Merry Christmas! And a happy feast of St. Stephen! (We’ll be singing Good King Wenceslaus all day in St. Stephen’s honor.) As I have a few moments before driving off to South Dakota, I thought I’d post a few photos from the last few days.
Now that we live in a forested area, naturally we drove to a Christmas tree farm to hunt down a tree for 2020. In order to do this, however, I broke one of my Advent Rules and blasted the Christmas music from the speakers of my Sweet Ride, for one cannot possibly buy a Christmas tree without listening to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “O Tannenbaum.”
But let me back up. In order to cut and buy a Christmas tree, one has three preparatory things to do first:
Prep the van. As our van does not have a rack on top, we had to remove a row of seats to make room for the biggest pine tree we could possibly find. (Kids will just have to double buckle. There’s no other way.)
Make coffee. Naturally one must prepare a thermos of hot coffee for such a stately endeavor involving hand saws and tree trimmers and loud, ecstatically excited children.
Get the Christmas music playlist ready to blast in the van, as I already mentioned.
After accomplishing the above, we were off, singing gleefully, for it was a joyous occasion. The children had great fun running around, sizing up all the pine trees and pointing them out to each other. I ambled behind and snapped a few photos for fun, which I’ll post below, but not before I mention something a friend had said to me a few days ago, as I was expressing my sadness in killing a live tree, which we do every year…and will continue to do…
She said, “Kim, Christmas trees are meant to be a living sacrifice to God. We give Him our best. We pick out the most beautiful offering, pay for it, and kill it. Christmas trees are sacrifices and gifts to God in thanksgiving for His Son. So quit feeling bad about it.”
Yes, you are right, dear friend.
As I likely won’t write anything for a week or so, Merry Christmas, Dear Readers!
Advent begins this Sunday. Have you thought about it yet? I have, and I’ve come up with a few things I won’t be doing. Next week, I hope to put together a list of things I will be doing for those of you who might be curious.
But for today…
8 Things I’m NOT Doing This Advent
I’m not doing a Jesse Tree. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I had a Jesse Tree, and the children colored paper ornaments and cut them out and decorated a dead tree branch. They had a lot of fun. This year? Nope. The Bible will have to do for making those lovely Old Testament stories come alive.
I also will not have an Advent Calendar filled with chocolates marking out the liturgical season. This is because I’d rather spend that $3.99 on a cappuccino. I guess, our 2020 “Drinking With the Monks” wall calendar from Tan Publishing will have to do.
3. I’m not going to make a single cookie during Advent. I restrained myself last year, too, and it was freeing. We will, however, make cookies during the Christmas octave and eat as many as we choose, while we lick the bowl and fight for the spatula. I do sympathize with those individuals, however, who make their cookies during Advent and freeze them for Christmas. This is laudable–and penitential too, if one doesn’t eat the cookie dough or the cookies until December 25. Oy.
4. I don’t have my box of Advent books out yet; it’s still tucked away in the storage room. I’ve just been too lazy tired to actually walk down the stairs, turn a corner, open a door, and get it. I’m really hoping that I’ll find the motivation to do so, at least by December 24th. We do have some good ones. So this one probably shouldn’t be on my list of “Things I’m Not Doing This Advent.” Rather this one should be on my list of “Things I Should Get Going On By Sunday.”
5. There is no Elf on my shelf. Nor has there ever been. I understand this is a fun thing for some children, but mine will have to be satisfied with Mary and Joseph traveling around the house, making their way to our nativity set, which I hope to get out soon with that box of Advent books…
6. I’m not going to listen to Christmas music this Advent. Maybe. Goodness, this is such a hard one for me. I love Christmas music so much that it isn’t uncommon for me to blast it any time of the year. Just ask my children. Who doesn’t love a little “Sleigh Ride” in July? This year, however, it’ll be “Advent at Ephesus” with the Benedictines of Mary.
7. I’m not going to buy a ton of Christmas gifts, which you already know about. (See HERE for my Christmas Shopping post.) We’ve been scaling back over the years, as we’ve found that less is more, and it teaches the children gratitude.
