Saturday, November 29, 2008
"Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.' When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.' So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."
Country in Focus: Germany
Tradition discussed: Advent Wreath
Activity: Advent Wreath
Today is the Christmas Day! We light the last candle in our wreath. It is the white candle in the center. The white candle represents Christ. Say a prayer or sing a hymn with your children as you light the wreath. Once again, there is no set form that you must follow, but here is an example...
"We praise you, Lord God, because on this day your Word became flesh in our Savior Jesus Christ, who was born of a woman and walked among us as a man. To you, O Lord, we give our honor, praise, worship, and love, in the most holy and precious name of the One who is born today; because He lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
"But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' --which means, 'God with us.'" Country in Focus: Italy
Tradition: Live Nativity
Directions: Find a church that does a live nativity.
In the 10th century, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome created the first nativity scene. The tradition became popular throughout Italy. Unfortunately, the scene featured gold and jewels. In 1224, St. Francis of Assisi decided that a more realistic nativity scene was needed. His manger scene, called a creche, was filled with hay, carved figures and live animals. This was in the village of Greccio.
In the 1700s, the tradition was brought to Spain. From Spain, the tradition traveled to Mexico. Live people were added to the scene. Often the entire scene of Mary and Joseph traveling to find a place to stay was acted out, with the actors parading through the village. In the 19th century, it became a tradition to not add Baby Jesus to the nativity scene until Christmas Eve night. Baby Jesus was added to the nativity with a large parade and festival.
If you know of a church in the area that has a live nativity, it is worth watching. Our church has a play called "The Bethlehem Inn", that is done dinner theater style. It is performed every two years. I definitely miss it on the off year, which this one was. I look forward to it again next year!
“I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up. See, they will come from afar -- some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan. Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.'”Country in Focus: Mexico
Activity: Make a craft with poinsettias.
Poinsettia napkins rings
Poinsettia Paper Plate Craft
Why do we decorate with this beautiful plant at Christmas?
The story of the poinsettia comes to us from Mexico. The legend says that a brother and sister, named Maria and Pablo were so poor that they barely had enough food to eat two meals a day. During the Christmas season the village held parades and parties. The children were so excited! There was even a manger scene built at the local church. All the children in the village wanted to give Baby Jesus a gift. Maria and Pablo wanted to give Baby Jesus a gift too. But they had no money for a gift.
Since Maria and Pablo had nothing to give Him, they left for church earlier than the rest of the children. On the way, they stopped and picked some weeds to decorate the crib for Baby Jesus. While they were decorating the crib, the other children from the village arrived. Unfortunately, the children began to make fun of Maria and Pablo. Maria and Pablo were so distraught that they burst into tears. Then a miracle happened! The weeds burst open into beautiful red star shaped flowers. All the children realized that Jesus was more pleased with Maria and Pablo's gift because it was given in love.
Isaiah 16: 5
In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it-- one from the house of David-- one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.
Tradition: A Day at the Beach
Activity: "Go" to the Beach
Materials: Bathtub toys and bubble bath
This one is for my mother in law. In Australia, Christmas comes in the summer. Once I asked my mother in law, who my husband calls "Mum", what they did as a Christmas tradition. She told me that after church, they took a picnic to the beach!
Since at this point you are exhausted, and you have things to do, why not have a pretend beach night? I used to do this sometimes with my kids. I let them get in the bathtub at night with their swimsuits on. Then we would fill up the bathtub with bubbles to make the foam from the ocean. I would let them splash around and pretend they were at the beach. I would get out some of the beach toys that they hadn't played with in a while and let them take them into the tub.
Yes, you will have a bathroom to clean up at the end of the night. But why not make bath time fun tonight?
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this."
Country in Focus: Germany
Tradition discussed: Advent Wreath
Activity: Advent Wreath
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. We light the fourth candle on our wreath. It is the third purple candle. Say a prayer or sing a hymn with your children as you light the wreath. Once again, there is no set form that you must follow, but here is an example...
"Father, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. We have found peace in the promise of eternal life, through Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
“This is what the LORD says-- your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: 'I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be cut off nor destroyed from before me.'"
Country in Focus: Your Family's!
Tradition: Find out!
Activity: Have a "feast"!
There are as many different Christmas feast traditions as there are countries!
Choose the one from your families heritage. Participate in that in a small way tonight.
Discuss which members of your family came from that country. How long ago was that? Did you participate in these traditions as a child or is this the first time for you as well?
For example, everybody thinks "meat" when they think Polish. The Veggie Tales song about the 12 days of Christmas doesn't help dispel that myth. But did you know that some families celebrated Christmas by serving 9 meatless dishes to represent the 9 months that Mary was pregnant with Jesus? You did know that you could make pierogi without meat, right?
Or did you know in Italy, that a tradition Christmas Eve dinner is made up of 7 types of fish dishes? This number actually changes depending on the town of the family's origin.
