the best christmas pageant ever

When You Get into a Christmas Rut

Have you thought about the Christmas Story?

I mean really thought about it.

When you have grown up going to church your whole life, hearing the Christmas account, and setting up your family’s Nativity scene, it can be so easy to glaze over the beauty, reality, and people involved in the account.

If you have found yourself in a Christmas rut and the Christmas account no longer moves your soul to awe, wonder or tears, I have found the story for you.

the best Christmas pageant ever

In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, the most unlikely children help a church remember the beauty of the Christmas account.

The Herdman’s are possibly the worst children ever. Through a series of hilarious events, they become part of the church’s Christmas pageant. As these children are hearing the Christmas account for the first time, they ask questions. Good questions. Questions that make those of us who have known the account our whole lives actually think about the characters we have become so familiar with.

But it isn’t until the actual pageant that the true beauty of the story comes out. This story has a way of revealing the prideful, self-righteous attitudes in our own hearts and the beauty of a sincere heart hearing of Christ for the first time and coming to him with the only thing it has to offer. It reminds us that maybe, just maybe, the angel’s announcement of “Unto you a Child is born” was announced with joy and thrill.

the best Christmas pageant ever

I had a hard time reading the last two pages of the book as my voice cracked at the end of each sentence, and my son came to “console” me as I read the last line.

The tears were not from sadness… well maybe they were.

Maybe the tears came because I have gotten so comfortable with the Christmas account in Luke chapter 2 that I have forgotten to read it with the awe and wonder it deserves. Maybe they came because children have a way of seeing things more clearly than adults do, and the children in this story helped me see the Christmas account again for the first time.

This book took us two days to read through, but we could have easily finished it in one day. It’s a small book with seven chapters and is completely entertaining (if you are a Classical Conversations family, like we are, your children will have to read it in the Challenge years, so it’s a good story to get familiar with now). We laughed through chapters one through six, and then saw the beauty of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Wise Men, and the angels in chapter seven.

After reading through the book, we watched the movie on Youtube (I’m a firm believer of reading the book first and then watching the movie). The movie follows the book very closely with very little creative license taken. (NOTE: In the movie one child says, “They talk about sexy things,” which isn’t true, in her efforts to get the Herdman children kicked out of the pageant because one of them got the part she wanted.)

The best Christmas pageant ever

This book is also available in a condensed version as a picture book for younger children and has the same effect in reminding us of the awe and wonder of the Christmas account.

If you find yourself getting into a rut, if you can’t see the wonder and awe of Jesus coming as a baby to the world because of all of the “grown up” stuff that gets in our way, then maybe you need to take a small break in the busyness of the season and look at Christmas from the perspective of a child.

when you get into a Christmas rut

keeping-christmas-simple

How to Keep Christmas Simple

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I am a huge fan of Christmas!

HUGE!

I love the feeling in the air, the decorations, the lights, the glitter, the way stores are decorated (in December… NOT September), and giving to my family.

But how many years did I go into the Christmas season with gusto and grand ideas only to burn myself out mid-December? Pretty much every year.

Each year I go into the Christmas season with the idea that this is going to be the best Christmas ever!

keeping-christmas-simple

I figure out how many fun Christmas related activities we can fit into our schedule, and I cram all of our days and weekends with something to do.

My kids end up tired.

I end up frustrated that no one appreciates the effort I put into making this the best Christmas ever.

And then we are ready for Christmas to be over and done with and to move into the New Year.

But not this year…

I have always been a fan of simple living, of not making things more complicated than necessary, of believing that less is more. But Christmastime has never reflected that.

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, we don’t have to see every Christmas pageant in our county.

This year, we don’t have to attend every Christmas party or activity.

This year, we don’t have to plan to do something Christmas related every night.

This year, we don’t have to have an advent calendar that involves a ton of extra gifts for me to purchase, wrap, and remember to distribute each day.