8. I’m not decorating for Christmas during Advent. This one is easy to not do for the obvious reason that I don’t have to do anything. We stopped decorating for Christmas during Advent a long time ago. Instead it’s become a family tradition to buy our Christmas tree the last possible minute and decorate it and the rest of our house on Christmas Eve, and I can’t tell you how much fun we have! So I’m not really worried about this one.
All right, enough of you are interested and apparently would like me to say a few words on Santa Claus.
Most of you know the difference between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, right? If not, there are plenty of other capable websites out there willing to chronicle the similarities and differences of these two men. (Well, one was a sainted bishop and the other a fictional, old man, likely based on the former…)
But today I’m not interested in detailing the particulars of St. Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6th and wherein many children (including ours) receive chocolate coins in their shoes to commemorate his generosity in helping out three destitute sisters long, long ago.
Rather, today I’m only interested in our modern culture’s Santa Claus–you know, the fat, jolly, old man from the North Pole with a bunch of magical, flying reindeer at his service.
As I was saying, we’re not haters around here. In fact, I like Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus and Rudolf and all those hard-working elves. You may remember the charming poem, A Visit from St. Nicholasby Clement Clarke Moore? This poem is all about Santa Claus and my children recite it every December. Why? Because it’s beautifully and imaginatively written; it’s a lovely story with a happy ending for all the good boys and girls in the world.
But it’s just that–a fictional tale that’s fun to read and dramatize in costume and song and generally just enjoy.
And like all other fairy tales, we cannot tell our children that they’re true because they aren’t, and they know it anyway.
So, for our family, we enjoy the tale of Santa Claus, while avoiding lying about his eternal, omnipresence–for he isn’t eternal or omnipresent. There is only One who is, and He was born on Christmas day, and His story is tremendously important and magical and beautiful. Happy Birthday, Jesus, on December 25th!
Now that’s a story, and a true one at that. And on Christmas morning, we don’t care to have any competition with it. So, no gifts from Santa, but…
Yes, we’re talking Christmas here, and it’s about the material side of things, too. Yikes! I intend to dedicate this post to Christmas shopping and Christmas gifts intentionally for two reasons:
It is always a good idea to look closely at one’s finances well ahead of any purchases, especially in a season oftentimes fraught with expense. So for prudential budgeting purposes, our family actually does the bulk of our Christmas shopping in October.
We also like to have our Christmas shopping done well in advance of Advent so that we can do precisely that: Advent. Who likes to rush around frantically shopping at the last minute? Not me, anyway. We prefer to attempt a slower, more prayerful awareness of the liturgical season.
That said, let’s look at a few things our family does for gifts.
Ah, but perhaps I should mention that we don’t do Santa Claus? On second thought, let’s not mention it and move on. Feel free to ask me to explain later, if you’re curious, and I will.
So on Christmas morning, after praying Lauds and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, our children open a few gifts from us. Our goal is to keep it simple, and so here’s what we typically give:
An article of clothing
And something else fun or useful
Now we have 7 children, and those three items add up and can be expensive, so we buy used things, if possible. For example, almost all the books are used, or I will purchase them months in advance from, say, Bethlehem Books when they have their half-off sales. Most of the clothing I purchase used too, at second-hand stores. The last “fun” gift, however, does get to be tricky and most often is not used.
Let me give you some examples of what our children will actually receive thisvery Christmas. (Should you happen to see the children, don’t tell them!)
Next Girl Up:
The Third Youngest Girl will also receive much the same, except that instead of a play skirt, she will be getting some colorful notecards that I found on sale at Hobby Lobby. (She likes to do crafty things.)
The boys will also be receiving second-hand clothing from my cousin, the following books, which I purchased earlier this year at a Bethlehem Book sale, and one pellet gun, which they will all share.
The Eldest is getting a new dress–not used–and this book:
Christmas Stockings and a Family Gift
Yes, we do Christmas stockings. Typically we put Christmas candy in the children’s Christmas stocking. This year I also purchased some Christmas-themed socks to stick in too.
And lastly, I purchased a Christmas puzzle as a family gift.
And what about me and my husband? Do we exchange gifts? Yes, and while I do have his gift purchased already, I cannot tell you what it is, for fear that he might actually look at this blog post.