Wikipedia has a list of Christmas Dishes by country.
The History of Christmas also has a list of many different traditions by country, not just food.
As does The World of Christmas.
You can also do an internet search on your country and "Christmas Food Traditions".
Some websites that I found interesting were for Norway, Greece, and Iceland.
“I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God, I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me.”
Country Focus: Germany
Tradition: Christmas Lights
Activity: Neighborhood walk
Directions: Walk around your neighborhood and view your neighbors' Christmas lights displays. Choose the "best" house and give them a prize.
During Medieval times, Christians starting lighting special candles during Christmas. The candles symbolized Jesus' roles as Light of the World. There were many traditions involving candles including the advent wreath, lighting the Christmas tree, and putting candles in the window to welcome travelers. In 1747, Pastor John of Germany started the tradition of Christingle. Christingle is putting a candle in an orange and decorating it with a red ribbon.
Many people starting putting candles along their walk in hurricane lamps or bags with sand to hold them in place. All of these different decorations with candles were obviously dangerous. But it was the invention of the lightbulb by Thomas Edison that changed everything. Edward Hibberd Johnson, a business associate of Edison, took the lightbulb invention and had miniatures made in red, white and blue for his Christmas tree. He proudly displayed his tree in the window of his Fifth Avenue home in New York City in 1882. Although local papers ignored it as a publicity stunt for the Edison Electric Light Company, a Detroit newspaper reporter published the story. Johnson became known as the "Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights." To think that it all started with Martin Luther's candles!
In 1895, Grover Cleveland became the first president to have an electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House. After that, the tradition grew with passion in the United States, but still only indoors. In 1931, the Rockfeller Center Christmas tree was "lit" (not with real electric lights, that wasn't until 1956). Finally in 1956, when Disney started decorating outdoors with electric lights, a new tradition was born!
My kids and I pick the house that we think is decorated the best. Then we print a certificate on the computer that says, "Voted the Best Christmas House in the Neighborhood". We also give them a plate of cookies. The reason we call it "The Christmas House" is because when the boys were toddlers they always used to ask if we could have a "Christmas House". When I told them that our house was decorated for Christmas they told me it wasn't because we had white lights and not colored lights. Every time we would pass by a house with colored lights, they would point it out and say, "There's a Christmas House mama! I want a Christmas House!"
Have fun picking out your favorite "Christmas House"! It's a great way to spread good cheer in your neighborhood.
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.' When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
They said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;
FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER
WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'"
Tradition: Giving Gifts
Activity: Deliver goody bags
Materials: small bags, cookies, sugared nuts, mini loaves of bread, and other treats that you have made.
Directions: Deliver your bags to the people on the list you and your children made back on December 2.
Every year people complain about how expensive Christmas has become. And every year people go to the stores months in advance to find the perfect present for their loved ones. The stores definitely take advantage of this desire. But when did this tradition start? Christmas wasn't always about buying expensive gifts.
Before Christ was born, in Ancient Rome, people exchanged gifts on the New Year. The gifts were generally food or plants. In the northern most parts of Europe, people exchanged gifts of bread or alcohol. Some ancient rulers demanded that gifts be brought to them during the New Year's celebration. One year, Henry III close the doors of all the merchants in England by force because he was not impressed by the monetary gifts they had brought.
Just like many pagan traditions, early church leaders gave up fighting against them and turned the tradition into a Christian one. They changed the timing of the gift giving from New Years to Christmas. The church used the Bible passage in the Gospel of Matthew about the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ Child as justification for the giving of gifts.
Like many of our Christmas traditions, it was really the Victorians who breathed new life into giving of gifts. Warmth, friendship, and charity were all big parts of the Victorian Christmas tradition. It is no surprise then that great care was taken in picking out presents, especially for those who were economically challenged.
Often the gift itself was not even the point, but how it was given. Families played games to distribute their gifts. One of these games was called cobwebs. Each person was assigned a different color. Yarn was wrapped in a cobweb in a room in those different colors. Each person had to find their color and untangle themselves through the cobweb to find their present. Sometimes presents would be hidden and clues would be left. In every case, the giving of the gift was just as fun as the getting.
I hope that you have enjoyed preparing your items for your goody bags with your kids. Even something so simple will make people very happy. You will be surprised!
"This is what the LORD says-- the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel-- to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: 'Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.'" Country in Focus: England
Tradition: Mincemeat Pie
Activity: Make Christmas Pie
4 lbs. venison or beef, cubed
2 c. calf suet, chopped, fine
6 c. apples, chopped
3 c. meat stock
5 c. sugar
3 c. apple cider
1 c. molasses
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
3 c. raisins
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cloves
2 tbsp allspice
2 tbsp nutmeg
2 lemons, juiced
2 oranges, juiced
1 c. sherry
Place chopped meat in a large pan cover with stock simmer over medium heat until meat is tender. Remove from heat. Transfer to a large pot combine meat cubes, suet, apples, stock, sugar, apple cider, molasses, cider vinegar, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, lemon juice, and orange juice; simmer for 2 hours. remove from heat. Add brandy or sherry and mix together.
