Is Advent coming up faster than you expected it to this year? It’s like that for me, for sure. While I can’t help you with the pink and purple candles, I’m happy to say that thanks to my friends at Creative Communications for the Parish, I have 10 Advent prize packs to offer readers this year (plus 3 bonus prizes)!
Wonderful Life in Christ prize
This prize pack includes:
Our Greatest Gift: A Wonderful Life in Christ by Michael Hoy, a page-a-day devotional based on the scenes and themes of the Christmas classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, placing the events of the fictional George Bailey story in the context of our faith.
Sarah Reinhard’s new booklet, Prince of Peace, offers four weeks of family devotions and related activities. The Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love are embodied in a weekly activity focused on helping others.
Heavenly Peace, an Advent daily prayer devotional by Sarah Thomas Tracy, written to prepare readers for the coming peace of Christ.
To enter: Leave a comment on this post or on the posts on Facebook or Instagram stating your biggest Advent challenge.
More opportunities to be entered to win these prizes will be offered on social media, so be sure to visit the posts at the accounts linked above for bonus chances to win!
The fine print: This giveaway is open to winners in the USA only. This giveaway closes at 6 AM Eastern on Tuesday, November 17. 13 winners will be chosen at random and will be notified by email (for winners on this blog) or by direct message on Facebook or Instagram. Winners will have 48 hours to reply with their mailing address; unclaimed prizes will be awarded to alternate winners.
Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz Photos of prizes provided by Creative Communications for the Parish
I read Christmas books like some people watch Hallmark movies — and my friends know it. Christmas reads are the most common recommendations I receive from fellow readers. I’m good with that.
When my children were little, I used to keep the Christmas storybooks separate from the other picture books we had for them. At the beginning of Advent, I’d bring out the Christmas book basket so they could enjoy those old favorites.
Consider this my virtual book basket — filled with Catholic Christmas reads for readers (and pre-readers) of all ages.
Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family by Marlyn Evangelina Monge, fsp; illustrated by Mary Rojas (Pauline Kids). Nearly all of this board book is focused on the nativity story, so I’m calling it a Christmas book. The illustrations are adorable, and the story emphasizes Joseph’s love for God, Mary, and Jesus, and his desire to know and follow God’s will. (Review copy received from publisher.)
Molly McBride and the Christmas Pageant by Jean Schoonover-Egolf. Who can’t relate to spunky Molly’s Christmas-play dilemma: She was so sure she’d get to play Mary in the pageant! But when she doesn’t get the role she wants, she doesn’t want to be in the show at all. A gentle teacher reminds Molly that Mary followed God’s plan, even when it wasn’t her plan. This story about obedience is effective without being didactic or heavy-handed, and the illustrations definitely evoke the mood of the story.
Guess Who’s in the Manger? A Christmas Story by Vicki Howie; illustrated by Julia Seal (Pauline Kids). The Christmas story told (in rhyme) from the perspective of a barn owl, high in the rafters of the stable? What’s not to love? Little ones who love to show off their skills at imitating animal noises will be fans of this book, which calls for this very ability. I wish this were a board book, because it really does appeal to the very young. (Review copy received from publisher.)
Santa’s Priority by Tom Peterson (TAN Books). Don’t let the word “Santa” in the title throw you off. This is definitely a Catholic Christmas book, not a secular holiday story. Santa is shown stopping along his way, because the first thing we should do on Christmas is “come home to Mass and celebrate the holy Christian season.” A short rhyming read that would be a good book to enjoy together before Christmas Mass. (Review copy received from publisher.)
While not technically “Christmas books,” both of these include the Christmas story. Bibles and Bible storybooks are wonderful gifts any time of year.
My Bible: God’s Word for Me by Mary Martha Moss, fsp; illustrated by Augusta Currelli (Pauline Kids). Catholic Bible storybooks aren’t very easy to find. I was thrilled to see this one published this year! This gift-quality book includes a presentation page, a prayer section at the end with familiar Catholic prayers and instructions on how to pray the Rosary, and four pages of colorful maps of the Holy Land. In the introduction, the author notes that this book “will show you God’s amazing plan for the world — and for you!” Each story ends with a one-line prayer, and the stories are perfect bedtime-story length. (Review copy received from publisher.)
