Christmas Traditions

Traditions are very important to our family.  We all look forward to events and celebrations, especially during the Christmas season.  I believe traditions are important to God.  God gave the children of Israel specific instructions for annual feasts of celebration.  He asked them to start the New Year with repentance, to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest with thanksgiving, and to remember the Passover and His salvation of the Israelites in Egypt.  Each celebration was designed to remind the Israelites of their identity and the identity of God.
Today, our celebrations aren’t called feasts, we call them holidays.  The word holidays comes from “holy days,” days that are set apart.  The purpose is still the same—to remind our families of our identity in Christ and the identity of our Holy God.  Here are some things that our family does to celebrate Christmas and set this season apart from the rest of our year.

Deck the Halls The day after Thanksgiving our Christmas season begins.  We turn on the local radio station that plays all Christmas music, haul the decorations out of the attic and begin to transform our home.  The first decoration to be put up and the last to be taken down is the baby Jesus in the nativity.  I want our family to always keep in mind why we are celebrating.  Harold puts lights up outside and the girls and I decorate inside. One of my favorite things is hanging the stockings.  Several years ago, the girls sewed their own stocking as a sewing project.  Each stocking is made of different fabric and represents the girls:  Victoria’s is Asian satin with a bead fringe, Elisabeth’s is gold felt with a horse patch, Anna’s royal blue stocking has a curled toe with white snowflake buttons sprinkled throughout, and Abigail’s is red with a snowman complete with a carrot button for a nose.

Away in a Manger In our culture it’s easy for the true meaning of Christmas to be lost amidst all the commercialism. When Victoria was about three years old, I bought a plastic nativity complete with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepherds, sheep, wisemen, and an angel.  (Would you believe that fifteen years later we still have all the pieces?!)  As Daddy read a child’s version of the birth of Jesus, little Victoria made the people do whatever the story said.  As the girls grew, the youngest one took the role of moving the people and we graduated to reading from the Bible.

O Christmas Tree The tree is the last thing to be decorated, which brings us to one of my favorite traditions.  Before we decorate the tree, each girl receives her ornament for the year, based on what has happened in the past twelve months.  We have quite a collection:  many musical instruments, ballet dancers, a stuffed tooth, a girl with braces, a girl on roller skates with a cast painted on with nail polish, a license plate, frames with photos, and more unique ones that would take much longer to explain.  Some are homemade and some are from a gift shop.  Often, we purchase ornaments while we’re on vacation. (After all, I have to have something to put on the tree after the girls leave and take all their ornaments!)  Our tree doesn’t look like anything from a magazine, but I love looking at the ornaments each year and reflecting on the memories they hold.  Now that the girls are older, each girl puts her own ornaments on the tree.

Angels We Have Heard on High There are so many special events going on in our area during the month of December.  One family I know always goes to the see the Nutcracker ballet, another goes to a Handel’s Messiah sing-a-long.  Our family enjoys cultural events (and of course the girls love to dress up!) so Harold and I look for a cultural event to celebrate the season.  Through reduced rates for homeschoolers and generous grandparents, we’ve been privileged to attend the Nutcracker, another ballet from a local Christian ballet company, the stage production of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, the symphony, just to name a few. One thing we never miss is the Grand Illumination in Williamsburg, VA—about an hour from our home. We love to walk through the restored area any time of the year, but at Christmas time it is especially beautiful with decorations on each house made from God’s creation—dried fruits, flowers, and even oyster shells.  On the first Sunday in December, they light electric candles in the windows of the houses, there are various musicians playing, bonfires burning and the then the finale—grand fireworks in three locations and synchronized perfectly.

Over the River and Through the Woods As a girl, we traveled nearly every Christmas morning so we could be with my grandmother, about five hours south of us.  We did get to celebrate Christmas early, but I missed being home.  When we got married, Harold and I established that we would travel to my family the weekend before Christmas (about 6 hours north) and to his family the weekend after Christmas (about 5 hours west).  We get to see everyone and we get to enjoy Christmas in our own home.  It hasn’t always been easy to pack up the kids and travel, but I know it has been a blessing to our parents.  Someday, I know I’ll be on the waiting end of those grandchildren running in the door just waiting to give hugs.

Here We Come a Caroling Christmas just isn’t Christmas without carols.  For the past ten years, Harold and the girls and I have caroled to our neighbors.  We used to carol on Christmas Eve, but many of them weren’t home.  Now we keep an eye out during the week before Christmas to see when our neighbors are home.  The neighbors really seem to look forward to it.  It’s a great way to keep connected to people that we otherwise rarely see.