Mincemeat pie is also known as Christmas pie. It was developed as a way to preserve meat without having to salt it or smoke it. The pie was usually made of minced mutton. Traditionally minced pie was more meat than fruit than fruit.
The Christmas pie began in the 11th century with the Crusaders. When they returned from the Holy Land, they brought back with them many new oriental spices. The pies were made with three spices to represent the three gifts of the Magi.
The pies continued in some form or another until 1657 when Oliver Cromwell, the self appointed Lord Protector of England (from 1649-1658) declared that Christmas was a pagan holiday. Soldiers were order in the city of London to remove by force any food being cooked in celebration of Christmas. The smell of mincemeat pies or goose no longer filled the air.
In the 17th century, the pies became known as "secret pies". They were made in eccentric shapes to hide the fact that they were Christmas pies. Spices had became more abundant and therefore the mixture in the pies had become spicier. Cromwell's influence spread to the colonies as well, and mincemeat pies were banned in many towns in New England as well. The celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. Anyone caught celebrating was fined.
The ban was lifted on Christmas was lifted in England when the Puritans lost power in 1660. The ban was lifted in Boston in 1681. But even after the ban was lifted, Christmas was still not celebrated in either place with the gusto it is today. It was the Victorians that brought the life back to Christmas celebrations for both England and New England.
I hope that you will enjoy making some form of mincemeat pie. There are many mock mincemeat pie recipes on the internet as well.
Isaiah 46: 13 "I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel. "
Country in Focus: Italy
Tradition: Sugared Nuts
Activity: Make Spiced Nuts
Materials: Egg whites, mixed nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla extract, and sugar.
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Mix 1 tbsp of egg white and 1 tsp of vanilla extract.
3. Use the above mixture to coat 2 cups of mixed nuts.
4. Combine 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tbsp of cinnamon, 1/4 tsp of nutmeg, and 1/8 tsp of cloves.
5. Sprinkle above mixture over egg white-nut mixture until all the nuts are coated.
6. Spread out on a ungreased cookie sheet.
7. Bake for 20 minutes.
Nuts were an important part of the medieval diet. Almonds in particular could be found in every medieval kitchen. The reason nuts were so common is they were easy to store. Also, physicians of the day recommended them to aid in digestion. When a fish dish was served, it was almost always followed by nuts. Italians still use sugared almonds as part of their Christmas day celebrations, where the menu is almost entirely seafood dishes.
So it should be no surprise that since Christmas came in the winter when illness was rampant, that Saint Nicholas would deliver things that would help make children well. These special deliveries included oranges and nuts. The nuts that Saint Nicholas left were often spiced because spices also had a medicinal effect.
I was very proud of how our nuts turned out! This has been one of our more successful adventures! Don't forget that you will have to separate the nuts with a fork right before you serve them.
Isaiah 45: 23-25 “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, 'In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.' " All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the LORD all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.”
Country Focus: Germany
Tradition: Gingerbread Houses
Activity: Make a gingerbread house!
Materials: gingerbread house pieces, candy decorations and icing.
1. I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted! I'm using a house form from the grocery store. But if you want to follow a recipe to make your gingerbread house from scratch you can find it here.
2. Decorate your gingerbread house using icing to hold on your candy.
3. Ask your children to use their imagination to come up with the decorations.
4. Some ideas...
- Chicklets for the roof shingles
- Mini wheats if you want a thatched roof
- Twizzlers or sticks of gum for the house planks
- Tootsie rolls for fence posts
- Frost a ice cream cone green to make a Christmas tree and decorate it with sprinkles for ornaments and lights
These are my boys creations. They had a party with their friend!
Check out Pam's kids! Here are their gingerbread houses!
Ginger is a spice from Malaysia. The root is used to sooth upset stomach or to prevent a cold, which made it's use popular during the winter months. In the 11th century, ginger was introduced to the Europeans. The English invented ginger candy. Later, bread crumbs were added and gingerbread was developed.
In the Middle Ages, ginger was abundant in Germany. Germany was the center of the spice trade. Nuremberg, Germany became known as the gingerbread capital. Many types of craftsmen contributed to the making of elaborate gingerbread creations. Carpenters and sculptors carved wooden molds for the shapes. Artists decorated the bread with icing and gold paint.
At first hearts, angels, and wreaths were sold at fairs. During the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I gave her guests gingerbread portraits that looked like them! Later in the 17th century, the discovery of molasses made gingerbread more accessible. No longer just something for the wealthy, families started making their own gingerbread men cookies. But still the focus wasn't on houses. In the 19th century, while the Grimm brothers were collecting fairy tales, they found one about Hansel and Gretel.
