Posts Tagged ‘Advent’

The Characters of Christmas – Mary

November 25, 2016

It has been several years since I posted this blog series so I decided to repost it.  As Advent begins this weekend use these reflections as part of your Advent contemplations.


Mary lived with her family in the town of Nazareth.  They were a poor family living in a town with a poor reputation.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was the popular sentiment of the day.  They were descendants of King David through David’s son Nathan, but since the Romans were in control very few of the Jewish royal family were affluent.

Mary was a young girl, a virgin.  We don’t know her age.  Some believe she may have been as young as fourteen years old; others say she was older.  The Bible, however, does not give her age.  She was a loving, caring girl with a servant’s heart.  She was a thankful, trusting person, too.  She was obedient both to her parents and her God.  She was a normal, young Jewish girl with dreams of being a good wife and mother.

Mary’s parents were godly people who made sure Mary also knew God and loved Him.  They taught her the Holy Scriptures.  Because of this Mary was highly favored by God.

Mary was espoused to a man named Joseph, a godly man who also loved God, when she entertained a special visitor.  The angel Gabriel was sent by God to give a special message to Mary.  Gabriel said that God was with Mary and that she was blessed among women.  Gabriel revealed that she was chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah.  Mary knew all the prophesies about the Messiah.  She probably hoped that she would be the one to give him life, but she was still surprised and probably stunned to hear that she was the one chosen by God to bear His Son.  She was willing to be used by God but questioned how this was to come about.  She was a virgin.  She never had sex with any man.  So how was she to have this baby?  Gabriel explained that God would take care of everything, and Mary understood that this impregnation would occur without the help of a man.  Mary must have wondered what other people would think of her.  Here she would be pregnant without a husband.  Oh, how the gossip would fly.  And what would Joseph think?  Would he leave her?  Would he divorce her?  Would he make an example of her and cause her to go before the judges?  She knew that God’s law said adulteresses should be put to death.  But Mary’s faith and trust in God shone forth.  She knew if God called her to carry His Son then He would take care of her even if the whole world were against her.

Mary was a loving, caring girl with a servant’s heart as evidenced by what she did when she heard that her cousin Elizabeth was six months pregnant.  Mary, being pregnant herself, left her home and stayed with Elizabeth and her husband for three months helping them with the housework, with the work in the fields, with everything imaginable.  Elizabeth’s pregnancy, like Mary’s, was a miraculous pregnancy.  Elizabeth and her husband were too old to have children; yet God intervened and caused them to have a child.

Mary was a faithful girl, faithful to her God and faithful to her husband.  Instead of staying in Nazareth when the Romans made Joseph go to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, where she could have had her baby in a warm house, Mary went with Joseph on the rough, possibly even dangerous trip to Bethlehem; and she made this trip when she was nine months pregnant.  Many believe that Mary made the trip riding on a donkey.  The Bible doesn’t say that.  She may have been walking.  Not likely, but it may have happened. I am sure Joseph would have done all he could to make the trip as easy as possible for Mary.  When they arrived at Bethlehem they were tired.  Joseph spent a lot of time going from inn to inn looking for a place for them to stay especially since Mary could give birth at any time, but nothing was available.  Mary was gracious.  When a stable was offered she willingly took it, choosing to sleep on the straw instead of the hard, cold ground.

Mary was also a strong girl, strong spiritually and strong physically, too.  She was tired from the long trip, tired from the search for a place to spend the night.  All she wanted to do was lay down and sleep, but she could not. Labor pains began.  The baby was born.  And yet she still could not rest for a group of shepherds entered the stable asking, “Is this the place?”  Then they explained why they were there.  What an incredible, unbelievable story!  Unbelievable to anyone who has never interacted with an angel.  Mary believed.  Mary knew why they were there worshiping her little Son.  Yet Mary did not understand everything that was happening because she pondered in her heart all that she heard.  She did not understand why her God would send His Son birthed by her to save the world from their sins.  Only after the shepherds left could Mary get some sleep if her thoughts did not keep her awake.

