Monday, 31 December 2012

Ring Out Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause.
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Photo courtesy 

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The History of Gingerbread

Gingerbread, which comes from the old French "gingebras", is over 1000 years old.  Originally a cake, gingerbread had a mixture of spices in it like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, white pepper, anise and ginger.  Armenians brought the recipe to France back in 992 where the locals called it "pain d'epices".  Within decades it was brought to Germany where the locals called it "lebkuchen".  By the 13th Century, German immigrants brought gingerbread to Sweden where nuns used it as a treatment for indigestion.

By the 1500's, German bakers started making gingerbread molds of kings, queens and emperors.  Samples of these gingerbread mold carvings can be found in Nuremberg, Germany, Lyon, France and Prague, Czech Republic.  The 1600's saw the appearance of crisp gingerbread cookies cut into various shapes.  The century also saw the first gingerbread houses in Germany which they called "lebkuchenhaus".  The Brothers Grimm popularized the gingerbread house in the early 1800's with their story Hansel & Gretel about two young children who are lured into a witch's gingerbread house.

In Bergen, Norway, residents consider gingerbread house making an art form.  For the past 20 years, they have created a "Pepperkakebyen" or Gingerbread City which can be viewed from late November to New Year's Eve.

Note:  For gingerbread connoisseurs, visit the Bread Museum in Ulm, Germany.

Photo of Pepparkakebyen in Norway courtesy

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Poinsettia Points

Here are ten facts you may not know about the poinsettia.

1.  The Christmas flower is native to Mexico.

2.  Joel Poinsett, a botanist, introduced the plant to the United States in 1825.

3.  In Peru, the poinsettia is known as the "Crown of the Andes".

4.  It is called the lobster flower or flame leaf flower.

5.  The poinsettia is not poisonous.

6.  In nature, the Christmas shrub can grow up to 10 feet tall.

7.  California is the top poinsettia producing state.

8.  Over 85% of flower sales are poinsettias.

9.  There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias.

10.  The cost of a poinsettia is determined by the number of blooms.  Over $300 million are generated through poinsettia sales at Christmas time.

Photo courtesy 

Friday, 28 December 2012

Fried Carp, Fried Chicken & Fried Caterpillars

Here are ten strange Christmas traditions from around the world.

1.  Austrians eat fried carp and edible Christmas ornaments.

2.  The Japanese dine at Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Day.  It is so popular that many have to make reservations weeks in advance.

3.  In South Africa, people eat fried fuzzy caterpillars on Christmas Day.

4.  The Irish children leave mince pies and a bottle of Guinness for Santa Claus.

5.  In Caracas, Venezuela, officials close the Main Street on Christmas Day so people can rollerskate to church.

6.  Santa Claus rides on a kangaroo in Australia.

7.  Ukrainians decorate their Christmas tree with a spider and a web.  Local folklore says that a poor woman had no decorations for her tree.  She woke up Christmas morning and found a spider had spun a web which had turned silver from the sun and that's how tinsel got its start.

8.  In America, 8 out of the 10 most popular Christmas songs were written by Jews rather than Christians.  At the top of the list is "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin.

9.  In Czechoslovakia, women used to throw a shoe over their shoulder on Christmas Eve.  If it landed on the floor with its toe pointing toward the door, she would be married within a year.  If it landed with its heel pointing towards the door, she would remain single.

10.  In Spain, a character named "El Caganer" is a little man who defecates.  He is supposed to fertilize the land, making for a good harvest in the coming year.

Photo courtesy

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Christmas Lights Around the World

1.  Laimingu Kaledu! (Vilnius, Lithuania)

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2.  Froliche Weinachten! (Vienna, Austria)

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3.  Joyeux Noel!  (Paris, France)

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4.  God Jul! (Stockholm, Sweden)

5.  Buon Natale! (Rome, Italy)

6.  Merry Christmas! (London, England)

Photo courtesy 

7.  Feliz Navidad! (Madrid, Spain)

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8.  Glaedelig Jul! (Copenhagen, Denmark)

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9.  Wesolych Swiat! (Warsaw, Poland)

Photo courtesy warsaw.jpg.