Have fun decorating your gingerbread house! I know your kids will have fun eating it!
The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song."
Country in Focus: Germany
Tradition discussed: Advent Wreath
Activity: Advent Wreath
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. We light the third candle on our wreath. It is the pink candle. Say a prayer or sing a hymn with your children as you light the wreath. Once again, there is no set form that you must follow, but here is an example...
"Father, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who brings us great joy. We who have walked in the shadow of the valley of death have found life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
"Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth."
Country Focus: England
Activity:Have a Game Night!
Directions: Have your children bring some of their favorite board games down to the table. It's game night.
Playing games at Christmas time was a tradition that started in England in the late Medieval or early Renaissance times. There were a wide variety of games from which to choose. Some were outdoor games and athletic matches. Later, the games were quieter and meant to be played in a parlor.
One outdoor game, Prisoner's Base, was so popular that the streets were jammed with people. King Edward III banned the game from being played outside Westminister Palace to prevent congestion. Other popular games included Blind Man's Bluff, Leap Frog, and an early version of Hide and Seek. Indoor games included lively rounds of Charades and many different card games.
On a personal note, growing up my family had a tradition that I loved. There was one present that we opened on Christmas Eve. This present was "To" the entire family and was always a game. After dinner, we opened the game and played it until late that night.
I hope you enjoy playing some games with your children! God bless!
"'But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.'"
Country Focus: Italy
Tradition: Christmas Carols
Activity: Have a Christmas Caroling Party!
Materials: Christmas Carol Lyrics and goody bags filled with treats
Directions: Pick some friends and some music. Take some of your goody bags and visit your neighbors. For a bit of added fun, you could dress in festive outfits.
A Christmas carol is a special hymn with lyrics written specifically to celebrate Christmas. This makes it a little different than other hymns. They are also different from Christmas or winter songs since they are written to celebrate the birth of Christ, and not just to celebrate the season.
Although the word, carol or carole is French, it is believed that Saint Francis of Assisi was the first to introduce carols into formal worship in 1223. The practice of singing carols during Christmas Eve midnight mass continued until the Reformation. In some Protestant churches, carols were not sung, although that is not true of Lutheran churches. Martin Luther authored some carols and encouraged his congregation to use carols in their worship.
During the early Renaissance, wandering minstrels would go from home to home singing carols. They entertained the home owners in hopes of getting a treat or hot drink. Watchman sitting on the city wall were also often heard singing carols as a way to pass the time. Carols were also sung at Christmas fairs, which were village festivals that included food vendors, singing, and dancing. This may be when the name carol was added to the songs, since the word carol means circle-dance.
Some famous Christmas carols and their authors...
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing by Charles Wesley
O Come All Ye Faithful by John Francis Wade
Away in a Manger finished by James R. Murray
Joy to the World by Isaac Watts
The First Noel edited by William B. Sandys
If you are looking for the lyrics to some Christmas carols to sing with your friends, you can check out Christmas-Carols.net. Have fun! And stay warm!
Matthew 1: 18-25
"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'--which means, 'God with us.' When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."
Country in Focus: Germany
Tradition: Christmas Tree Ornaments
Activity: Decorate a Christmas tree ornament.
Materials: box of plastic or glass inexpensive ornaments any color, beads, ribbon, sequins, glitter glue, and glue
Use the materials you gathered to decorate the plain ornaments to make your own creations. They make great gifts for grandparents!
At this point, you probably already have your Christmas tree up. Back on December 6th, I related the history of the Christmas tree itself. But how did the tradition of the Christmas tree make it's way to England and thereby to America? And why did we start hanging ornaments on the tree?
Queen Victoria was very popular. Everything she did, the people of her country emulated. Queen Victoria often traveled to Germany to visit relatives. She met her her husband Prince Albert there. They were married and returned to England, to rule and to raise their family. Prince Albert brought with him a Christmas tree of hand blown glass ornaments. In 1846, the Royal family were depicted in the Illustrated London News standing around their Christmas tree with their children. Immediately, everyone in England and on the East Coast of America had to have one.
Many of the ornaments that people decorated their tree with were handmade ornaments because that's all they could afford. Ladies began Christmas crafting all year in preparation. Until finally, it became the big business it is today! Making ornaments is still more fun. Have a great time!
"In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.'"
Country in Focus: Germany
Tradition: Candy canes
Activity: Add more items to your goody bags. Make candy cane cookies.
Materials: sugar cookie mix, red food coloring, peppermint flavoring
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Using a good baking spray, grease your cookie sheet.
