunch and dinner; well, I’m not always so thankful for that part … and then there is the dishes.

I’m thankful that we all have clothes to wear – but seriously, wasn’t I just caught up with the laundry yesterday and yet somehow there are 2 more loads today.

I’m thankful that God has provided my husband with a wonderful job so that I can stay at home – but another late night or another business trip … not always so thankful.

I’m thankful for my 5 wonderful kiddos – but could they maybe fight less, stop whining/crying, lower the noise level just a little, and maybe, just once allow me to use the bathroom alone.

I’m thankful that my baby girl loves me and loves to snuggle – but could she maybe be just a little less attached to my hip.

I could keep on going, but you get the idea.  Oh, how I desire to grow in being filled with joy, every moment of every day amidst the mundane, tedious moments.  I’m well aware that part of being a mom is having everything you do get un-done and I pray that in those moments my joy would increase. 

My prayer is that I would grow in giving thanks, especially in those moments when I am tempted to grumble, complain and become exasperated.  I pray that peace and thankfulness would reign over our home.

And now … time to get back to our Thankful Turkey Craft!