10.  S Rozhedestvom, Kristovym! (Moscow, Russia)

Photo courtesy 

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Go Nuts!

Christmas is the time to crack open nuts and munch on them.  Match each nut with the correct description.

1.  chestnuts                 a.  protein rich; used by Navajos in commerce

2.  walnuts                    b.  selenium rich; hails from South America

3.  cashews                   c.  Vitamin E rich; white chocolate cookies

4.  almonds                   d.  fibre rich nut used in pies

5.  hazelnuts                  e.  Vitamin C rich; used for roasting

6.  pecans                     f.  Omega 7 nut found in Christmas stockings

7.  pistachios                 g.  iron rich nut found in East Indian cuisine

8.  macadamia nuts        h.  calcium & magnesium rich nut; French origin

9.  Brazil nuts                 i.  copper rich nut often found in chocolate

10.  pine nuts                 j.  potassium rich nut found in ice cream


1.  e
2.  f
3.  g
4.  h
5.  i
6.  d
7.  j
8.  c
9.  b
10.  a

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Creations

Here are ten facts you may not know about Christmas.

1.  Pope Julius declared December 25 Christmas Day in the 4th Century.

2.  Eggnog comes from "grog" meaning any drink with rum.  The concoction was invented in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.

3.  The first American Christmas carol, "Jesus is Born", was composed in 1649 by John de Brebeur.

4.  Washington Irving wrote a series of short stories called "The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon" in 1819, featuring a tale about St. Nicholas flying across the sky in a weightless wagon.  Irving's story is credited with reviving the popularity of Christmas, even inspiring Charles Dickens' book A Christmas Carol.

5.  Before turkey and gravy, a boar's head and mustard was traditional Christmas fare in England.

6.  Christmas crackers were first invented in 1847 by Britain's Tom Smith who visited Paris and noticed that Parisian shopkeepers packaged candy in colourful wrappers.  He bought French novelties, packaged them in pretty packages, and added some small sticks that popped when rubbed together.   

7.  The poinsettia is known as the "flower of the Holy Night (Christmas Eve)" in Mexico.

8.  Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer first appeared in a short story in a colouring book published for the Ward Montgomery Department Store in 1939.

9.  The crew of Gemini 6 reported a strange module out their window in December of 1965.  The captain then reported eight smaller modules leading the big module and a pilot with a red suit.  The crew then pulled out a harmonica and bells they smuggled in and sang "Jingle Bells" from outer space.

10.  St. Francis of Assissi was the first person to stage a living nativity scene back in 1224.  The altar doubled as the manger.

Monday, 24 December 2012

The Christmas Tapestry

Jonathan Jefferson Weeks is worried that the Christmas Eve service at his father's Detroit church will be ruined.  They have just discovered a leak in the sacristy wall which has left a terrible stain; later the plaster falls off revealing a hole.

However, on a cold, blustery day, they find a tapestry in a second hand shop to cover up the hole.  While waiting for the bus outside, they meet an elderly woman who offers them some tea.  They accept and invite the woman home to their house.

Back at the parsonage, Jonathan suggests that they hang the tapestry immediately and invite the elderly lady to watch.  They place it over the hole in the sacristy wall for all to see.  The woman gasps, recognizing the tapestry:  it is the one she sewed decades ago for her wedding day!  It even has her initials in the corner.  The lady explains that she and her husband were married in Germany.  During the Second World War, because they were Jews, they were put in cattle cars and shipped to concentration camps, never to see each other again.  She assumed that her husband had perished there.

Upon hearing her story, the Weeks offer her the tapestry but she declines saying that it is already right where it belongs.  They invite her to the Christmas Eve service at their Baptist church, but she politely declines, saying that she celebrates Hannukah rather than Christmas.  Pastor Weeks then drives her home to her apartment.