O, Holy Night Christmas Eve has always been a family time, but each year has looked a little different.  When the girls were very small, we were part of a church plant that did not have a service on Christmas Eve.  Instead, we baked cookies in the afternoon, had a quiet dinner and took the girls to a live nativity scene.  We put the kids to bed early so Harold and I could wrap and assemble presents. Years later, our little church merged with an established church (that’s a story for another article!).    This new church began a Christmas Eve celebration with music and worship dance that continues to this day.  We traded our quiet Christmas Eve dinner for being a part of celebrating our Savior’s birth with our church family.  Over the years, our family has played handbells, the girls have been angels and dancers, and Harold, Victoria, and I have been narrators—thankfully not all in one year!  Many years we’ve had two different services and left church quite late, but we always take the long way home and admire the lights in the city.

Birthday of a King My mother comes from a family of eight children who continue to get together every Christmas.  Some years there were as many as 80 uncles, aunts, and cousins at the reunion.  Though many of the families were following Christ, my grandmother made sure she made the most of every opportunity to continue to plant seeds in the lives of her family.  Each Christmas baby Jesus was removed from her nativity and put on the cake she had made.  Then all the children would gather round as she lit candles and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.  My grandmother now celebrates Christmas with her Lord, but my Aunt carries on the tradition for the great and great-great grandchildren. When the girls were younger, we made a special, very symbolic birthday cake for Jesus from information that my friend Lucinda gave me.  I have posted our special “recipe” in a separate document. (click here) I’ve used this cake for our family Christmas celebration, for Sunday School groups and Bible study groups.  This year, one of the girls asked if we could do it again.  You’re never too old to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

From March of the Toys to Simple Gifts I will never forget the year of the ungrateful Christmas.  God had blessed us immeasurably.  Harold, our two oldest girls and I had moved into a new home and we were excitedly expecting daughter #3.  Money was tight, but Harold and I sacrificed so the girls would have a great Christmas.  (Read:  lots of presents to open)  On Christmas morning, Harold reminded the girls of the baby Jesus we were celebrating, why we were giving them gifts, and then we prayed together.  From that moment on, they were out of control, running from one present to the next, calling out to us, “What’s next?” “Is that all?”  Harold and I were dumbfounded.  Whose kids were these, these ungrateful preschoolers?  We knew something had to change. After much prayer, Harold and I decided to try something new.  We would open one present at a time while everyone watched.  Then the girls had time to thank whoever gave the present.  And the big one…each girl would receive only three presents to open.  It was hard for me because I like to give presents, but it helped the girls to know how many presents they had to open and no one asked, “Is that all?” (Truly, the girls had more than three presents to open, since they bought presents for each other that we also opened on Christmas morning.)  It also helped me to choose carefully and to set a limit instead of picking up just one more thing.  Today, we still carry on the tradition of three presents to open, but now we’ve added one in the stocking so technically that’s four.  (Sometimes we’ve included two closely related items wrapped in one package such as a doll and a doll outfit or a boombox and batteries.)  These aren’t three expensive presents, like ipods or other electronics.   Last year, Anna and Abigail each received a red felt cape that I made.  Elisabeth got a cookbook I made.  Victoria got a scrapbook of pictures from her trip to Asia.  Simple, but the girls loved them.

Click here to read more about the Three Gift Policy…

Now it’s your turn… Our family looks forward to our Christmas traditions with great anticipation.  We love to tell stories of our traditions and we love to hear the stories of other families.  If you have a tradition that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you.  Please post your ideas to this article.  May God bless your family, however  you choose to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Gifts from the Heart

I love to give gifts--not just any gift, but gifts that touch the heart.  Finding the perfect gift for someone is not always easy.  Often it requires a little more effort on the part of the giver.  Making a gift is a guaranteed way to give someone a one-of-a-kind present.  When we give someone something we’ve made, we not only give them the tangible treasure, but also the gift of our time that we gave to create the precious gift. I come from a long line of women who were incredibly gifted at creating things with their hands.  I have a lace doily that was made by my great-grandmother; both of my grandmothers made beautiful quilts to give their grandchildren for weddings or graduations.  My mom passed down the value of creating things for others.  She sewed the tiny clothes she took to baby showers and crocheted clothes for my doll for Christmas.  Deep in our hearts I believe we want to make things with our hands—even if we consider ourselves challenged in skill or in time available!  Unfortunately my skill level and available time have been in short supply for many years, so for years I have searched for the simple, the quick, and of course the relatively inexpensive gifts that would be special to my family.  Here are some gift ideas for Christmas or any time of the year.

Cradle and Blanket When Victoria was two, her Christmas present was a homemade doll cradle.  It is a treasure that has found its way to Victoria’s corner of the attic, saved for the next generation of Moore’s.