God Gave Us the Bible: 45 Favorite Stories for Little Ones by Lisa Tawn Bergren; art by David Hohn (WaterBrook). This book intersperses Bible stories with commentary by a family of bears and their animal friends. The Bible stories and commentary are set apart by different styles of art and varying typefaces. (Review copy received from publisher.)
The Case of the Christmas Tree Capers (Sisters of the Last Straw #5) by Karen Kelly Boyce (TAN Books). I’m a longtime fan of the Sisters of the Last Straw and this latest book in the series does not disappoint. It features all those favorite characters, the Sisters who each have a very human flaw and who are working — together and separately — to overcome their failings, plus the sour Mr. Lemon and the helpful farmer down the road. In this story, the Sisters open a Christmas tree lot to raise money to buy gifts for poor children in the parish. When the trees start disappearing, a few at a time each night, the Sisters set off on a mission to catch the thief, with sweet (and hilarious) results. For readers 7 and up, but would make a great read-aloud with younger children. (Review copy received from publisher.)
Christmas Around the Fire: Stories, Essays, & Poems for the Season of Christ’s Birth edited by Ryan N.S. Topping (TAN Books). This keepsake book is designed to be read aloud (as the title indicates, by the fire — or maybe, as we liked to do when our children were little, by the light of the Christmas tree). I remember some of the stories in this book from my own childhood (“The Selfish Giant,” “The Other Wise Man,” and the excerpt from “A Christmas Carol”) and was pleased to see them included with a medieval mystery play on the Annunciation, an essay from Pope Benedict XVI (“Advent Calls Us to Silence” — read this one first!), and poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rosetti. The hardcover volume is cloth-bound with gold printing on the cover and a gold ribbon bookmark, and will be a lovely treasure for your family library. (It’s available as an ebook as well, but you’d definitely miss out on the heirloom-quality presentation if you go that route.) (Review copy received from publisher.)
Gifts: Visible & Invisible by Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, Corinna Turner, Cathy Gilmore. No cartoon characters “saving Christmas” by making sure presents happen, or mistletoe moments with less substance than a snowflake here. These eight stories entertain and edify the young-adult reader and satisfy that Christmas craving for something more, which can only be fulfilled by Jesus. Each story stands alone, but many are connected to other work by the authors from Catholic Teen Books. (Review copy received from publisher.)
For You or a Friend
The Christmas List by Hillary Ibarra. Nothing lifts the spirits like a Christmas novella, and this one by Hillary Ibarra is one of the best I’ve read. It’s the beautifully told tale, inspired by true events in the author’s life, of a hardworking couple who cannot afford groceries for their family, let alone a festive Christmas meal or gifts for the children. A badly-timed job loss has left the parents stressed, but they make every effort to make Christmas special for their family — and they learn that God does, indeed, care about them. Appropriate for teens and adults.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books where noted, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
It’s Christmas in July this week, and there’s no better way to celebrate than taking a peek at the cutest little Nativity scene! Little Drops of Water, a family business based in Portugal, created their line of saint figurines when Anna Amaral, now a teenager, asked her father to help make child-friendly toys that celebrate the saints. The company recently introduced special Christmas products, including its Nativity scene — and they’ll have a Santa coming soon.
This is the Nativity I wished we’d had when our children were small. We eventually got a Playmobil Nativity set, but that is not appropriate for toddlers, with all the tiny parts! But a Nativity like this — it looks like wood, but it’s made of high-quality resin — is basically indestructible and child-friendly. This would be perfect to bring out each Advent so the children can help prepare for Jesus’ birth.
I’m really impressed by the workmanship behind these figurines. I first reviewed Little Drops of Water products in March of 2016, and my collection of figurines is still in great shape — even the Holy Family that sits on the very narrow windowsill above my kitchen sink. It’s taken more than one tumble into the dishwater, but the colors are still bright and there’s not even a chip or a crack. That’s a huge plus when you’re selecting toys for small children.