Do You Have Any Christmas Gift Ideas?
Do any of you have any Christmas Gift ideas? If so, I’d love to hear about them. I suspect that some of you are very crafty and handy and might even be able to make Christmas gifts.
Here are a few photos from Christmas morning. Enjoy!
For those of you who might like ideas for your own children. Here’s what we gave each child:
One wrapped present, which was a clothing item and a book
One Christmas stocking, which contained a “fun” toy, new socks, and candy
And yes, we still adhere to our “One In, One Out Rule.” In other words, if a doll comes in, a doll goes out. This year, prior to Christmas, the girls had already given away a doll to charity. If this seems confusing, see my post on Toys HERE.
This time, however, we’re not just hopping across a river and strolling down the road a few miles. Nope, we’re trekking across the state, skipping over Minnesota, and landing in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where my husband will begin a new job at the end of January.
We’re very excited about this move for a few reasons:
La Crosse puts us within about 70 miles of Rochester, MN, where our son doctors. This will be a tremendous relief for us, should we need to race to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night again. (God forbid.)
La Crosse, as you perceptive readers may have noticed, has gorgeous churches, complete with Traditional Latin Masses every single Sunday. As this is what our hearts long for, we are truly delighted and grateful for this opportunity.
My husband is very pleased too with his new job. It looks to be just what we need.
And…it’s warmer in Wisconsin! And the sun shines more. Not kidding. My husband looked it up. Any move closer to the equator is a Serious Plus.
There are a few downsides to moving south (and east), however.
We will be leaving behind family and friends. This will not be easy, and it does tear our hearts. We have been so blessed over the years with devoted grandparents and caring friends. We thank God for them every day.
It will also be terrible to leave the prairie for a forest. How does one see the weather coming in Wisconsin? My goodness, I’ll have to actually look at a Weather App.
My husband has frequently commented that he’ll miss his boss and coworkers. His boss in particular is a good man–a man he looks up to. He will be awfully hard to replace.
In any case, though, God has clearly made His will known to us, and we are happy to move. Wisconsin, here we come!
And we did the unthinkable…
Due to the impending move, we did the unthinkable and put the Christmas tree up early. Yes, we are still observing our Advent rituals. For example, here are the little girls joyfully watching the Advent candles burn:
But we did it; we committed Liturgical Sin and bought a huge, 9-foot Fraser Fir right smack in the middle of Advent.*
Oh, what a tree! Just for fun, here are some photos of the children decorating it.
All said and done:
If you look closely at the foot of the fireplace, you’ll see our Nativity Stable and Inn. (You know, the Inn that rejected Joseph and Mary.) Of course Joseph and Mary aren’t there yet, in fact, they wandering around in the kitchen cupboards right now, and the children are having a jolly, good time playing with all the shepherds, sheep, and inn keepers.
Favorite Christmas Ornament?
All my birds. One cannot have enough birds in a Christmas tree.
Ok, I really like this ornament too. It’s my husband in 1987. He made this ornament for his mother, and she graciously gave it to us.
*Next year, however, we do plan on waiting until the last possible moment for buying and putting up a Christmas tree. Truly, there is something really special about that. See HERE for it.
A few weeks ago, here’s how I worked on my Christmas cards:
And here is how I scrubbed onesies full of poop. (Laundry doesn’t go away during the holidays.) It just so happens that a dear friend stopped by and gave me the coffee. May God bless her thoughtfulness!
Here is my son traveling to his doctor appointment wherein we didn’t discover much of anything.
Here is our sweet Christmas tree. It has a gaping hole in the back. But that’s what you get when you wait until two days before Christmas Eve to buy one. (As of last year, we decided to wait until the last possible moment to get one. Oh the excitement!) Then we decorate it on Christmas Eve. Click HERE for last year’s Sweet Thang.
And, here are the rest of the children helping with the cookies.
In any case, I pray that your Christmas may be holy and jolly! Come, Lord Jesus!
In the last post, I wrote about a few things our family will be focusing on this Advent. In this post, I want to highlight I few things I WON’T be doing.