Three days later, Pastor Weeks is paid a visit by the plasterer who has come to repair the damaged wall.  Upon viewing the tapestry, the plasterer gasps that he knows who made it -- his wife!  Pastor Weeks says he knows where his wife is living and offers to take him there.  They race to the apartment where a tearful reunion takes place -- all thanks to the Christmas tapestry.

Note:  The Christmas Tapestry is loosely based on two true stories, one that took place in New York State and the other in Canada.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Cologne Choirmaster Creates Candy Cane

In 1670, a Cologne, Germany choirmaster had trouble keeping his choir members quiet during the living creche ceremony each Christmas.  So he handed out white peppermint sticks with a crook in them called "candy canes" to keep the children silent.

In 1847, a German immigrant from Wooster, Ohio decorated his Christmas tree with candy canes.

In the late 1800's, an Indiana candy maker started to make the bent white sticks.  Some say they are shaped like a shepherd's staff to remind us of the shepherds who visited baby Jesus.  Others say that the bent shape represents the letter J for Jesus.  After 1900, Christmas cards depicted a candy cane with three small stripes to represent the blood that Jesus shed for us on the cross.  The number three represented the Holy Trinity.

Today, 1.76 billion candy canes are made each year.  December 26 is National Candy Cane day in the United States.

Image courtesy 

Saturday, 22 December 2012

One Horse Open Sleigh

Although "Jingle Bells" is considered to be a Christmas song, it was originally written for Thanksgiving.  Although it was published when its composer lived in Savannah, Georgia, it was written in when he lived in Medford, Massachusetts.  Although we know it as "Jingle Bells" it was originally titled "One Horse Open Sleigh".  And although the song has been popular for decades, originally it was not a hit.

James Pierpont, the composer of the song, was born in Boston, Massachusetts.  His father, an ardent abolitionist, took a position as pastor of a Unitarian Church in Medford, a suburb of Boston.  

James was not interested in being a pastor's son, however.  Not one to shy away from adventure, James ran away to sea at an early age, joining the crew of The Shark.  Upon his return, he married Millicent Cowee in the 1840's and they had three children.  However, James was restless and soon left his family to join the hundreds of prospectors in the San Francisco Gold Rush.  Nothing came of his attempt to strike it rich and he returned to Massachusetts.  

In 1850, inspired by the sleigh races on Salem Street in Medford, James composed "One Horse Open Sleigh".  The recurring line of "Jingle bells" was actually an order commanding the bells to jingle so that other carriage operators could hear one's approach at an intersection, an approach that would normally be silent in the snow.  The new song, however, did not catch on at first. 

Soon, its composer followed his brother, John Jr., to Savannah, Georgia where he had started a Unitarian Church.  While his brother filled the role of pastor, James became the organist.  His wife and children stayed behind with his father in Massachusetts.

James' wife died of Tuberculosis while he was in Georgia and he quickly remarried, this time to a Southerner named Eliza Purse, the daughter of Savannah's mayor, Thomas Purse.  They had a child together.

In 1857, James composition "One Horse Open Sleigh" was published.  In the meantime, the Civil War broke out and John Jr.'s Unitarian church, full of abolitionists, was forced to close.  John returned to the North, but James remained in the South.  He enlisted as a Confederate soldier, penning battle hymns as he fought on the battlefield. 

In 1859, "One Horse Open Sleigh" was re-released as "Jingle Bells".  Once again, however, it did not cause much of a stir.

James died in 1893 and is buried in Savannah, Georgia.  Both Savannah and Medford lay claim to the birth of the Christmas song "Jingle Bells".  Perhaps both cities are correct:  while the song's composer had his roots in the North, he made the South his adopted homeland.  However, the inspiration for "Jingle Bells" was definitely found in Medford, where the sleigh races used to take place in the 1800's.