Two other times we are told that Mary pondered things she saw and heard in her heart.  One was about forty days after Jesus’ birth.  She and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifices of purification as demanded by Jewish law and the scriptures.  Simeon and Anna, two elderly people who were frequently found at the temple, came to them and worshiped Jesus and told Mary their story.  Simeon even prophesied about Jesus’ death.  This must have really puzzled Mary.  The next was when the wise men knocked on the door of their house.  We do not know exactly when this was as the Bible does not say.  We can surmise that it was more than forty days after Jesus’ birth because Mary, Joseph, and Jesus left for Egypt the soon after the wise men left.  It may have been as long as two years after Jesus’ birth.  Why else would Herod have killed all babies in Bethlehem two years old and younger?  The wise men worshiped her Son and gave him wonderful gifts.  The gifts that were given to Jesus would have caused anyone to stop and think.  Gold is a kingly gift, frankincense a priestly gift, and myrrh a burying spice.

Mary truly was blessed among women and highly favored with God and man.  She was chosen by God to bring His Son into the world.  She believed God and trusted Him to get her through the hardships of life and trusted her son, the Son of God, to take away her sins and be her Savior.

 

Christmas in Ireland

May 25, 2016

irish-christmas-cakeChristmas in Ireland, with all its religious overtones, is a time for family.  The religious nature of an Irish Christmas begins with Advent.  Starting four Sundays before Christmas Advent is a time to ponder the birth of Christ and get ready for the celebration of His birth.  It is a time for confession of sins and for expressing sorrow for wrongdoing.  One must be holy when expecting a holy Visitor.

Much must be done to prepare for Christmas.  Houses must have a thorough cleaning.  The grounds and all out-buildings get a good tidying also.  Christmas cards are sent to neighbors, friends, and family members.  Most of these cards have religious themes but Santa Claus, reindeer, and snowy landscapes may also be seen.

Christmas trees did not become a regular part of Christmas decorating until the 1960s.  Some people put their trees up the first week of December while others wait until Christmas Eve.  Electric lights, tinsel and a variety of purchased and homemade ornaments adorn each tree.

Even churches get in the spirit of the season by decorating the pillars and the altar with garlands of holly leaves.  A nativity scene is also part of every church’s display usually found near the altar, in the back of the church, or outside in front of the church.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve day final preparations are made for the Christmas celebration.  As expected, unmarried children, no matter their age or how far away they live, arrive at their parents’ house.  Most, if not all, Christmas shopping is done; but many shops stay open later than normal for those last-minute shoppers.  The house fills with glorious odors as food preparation begins in earnest.  The family goes through the house giving it a final tidying before the celebration begins.  Some of the more religious families fast on Christmas Eve until dinner when a simple meal of fish and potatoes is served.

Many families wait until Christmas Eve to put up their Christmas tree.  Candles are placed in the windows.  For many the Christmas season is about to begin, with the lighting of the candles.  Traditionally the main candle is lit by either the youngest child in the family or a daughter named Mary.  Some children hang their stockings before the family goes to Midnight Mass; others wait until after mass.  After returning from mass the children go to bed.  After the children fall asleep the parents place the children’s gifts under the tree or around the room often arranged in piles on chairs with the child’s name on the chair.

Christmas morning children awaken and rush to see what Santa Claus has left for them.  Most gifts are practical, but as Irish affluence increases the gifts become less practical.  Some who did not go to Midnight Mass, and some who did, attend “First Light” Mass at either 6:00 AM or 8:00 AM.  After mass the men and boys enjoy games of hurling (a game similar to field hockey), Gaelic football (a game like soccer), shooting competitions, and hunting rabbits with greyhounds.

The women prepare the Christmas feast and deliver gift baskets to less fortunate neighbors filled with the ingredients for a “proper” Christmas dinner.  The Christmas table is covered with a linen or lace tablecloth and set with the best china, polished silver, and cut-glass stemware.  The traditional Christmas dinner may consists of roast goose or turkey (often served with ham) stuffed potatoes heavily seasoned with black pepper, mashed or roasted potatoes with gravy, and one or two vegetable dishes.  Desserts may include Christmas cake, Christmas puddings such as bread pudding or plum pudding, mincemeat pies or tarts, sherry trifle, soda scones, fairy cake, and cookies.