Instead…

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, we’ll stay home more evenings than we go out and watch the old Christmas cartoons I grew up watching like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and the Little Drummer Boy. And because I homeschool my kids, we can stay up as late as we want to watch these shows and sleep as long as we need to the next morning.

This year we will delight in the simple joy of finding our little monkey pal, Melk, in the mornings and learn something about the character of God.

This year, we will limit the parties we go to, and, if bringing an exchange gift is necessary, we’ll bring something simple but sweet.

This year, if there isn’t a Christmas moment on the calendar, we won’t make one up just for the sake of it. We’ll just carry on as usual.

This year, we will make paper chains and countdown to Christmas the old fashioned way.

Because…

Satan’s mission has always been to destroy what God has created- to interfere with the message that God loved us and sent his Son (Awana Cubbies key verse). How are we supposed to stop and reflect on the purpose of Christmas Day if, during the time of the year that we are supposed to remember and recognize the giving of God’s gift to us, we get so busy and distracted and we keep our kids running from one activity to another?

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, rather than focusing on the “show” of Christmas, I want to focus on the message. That God loved His creation and gave us a gift, the most precious gift He could give- His Son.

Trendy wrapping paper with a perfect bow was not the wrapping of this gift. Strips of cloth were the wrappings of this gift.

His surroundings were not Pinterest worthy. A barn with hay and animals was the setting for His birth.

Those who came to see him that night did not come with $5 gifts for a gift exchange. They came with empty hands, but sincere hearts.

I want our Christmas to reflect those ideals.

So here is your Christmas challenge…

Before you are swept up in the tinsel and show of Christmas…

Before you are knee deep in the quicksand of activities and parties…

Before you find yourself drowning in receipts and wrapping paper…

Take an hour one evening to think through what you want your Christmas to look like.

Figure out your non-negotiable calendar items.

Next, determine in advance how many activities you will be a part of.

Decide how many $5 dollar exchange gifts your budget will allow for.

For your sanity to be kept in tact, set in stone how many evenings you need to stay home each week.

Establish your gift giving list early and stick to it.

And then, sit back and enjoy this Christmas with your family and closest friends.

simple Christmas

chocolate peanut butter treats

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Treats

I look forward to the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. This is the season of family get togethers, good food, laughing till it hurts, cousins sitting around the living room remember when we were kids while watching our kids play together, and eating desserts that typically only come out at this time of year.

One dessert I pass everything else up for is a three ingredient treasure- chocolate, peanut butter, and Ritz crackers.

That’s it.

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

We just call them Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Treats, but they should have a better name considering how delicious they are. And don’t expect them to fall under any of the “healthy” categories of food these days…

…we’ll just pretend they are calorie free!

You can definitely involve your children in making these treats. One can spread the peanut butter…

…one can sandwich the crackers…

…and Mom can dip them in the melted chocolate.

How easy was that!

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

At this time of year, you can often find the ingredients on sale. Does it get any better than that?

These treats are so easy to make and are so loved, my sister requested my aunt (maker of this treat) to make them with white chocolate instead of milk chocolate as favors at her wedding. She had them boxed in little white boxes with ribbon to match her wedding colors and placed at each table setting. Simply beautiful.

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

Ingredients:

Ritz crackers
Peanut butter
Melted dipping chocolate (packaged as almond bars)

Directions:

  1. Using peanut butter and Ritz crackers, make little sandwiches.
  2. Dip Ritz peanut butter sandwiches in melted chocolate.
  3. Set on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and put in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  4. Sit back and enjoy.

I would love to hear of any quick or simple recipes you enjoy around the holidays. Feel free to share with us your recipe or the link to one on your own blog in the comments.

The original post can be found here.

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

thanksgiving resources

My 8 Favorite Thanksgiving Resources for Kids

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November 1 begins my two favorite months of the year. I love the fall, the feel in the air of anticipation, the warmth of the colors associated with the holidays, and the goodness of the food typically only made at this time of year.

thanksgiving resources

In our home, this is also when my favorite resources come out of storage, and we do a little more in the arts and crafts department. These are always fun because we can either tie in our history learning or we can just have some fun with paper, scissors, tape, glue, and anything else we can find. If you are looking for ideas for crafts and fun activities you can follow our Thanksgiving Pinterest board. 