Three years after James Pierpont's death, the Edison Quartette became the first to record "Jingle Bells".  In the 1940's Bing Crosby recorded the song.  It has since been recorded by everyone from the Beatles to Barry Manilow, from the Chipmunks to Luciano Pavorotti.  "Jingle Bells" is now one of the most recognized and recorded Christmas songs in history.    

P.S.  The word "upsot", at the end of the second verse, is the past participle of "upset".  

Friday, 21 December 2012

Pudding, Panettone & Pepparkakor

Circle the correct description of each Christmas treat.

1.  Buche de Noel        

a.  sweet bread from Milan
b.  sponge cake baked in Swiss roll pan with chocolate buttercream frosting
c.  Christmas pudding

2.  Nougat

a.  sugar, honey and roasted nuts
b.  large cookies with honey
c.  honey cookies

3.  Beigli

a.  sweet rolls
b.  sweet tarts
c.  sweet yeast bread with rich bittersweet filling

4.  Panettone

a.  sweet bread from Milan
b.  jelly roll
c.  jelly donut

5.  Pepparkakor

a.  peppercorn
b.  heart-star and goat-shaped gingerbread biscuits
c.  peppermint sticks

6.  Christmas pudding

a.  steamed pudding with dried fruit, nuts and suet
b.  rice pudding
c.  chocolate pudding

7.  Pain perdu

a.  Belgian waffles
b.  French toast with eggs, milk, sugar and cinnamon
c.  breakfast casserole

8.  Lebkuchen

a.  large cookies with honey
b.  small cookies with syrup
c.  large cookies sprinkled with sugar

9.  Apple beignets

a.  apple fritters
b.  apple tarts
c.  apple strudels

10.  Sandbakkels

a.  light buttery tarts
b.  butter cookies
c.  butter tart squares


1.  b  (French origin)
2.  a  (Spanish treat)
3.  c  (Hungarian)
4.  a  (Italian)
5.  b  (Swedish)
6.  a  (English)
7.  b  (French term, Portuguese tradition)
8.  a  (German)
9.  a  (French term, Dutch tradition)
10. a (Scandinavian)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story

Image courtesy 

"A train comes through Appalachia each year at Christmas time.  And though it doesn't have antlers, nor does the man standing on its rear platform have a long white beard, it may as well be Santa and his sleigh for all the excitement it stirs up." (Silver Packages:  An Appalachian Story, excerpt)

And so begins the story of a rich man who had an accident in the Applachians years ago and was cared for by a kind stranger.  In order to show his appreciation, the rich man returns every year on December 23 on a train loaded with silver packages.  Standing on the caboose, he throws the gifts to the eager girls and boys, many of whom come from very poor families in coal country.  One boy named Frankie longs for a doctor's kit, but always gets socks or mittens along with a small toy.  Frankie grows up and goes away to college to study medicine.  One day he returns to the town to live and work as a doctor, his dream come true.

The paintings, by Christ K. Soentpiet, are beautiful renditions of the Appalachians and the people who inhabit them.  Loosely based on true events, this story reminds us that even in America, there are poor people.  It also reminds us that if we set our mind to it, we can do anything, just as little Frankie did.  Finally, it shows how it is more important to be rich in spirit rather than in the pocketbook, as demonstrated by the man who returns every year on the Christmas train, bearing silver packages for the children.

Image courtesy 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

How an Old Cartwheel Became an Advent Wreath

When I was growing up, we always celebrated the Advent season at church.  I remember the minister lighting a candle each Sunday in the month of December.  The anticipation of Christmas was awesome!  In Rob's family, however, they did not celebrate Advent at church, but at home.  They would light a candle on their advent wreath, sing Christmas carols, including several German ones, and crack open walnuts until their hearts were content (Rob's shells would fly across the room into his sister's lap).  Rob has great memories of the Advent season.