Yes, I said “toys.” They’re religious figurines, but they’re made to be held and carried about in little hands or little pockets. Most of these figurines are 3 inches high (statues with crowns, such as Our Lady of Fatima and the Infant of Prague, top out around 4 inches) and they fit well in small hands.
There are two dozen different Mary statues, ranging from the Madonna and Child to regional favorites such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima, Maria Pomagaj (Slovenia), and Our Lady of Lourdes — and more. In addition, Little Drops of Water offers dozens of saints, from St. Anthony through St. Therese. There’s even Padre Pio, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and the newly-canonized Fatima visionaries, Saints Francisco and Jacinta.
As Little Drops of Water is based in Portugal, the Fatima connection is strong. In fact, they are the number-one supplier of statuary in both Fatima and Lourdes, and they offer several products related to each. They also create charms, plush toys, and more.
It was always the custom in my husband’s family that one of the children would put the Baby Jesus into the manger, last thing on Christmas Eve. When our children were little, we took it one step further, gradually adding figures into the scene to build anticipation and correspond with liturgical celebrations. All the figures are kept behind the manger (backstage) to await their appearance.
Right around now, we’d put the animals into the manger (except the donkey, who was on a journey with Mary and Joseph.)
Early on Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph and the donkey would make their appearance. Baby Jesus would be placed in the manger, last thing on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Day, the shepherds would arrive; the kings wait until Epiphany. And the whole scene stays in place at least until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord–sometimes until Candlemas.
I always wanted a set of figures that had Baby Jesus separate from the manger, so he could be placed in it ceremoniously on Christmas Eve, but these are the figures that came with the stable we could afford 25 years ago when we bought our first Christmas decorations together. I’ve added in a table runner that my mom made for me (which doesn’t fit my table but is perfect here), and four different handmade Christmas trees, all made by special people in our lives.
I’m joining in at CatholicMom.com for the first-ever Nativity Scene linkup! Join the fun; share a photo of your Nativity scene on your blog or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (use hashtag #CMnativity on social media).
I prayed Christmas Eve Vespers last night while sitting in a chair at the foot of my mother-in-law’s hospital bed.
All those years we took for granted our health, our loved ones’ health, everyone’s ability to be together and celebrate Christmas. All those years did not prepare us for this one; how Hubs and I would be at the hospital, comforting his mother who no longer knows his name or recognizes him as her son.
He’s back at the hospital with her today instead of hanging out here at home with us, relaxing, enjoying snacks and watching Christmas movies. Or movies someone got for Christmas (not always the same thing).
It just about kills him–as it has been for the past several years–that he can’t fix this. He can’t make Alzheimer’s go away. He can’t bring back his mom’s memory.
He can only sit by and hold her hand and reassure her again and again and again and again that everything is OK, that he is there. He can hold the water bottle and help her drink. He can play her favorite hymns on his iPhone and hold it close to her ear so she can hear familiar music.
He is doing those works of mercy like they’re his job (as the kids would say). They’re not his job, actually. He does them out of love.
Last night he missed his family’s Christmas Eve party for the first time in his life. The kids went; we are thankful that 2 of our kids are old enough to drive so they could enjoy this time with their cousins after visiting Grandma in the hospital.
Today he missed Mass with the family and he’ll miss dinner. We’ll save him some, but it won’t be the same. Honestly, I don’t even care if we eat. We have plenty of snacks and another giant box of Bagel Bites, and the rest of the enormous pan of baked ziti one of his cousins generously sent home with the kids so Hubs and I could have a meal after we got home from the hospital.
It was hard to rejoice, this morning at Mass, knowing that while we sang “Silent Night” Hubs was on his way into that hospital room to spend the day listening to his mom talk (sometimes in Polish), holding her hand, trying to get her to eat something–anything–and having only snacks for himself until he gets kicked out of the room at the end of visiting hours, then driving more than an hour to get back here.
This is our Christmas in this Year of Mercy.