My Favorite Thanksgiving Books

thanksgiving resources

Thanksgiving (A FamilyLife Book): A Time to Remember (Family Life Books) by Rainey, Barbara published by Crossway (2003)  

This is probably my favorite Thanksgiving book. Barbara Rainey has written it with the entire family in mind, and it can grow with your family throughout the years. She has written it to be read one of two ways- the larger print is to be read to preschoolers and younger elementary students, and the entire book to be read to mid elementary and above.

After reading a thorough history of the Pilgrims and their journey to America and understanding the importance of thankfulness, the back of the book has a place where thankfulness can be recorded by the family and revisited year after year. This year I will be writing all of the items on the leaves of our Thankful Tree into the back of the book and dating it. It will be fun in a few years to see what our family has been thankful for.

thanksgiving resources

Squanto, Friend Of The Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla

If there has ever been a story of God’s sovereignty, it’s the story of Squanto. Sometimes our circumstances seem unfair, yet God can use our past to bring us to the place where he can use us for his glory and the benefit of others. That is the lessons behind the story of Squanto. Although this is not a Christian based book, as a believer, I have used Romans 8:28 while reading this to my children. This is definitely another favorite of mine.

thanksgiving resources

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas may be a little long for little ones, but the illustrations are beautiful. One thing we do when a good book seems a little long is to break it up into several parts and read it over the course of several days. This book is definitely written from a Christian perspective and is a must for every family library. Squanto’s story is one that my children know well. I believe that they need to know that our stories are not all traveled on smooth paths, but that God can take even the rockiest of paths and use them to further His purposes and for His glory.

thanksgiving resources

The Mayflower Adventure (The American Adventure Series #1) by Colleen L. Reece

I have had this book since my teaching days, but I have never actually read it. However, this year, we will be reading it. I don’t have much to say about this one, but I am looking forward to reading it finally.

thanksgiving resources

Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims by Rush Limbaugh 

We purchased this two years ago and enjoyed the story very much. This story is told through time travel as Rush Revere time travels with two of his middle school students on the Mayflower and then to Plymouth, Massachusetts. I learned quite a bit of the history of Plymouth Colony through this story, and my daughter who was six at the time, enjoyed it. It is written more for middle schoolers is interesting enough that even young children with a solid vocabulary can understand it and get involved in the story.

My Favorite Thanksgiving Movies

thanksgiving resources

Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale

Have I mentioned how much I love the story of Squanto? After we read our books on the life of Squanto, we sit down for an evening of popcorn and a movie. I believe in having my children exposed to the book form of a story first so they can recognize the inconsistencies in the movie. Although this movie takes some creative license, it does a great job of telling the bigger story of Squanto’s life. It is a tradition that we watch this movie every November.

thanksgiving resources

Mouse on the mayflower I remember watching this movie when I was in elementary school. It was always one of my favorite movies to watch at Thanksgiving and now it is become a favorite for my littles. It can be purchased as a VHS recording, but we watch it on YouTube. It is a beautiful retelling of the Pilgrims voyage to America. And although it was secularly made, it is overtly Christian in the message. It isn’t officially Thanksgiving until we have seen this movie.

thanksgiving resourcesA Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: The Mayflower Voyagers Again, this was a childhood favorite of mine that I had to share with my children. Charles Schultz and his Peanuts gang do a wonderful job of retelling the voyage of the Pilgrims with humor and accuracy.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday with a rich story to tell our children. They need to hear of God’s faithfulness to his people. Our children need to understand that although hard times come, God can use them and their experiences to bless others.

Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving resources? Share them with us in the comments.