Now before you read this list, please know that I’m tired. Really exhausted. I could give you many reasons why this is so, but I’m too tired do it. My only intent is to show you that not all families are alike, and that sometimes, one needs to cut back.
Everything you’re about to read on this list is, in fact, a good thing. If your family is able to do them all, I’m glad! It’s just that I can’t right now, and I suspect I’m not the only one who is a little overwhelmed.
Without any further ado, here we go.
9 Things I’m NOT Doing This Advent
I don’t have a Jesse Tree. One year I did, but not this year. And I know that Jesse Trees don’t even have to be a difficult thing to do. One can simply print off a bunch of paper ornaments, have the children color them, and then cut them out. But not me. Nope. I can’t.
I don’t even have an Advent Calendar. Our 2018 wall calendar will have to do. The thought of another trip into Target, or even clicking around on Amazon to find one, is just too much.
There is no Elf on my shelf. Nor has there ever been. I understand this is a fun thing for children, but mine will have to be satisfied with Mary and Joseph traveling around the house.
I’m not going to make a single cookie. Heck, I might not even make a single cookie during Christmas. My cookie press from Pampered Chef broke, and so I can’t make my all-time favorite Spritz Cookies using Grandma Hahn’s recipe. This does actually make me a little sad, but really, it’s freeing too. I know there won’t be any lack of cookies coming into the house anyway. In fact some have already found their way into my freezer, as my mother is such a go-getter that she and my aunt already supplied me with two huge containers full. So nope. I’m not making any cookies.
My box of Advent and Christmas books for the children to read is not out yet. I’ve just been too tired to actually walk down the stairs, turn a corner, open a door, and get it. I’m really hoping that I’ll find the motivation to do so, at least by December 24th. We do have some good ones. In the meantime, if I can’t, one year without them will be fine.
I’m not going to listen to Christmas music this Advent. Maybe. Goodness, this is such a hard one for me. I love Christmas music so much, that it isn’t uncommon for me to blast it any time of the year. Just ask my children. Who doesn’t love a little Sleigh Ride in July?
I’m not decorating for Christmas during Advent. This one is easy to not do for the obvious reason that I don’t have to do anything! We stopped decorating for Christmas during Advent a long time ago. Instead it’s become a family tradition to decorate on Christmas Eve, and I can’t tell you how much fun we have! And I also have the added bonus of my husband being home to carry the heavy boxes up from the basement for me. So I’m not really worried about this one.
I’m not going to buy a ton of Christmas gifts. We’ve been scaling back over the years, which has been difficult because our extended families are so generous! But now the grandparents are down to just one gift per child, and we’re doing the same. Well, not really, I guess. Each child gets one book, one practical item, and a little candy. (Candy because we abstain from sweets during Advent.) For example, my eldest son loves the Redwall series, so he’s getting book #8 along with a new watchband and a candy cane. We’ve found that less is more. It teaches the children gratitude.
And finally, I’m not going to write any more blog posts until Christmas. I need a little break, especially with my son’s medical issues. But don’t worry, I’ll be back! (I can’t seem to help myself, when it comes to writing, for better or for worse.)
Now I know that I ought to be focused on the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and I am, but I am also a mother. Therefore, I must plan ahead for my family accordingly. And this entails preparing any necessary music that my family will want to sing and listen to for the appropriate liturgical seasons.
So today, our family will listen to Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus. (Click HERE for it on YouTube.)
This piece has an interesting history, by the way. It’s title comes from Psalm 51 and means, “Have mercy on me, O God.” It was composed in the seventeenth century and was reserved exclusively for use in the Sistine Chapel during Lent. In other words, nobody else was allowed to use it anywhere. Well, the story goes that 14-year-old, smarty-pants Mozart was visiting the Vatican during Lent and heard this song performed. He simply went home, copied it out from memory, and that was that.
And now for Easter.
I know that you are all familiar with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” But maybe you’re not familiar with the Easter version? My children began singing this a few days ago, so I thought I’d send it along, so that you might have a new song to sing Easter Sunday. This song is especially appropriate for those of you living in colder climates, like mine, where it snows forever and ever. Amen.