I decided to Google the history of the advent wreath.  In Medieval Times, Advent was a time of fasting waiting for the second coming of Jesus.  In more recent times, Advent has been a waiting for the celebration of Christ's birth.  Where did the origin of the advent wreath begin?  Back in 1839, Protestant pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern got tired of his students asking him how many more days it was until Christmas.  So he took an old cartwheel and fashioned it into an advent wreath, adding holes for 23 candles, one for each day leading up to Christmas Eve, when Germans would open their presents.  The nineteen small red candles were to be lit, one each day, for every day of the week except Sunday.  The four large white candles were to be lit on the four Sundays before Christmas.

It took decades, but the religious tradition caught on elsewhere, being adopted by the Roman Catholics in the 1920's and by German Lutheran immigrants in North America in the 1930's.  The English also followed the tradition.  At some point, the 23 candle wreath was reduced to a four or five candle wreath.  In homes, the wreath usually contains four candles while at church they had five.  They represented:  hope, peace, joy and love.  The fifth was the Christ candle.

Rob and I have combined our two traditions nowadays, celebrating Advent both at church and at home.  We have an old wreath that my Mom used to hang on her front door along with a new base with spaces for four candles.  We light one each Sunday, sing Christmas carols (three rounds in which everyone has a pick) and crack and eat walnuts.  Jacqueline seems to have inherited Rob's love of this tradition.  When our kids were babies, we would put them in their high chairs and they would scream during our sing-along as if we were practising some form of Chinese torture on them.  As toddlers, they would run in a circle from the living room into the kitchen and back into the living room again.  Jacqueline went through a stage where when asked what she wanted to sing, she would always say "Happy Birthday".

Last Sunday, we had Jacqueline's friend Ella over and the two girls swayed back and forth as they sang "Winter Wonderland".  Two Sundays ago, Thomas' birthparents joined us.  While they sang, Thomas propped his book in front of him, all the while texting on his hidden cellphone.  Lance warned him that Santa was watching!

I hope that when our kids grow up they will continue this tradition with their children.  And to think that it all started with an old cartwheel in Germany.

"I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness" (John 8:12)

Image courtesy

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

O Christmas Tree

Here are ten facts you may not know about Christmas trees.

1.  It takes 7 to 10 years for a Christmas tree to mature.

2.  California, Oregon, Michigan, Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina are the top Christmas tree producing states.

3.  Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, Fraser Fir and White Pine are the bestselling evergreens.

4.  While Franklin Pierce was the first President to have a Christmas tree in the White House (1856), Teddy Roosevelt banned the giant evergreen for environmental reasons (1901-1909).  Calvin Coolidge was the first president to decorate the national tree with Christmas lights (1923).

5.  The Christmas tree industry employs 100,000 people each year.

6.  The province of Nova Scotia gives the city of Boston a Christmas tree each year to say thank you for the help and supplies they gave them after the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917, in which hundreds of people were killed, wounded or blinded.

7.  Since 1947, Oslo, Norway has given a Christmas tree to the citizens of Westminster, England in appreciation of their help during World War II.

8.  New Christmas trees take a quart of water a day.

9.  An acre of evergreens contributes enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe.

10.  "The Christmas Ship" brought Chicagoans Christmas trees from Michigan between 1887 and 1933.


Image of Boston Common Christmas tree courtesy

Monday, 17 December 2012

A Child's Christmas in Wales

Dylan Thomas transports us back to his childhood Christmases in his short story "A Child's Christmas in Wales".  He paints a vivid picture of what life was like in Swansea, Wales circa 1920.  You almost need a dictionary to decipher some of the terms.  Little Dylan talks about mufflers and galoshes, tom o'shanters (tams) and balaclavas (a tuque with holes for the mouth, nose and eyes).  He and his family munch on toffee, fudge and jelly bellies (jelly beans), humbugs (hard candies), marzipan and butterwelsh (hard toffee).  Some of the terms, however, are familiar to our generation such as the mistletoe in the parlour.

