My Christmasy Recommendations

The Best of Christmas

I’m in a festive mood today. I pulled out the holiday decor boxes and the tree we chopped down this weekend will finally get some trimmings tonight. The laundry I plan/hope to do later will most certainly be accomplished with Christmas music playing in the background.

Since I’m feeling so festive (and North Idaho is finally looking festive – aka, white), I thought I’d share a little Christmas recommendations round-up of my favorite holiday books, music, movies, and decor!

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Books for Advent

The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping The Full Love Story Of Christmas by Ann Voskamp

A beautifully designed Advent devotional with daily readings, meditations, and reflection questions to turn your heart and mind towards our Savior during this crowded season. I was not familiar with the Jesse Tree concept before beginning this book, but I love how it focuses on the family tree of Jesus. My favorite part of each day’s devotional is the “Unwrapping More Of His Love In The World” section where Ann gives a simple and practical action step to be an extension of God’s love that day.

The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna by Liz Curtis Higgs 

I love Liz Curtis Higgs’ Christian fiction but had yet to read any of her non-fiction before this Advent themed one. I’m enjoying her easy to digest thoughts about the different female perspectives of the Christmas narrative (though I haven’t quite finished it yet). There’s tons of Scripture throughout so it reads like a conversational commentary.

Books for Children (and Adults)

Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I absolutely adore Amy’s first book, Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons, and the Christmas edition is more of the same, with a holiday twist: beautiful illustrations accompanying an ABC dictionary of sweet life lessons. I love keeping this on the coffee table during the Christmas season and will enjoy reading it to James next year (though he’ll probably just enjoy the pictures at that point…).

I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Holly Hobbie

I’m pretty much enamored by Toot and Puddle, two adventurous pigs who happen to be best friends. They are cute and thoughtful and utterly endearing. Toot is a traveler, Puddle is more the anxious sort. This story will have you rooting for both as they try to spend the holidays together. Let It Snow is also a charming Toot and Puddle Christmas story.

The Greatest Shepherd of All: A Really Woolly Christmas Story by Holly Gerth

I must have a thing for children’s books with cute creatures because I’m a huge fan of the Really Woolly sheep. The combination of the Biblical Christmas story and the facial expressions on these chubby sheep make me cry every time I read this book.

Christmas With Anne by L.M. Montgomery

If you find a copy of this, snatch it up. A friend sent one to me a couple years ago and I love to reread the compilation of holiday stories every Christmas. Though not technically for children, this would be a great read aloud for older kids. There are new and old stories, all told with the same innocence and heart that Montgomery infused into all her Anne books.

Music

  • How Many Kings is my favorite modern, Christ-centered Christmas song. The rest of downhere’s album is stellar too.
  • I’m semi-ashamed to recommend Justin Bieber (I blame youth ministry), but I do really enjoy his holiday album, Under The Mistletoe. It’s fun and danceable – perfect for your December workouts.
  • I got Wrapped In Red, the new Christmas album from Kelly Clarkson, this year and was not disappointed. Her original songs are catchy and her covers are well-done.

Movies

  • For some people, it’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. For me, it’s A Garfield Christmas. My Gramma taped it one year when I was in elementary school and my brother and I have watched it every year since. I think we have the whole thing memorized. I now have it on DVD and make my husband watch it with me.
  • Who doesn’t get weepy when the General walks in on his Christmas surprise? White Christmas is a classic in every sense of the word.
  • I realize Frozen isn’t a Christmas movie, however, the icy landscape makes it feel festive and holiday appropriate. Disney scored with this one – great values, loveable characters, wonderful story and animation. My favorite line comes from Olaf, the snowman: “It’s so cute. It’s like a little baby unicorn!”. If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure to 1. go see it and 2. stay for the ALL the credits.

Fun Christmasy Extras

I love simple gift wrap, especially when the base is kraft paper or something else natural looking – like this and this. It’s even better when the natural substance is cheap – like a paper bag.

Card Collage

Paper bags aren’t just good wrapping paper. They make awesome Christmas cards. When you make them like this, they have a built-in little pocket. Perfect for a gift card or cash.

Since frames are a dime a dozen at thrift stores, I love this idea for an inexpensive and unique wreath that could be customized so many different ways (think spay painted white with snowflakes, or gold with book page ornaments).

DSC_0323

One of my favorite decorations to put up is the simple garland my mom and I made last year out of fabric scraps.

For other festive ideas, check out my Christmas and Celebrate boards on Pinterest.

 

What are your favorite Christmas books, movies, music, and decor ideas?

Paper Bag Christmas Card

Crystal Regan, our lovely and talented Director of Children’s Ministry, put together a festive spread for the December elder meeting last week.  Each place setting included one of these sweet Christmas Cards made from a brown paper bag and scrapbook paper.

I adore the creative construction and use of such a common household item  Plus, clever folding produces a little pocket for a gift card or personal note.

All you need is a lunch sack, paper, scissors, and glue.  I constructed a prototype with a smaller sized paper bag, so the folds are approximate.  The paper measurements are for Crystal’s card, above, which uses a standard brown lunch bag.  Adjust the paper size according to the size of your bag.

Paper Bag Christmas Card

You’ll need:

  • Brown paper bag
  • Paper scaps – patterned or plain to your taste and design
  • Glue
  • Scissors

Instructions:

Cut your paper scraps to the designated sizes indicated below (also in the photo above).