Thanksgiving resources

host-party-works

How to Host the Party that Works for You

1 Peter 4:9 says, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.”

I love watching HGTV- the searching for the perfect home, the best location, and the creating of a place to grow your family. Two of the most common phrases that I hear regardless of the show I’m watching is, “This would be great for entertaining,” or “I can picture us entertaining our friends and family here.”

I think we have a deep desire to have others come to our home, host a dinner or party, and just be hospitable towards them. But how many times do we get frustrated just before our guests arrive? How many times have we thrown our hands in the air, along with our party decorations, and asked why we’re even hosting a gathering?

Party hosting is something that has been front and center for my sister and I in the last couple of weeks. As the holiday season approaches, hosting, with all of its joys and pressures, makes its way to the forefront of our minds.

Before the stress kicks in, here are some tips that can help you streamline your party plans. Not only do you want to host a party that your guests will love, but you want it to be one that you can enjoy as well.

host-party-works

What is your party personality?

Are you an easy-going, laid back person, or do you enjoy going all out with decor and themes? Do you want your guests to feel at home and free to sit where they want to? Do you want a more formal feel with assigned seating and place cards?

Knowing your personality will keep you from planning a gathering that is out of your comfort zone and will leave you overwhelmed. It will keep you in the realm of realistic, no matter how strong the pull is to let Pinterest be your guide.

host-party-works

Have your “person” there

We all have that close one or two people who will have our backs, do what needs to be done, handle what you can’t or may not know about, and in some ways just be an extension of you during the party. Make sure that person is there. Give them the green light ahead of time  to handle whatever needs to be handled if you are unable to during your event.

I grew up in a large extended family. At gatherings, everyone pitched in and just did what needed to be done to relieve stress from the hostess. I learned at an early age that having someone there for you, the hostess, during the party is so important.

host-party-works

What’s your budget?

Although we all want to host a party that puts our best foot forward, being conscientious of our budget is important. The budget will decide how big your party can be, how elaborate the settings, or how much entertainment you can comfortably provide.

In your budget, be sure to include, food and beverages, any place settings, party favors, entertainment, and any clothing items that may be needed. All of these items can add up without notice. Setting a budget at the beginning helps in keeping costs in check.

How big/small do you want to make it?

Do you want a large gathering of family and friends? Or do you want your gathering to be more intimate with those you are closest to? How many people do you actually have room for? Are you willing to rent an off site venue for your party? Deciding this will help you determine the direction of your party. Set your guest list if you want a small gathering and don’t budge.

host-party-works

To cook or not to cook…

Be realistic. Will you have enough time to cook and prepare the meal the week of your party? Or will ordering several pizza pies be enough for your guests? Are you comfortable enough with your guests to ask each person to bring a side dish? This would alleviate extra tasks off of your plate so you are free to handle other planning items.

These are all great options. Each one will will give you an edge to hosting a great party. At my sister’s party, she set a theme (peanut butter) and had each guest bring a dish that used peanut butter in some way. The excitement of discovering new peanut butter based dishes fit her party perfectly.

For my son’s recent birthday, I knew I would have no time to actually prepare a meal to serve. And when kids are your main guests, finding something everyone will like can be a challenge. Picking up several pizza pies was the perfect solution for our party.

host-party

Entertainment

Depending on your gathering, you will need to decide what type of entertainment will be needed.

At my baby shower, the women were entertained with games and the opening of gifts. Meanwhile, the men were in a theater room with a college football game.

For Ian’s birthday party, we rented a bounce house to keep the kids entertained. Once the gifts had been opened, the children went into his room to play with the new toys.

For my sister’s peanut butter party, a gathering of women at lunch time makes for its own entertainment. She provided a comfortable area for women to congregate and we entertained each other with conversation.

As we head into the holiday season, remember:

Do what you can. 

Don’t overwhelm yourself.

If you’re new to entertaining, start small.

Find your groove.

But more importantly, enjoy yourself and your guests and host a part that works for you.

