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Chelsea Rotunno is the author of Goodnight to My Thoughts of You, a novel about life as a Christian teen searching for true love.

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7 Fun, Simple Christmas Traditions to Enjoy with Your Family

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#1 READING CHRISTMAS BOOKS OUT LOUD

#2 PUTTING TOGETHER A 1000 PIECE CHRISTMAS PUZZLE

#3 ROLLING CHANGE FOR CHARITY

#4 WRITING CHRISTMAS LETTERS TO EACH CHILD

#5 MAKING CRAFTS WITH ELDERLY NEIGHBORS

#6 MAKING HANDMADE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS

#7 BAKING ANDY’S FAVORITE ITALIAN COCOA COOKIES

WHEN IT COMES TO CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS, stick to what you love! What did you love about Christmas when you were growing up? What made you feel safe, connected, and cherished? Here are my favorite Christmas memories that turned into fun, simple Christmas traditions for my own family:

#1 READING CHRISTMAS BOOKS OUT LOUD

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One of my most favorite memories from my childhood is sitting in the living room listening to my dad read out loud. I loved listening to fun, happy stories around Christmastime, and my kids do too.

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This year, I found a new favorite read-aloud book that is perfect for kids of all ages: The Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren. What a sweet and funny book! Each chapter is about the holiday customs of six Swedish children living in the countryside.

From the chapter titled “Christmas in Noisy Village” …

I don’t know when Christmas starts in other places, but in Noisy Village it starts the day we bake ginger snaps. We have almost as much fun that day as on Christmas Eve. Karl Bill and I each get a big chunk of gingersnap dough, and we can bake it in the shape of anything we want. The last time we were to bake ginger snaps, Karl forgot all about it and went to the forest with Daddy to get wood. Right in the middle of the forest he remembered what day it was and rushed home so fast that the snow whirled around him, Daddy said.

(If you need a ginger cookie recipe, here is one of our favorites!)

For years, Andy and I have been reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to our kids every Christmas. We just love that book! It is still one of our favorites. But now my kids are asking me to read The Children of Noisy Village!

#2 PUTTING TOGETHER A 1000-PIECE CHRISTMAS PUZZLE

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When I was little, my sisters would start the 1000-piece Santa Clause puzzle every December. I wasn’t allowed to touch the puzzle until I was old enough to not break it! So just imagine how excited I was to finally get to work on the Santa Claus puzzle. A few years ago, I went looking for a similar puzzle to start with my own kids. I thought this puzzle looked fun and delicious.

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This year, we found out that we have one piece missing.

We finished the puzzle early this year, so I think I will put it away and bring out more puzzles to keep our hands busy on rainy days.

#3 ROLLING CHANGE FOR CHARITY

Andy’s mom gave the kids a jar that counts change and told them to save up their change all year so they could give a donation to charity the following Christmas.

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This became a fun and meaningful Christmas tradition for the kids. The first few years we gave our donation to Smile Train and World Vision. This year we will give it to a friend in need.

#4 WRITING CHRISTMAS LETTERS TO EACH CHILD

The best part about writing a letter to each child this time of year is that it helps me remember their stage of life, the funny things they say and do, and how they interact with each other–the little things that photos and videos cannot capture.

I keep the letters in a special book that holds our family photos and/or Christmas cards as well. It might mean more to me than it does to them, but as they get older they appreciate the memories more and more.

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#5 MAKING CRAFTS WITH ELDERLY NEIGHBORS

Our lovely neighbor made crafts with her grandchildren every year and gave them to their parents for Christmas. Soon after we moved in, she decided she would adopt our kids as her grandchildren and carry on the same tradition to surprise Andy and me with the projects our kids completed at her house. The crafts are really nice, sometimes quite complicated projects that take a few months. I can’t wait to see what they have been working on this year!

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Angelina made this beaded bell decoration last Christmas.

#6 MAKING HANDMADE CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS

After I saw a magazine article picturing a tree with all handmade, natural ornaments: orange slices that had been dried in the oven, cinnamon stick stars, simple decorative paper that was hole-punched and strung, and simple cutouts of white, baked dough, I decided that I wanted to decorate my tree that way. I love how the natural items look on real tree branches!

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I added a few more things over the years: baked cinnamon dough cutouts, rosemary wreaths, white and red bean patterns glued to cardboard shapes, and white yarn pom-poms. It is fun for me to come up with a new, handmade, natural item to add to the tree each year. Of course, the kids make all kinds of handmade ornaments at preschool and church, and we hang those on the tree, along with candy canes and framed photo ornaments of the kids.