After the Christmas feast families stay home relaxing, talking, singing and playing musical instruments, and telling stories.  Irish history was once passed from one generation to the next via stories told at family gatherings like Christmas.  Therefore, it is not surprising that some of these stories are of family ancestry, the famine, Irish heroes and villains, the countryside, as well as the Nativity.

Nollaig Shona Duit  (Merry Christmas!)

For more information about the Irish Christmas season visit CustomsOfChristmas.com.

Happy Easter!

March 24, 2015

life-of-jesusWe are in the middle of the Easter season.  Both Easter and Christmas are similar in that they begin with the same 40-day season of preparation and they celebrate the same person.  Christmas begins with Advent preparing for the coming of the Christ child.  Easter begins with Lent preparing for the death and resurrection of Christ.  Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Christ.  Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

All of this was a plan put in place by God to redeem His magnum opus, His prize creation, mankind.  God created the earth and all the plants and animals in it for mankind, and it was “very good.”  God enjoyed intimate fellowship with His masterpiece.  Then the man and woman, God’s favorite creation, turned their backs on God.  God was not willing to leave them in that condition.  He desired the intimate fellowship He once enjoyed with mankind, but there was a penalty to be paid for mankind’s rejection of God, for mankind’s sin.  No man or woman, even if he or she lived a thousand lives, could ever pay that penalty.

So God made a plan.  He would send His Son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, live a perfect, sinless life, die a horrible death, and rise from the dead thereby securing the payment for the penalty for the sin of all mankind.

Now God offers this payment for the penalty of sin to every man, woman, and child who will turn from their sin and accept this payment.  This is the ultimate celebration of both Christmas and Easter.

Resurrection Rolls

Ingredients:

1 can refrigerated crescent roll dough
8 large marshmallows
Melted butter
Cinnamon
Sugar

Instructions:

  • Give each child one triangle shaped section of crescent roll. This represents the tomb.
  • Each child takes one marshmallow which represents the body of Christ.
  • Dip the marshmallow in the butter and roll in cinnamon and sugar mixture. This represents the oils and spices the body was anointed with upon burial.
  • Lay the marshmallow on the dough and carefully wrap it around the marshmallow.
  • Make sure all seams are pinched together well. (Otherwise the marshmallow will “ooze” out of the seams)
  • Bake according to package directions.
  • Cool.
  • Break open the tomb and the body of Christ is no longer there!!
  • Celebrate God’s love!

Celebrating Advent

November 25, 2014

On November 30 our family will begin our celebration of Advent.  Advent for us is not just a countdown to Christmas.  It is a time for us to prepare for the celebration of and to remember the birthday of Jesus. Bartholomew's Passage

This year we are using a book written by Arnold Ytreeide called Bartholomew’s Passage.  It is about a young Jewish boy and his adventures just prior to the birth of Jesus.  This book is one of three interrelated books for Advent written by Mr. Ytreeide: Bartholomew’s Passage, Jotham’s Journey, and Tabitha’s Travels.  Every night we read a portion of the story until, on Christmas morning, the story ends with the main character of the story arriving at the manger where the baby Jesus lays.

This is an excellent way for the entire family to get into the Advent season.  Even our youngest child sits quietly to find out what will happen to Bartholomew tonight.

If you haven’t yet begun celebrating the Advent season or if you are looking for something new for Advent, why don’t you look for one of these books.  You won’t regret it.

 


 

The Cinnamon Bear Advent CalendarCountdown to Christmas with CustomsOfChristmas.com’s Cinnamon Bear Advent Calendar.  Taken from The Cinnamon Bear radio program the advent calendar follows the adventures of Paddy O’Cinnamon as he helps Jimmy and Judy find the silver star, stolen by Crazy Quilt Dragon, that belongs on top of their Christmas tree.  The 26-segment story, each segment 12 – 15 minutes long, begins on Saturday, November 29, and continues through Christmas Eve.  Join us and the Cinnamon Bear this Christmas season as we count down to Christmas.