Building Monuments

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God loves a good celebration. So much so that He instituted times when His people came together to rejoice with food and symbols to represent what the celebration was for.

intentional-celebrations

But the celebrations were not meant to be frivolous. They were not meant to be commercialized. These celebrations were meant to be spiritual monuments for the people to look back and remember God’s goodness to them as they made the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. These celebrations were to mark specific moments in time when God showed His provision, protection, love, and mercy to His stubborn, stiff-necked people (Deuteronomy 9:13). These celebrations were to contain lessons that would be passed down from generation to generation so there would never be a generation who did not know the Lord or the things He had done (Judges 2:10).

As I think of my own life, I can remember distinct moments where God showed His hand of provision, protection, love, and mercy on my journey from childhood into adulthood.

He provided a piano for me when my parents could not afford to buy one. (In fact, my family nor I have ever had to buy a piano, but we have almost always had one in our home or access to one since I was 11 years old.)

intentional-celebrations

He provided the money needed for me to attend college through scholarships, generous gifts from others, and some savings my father had intentionally put aside without the need for college loans.

He protected us from an oncoming tornado when I was 7 years old and caused that tornado to completely turn around and head in a different direction.

His love and mercy allowed my mother to know she would have a granddaughter before she passed away.

His goodness provided for our children so much that we can look at their rooms and count on one hand what we have had to actually purchase for them.

I want these memories to be monuments for my children to see, for them to reflect back on when times get rough in their lives, when they are unsure how the end of the story will turn out. I want to retell these stories to my children so they will not forget them, and so they will have stories to pass down to future generations of God’s goodness, grace, and mercy.

intentional-celebrations

As I thought of our personal monuments, I realized that underneath the debris of our calendar holidays, there are beautiful monuments for us to refer back to when the going gets rough.

When you pull away the tinsel, the lights, the wrapping paper, the wish lists, and the empty boxes, there is a stable with a sleeping Baby who was given as the greatest Gift humanity has ever received. During those times when we feel that we have nothing, that hope is lost, that life is for those in high position and not for us, that Baby stands as a monument saying, “I was given to you.”

Hidden under the very last strand of shredded, plastic, green grass, eggs, and bunnies is a cross of raw wood that is stained with blood. When we visit that monument we are reminded of how very loved we are- so much that someone was willing to die in our place to carry our burden, and reap the punishment for what we sowed.

Some monuments are built as reminders to us of principles in God’s Word.

Buried under the flowers, chocolate, cards, and paper hearts is a man who, as tradition tells us, defied an emperor in order to keep those in his flock from breaking God’s law.

intentional-celebrations

Journey past the rainbows, the leprechauns, the pots of gold, and shamrocks and you will find a young English boy, kidnapped by pirates, and taken to Ireland to be a slave. Despite his circumstances he prayed to God one hundred times a day, escaped his captors, and eventually went back to Ireland as a missionary to reach the people he had grown to love for Christ.

Travel through the fields of cornucopias, feathers, black and white garb, and gaze upon the monuments of a small band of pilgrims who are celebrating what only the hand of God could have brought about and done.

I want the “holidays” to be more than just a stressful time filled with rushed trips to the stores, receipts, and commercialism.

I want these days to be “holy days”- days that turn our focus to God and His goodness towards humanity.

I want my children to visit these monuments yearly, not with the expectation of temporary trinkets they may receive, but with the expectation of receiving the long-lasting gift of hope these monuments stand for.

more-than-just-a-day

One of my favorite books is Jerusalem Jackson Greer’s book, A Homemade Year. In it, she lists dates that are significant to the history of the Christian Church at large- spiritual monuments. Days that I usually breeze by as I go about my year have a spiritual significance and lesson to teach me and my children. Days that I would have scheduled a doctor’s appointment or a library trip were monuments meant to turn our hearts towards the Lord.

Many of these dates are not on our calendars.

They are probably not even on the radars of marketers.

But these dates are there, and they are a gift. Not just to me, but to my family as well. They are days that I have an opportunity to use as monuments for my family. Monuments with a beautiful history that my family can look back to and remember God’s goodness in the past and His promised faithfulness in the future.