White Easter by Kim Heilman & Kids
I’m dreaming of a white Easter,
just like the ones in North Dakota.
Where the Easter Bunny skis and children listen
to hear Alleluias at the Mass.
I’m dreaming of a white Easter
with every Easter basket I fill.
“May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Easters be white!”
In Part 2 I left off with Mid-Morning Prayer. This is actually the second time during the morning when we all gather together, and so some might call it “Morning Time,” which would make for two Morning Times for our family. Well, whatever you want to call it. Here it is.
10am Mid-Morning Prayer
At around 10am, when the children are done with their school, which I mentioned in Part 2, and I’ve checked and graded it, I call them all to the living room for prayer. We begin with a hymn, I ask for intentions, which are often very sweet, we pray a short prayer like the Memorare, and then we close with a hymn. That’s it.
For example, during the Christmas season we sang Good King Wenceslaus, because it’s their favorite and also O Tannenbaum, because we’re German, and it’s fun to sing in a foreign language. (Well, maybe we’re a bit pagan too? A whole song glorifying a tree? That’s not a hymn.)
Today we sang Good King Wenceslaus for both the opening and the closing because the boys love all those verses about kings and pages and fierce blizzards. They’re obsessed.
Before I let them all run off to their next task, however, we do a review of everyone’s Latin vocabulary. Sometimes we play Latin Around the World, but most days, I call out the English, and they shout back the Latin. And yes, it’s shouting because they all want to be heard. Sometimes this gets to be very loud and chaotic.
10:15am More School
At this point, the Eldest takes the two youngest children and disappears. Glory be to God in the Highest.
Then I commence Song School Latin from Classical Academic Press with Child #2, #3, and #4. They all ardently insist that this is their favorite school to do.
When Latin is done, Child #4 disappears, and I help Child #2 and #3 with the remainder of their school for the day, which is usually Math and Grammar.
Then it is my favorite part of the morning:
10:45 am Outdoor Recess Time!
While the children are frolicking around outside, I fold the first load of laundry and put the second load in the dryer. Then I start heating up leftovers for lunch.
And that’s enough for today. Stay tuned for Part 4.
Well, this year we decided to do something we’ve never, ever done before – wait until the last possible minute to buy and put up a Christmas tree, which was Saturday, December 23rd, as we didn’t want to shop on Sunday, Christmas Eve.
Now normally we drive to the local tree nursery and pick out a big, beautiful 7-8 foot Frasier Fir the first or second weekend of Advent. Twice we even bought a potted tree, which we planted in our yard in the Spring. Of course potted trees are a bit more expensive, like $200 compared to the $100 for a cut tree, but then you have the benefit of a lifelong tree in the yard.
Anyway, it is then our tradition to let the tree sit until Christmas Eve, when we all decorate it together before Midnight Mass. This year, however, we wanted to enter more fully into the season of Advent and not be bothered with a tree, until necessary. The result?
I have never been so excited to get a Christmas tree! It was so hard to see all those beautifully decorated trees in the windows of everyone’s houses! Let’s face it – Christmas trees are so festive and cheering. Who wouldn’t want one up all year round? (Well, maybe the dead pine needles would deter some…) And the children were positively giddy when we drove to Menards to buy one. (The local nursery was not open.)
The selection, however, was as one might expect. There were about 15 absolutely dead trees. So, we picked out the least looking dead one and drove home, still very happy with our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. After all, this tree just needed a little love – like Linus’s blanket wrapped around its base or some sparkling lights and shiny ornaments. And it turned out all right, as you can see by the picture.
But there was another reward for waiting. We only spent $2.13! Unbelievable.
And there is even one more, unlooked for advantage to purchasing a really dead tree. You see, we need not concern ourselves with watering it. I mean, we do have it sitting in water, but it hasn’t soaked up any yet.
Now, let’s just hope this tree makes it until Epiphany without completely falling apart. (Oh that we lived near a Christmas Tree Farm, so that we could get a fresh one, which might last until the Feast of the Presentation on February 2.)
But will we do this again next year? Yes. The wait was worth it, even if only for the sheer excitement of the thing.