 

 

 


 

Buckeyes

1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 pound milk chocolate

In a large mixing bowl, stir together powdered sugar, peanut butter, and butter until well combined.  Shape into about 30 1-inch balls.  Place balls on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Let stand for about 25 minutes or until dry.  Place water in the bottom of a double boiler to within ½ inch of upper pan.  Make sure the upper pan does not touch the water.  While balls are cooling and the water is heating, finely chop the chocolate so it will melt quickly.  Bring the water to a boil.  Remove from heat and place about ¼ of the chocolate in the top of the double boiler.  Stir until melted.  Add about ½ cup more, stir, and repeat until all chocolate is melted.  Stir until chocolate has reached 120 degrees; reheat if necessary to reach this temperature.  After the chocolate has reached 120 degrees, refill bottom of double boiler with cool water to within ½ inch of upper pan.  Stir frequently until chocolate cools to 83 degrees.  This should take about 30 minutes.  Using a toothpick, dip balls in chocolate, working quickly and stirring chocolate frequently to keep it evenly heated.  Place balls on cookie sheet.  (Chocolate will stay close to 83 degrees for about 30 minutes.  If temperature falls below 80 degrees, chocolate must be remelted.)  Store tightly covered in a cool, dry place.

Christmas Customs From Denmark

September 25, 2014

Cut and Paste Day: Usually in mid-December family and friends gather for “Cut and Paste Day,” a day to make new handmade ornaments.  Hearts, woven heart baskets, Danish flags, paper cones (to be filled with candies and nuts), three-dimensional stars, nisse (made with yarn) pine cone ornaments, little drums, and wooden figures are among the favorite handmade ornaments made on “Cut and Paste Day.”  Most, if not all of these ornaments, will be red and/or white in color just like the Danish flag.

Advent Calendars and Candles:

Like children everywhere Danish children get excited with the anticipation of the Christmas celebration. So, when December 1 rolls around, out comes the advent candle and one or more advent calendars.  Advent candles have marks on them one for each day of December leading up to Christmas.  At some point each day, a family member lights the candle.  The candle is allowed to burn to the next mark but no further until the candle is allowed to burn down to the final mark Christmas morning.

Advent calendars may be homemade or store-bought, simple or elaborate. Some may have only windows to open revealing a verse or saying about Christmas.  Others may include cookies, toys, small gifts, candles, candy, or gum for the child fortunate enough to expose the day’s goodies.  A couple Danish television stations produce a special advent calendar in the form of a Christmas show that is divided into twenty-four episodes.  These shows are like The Cinnamon Bear, Jonathon Thomas And His Christmas On The Moon, and Jump-Jump And The Ice Queen radio shows produced in the United States during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Christmas Seals: The purchasing of Christmas seals to raise money to treat children with tuberculosis began in Denmark.  In 1903, Danish Postal clerk Einar Holboell looked at all the Christmas cards and mail going through the post office and thought what if people could purchase a Christmas “stamp” to place on their packages.  He designed the first Christmas seal, had them printed, and sold them raising much money for the fight against tuberculosis thus beginning the beloved custom of purchasing Christmas seals.  Norway and Sweden were the first countries to adopt this custom followed by the United States in 1907.

Collectible Christmas plates: In 1895, the porcelain company Bing and Grondahl decided to make a special Christmas plate.  It was to be colored blue and white, involving one of the more complicated processes in plate-making.  On Christmas Eve the company made that plate a true collectible by destroying the mold.  Every Christmas since then Bing and Grondahl has created limited edition Christmas plates breaking the molds for the plates on Christmas Eve.  In 1908 Denmark’s oldest porcelain maker, Royal Copenhagen, started making its own Christmas plates following the same processes used by Bing and Grondahl.  And like Bing and Grondahl, Royal Copenhagen breaks their molds on Christmas Eve.  These plates have become the most sought after plates by plate collectors worldwide.