It’s going to be a hard year.
Please pray for Hubs, and his mom, and our family, and all others whose lives are impacted by Alzheimer’s and dementia. May God have mercy on us all.
My house doesn’t look like Christmas yet, and I’m OK with that. I am not going to be climbing on things and hanging things up this year–my foot (and the boot that’s on it) won’t allow that. But I have a daughter who’s just home from college and looking for things to do, so I’ll show her where I keep the decoration boxes and leave her to it.
I’m even OK with the fact that I won’t be doing my traditional chore of putting lights on the Christmas tree (that job involves 4 hours, at least 3 folding chairs plus a stepstool, and much up-and-down. I’m vertically challenged.) The year this photo was taken, I hit my Personal Best of 1500+ lights and, I believe, at least 2 blown-out extension cords. I’m the Clark Griswold of Christmas-tree lights, and I’m not ashamed of that in the least. There were so many lights on that tree, who even needed ornaments?
But someone else will light up the tree this year, and I’m sure they won’t use as many lights as I do, but that’s OK because the doctor says my foot is healing well. I have to continue wearing this boot full-time until January 5, when I get to bring a shoe to the doctor’s office and wear the boot only half-days for another week.
At least this keeps me out of the mall, which is perfectly fine with me. I’ve been doing a lot of online shopping thanks to various free-shipping offers and my good friend Amazon Prime, and I’m here to tell you that Target’s “order online, pick up in store” is way, way, WAY better than Best Buy’s. (Place order. Wait for text message. Go to Customer Service and tell them you’re picking up. Hand them your driver’s license for verification, take your stuff and go. By the time you get home, your receipt will be in your email inbox. It’s THAT easy.) Using that service saved me a trek through the whole store. The less walking, the better.
I’ll have a couple of weeks off from work to celebrate Christmas, and I’ve got plans:
set up a gift-wrapping center in TheKid’s old room
start wrapping gifts and use my Super-Secret Gift-Numbering Method™ to keep snoopy people from snooping
2 beta reads and 1 (short) freelance editing job
spend some time with my Everything Notebook, doing some goal-setting, planning and dreaming
I wish I still had this sign to hang on the door to the room where I’ll be doing the gift wrapping. I should have kept it!
Baby Jesus wore a blue snowsuit with a faux-fur-trimmed hood.
All the Angels had puffy coats under their robes.
The Shepherds sported blue jeans and white Nikes.
The pastor contributed his own “capuch” and a deacon’s stole to complete Francis’ costume.
Mary had a kidney transplant three weeks ago.
The Sheep was played by a three-year-old boy who had to be persuaded to take off the Eagles hat underneath his furry-eared cap.
Due to a shortage of teenage boys, there were almost Two Kings instead of Three.
Mary’s pony stopped along the path to Bethlehem to graze on some leftover autumn leaves.
The goat butted the Shepherds and the Sheep.
Most of the choir members had colds and couldn’t sing.
We were right next to a Dumpster.
It was a beautiful sunny day.
There were so many people we didn’t have enough chairs.
But there were plenty of cookies and lots of hot cocoa.
All the children played their parts wonderfully.
The pastor sang with the choir, and at the end everyone sang “Joy to the World.”
Today we reflected on the miracle of Greccio and the miracle of Bethlehem.
We were thankful for our warm clothing. Baby Jesus probably wasn’t so lucky.
We were thankful for the children who eagerly donned angel wings and shepherds’ robes.
We were thankful for a young girl’s new lease on life thanks to a generous organ donor.
We were thankful for the cookies, and the cocoa, and the fellowship shared around some pots of delicious homemade soup after it was all over.
We were–and are–thankful for the miracle that brought us all here in the first place.
I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!
Clearly I have pushed too hard in the past couple of weeks.
I had bronchitis over Thanksgiving, which stopped being bronchitis (I thought) after I finished the Z-pack; it turned into asthma that I couldn’t shake. My inhalers did nothing. I could sing–sometimes–but couldn’t sustain a note or phrase; I just haven’t had the air to do it.