1.        Purchase an unfinished wooden cradle from a craft store and paint suitable for wood.  You could spray a coat of polyurethane, which would make it last longer.

2.       Sand the cradle, especially the edges.  Then paint the cradle with two coats of paint.  You can get fancy and paint flowers or even get rub on transfers.  Victoria’s cradle had a heart cut out on the headboard portion, which was decoration enough for me.

3.       Purchase two different coordinating cotton fabrics.  I chose one fabric that had lines so I had help in sewing straight lines on the quilt.  (Look in the quilting area or remnants for an even lower price.)

4.       To make the mattress, cut two pieces of fabric.  Each one should be the measurement of the bed area of the cradle plus 1 ¼ inches extra in width (the narrow side) and 1 ½ inches extra in length (the long side) which allows for the batting and for a half-inch seam allowance.  With wrong sides together, sew around three sides.  When you turn the fabric inside out to show the right side of the fabric, it will look like a bag.

5.       Insert a piece of batting the same measurement as the bed area of the cradle.  Take the remaining unsewn edge at the top of the “bag” and fold it down twice, so the raw edge is not showing.  Pin the folded edge and sew the bag closed.  You’ve finished the mattress!

6.       Next, make a “quilt” by sewing two pieces of fabric together with the same process as above, except without the batting.   These fabric pieces should be the same length as above (cradle area + 1 ¼ inches extra) but the width should be 2 times the width of the cradle area, plus 1 inch extra for seam allowance.  Before you sew the “bag” closed, iron the seams to make it lay flat.   Stitch “stripes” across in both directions, making it look like a checkered board, which gives it a quilted look.  (If your fabric doesn’t have lines, you may want to make your own lines with chalk.)  You have finished your quilt!  Congratulations!

Fleece Blanket Directions at:  http://www.fleeceblanket.org/No-Sew-Fleece-Blanket.html

This is so great because you don’t need to know how to sew, only how to cut a relatively straight line.  The basic idea is that you have two pieces of fabric, cut fringes around the edges, and tie the fringes together.  I used prints for each girl based on their interests.  I even found fabric that coordinated with the comforter in one girl’s room.  Be sure to watch for sales at your local fabric center.  They often run fleece for 50% off.

Fleece Poncho Directions at: http://www.ehow.com/how_2049852_make-fleece-poncho.html

A few years back, ponchos were all the rage.  My friend Theresa and I got together to make these ponchos for our girls, who were then 7-10 years old.  I then used the extra pieces of fabric to make ponchos for their dolls and my little niece.  I ended up knotting the fringes, simply because I liked the way it looked.

Red Colonial Cape Directions at:  click here

I’ve made capes for our two younger girls, but I’ve also made this cape and given it as a gift.  In fact, as I’m writing this, we are returning from celebrating our friend Brianna’s 12th birthday in Williamsburg.  She was thrilled with the cape.  The pattern requires very little sewing, only connecting the hood to the cape and sewing on the ties.  (I suppose you could pin the ties on, if you had to.)  The fabric I use is red felt instead of wool and I take two small tucks near the center of the back.  You don’t have to take the tucks, but I found I liked the look better.  I use 1 yard of 1 inch red grosgrain ribbon for the ties (cut in half) and a ton of zigzag stitch to attach them since there is a lot of stress on the ties to hold the cape up.  The hood is a little pointy at the crown, but most of the time the girls keep it down anyway.  The capes have been a big hit at our house!

Pearl and Heart Necklace Directions at: http://www.jewelrysupply.com/index.php?main_page=1/vid_tech_crimping.html

I saw a picture of this necklace in a magazine and it caught my eye.  This is a simple project for those who are already beading or who are interested in starting a new hobby.  (The pliers are a minimal investment of about $8.)  Choose glass beads or other beads to create the look you want.

1.       Purchase, crimping pliers, pearls, 2 or 3 mm silver beads, one clasp (I used a lobster claw),  one “o” ring, 2 crimp tubes, 2 crimp covers, a heart pendant, a length of wire four inches longer than you want the necklace.

2.       Watch the video from the above link.  Attach one half of the clasp using the technique from the video.

3.       Divide the pearls and silver beads into two separate piles.  String half the pearls and silver beads on the string, alternating.  Add the heart pendant.  Continue the pattern with the remaining piles of pearls and beads.

4.       Repeat the crimping step from the video above.  This time, weave the extra wire back through several beads and trim the excess with small scissors.

Since I made an identical necklace for each girl, I added a 4mm Swarovski round crystal birthstone bead as the last bead before the clasp so the girls could tell which necklace was theirs.  No one would ever know that these necklaces were homemade!