Learn more about Denmark’s Customs of Christmas here.

Here’s a Christmas cookie from Denmark.

Brune Kager (Brown Christmas cookies)

1 cup butter or lard
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 tsp cardamom
1 tbsp grated orange peel
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
½ tsp salt
½ tsp allspice
4 ½ cups flour
¼ cup finely chopped almonds

At a low heat, melt the butter (lard), sugar, and syrup. Add the other ingredients and mix well.  Form the dough into rolls as if making refrigerator cookies.  Store the rolled dough in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.  Aging greatly improves the flavor.  Cut the rolls into very thin cookies and decorate each with half of a blanched almond.  Bake at 375 degrees F until the cookies are crisp (approximately 5 to 7 minutes).  After cookies have cooled, store in a covered jar or tin.

Christmas in France

July 25, 2014

Christmas-in-france-eiffel-tower

Christmas market in front of the Eiffel Tower

The Christmas season in France begins on December 6 with St. Nicholas Day and continues through January 6 or Epiphany. In eastern France children receive gifts of candy, fruit, and small toys from the good saint. Some of these children hit the jackpot receiving gifts on both St. Nicholas Day and Christmas day. For the religious people in France the Christmas season begins on the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas.

Houses are given a thorough cleaning. Floors are swept. Furniture is dusted and waxed. The silver is polished to a bright sheen, and the finest china is brought out to grace the Christmas board. After that the house is filled with the glorious sounds and aromas of Christmas cooking and baking.

In nearly every house a manger scene is lovingly brought out of storage and given a place of prominence in the living room. The manger scene first appeared in Avignon between 1316 and 1334 B.C. but did not become popular until the 16th century. Legend says that ancestors of St. Francis of Assisi brought the tradition with them to France. Many families have figures that have been handed down from generation to generation and may be a hundred years old or more. These scenes may be simple scenes with just the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and a few animals; or they may be very elaborate forming a complete village with many figures called santons, little saints, representing Bible characters and villagers seen in everyday life, such as a mayor, priest, policeman, butcher, and baker. Many families purchase new santons to add to their nativity scene every year at a local store or outdoor Christmas market. Even children get involved gathering moss, stones, and twigs to be included in the scenery.

At midnight Christmas Eve adults and older children attend midnight masses at beautifully decorated churches and cathedrals where joyful choirs and peeling bells welcome Christmas Day. Younger children, instead of attending mass, are sleeping dreaming of the presents they will receive in the morning.

After midnight mass families return home or visit a restaurant to enjoy a feast known as le reveillon. The foods served for le reveillon vary according to the region. Served in many courses, the meal may include such meats as roast beef, leg of lamb, goose, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, quail, grouse, and baked ham. Wild boar and venison are considered delicacies for this Christmas meal. The fish course may include all kinds of fresh water fish, oysters, snails, sea urchins, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster. One region of France makes buckwheat cakes served with sour cream a must-have dish for their reveillon. Salads and fruit such as oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, tangerines, and plums are enjoyed by celebrants as well as all kinds of bread. Cheeses of all shapes and sizes and an assortment of pates made with goose, duck, or rabbit liver which may be mixed with minced ham or pork are integrated into this extensive meal. Wait! The meal is not finished yet. There is still dessert. Boxes of chocolates, hard candies, candied fruit, and other pastries like tartes, pies, tartlets, petit fours, napoleons, éclairs grace the table accompanying the piece de resistance, the buche de Noel or Yule Log cake. This sponge cake is rolled with a chocolate butter cream filling and frosted with a brown icing. It is often marked with lines to make it look like a log. It may also be decorated with confectioners’ sugar, nuts, images of Pere Noel, roses, sugar or real, elves, or sprigs of fresh holly. Wine and/or champaign also accompanies the meal.

For more about Christmas in France and other Christmas customs please visit my website, http://www.customsofchristmas.com.

What?! Change Christmas?! . . . Can I?

July 24, 2013

Was Christmas 2012 everything you hoped it would be? Did you do something that once was fun but turned out to be more trouble than it was worth? Has your family situation changed so that the Christmas celebrations that you once knew are no longer practical or even possible?