3. After you make the sugar cookie dough, split the dough into two bowls.
4. In one bowl, put a few drops of the red food coloring and the peppermint flavoring.
5. Take the regular dough and roll into into small balls.
6. Form each ball into small snakes.
7. Do the same with the red dough.
8. Intertwine the regular dough and the red dough, forming a candy cane.
9. Place each candy cane on the cookie sheet forming the crook for the shepherd's staff at the top.
10. Bake for 8 minutes.
While an early form candy cane may have been used by French priests in the early 1400s, the credit for this candy's invention is generally given to the choirmaster of Cologne Cathedral in Germany. In 1670, he bent the straight sticks of sugar into the cane form to represent shepherd's staff. Then he distributed them at the church service to keep the children quiet during his choir's performance. Others picked up on this idea, and soon all Europe was using this as a way to keep children quiet at Christmas services and at live Nativities.
At first the candy was only white. The red stripes weren't added until later in the 1900s. Contrary to the urban legend, there is no official credit given for the stripes being added. Christmas cards before the 1900s show the candy canes without stripes. Christmas cards after the 1900s show the candy canes with them. There are certainly many stories that we can give the candy canes for the colors, just as we do for candy corn in the fall and jelly beans at Easter.
Candy canes now come in a variety of colors and flavors. Have fun making your cookies!
Isaiah 16: 5
"In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it-- one from the house of David-- one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness."Country in Focus: Italy
Tradition: Christmas Stockings
Activity: Decorate a Christmas stocking.
Materials: Stocking (you can usually find inexpensive plain ones at Walmart or even Dollar Tree); sequins, jewel beads, glitter glue pens
Decorate your own stocking and put your name on it.
The reason we hang Christmas stockings is more legend attributed to Saint Nicholas. The story was told in northern Europe since the early days of Christianity. In fact, it was told for so long, people forgot why they hung their stockings. They just continued to do so.
The legend says that a nobleman was so devastated by his wife's death that he spent through all his money leaving his three daughters without any dowries. The daughters were left poor and without any prospects for marriage. Cue sad music. One night before bed, the girls washed their stockings as usual and hung them to dry by the fireplace. Saint Nicholas was so moved by their situation that he took pity on them. While they were sleeping, he crept into their house and left them each a bag of gold coin in their stockings. When they awoke in the morning, they found the money.
Inspired by this story, children began to leave their socks and shoes outside where Nicholas could see them, in hopes that they would receive money as well. Over time, the tradition developed into the one that we read about on December 5th for the eve of Saint Nicholas' birthday. In America, we prefer to hang stockings rather than to put out shoes. Have fun making your stocking!
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel."
Country in Focus: England
Tradition: Fruit Cake
Activity: Work on your goody bags. Make miniature fruit cakes.
Materials: This will depend on which recipe you follow. We are using this one.
Directions: Again, this will depend on which recipe you follow. We are using this one. Updated!!!*** You can watch this video called "A Bunch of Fruitcakes" of our crazy family making our fruitcake.
Fruitcake has been popular since the Middle Ages. But it was the colonization of the Americas that turned it into something practical to give as an affordable gift. Access inexpensive sugar changed the recipe dramatically. The original recipes called for honey, barley mash, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds.
After the colonization of North America, candied fruit replaced the pomegranate seeds. Soaking the cake in rum was added as well. However, this depended on the preference of the person making the cake. Some families would not have added alcohol at all. Martha Washington's recipe called for sherry.
There seems to be two camps on fruitcakes: love it or hate it. Done well, fruit cake does not have to be an over dry, brick. But it does take care. There are many recipes to try. Allrecipes has several. I think it would be fun to try out. We are going to make a few to give to people who are in the "love it" camp.
Good luck and God bless!
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
Country in Focus: Germany
Tradition: Advent Wreath
Activity: Advent Wreath
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. We light the second purple candle on our wreath. Say a prayer or sing a hymn with your children as you light the wreath. Once again, there is no set form that you must follow, but here is an example...
"Father, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. We, who like sheep that have gone astray, have found the way to you through Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
Isaiah 45: 21-22
“Declare what is to be, present it-- let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” Country in Focus: Germany
Tradition: Christmas Tree
Activity: Decorate the Christmas tree.
Materials: tree, lights, and all your family's favorite tree decorations
The history of the Christmas tree, like so many of our Christmas traditions, is very convoluted. But we will give the credit to Germany. England lays claim to the Christmas tree since there is a legend that an English monk who used the triangular shaped fir tree as a symbol of the Trinity, but he did it while in Germany. These converted Germans went on revere the fir tree as God's tree. By the 12th century, they were hanging it upside down from their ceilings each Christmas all over Central Europe.
The first decorated tree on record was in Latvia in 1510. Then in the early 16th century, Martin Luther decorated a small Christmas tree with candles. He lit the tree to duplicate the lights of the stars at night, or so the legend tells.
The Christmas tree was not widely used in England until the 19th century. This tradition was brought to America by the Pennsylvania Germans. Therefore, I think it's fair that we give Germany the "Country in Focus" credit.