#7 BAKING ANDY’S FAVORITE ITALIAN COCOA COOKIES

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Because Andy’s birthday is in December, and his favorite cookies are the Italian Cocoa Cookies his great great grandmother used to make, these cookies have become a Christmas tradition in our family. They are made with flour, butter, milk, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and spices, and topped with chocolate icing. He prefers it when I bake them with a maraschino cherry in the middle–like his grandmother did!

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Looking over this post, I notice that my traditions are not super spiritual or focused on the birth of Jesus. We have those traditions too! But for this list, I included some things that I find simple, meaningful, and fun. I see these traditions and all of the traditions of Christmas as part of the tremendous gift that Jesus offers us in this life. I thank him for letting me live in a time of peace in my country, so I can enjoy these blessings with my family. As my elderly neighbor, who grew up during war, always reminds me: “You young people have no idea how lucky you are. You have no idea.”

For many of us, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without our special family traditions. What is one of your family traditions that you want to pass along? Please share!

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Christmas Cards — 2016

 

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I love getting Christmas cards! I especially love photo cards. We keep all of our photo cards every year because our friends and family are so special to us, and it’s so fun to see how everyone’s kids grow up year after year.

I have been trying to make up my mind whether or not to send out Christmas cards this year. We have been trying to scrape funds together in preparation for our big move to Gleanings for the Hungry. Should I really invest in the cards and the stamps to send out the cards?

We did get some fabulous family photos taken by my friend Heather over at Heather Ikei Photography!

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And I have been eyeing these cute cards from Minted!

One thing I have noticed about photo cards is that I may love a certain card, but really, the photo you use for your card is the real determining factor for what card you send out, right?

The photo chooses the card for you.

I love these Minted designs:

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But the funny thing is that our family photo worked best with a different design, mainly because of the horizontal orientation … but it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice. I still love it!

As Andy always says, “They all look great! Who cares?”

(Um, me??)

If I ever order it, I will post the final product! 🙂

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The Magic of Reading The Crucible Out Loud

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(This is from my journal in April, but I thought I’d share it on my blog.)

Something amazing just happened.

I planned to read Act 3 of The Crucible out loud with my high school writing class, a small group of homeschool teens (amazing people, by the way!). They had read Acts 1 and 2 at home, but I really wanted to give them a chance to read it together.

I’ve always heard that because plays are created to be read out loud, they must be read out loud to communicate what they are meant to communicate. Back when I was in high school, we used to read plays out loud in class, and I loved it.

So my homeschool writing class sad down Tuesday, ready for class, and I assigned parts for The Crucible.

There’s always the student who wants to be the bad guy, and the one who wants to be the good guy.

“I’m Danforth!”

“I’m Proctor!”

“I’m Abigail!”

 

We chose parts. And then something magical happened.

We read Act 3 of the play. These high school students made up their character’s voice, gestures, and personality. They laughed at themselves and at each other. They drew up from their emotions their best expressions and related to their characters with carefree hearts, glad it wasn’t real life.

It wasn’t just like acting. It was different.

It was storytelling.

It was communing.

It was friendship.

We finished Act 3–and these students!!! They begged me to keep going and finish the whole play with reading Act 4 out loud.

My agenda was shaking a finger at that idea. But my heart was like, “Let’s do it! Let’s go with this! This is when we learn, right? When we are having fun?”

It wasn’t that they wanted to get out of the SAT practice essay I had planned — OK, maybe that was part of it. But we captured something so special and joyful and rare in that half hour and we all wanted more. We needed more. We all felt it.

The Crucible isn’t exactly the most upbeat story. So why were we so energized?

Our hearts were bursting with that thing we all get from literature. What is it exactly?

Imagination? That word doesn’t seem sufficient, but it’s a start. What do you call imagination used within a community? Mixed with acting and storytelling? Mixed with laughter and brilliant literature?

We got to use our imaginations in a new way, and we were hungry for it, and we didn’t even know it until we were done and wanted seconds.

They begged me to read the last act together in class.

And of course I said yes.

And Rebecca Nurse would not admit she was a witch and she hung, and John Proctor would not admit to witchcraft so he hung, and Elizabeth Proctor was in prison, pregnant, her children at home without mother or father.

And when they left class that day, they said, “That was so much fun!” and “Thank you!”

And I knew exactly how they felt, because I felt it too.

I cried as I wrote this out. Clearly, in our culture, we are hungry for something more.

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