My family loves Christmas and love celebrating Christmas. If I had my way we would live in a house with a large living room and dining room decorated with lots of Christmas greens and lights. A large Christmas tree would stand near the fireplace. Guess what! We don’t have a large house or even a large living room. A small apartment-size tree makes our cramped living room even smaller. At this time decorating a large tree is not possible for us, but we don’t dwell on what we can’t have. Instead we gather together as a family and together decorate our tree and enjoy what we did all season long.

When my oldest daughter was younger (she’s 18 now) we set aside one Saturday in December to bake cookies. Everyone in the family picked their favorite cookies (there were only 5 of us then), and we baked. Each child helped me make their favorite cookies. By the end of the day we made double batches of at least 6 or 7 different kinds of cookies. As our family grew (there are 9 of us now) that day became a chore instead of fun. I began dreading baking day. Two years ago I decided we needed to change this tradition a little. We put together a list of cookies we wanted for Christmas. We still made 5 or 6 different kinds of cookies, but we changed how we did them. My daughter loves Choco-Mint Snowtops. She made them during the week while I was at work. We also cut down the amount of cookies we made from 2 batches to just 1 batch. One last change we made was to use … oh, horrors … say it ain’t so … refrigerated, store-bought cookie dough. Now the day that became a dreaded tradition is fun again.
About 3 years ago we decided that we wanted to make our Christmas breakfast a special meal to look forward to in addition to our Christmas dinner. We looked at recipes for breakfast casseroles. My wife made sure they didn’t have a bread base. She doesn’t care for them. We found 2 recipes that looked delicious. The first time we made 1 of each. The next year, since we knew which one we preferred, we made just 1 recipe. That’s one of our newest family Christmas traditions.

For us Christmas is more than music, lights, presents, and food. It is remembering the reason for the season, Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate every Christmas. Several years ago we started gathering a number of advent books to read during Advent. 3 of the books are stories of characters, children, who may have played a part in the Christmas story. They are fiction stories, but we enjoy the stories seeing how the events in the lives of the children in the stories intertwine with the characters we all know of the Biblical Christmas story. The fourth book contains inspirational readings, passages of the Bible to read, and songs to sing as we anticipate and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus our Savior. This is another family tradition that our children look forward to each Christmas season.

These are just some of the ways our Christmas celebration has changed over the years. What about your Christmas traditions? I would love to hear about your Christmas traditions that changed over the years. Perhaps you no longer use them in your celebrations. Perhaps you added them to enhance your enjoyment of Christmas. Whatever they are I’d love to hear about them. Perhaps I can add them to our Christmas celebration.

Starting next month I’ll be sharing a series of blogs called How to Have the Christmas You Always Wanted based on the book/seminar series Uplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. You won’t want to miss this series. Invite someone read them with you.

Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole
1 lb ground sausage ( “hot” or “sage” flavored)
¼ cup chopped onions
2 ½ cups frozen cubed hash brown potatoes
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese (2 cups)
1 ¾ cups milk
1 cup baking mix
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1. Cook sausage and onion in large frying pan over medium-high
heat for 5 minutes or until meat crumbles.
2. Stir in hash browns, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until sausage
is no longer pink and hash browns are lightly browned.
3. Drain mixture well on paper towels.
4. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 13×9-inch baking dish.
5. A stoneware baking dish works really well.
6. Stir together the lightly beaten eggs, shredded cheese, milk,
baking mix, salt, and pepper.
7. Pour evenly over sausage/hashbrown mixture.
8. Stir well.
9. Cover and chill for 8 hours.
10. Bake covered with foil at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
11. Uncover and bake 10 to 15 minutes or until a wooden pick
inserted in the middle comes out clean.
12. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
13. You can also keep the casserole warm until you are ready to eat
by covering it with foil and putting it in a 200 degree oven.
14. Optional toppings: sour cream, favorite sauce of your choice
(picante, hot sauce). You can also garnish it with parsley.

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