Have fun decorating your tree with your family!
“And now the LORD says-- he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength-- he says: 'It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.'"Country in Focus: The Netherlands
Tradition: St. Nicholas
Activity: Celebrate St. Nicholas Eve! Make Snowman Soup! Place out your shoes for a small gift.
Materials: hot cocoa, large marshmallows, very large mugs or soup crocks with handles,
Make hot cocoa and put in the large marshmallow. We put them in soup bowls and my kids and I call that snow man soup. Just for something different and fun.
Also, have your kids put a pair of shoes out on the front porch and stick something in them. Put in something small like a matchbox car or a piece of candy. One year, I think I did a small set of Legos. But if you are doing food, you might want to pick a really clean pair of shoes!
Who is Saint Nicholas? This is really an interesting study, especially if you have older children. It's also a great review if you have been doing Year 2 of Tapestry of Grace!
Saint Nicholas, who was never officially canonized, was actually Bishop Nicholas who lived in the 300s in present day Turkey. There are many legends of miracles associated with Nicholas. Whether or not you believe those to be true, one thing is generally believed about Nicholas of Myra, he was a very giving man.
The story behind Nicholas' gifts is that if someone left their shoes out on their porch overnight, Nicholas would drop money into them. As time went on in the town, people began to leave their shoes out for Nicholas. Now, in some countries, including the Netherlands, on the night before Saint Nicholas' birthday, children leave their shoes out on their porch to receive a present.
Saint Nicholas is known by different names in other countries: Santa Claus, Santa, or Father Christmas. In the Netherlands, he is known as Sinterklaas. They receive their presents on December 5. Children place a pair of wooden shoes outside and the next morning a small present is inside. Besides putting out shoes, they also drink hot chocolate milk.
I found that a study of Nicholas himself was a great review of the Council of Nicea and Arianism. According to legend, during the first ecumenical council called by Constantine in 325 A.D., Bishop Nicholas of Myra was absolutely horrified by the assertions of Arius of Egypt. While all the other bishops listened, Arius argued that Jesus as the Son of God was not equal to God the Father. The Holy Trinity itself was called into question. Nicholas would not stand by and allow that to happen. He walked across the room and slapped Arius. Of course, all of this is testified to by a biographer 500 years after the council convened and by a group with an agenda to make Nicholas a saint. Records do not show Nicholas as one of the bishops at the council. However, it was a great opportunity to review Arius, his theological arguments, and the council's decisions again with my children.
Santa Claus has become quite controversial. It's unfortunate that the focus has become on the materialism of the presents. To me, Saint Nicholas represents generosity, even if most of the things attributed to him are myth. It's the spirit that gives hope! It's awesome to think that a man would behave in such a way simply because of his love for Jesus and his joy over celebrating His birth!
Whether or not you allow your children to participate in this activity, I hope that you will have fun discussing other countries' traditions about Saint Nicholas!
Matthew 1:1-2; 6A; 16-17
"A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers...and Jesse the father of King David...and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ. "
Country in Focus: Ireland
Tradition: Helping the Poor
Activity: Pick a service project to do with your family.
Contact a local church or service organization and sign up for a service project! There are so many to choose from...for example, your family could work for a day in a soup kitchen, or work at a "church under the bridge" project, or fold clothes at a thrift store, or...
I should point out that the service project will NOT be performed today. You will discuss your options with your family and do a little research today. Also, you may want to discuss why we do service projects. Our service projects are not scheduled until Dec. 29th and Jan. 11th. But it is on the calendar and they know what, when, where, how and WHY they are doing them.
Of course, many countries have the Christmas tradition of helping the poor during Christmas. To be fair, I think we know that I am just partial to Ireland. ;) In Ireland, the Feast of St. Stephen, which is celebrated on December 26th, is one of the nine official public holidays. Stephen was the first official Christian martyr. You can read more about him in Acts 6.
The Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas" is a legend about a king who gave alms to a peasant on the feast day of St. Stephen. The legend is based on the account of the life of a duke who lived in Bohemia in the early 900's. He was made a saint by the Church and had a cult following in both Bohemia and the British Isles. In a chronicle of his life, written about a hundred years later, it was said that he got up each night, walking barefoot, and went to churches to give money to the widows and orphans. Pope Pius II proclaimed this legend as truth several centuries later, when he decided to emulate this story by walking ten miles through the snow barefoot as an act of thanksgiving to God.
For centuries there was another Irish tradition that went on in small villages. When families went to bed after their evening meal on Christmas Eve night, they left a candle burning on their kitchen table. On the table was left a pitcher of milk and a loaf of bread. The front door was left unlatched. Any traveler that was passing by was extended the hospitality of coming into their home and eating the food that was left on the table.
This Christmas remember the words that Jesus spoke, that Matthew left for us in his gospel...
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD-- and he will delight in the fear of the LORD."