Little Dylan talks about leaving fresh footprints in the snow with his new boots and pondering dropping snowballs in Mr. Daniel's letter box.  Later the same snow becomes "smoke-coloured" from the coal burning in every furnace.  In a time before television, he talks about his uncle fiddling and his cousin singing "Cherry Ripe".  He tells how his relatives would recount tall tales "by the fire as the gaslight bubbled".

He also talks about carolling in the darkened streets.  He and his fellow carollers deliver a rendition of "Good King Wenceslas" to a closed door at one household that inspires the occupant to sing along through the keyhole, terrifying the youngster with his gravelly voice.  He describes the streets of Wales filled with chapel goers and children with "bare red fingers".

Little Dylan arrives home, inhaling the scents of Christmas:  gravy, bird, brandy, pudding and mince.   We can picture the lad in his cozy house with the snow covered rooftop sipping hot cocoa in front of a roaring fire surrounded by his family.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Mary Did You Know?

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

Mary did you know.. Ooo Ooo Ooo

The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great, I Am.

*Lyrics by Mark Lowry; music by Buddy Greene.  Song first performed at a living Christmas tree concert.  

Here is a link to Scott McCreery's rendition:

Image courtesy 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Chocolate Chip Shortbread


1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


1.  Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.

2.  Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3.  Beat in vanilla; add flour and salt.

4.  Add chocolate chips.

5.  Divide dough in half.

6.  Press each half into an ungreased 8 inch round pan.

7.  Bake 12 minutes or until edges are golden.

8.  Score each shortbread into 8 wedges, but do not cut all the way through.

9.  Leave in pans and cool on racks for 10 minutes.

10.  Invert onto racks and cool completely.

11.  Break into wedges.


Image courtesy 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Vintage Christmas Stamps

Denmark, 1929 courtesy 

United States, 1969 courtesy 

United States, 1952 courtesy 

United States, 1962 courtesy

Canada 1964 courtesy 

Australia, 1966 courtesy

United Kingdom, 1983 courtesy 

Australia, 2000 courtesy 

Finland, 2008

United Kingdom, 2010

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Best Christmas Present Ever

The parking lot was packed, with cars overflowing onto the street.  The lobby glowed with the lights from the Christmas tree.  The gym was filled with chairs, wall to wall, to accommodate the guests.  The stage was painted with a street scene complete with street lamps adorned with wreaths.  The cast, wearing black pants and red shirts, headed to makeup to get their faces powdered.  The choir warmed up in the library.  The director, her hair in a neat bun, quietly worked behind the scenes.

It was opening night of The Best Christmas Present Ever at Brantford Christian School.  The night was three and a half months in the making.  The cast and choir spent countless recesses and a couple of evenings reciting their lines and singing their songs.  Students spent many music classes preparing for the play.  The music and drama directors spent endless hours working with the cast.  A parent painted a giant mural on the stage wall.  Another parent printed the posters and program, shaped just like a green Christmas present with a red bow.  Everyone worked their hardest.

Inside the gym, Rob, Thomas and I took our seats next to our neighbours, David, Shannon and baby Dawn. The students arrived through the gym door, class by class, biggest to smallest, all in their black pants and red shirts, adorned with red or green garlands.  Then the cast entered stage right and took their places.  All the while we the audience sang "Joy to the World".  Then the play commenced with the students belting out "R.S.V.P." in clear, crisp voices, smiles on their faces.  It was immediately followed by "Good News, Great Joy", probably the catchiest number of the play, in which Jacqueline had a short solo.  She reached up on her tippy toes to the microphone so she could be heard, not missing a beat.

The story starts to unfold as we learn about a group of church children who have a week to invite their community to a birthday party for Jesus.  Each day, the group report to each other on their progress.  Some are receptive to the party but others reject the idea, including the local T.V. news broadcaster, played by Caleb who does a convincing job.  The church children have only a few days to convince the skeptics that Jesus's birth is well worth celebrating.  In the end, they get a good turnout for the Christmas party and convince the news broadcaster that Jesus is the way.