Keepsake Cookbook Recipe Template: click here

Again, there are no directions because this is so simple—time consuming, but simple.  Several years ago I took our favorite family recipes (from moms, aunts, and grandmas) and decided to turn them into the cookbook I always wanted.

To assemble:

1.       Purchase a large three-ring binder (with a pocket to slide in a cover), plastic dividers with pockets (from an office supply store, plastic sleeve pages, and cardstock.  I coordinated the cardstock with the color of the binder.

2.       Enter the recipes into the computer in a standard form.  I saved each recipe under its own name, but all in one file folder.  If the recipe is short, you could add two on a page.

3.       Choose names for the dividers.  I copied the dividers from my favorite cookbook.  Handwrite the name or print if there is a template included.  I used a Dynamo labelmaker.  (Now there’s a great gift idea!)

4.       Print the recipes on cardstock, one side only.

5.       Slide the recipes in plastic sleeves, back to back, one on each side of the sleeve.  The two layers of cardstock make the pages stiff.  I love the sleeves because if you drop food on the recipe, you can easily wipe it off!

6.       File the sleeves in the notebook according to the divider title.

7.       Add a personalized cover.

It was a ton of work to do the first time, but I love having the recipes.  When someone asks for one, I can easily email it or print it out.  One year I printed some of the recipes and bound them in a small cookbook to give my friends for Christmas.  Best of all, when I wanted to give my second daughter a cookbook, all I had to do was print.  It’s a great heritage to pass on.

Name Frame For a template: click here

Many times in scripture the introduction of a character includes the meaning of their name.  I believe that when we name our children, it is a spiritual act declaring who they are.  Every time we speak our child’s name, we speak who they are.

I was particularly moved when I looked up Victoria’s middle name, LaNelle, her grandmother’s middle name made up by Victoria’s great-grandmother.  From my French studies, I knew “La” means “the”, but I wasn’t sure of Nelle.  I looked it up and found it means “witness.”  Pretty cool for a girl who has a heart for missions!  I stood in the store and cried.  God knew our daughter and put in our hearts the perfect name for her.  She, and each of our girls, have a name frame in their room to remind them of who God says they are.

Instructions:

1.       I bought The Name Book, by Dorothy Astoria, at a local Christian bookstore.  It has meanings of names including the spiritual connotation and coordinating scriptures.

2.       Purchase inexpensive 4x6 or 5x7 frames.  Keep your eyes open for a good deal on frames.  I even found some lovely gold-leaf frames at Dollar Tree—really!

3.       Purchase paper or cardstock in the color of your choice.  This should be based on your recipient.  I often use parchment paper because it looks so nice.  I found a mixed pack of parchment paper (pink, blue, grey, and natural) at Walmart.

4.       Using the template, fill in the blanks for name, language of origin, spiritual connotation and scripture.  I change the font based on the recipient—a fancy script for my dear friends, a more juvenile font for a baby’s room, a contemporary font for a dear friend who likes things a little more simple.  Mostly I use a black font on the parchment, but a colored font on plain white paper/cardstock.

5.       If you aren’t great with computer margins and settings, use the paper in the frame as a guideline for sizing your name page correctly.  Be sure to center the guide paper, trace around the edges, and then trim the name page to the correct size.  Place it in the frame and admire your work!

There are so many ways to customize this gift—frame, paper, font and for whatever style of person you’re giving to—masculine, juvenile, formal, contemporary.  The name frame makes a great gift for a baby shower, if you know the name of the little one.

Small Scrapbook Capturing and documenting life is important to me and there is no better way than through pictures and videos.  About ten years ago, I made my first scrapbook—which was nearly the last!  It was something I really enjoyed, but my busy schedule wouldn’t allow for such a time consuming hobby.  Two years ago, I discovered a great alternative in Walmart’s scrapbook section—a scrapbook kit: a 10x10 scrapbook with  pages, background paper, precut coordinating paper designs, stickers, and detailed instructions for how to create each page, all packaged in keepsake box that matches the finished scrapbook.  The kit lacks only an adhesive and can be purchased in either a red-or blue-colored theme.  In about an hour your scrapbook can be assembled and ready for your pictures.  It’s a perfect gift for grandparents!

Share Your Ideas So now you know some of my gift-giving secrets.  If you are confused by any of the instructions, please post your question to this article and I’ll respond with a post so it will benefit everyone else, too.  I know these aren’t the only great homemade gift ideas out there, so post to this article and share your own homemade gift ideas!  May these ideas inspire you to make some of your own gifts, if not for Christmas this year maybe for celebrations in 2010.