Country in Focus: Scotland
Tradition: Yule Log
Activity: Make a Yule Log cake.
Materials: jelly roll pan, wax paper, tea towel, chocolate cake mix, whipped cream, confectioner's sugar, chocolate frosting, chocolate sprinkles, silk holly leaves, candles
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Prepare cake mix according to directions.
3. Grease 15X1o inch jelly roll pan. Line with wax paper. Grease paper.
4. Spread cake batter into prepared pan. Smooth top of batter and bake 12 minutes. Top of cake should be set and spring back when ready.
5. Dust a clean (like I needed to tell you it should be clean?) tea cloth with confectioner's sugar. Turn cake out onto the cloth. Roll up cake, jelly roll style. Transfer, seam side down, to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.
6. Unroll the cake and remove the cloth.
7. Spread whipped cream over the cake to within 1 inch of edges.
8. Re-roll the cake and place seam side down on a serving platter.
9. Frost with the chocolate frosting including edges of "log". Run fork along top to give it a bark look.
10. Sprinkle with chocolate sprinkles. Add garnishments of your choice such as silk holly leaves or candy holly pieces.
11. Put in the candles which will make the log "burn".
UPDATED!!! Here is a picture of our Yule Log cake.
The good thing about chocolate frosting is that it hides a multitude of problems including cracked cake. So even if you are rolling your cake and it is not working out, don't give up. It will still taste great. Just use your chocolate frosting to hide all!
During the 16th Century, Scotland banned Christmas, which was seen as a Roman Catholic holiday. As an Anglican country, they found the practice unacceptable, and there were legal ramifications for those caught celebrating. This ban was not lifted until the 1950s! The Scottish being a stubborn lot, often continued their family celebrations quietly, if you can call dancing around the fire on Christmas Eve in a kilt quietly.
One secret custom that they continued was the Yule log. The Yule log was another Germanic pagan tradition modified into a Christmas celebration. Originally used to observe the winter solstice and remember their ancestors, it was adapted into British folklore. Father Christmas was often depicted as carrying a yule log on Christmas cards.
There are many stories about the yule log tradition. It was the darkest time of year, so burning a large log would give off both a great light and much warmth. In the 4th Century AD, Pope Julius I decided to adapt it into a Christian tradition. The log was brought into the home and placed in the hearth. It was sprinkled with oil and fragrances and prayers were said over it. Then personal faults and mistakes were burned with the log so that everyone could start with a clean slate for the new year.
Scottish anthropologist, Sir James Frazer discussed how the Yule log tradition was adapted in his controversial book The Golden Bough: A Study of Magic and Religion. Although he received a great deal of criticism at the time, it was accurate in its portrayal of how many of our Christmas traditions were once part of the winter pagan festival celebrating the winter solstice. Depending on your child's age and their ability to understand, you may want to discuss this with them. Once again, I reiterate that none of these things take away from God's truth. The Church's desire to use things that people already understood to teach them about Christ was not wrong, even if at times as humans they were misguided.
It's our desire to reach people where they are so that we can all grow. At least hopefully that is still our desire today!
"Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this."
Country in Focus: England
Tradition: Stained Glass windows
Activity: Start making goody bags. Make stained Glass cookies. (*updated)
Materials: Sugar cookie dough, lollipops or hard candies (I am using Jolly Ranchers), plastic sandwich bags, hammer, wax paper, a baking sheet, and cooking spray or butter (I love Baker's Joy spray) and aluminum foil* (updated!)
On a floured surface, roll the sugar cookie dough 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 1/4 inch wide strips. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease the aluminum foil.* (updated!) Place the strips onto the foiled and greased baking sheet forming window frames.
Keeping the colors of your hard candy separate, place the candy into plastic sandwich bags and crush them with a hammer. Place crushed candies inside window frames to form a pattern.
Bake for eight minutes or until candy is melted. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes or until the candy is hard. Lift the cookies off with a spatula and pull off the aluminum foil*(updated!). Then transfer them to another plate for storage. Use wax paper between layers.
Every year, my family and I make goody bags for our community. Now is the time to start making the list and doing the baking. It will take about a week and a half to make enough cookies, brownies, pretzels, and bread loaves to go around. I want to encourage you that when you make your list to think beyond the "usual suspects".
Of course, we want to bless our pastor and Sunday school teachers, Scout leaders, and coaches. But there are many people in our community that do things for us every day that we just don't think about. Also, it's an excellent way to reach out to others. When you think about your list, don't forget your mechanic, librarian, video store clerk, bank tellers, fast food workers (yes, I do take cookies to the people working at McDonald's), DMV employees, city tax office, etc. I also keep a few bags with me in the car all the time in case I run into a homeless person at the traffic light.
Remember to tell your children to say "Merry Christmas" when they give their goody bag away. They get shy and forget, even the most rambunctous child! You would be surprised how something this small blesses people. It's a great lesson for your kids!