  • 1 (3″ x 4 3/4″)
  • 1 (2 3/4″ x 4 3/4″)
  • 1 (3 1/2″ square)
  • 2 (3 1/4″ square)

Fold the paper bag inward on the dotted lines shown above.  On the bottom part of the bag that was folded over, glue along the edges to create the pocket.

Use the photo below to guide you in gluing the decorative paper onto your bag.  The second  3 1/4″ square is glued on the inside of the front flap.

These cards are simple and would be fun to construct with kids.  Plus, the design is only limited by the event or your imagination.  Have fun – I would love to see or hear about your card creations!

Update: I made a video tutorial for creating a sweet Valentine’s Day version.

 

 

How to have a Mary Christmas

How is always the hardest part for me.  What and why are simple enough, but how is a different story.

Where do you start when what you want to do calls for stillness, silence, and sitting?

I don’t know how to turn on a switch and be still.  If I manage to sit down, my mind is inevitably whirring with activity.

I’m realizing that having a Mary Christmas isn’t accomplished through action steps, even if the actions are stillness, silence, and sitting.  A Mary Christmas comes by choice – a choice to slow down and focus my mind.

When I make space to dwell on the season, I’m forced to slow down. I can’t hurry past my Savior when meditating on the joy, peace, glory, and wonder surrounding His earthly beginning. Slowing down is a non-negotiable when my soul is frozen in awe.

The how becomes inextricable from a heart meditating on Jesus. I take cues from the heart of other key players in the humbling narrative of Christ’s birth.

Sing with Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.

{Luke 1:46-47,50}

 

Praise God with the heavenly hosts:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!

{Luke 2:14}

Rejoice with Simeon:

For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.

{Luke 2:30-32}

Let our Savior inspire stillness with joy, with awe, with wonder. Let praise and glory bloom in the silence of your heart.

———————

My aunt shared these thoughts with me recently:

Someone once said something to the effect: the words don’t have to be spelled right, don’t have to be perfectly written to be beautiful. So it is with Christmas. The house does not need to be perfectly decked nor the presents perfectly wrapped. The most perfect of “home”  has already been set. The stable – no bells, whistles, decorations, fancy wrapped gifts – just God’s perfect plan. 

God’s perfect plan for Christmas is not perfection. A Mary Christmas follows His example of simplicity and a heart swelling with our Savior.

How will you celebrate a Mary Christmas?

 

A New Holiday Tradition {of the culinary sort}

I am a stickler for traditions – especially around the holidays and especially in regards to food.

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without brown sugar, pecan crusted, butter laden sweet potato casserole or stuffing made with Mrs. Cubbison’s (who I always imagined was good friends with Aunt Jemima…) classic dressing mix.

Every once in a while, however, a new culinary tradition is born, a recipe so good it breaks right in to the standards with fresh flavors and an addictive quality that demands repeating.

This happened last year with Cranberry Cream Cheese Dip.

A friend brought it to a Thanksgiving celebration and I couldn’t walk away from the plate. We ate the dip with tortilla chips and Wheat Thins. Basically, anything crispy or salty was an excellent foil for the smooth tang of cream cheese piled high with a sweet-tart cranberry relish.

My fiance, now husband, and I proceeded to take this dip to every function left in the holiday season.  It went from the desert to the chilly Ozarks and back home again.

My mom flew to Idaho for Thanksgiving this year.  When we planned the menu, you better bet the Cranberry Cream Cheese Dip made the list for pre-meal munching.

If you’re like me and forget to pick up a lemon while you’re at the grocery store, sit your little hiney back in the car and go get one. (Or have your ever so kind husband grab one on the way home from youth group even though he is dead tired – thanks, babe! When he heard what I needed it for, he agreed that the extra stop was worth it).

The lemon juice, combined with the sugar, helps break down the cranberries and totally brightens up the relish.  Our go to vehicle for this insanely addictive dip is Wheat Thins, but any beloved crackerish item will work.

I do hope this dip finds its way into your holiday recipe repertoire! Your family and friends will love this new tradition.

 

Cranberry Cream Cheese Dip

Original recipe by Jamie Cooks It Up!

Time: 15 minutes prep + 4 hours refrigeration

1  12 oz package fresh cranberries

1/4 C green onion, chopped

1/4 C cilantro, chopped

1 small jalapeno pepper

1 1/4 C sugar

1/4 t cumin

2 T lemon juice

dash salt

2  8 oz packages cream cheese (I used reduced fat)

The night before (or at least 4 hours in advance):

Rinse cranberries under cool water and pick out any shriveled or bad cranberries. Place berries in the bowl of a food processor. I’ve chopped by hand and the results are much quicker and more cohesive when done in a food processor.

I’m not one for extreme heat so I use half of the jalapeño.  Take the rib and seeds out. Chop green onion, cilantro, and jalapeño into smaller pieces.  Add to processor with sugar, cumin, lemon juice, and salt.

Pulse mixture until the cranberries look like gravel and the other ingredients are well incorporated.  Put in a bowl and chill (I vote overnight!).

Let the cream cheese come to room temperature a couple hours before you’d like to serve the dip.  Place the foil wrapped bricks in room temperature water for awhile to speed up the process.

Use a knife or spatula (an off-set spatula, like you would use to frost a cake, works wonders here) to spread both blocks of cream cheese over a plate.  Pour cranberry mixture over the cream cheese.

Serve with crackers or chips of choice.

Three of us devoured half of it in one sitting and the remaining half the next day. Just put saran wrap over the plate and all is well for eating leftovers.

Pure & Simple