Yesterday after school I felt so awful. So, so awful. But it was show night for the Christmas pageant and I had to babysit my homeroom before the show, release them to their parents after the show, and be there during the show to try to keep the kids on tempo during their songs. And being a substitute teacher, I wasn’t sure how I could go about missing this. So I dosed up on Advil and Dayquil, had a bowl of egg drop soup, went to school and got through the show.
Which went fantastically well, by the way. I didn’t have a huge part in this (other teachers did so much more) but I am so proud of how well the kids performed. And they couldn’t have looked sweeter in their tinsel halos and burlap shepherds’ tunics.
I brought all kinds of things that would be needed for today, including sub plans, and left them on the desk.
After the show I came home and texted the two teachers whose cell-phone numbers I have so I could find out how I could go about missing school today. (Again–this is the kind of thing substitutes just don’t know–because how often would you need it?) I reached the principal, who told me which other subs I should call, and I secured a sub for the day.
This morning I spent 2 hours at urgent care, tweeting to pass the wait time.
They gave me a nebulizer treatment right there to see how I would respond. It did help, so they prescribed that AND oral steroids AND more antibiotics and sent me on my way.
I came home and rested after all that, and Middle Sister picked up all my medicine PLUS two caffeinated Boost slushies (if you’re not local, it’s like uncarbonated Coke and it’s amazing in a slushy, but chock-full of sugar and caffeine and all the bad-for-you stuff). For lunch, I had a bowl of dry Cocoa Pebbles, one Boost slushy, two Advil, one Amoxicillin and three steroids. I’m wide awake NOW, let me tell you. I’m kind of afraid to try the nebulizer since that made me a bit jittery all by itself!
The worst part of all this is that I’ll be missing the Festival of Lessons and Carols tonight. I’ve been rehearsing since October for this and hands down it’s the highlight of Christmastime for me, musically speaking. The privilege of participating in this event with the high-caliber musicians and vocalists it attracts is a real gift to me, and it killed me to have to bow out. But I know they’ll do great and, at this point, I’m just hoping I’ll be good to sing on Christmas.
And Monday is another day. Not a bad day, not a super day, just a day. I’ll take it.
Before I left the house this morning, I made a list of the Christmas Eve Cousins. In my husband’s family, every child gets a present on Christmas Eve from every family who has children. Thanks to Facebook, I had everyone’s name and age. I left the list on my desk with the intention of texting Middle Sister at lunchtime and asking her to go shopping.
That text message never happened. But I got home to find her (and the list) gone. I ran out to do some grocery shopping for the week, since this is the only night I don’t have a rehearsal or a performance. When I got home, there were bags of toys everywhere.
I am so very grateful that she got this huge chore done–and her cousins, I’m sure, will love the toys she chose for them.
Then, my answer to “what’s for dinner” was “hot dogs and fries.”
And the kids cheered.
I was feeling like a total slacker for not cooking them a proper dinner on the one night this week I don’t have to be somewhere. The kids, though, are happy for the hot dogs.
The first- and second-grade classes are deep into rehearsals for this year’s Christmas play, a children’s musical with a “true meaning of Christmas theme.”
One child commented after a rehearsal, “This is a lot like A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Thematically, yes. We don’t have Snoopy, but yes.
There are a few songs they had to learn, plus a few traditional carols. The second-graders do a version of Silent Night complete with hand motions (based on sign language; we learned it from a YouTube video) and it’s impossibly sweet.
We’ve had our funny moments, like yesterday when a first-grade boy walked up to me and confided, “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be a shepherd or a Wise Old Man.”
But today we ran the whole show for the first time. And as the Nativity tableau was complete, the Wise Men crossed in front of the stage area. I reminded them to walk slowly and hold their hands as if they were praying. Then the first Wise Man–the rough-and-tumble football-playing boy who gets that “make me” look on his face when he’s corrected–reached the place where the manger will be.
And, unprompted, he genuflected. The other two Wise Men did the same.
I can’t even stand it. I’m not going to make it through this show without tissues, and I defy any other adult in the room to manage that feat.