The play ends with a cute manger scene complete with an angel, a shepherd and Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus.  Five narrators tell the story of Jesus' birth, including Jacqueline.  This time she holds the mike in her hand and delivers her lines flawlessly.  Then the cast and choir sings "Happy Birthday, Jesus".  We're even treated to an encore of "Good News, Great Joy".  The play closed and the full house clapped heartily as the cast took a bow.  We sang "Silent Night" and bowed our heads for a closing prayer.

We visited with our neighbours and my in-laws, who were sitting ahead of us, and then headed outside.  The night was so clear we could see the stars.  We headed home with our tired little actress/singer, our hearts full and satisfied.  It was the best Christmas present ever!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

G. K. Chesterton

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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

It is More Blessed to Give than to Receive

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Today I went with Jacqueline's Grade 4 class to the Salvation Army Church.  We had a short tour of the building and then it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  Jacqueline and I, along with three other students, followed one lady to a room where we sorted mittens, tuques and scarves.  Six boxes lined the wall, half marked USED, half marked NEW.  We sorted the items of clothing accordingly.  One girl enjoyed her work so much she started singing "It's time to tell the world about Jesus".  It was music to my ears!

We moved on to the toy room to check out what was going on there.  Students were sorting donated new toys.  Dolls, cars and other items filled every table top.  It looked like everything was under control so we made our way to the kitchen to see what was going on there.

The five of us washed our hands and then dug into the large boxes of donated foodstuffs in the kitchen.  Some students sorted chicken pieces.  We sorted canned and boxed items.  Soup cans, spaghetti sauce, canned fruits and vegetables, Kraft dinner, peanut butter, cereal, crackers, cookies, coffee, drinking boxes, rice and flour lined the shelves.  We had such a surplus that we had to refill boxes with items that we couldn't fit on the shelves.

All of the students worked hard.  All of the students were eager and willing.  No one complained about being tired (although one said he was hungry, given all the food that we were handling).  We all started to get a small sense of the enormous need here in Brantford.  And we all started to feel the joy of helping others.

I was proud of the Grade 4's and I was happy to be a part of the experience.  I hope to do it again next year!

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35)

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Monday, 10 December 2012

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree

Back in 1963 a picture book was published called Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree.  Still on bookshelves today, it tells the tale of a short plump man with a moustache called Mr. Willowby who orders a giant Christmas tree for his mansion.  However, it is so tall that its branches brush up against his parlour ceiling.  He decides to chop off the top and donate it to his butler, Baxter.  When the butler receives the smaller tree, he realizes that it is too big and he chops off the top to give to Miss Adelaide, the upstairs maid.  She in turn trims a piece off to give to Timm the Gardener.  Timm shares it with Barnaby Bear, Frisky Fox and Benjamin Rabbit.  The ever tinier tree keeps being passed on to every tinier families until it reaches a trio of mice who live in a mousehole behind Mr. Willowby's chair.  It is a cute story with beautiful drawings.  We could all learn from the simplicity of Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

It All Started in a Restaurant Booth

I can point out the booth where we sat.  Rob and I were a married couple of six years.  The other couple were teenagers and she was nine months pregnant.  I have a photo that captured the day.  We lined up in the booth, boy, girl, boy, girl.  I remember what we ate that day.  Rob ate the nacho platter and I had chicken fingers.  I still have the receipt from our meal, even though it`s so faded I can`t read it.  We go there every year.  It`s a family tradition.

Today is Thomas` 14th birthday.  His birth parents visited and we took them to Moose Winooski`s again.
Under the Christmas lights, we reminisced about old times as we filled our tummies.  Even though we do this every year, we never tire of it.