Why stained glass windows as a Christmas tradition? The idea was suggested to me in a way by my husband. He was discussing the beauty of stained glass windows. He was impressed by the ability of these windows to draw non-Christians to a church because of their beauty.
The history of stained glass windows in the Church is controversial. Although stained glass was used in art by the Egyptians and Romans, it's glory was reached in the Middle Ages. Churches used the window to depict Biblical events or patron saints. By the Renaissance, the staining of the glass improved so that colors did not fade as much over time. During the Reformation, in England, many of the stained glass windows in churches were destroyed and replaced with plain windows. However, in other countries such as Germany, even with the rise of Protestantism, the classic style of stained glass windows continued.
In England, there are still some beautiful examples of stained glass windows that remained undamaged. One of them is Hengrave Hall in Suffolk, which is a private chapel. Another is the Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent.
When my boys and I made our cookies today, for the life of me I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. I remembered making these with my oldest son! After a couple of failed attempts, I realized that I had covered the baking sheet with aluminum foil and then pealed the aluminum foil away. I hadn't remembered that! I cannot even describe the mess that's left behind if you don't.
Here's a picture of one of our disasters.
Funny thing...Tutone pointed out...maybe these were the stained glass windows that were destroyed when the Anglican churches came in and took over! At least he paid attention to the lesson while we were baking!
Our success looked much more appetizing! Good luck! And have fun!
"In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious."
Country in Focus: England
Tradition: Christmas Cards
Activity: Make your own Christmas cards.
Materials: card stock, stamps, colored paper, markers, buttons, glitter, beads, ribbons, card making directions, pictures of your children, scrapbooking scissors, glue, whatever else you can think of!
The first Christmas cards were printed in London in 1843. Today, too many of us resort to the "e-card". Your great aunt Sally doesn't appreciate email as much as she does a handmade one!
This is a great day to start working on your cards. You probably won't finish all of them today. Let your child help you make the Christmas card list. Think about people that you need reach out to as well as family and friends.
And remember your Christmas spirit! The cards are from your kids, so they are going to look like it!
"And again, Isaiah says, 'The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.' May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Country in Focus: Germany
Tradition: Advent Wreath
Activity: Make an Advent Wreath!
Materials:1 flat styrofoam disk, silk greenery to cover wreath, ribbon, 3 purple candles, 1 pink candle, 1 white candle, and glue. Anything else you may want to decorate your wreath with such as pine cones, pearls, etc.
Glue the ribbon to the outer edge of the disk. Push the white candle into the center of the disk. Push the other candles into the disk. Make sure that they are evenly spaced and that you leave enough of an edge to be able to decorate your wreath with greenery. You may want to put a little glue on the inside of each candle hole. Push greens into disk to cover stryofoam. Add your finishing touches.
For the first day of advent, make an advent wreath with your children.
Advent wreaths are used to help us spiritually prepare for Christmas. The advent wreath originated in the Middle Ages. There is some evidence that it was used in Pre-Christian Germanic traditions. This is not unusual of Christmas traditions. The Church adapted many pagan traditions into Christian celebrations. It certainly does not take away from the lessons that we can teach with them.
The advent wreath has changed over time. Although by the 1600's, both Catholics and Lutherans had traditions involving the advent wreath, the modern advent wreath was developed in 1839 by Johann Hinrich Wichern. The tradition didn't spread beyond Germany until after the 1930's, but today it can be found around the world.
You can make your advent wreath two ways. Wichern made his wreath with 19 small red candles and 4 tall white candles. Each day a red candle was lit. White candles were lit on Sunday. The modern version calls for 3 purple candles, 1 pink candle, and one white candle. During the month of Advent, you will light a new candle each Sunday. The pink candle is lit on the 3rd Sunday.
The first Sunday, today, is the "Candle of Hope" (purple). The second Sunday is the "Candle of Love" (purple). The third Sunday is the "Candle of Joy" (pink). The fourth Sunday is the "Candle of Peace" (purple). The white candle is lit on Christmas Day. It is called the "Christ Candle."
As you light today's candle, you can say a prayer or sing a hymn together. There is no set form that you have to use. An example for a prayer you can say is...
"Father, we light this candle to thank you for your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
Yesterday, one of my children asked me why we have a Christmas tree. It dawned on me that we hadn't talked about traditions from other countries for a while. I did this as a homeschool lesson when they were younger, but not recently. Now, maybe they just wanted to sample food from other countries again... ;)
...but either way, I decided it would be a fun way to review Europe since we just wrapped up the Renaissance. This should make for a nice clean start in January. So while my family takes a country by country tour reviewing our history lessons, and enjoying some Christmas traditions from those countries, I am going to share some activities that you can do with your kids in the traditional Advent Calendar style. I hope we all have fun!