I thank you for that young couple.  I thank you for the sacrifice they made.  Thank you, Lance and Nicole! And I thank you for the gift of your son, Thomas.  Happy Birthday Thomas!  We love you!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Dear Santa Letter Sent Via Balloon

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Five year old Helen Bernece Reyes Cardenas didn`t think she was going to get much for Christmas.  Her father had been unemployed for most of 2011.  Her mother had fallen down the stairs and hurt her knee, and now she couldn`t work.  And her parents were raising her two cousins as well.  Money was tight.  And to top it all off, Helen was grieving the death of her brother whose birthday was that very day.

So on December 2, Helen followed her mother`s childhood tradition and wrote a letter to Santa, attaching it to two helium balloons, and letting it float into the sky, hoping it would reach the North Pole.  However, the balloons did not head north out of the Seattle suburb, but south.  The note travelled for thirteen days over 700 miles before it descended on Laytonville in Northern California.  Julie Sanders was out riding with her son, Lane, who spotted the deflated balloons with the note attached.  They could not read the note, however, because it was written in Spanish.  So they turned it over to a ranch hand who translated its contents.

It turned out that Helen had simple requests:  a doll, a teaset, pants and boots.  Julie and Frank Sanders contacted the Cardenas family and learned more about their situation.  The Sanders could empathize as they had experienced tough economic times being from a milltown whose mill had closed.  They decided to pay it forward.  Julie travelled over 50 miles to the nearest mall to purchase gifts for Helen, her two cousins and her mother.  She wrapped them and signed them `Love, Santa`.  Then she shipped them to Washington just in time for Christmas.

Yes, Helen, there is a Santa Claus.

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Friday, 7 December 2012

Classic Christmas Movies

Here are ten classic Christmas movies.

1.  It`s a Wonderful Life (1947)

Starring Jimmy Stewart as a bankrupt man who is about to jump off a bridge but is visited by an angel who shows him how blessed he really is.

2.  Miracle on 34th Street (2947)

Starring Maureen O`Hara as a young businesswoman at Macy`s Department Store who hires a man to play Santa in the Thanksgiving Day Parade who claims he is the real Kris Kringle.  With a little help from a handsome lawyer and her 7-year-old daughter, , played by Natalie Wood, Maureen`s character starts to believe he might be telling the truth.

3.  Holiday Inn (1942)

At an inn open only on holidays, Bing Crosby`s character vies for the affections of an up and coming star.  But he has competition from a dancer, played by Fred Astaire.

4.  A Christmas Carol (1951)

Starring Alistair Sims, this Charles Dickens classic shows how Ebenezer Scrooge transforms from a miserly miserable man to a joyful gentleman with the help of three ghosts.

5.  The Bells of St. Mary`s (1945)

Bing Crosby stars as a priest who runs a decrepit Catholic School.  Ingrid Bergman plays one of the nuns who teaches the children.  Her dream is to acquire the new building next door to use as their new school.  But the owner of the building, Mr. Bogardis, dreams of tearing down the old school and building a parking lot.

6.  Christmas in Connecticut (1951)

A food writer lies about being the perfect housewife but then has to cover her tracks once her boss and a war hero invite themselves to dinner.

7.  The Bishop`s Wife (1947)

A bishop, played by David Niven, wants a new cathedral.  He is visited by an angel, played by Cary Grant, but he doesn`t give him financial advice, but rather another kind.

8.  The Miracle of the Bells (1948)

An agent grants a late actress who starred in a recent movie her request of being buried in her hometown.  The studio head is reluctant to release the film after her death and so the churches in her hometown ring their bells for three days.

9.  Come to the Stable (1949)

Two nuns, played by Loretta Young and Cleste Holm, pray that their French hospital will be spared during World War II bombings.  They are so relieved when their hospital remains intact, that they make it a mission to have a similar hospital built in America.

10.  The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

An English minister shares a happy reunion with his family and they share stories of their struggles during the Second World War.