The Silent Noisy Night by Jill Roman Lord

This children’s picture book is a sweet story of the night Jesus was born.

With all the stable animals making noises and the angels singing their praises to God, it wasn’t a very “silent” night at all.

I loved this book and bought it to read to my two-year-old grandson. He loves books about animals and children—I can’t wait to read it to him.

Children up to age six will enjoy this story.

-Sandra Merville Hart


What Did the Magi Eat on their Journey?

The Bible tells us in Matthew 2:1 that Magi from the east came to Jerusalem after Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It doesn’t give an exact location. Yet northern Arabia, Syria, and Mesopotamia were considered the “east” by the Jews.

If, as some have suggested, the wise men traveled from the same area as Balaam, that area between Aleppo and Carchemish was a journey of about 400 miles. This might have taken 2 to 3 weeks on camels—longer if walking. Nighttime travel to follow the star would have required more time.

Some experts believe the  wise men’s journey was much longer than 400 miles and took from 6 months to 2 years to complete. This makes sense because the Magi talked with King Herod when they were still searching for the child. Herod asked them when they first saw the star and asked them to return to him once they found the young king. The wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, who then ordered all the boys two and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity to be killed. (Matthew 2:1-18) The 6-month to 2-year range makes more sense in light of the boys’ ages in Herod’s terrible ruling.

What might they have eaten along the way? Nuts, dates, and figs would have kept well on the journey and were easy to pack on camels. They also needed to bring food and grain for their camels. Some people believe the Magi traveled on sand dunes and desert for many miles.

They’d also follow the rivers and streams as much as possible so they and their camels could find plenty to drink. Folks living in the region undoubtedly gave them with water from their wells.

When going through towns, they’d take advantage of opportunities to buy fresh bread, meat, fruits, and vegetables for the journey ahead. Stews and soups would have provided hot meals and stretched their supplies.

These Wise Men brought three gifts for Jesus.

They gave him gold. This gift affiliated with kings was given to Jesus, the New-Born King.

They gave him frankincense, an aromatic oil sometimes used in worship. Christians worship Jesus as God’s Son.

They gave him myrrh, a fragrance used in preparation of dead bodies, symbolizing Jesus’ persecution and death.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Bible Study Tools Staff. “Three Wise Men – Bible Story,” Bible Study Tools, 18/11/02

“How far did the Magi Travel to see Jesus?” BibleAsk, 18/11/02

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Wise Men Trivia: Christmas Fun for Kids, Barbour Publishing, 2013.

The Story Behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

On July 9, 1861, the screams of his wife, Fanny, wakened Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from a nap. Her dress was ablaze. Instantly awake, he tried to smother the flames with a rug. When that didn’t work, he used his body. By the time the fire was out, Fanny’s burns were too severe to survive. She died the next day. Longfellow’s face was burned so badly that he was unable to attend the funeral with his five children.

That wasn’t Henry’s only turmoil as Civil War ravaged the country. In March of 1863, Henry’s oldest son, Charles (Charley) Appleton Longfellow, left his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, bound for the Union army in Washington, DC. The eighteen-year-old didn’t ask his father’s permission to join.

Charley quickly earned the commission of 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry.

Henry was dining at home when a telegram arrived on December 1, 1863. Charley had been shot in the shoulder in a skirmish in the Mine Run Campaign (Virginia) on November 27th.

Henry and his younger son, Ernest, left immediately for Washington, DC. On December 5th, Charley arrived by train. The first surgeon alarmed Henry with news that the serious wound might bring paralysis. Later that evening, three other surgeons gave him better news—Charley’s recovery might take 6 months.

Grieving for his wife and worried for his son, Henry heard Christmas bells ringing on December 25, 1863. He picked up his pen  and wrote “Christmas Bells.”

Two stanzas from this poem written while our country was at war are rarely heard. These speak of the suffering in a nation divided:

        Then from each black, accursed mouth

       The cannon thundered in the South,

       And with the sound

      The carols drowned

      Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

      It was as if an earthquake rent

      The hearth-stones of a continent,

     And made forlorn

     The households born

     Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Families had been separated by war—some forever. Anguish overcomes Henry:

      And in despair I bowed my head;

     “There is no peace on earth,” I said;

     “For hate is strong,

    And mocks the song

    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Faith and hope reach through the anguish in his soul as he continues to listen to the Christmas bells:

     Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;

     “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

     The Wrong shall fail,

    The Right prevail,

    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Charley survived yet his wound ended the war for him.

In February of 1865, Our Young Folks published Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Christmas Bells.” John Baptiste Calkin set the poem to music in 1872, and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” became a beloved Christmas carol.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Ullman, Jr., Douglas. “A Christmas Carol’s Civil War Origin,” American Battlefield Trust, 2018/11/02

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” Wikipedia, 2018/11/02,

“The True Story of Pain and Hope Behind ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,’” The Gospel Coalition, 2018/11/02


Holiday Homecoming by Jean C. Gordon

Part of The Donnelly Brother Series

This Love Inspired novel is a Christmas romance!

Natalie Delacrioix had turned down Connor Donnelly’s marriage proposal at Christmas several years ago to pursue career opportunities in broadcasting. Only things didn’t go as planned. She’s out of a job and back at home helping her mother recover from health issues … and wondering how her first glimpse of Conner since rejecting his proposal will go.

Conner, now the pastor of a congregation, hopes that Natalie volunteering to lead the Christmas pageant as choir director will mend the breach between them … somehow. He can’t forget her rejection of his Christmas proposal. Will he be disappointed again?

I enjoy novels set during the holidays. This lighthearted romance took me to the snowy New England area of the United States. I enjoyed the story.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Pumpkin Pie: A Holiday Tradition

Hurrah for pumpkin pie is a line from a song often sung at Christmas— “Over the River and Through the Woods.” Originally published in 1844, this song shows the long-standing tradition of eating pumpkin pie during the holidays.

December 25th is National Pumpkin Pie Day!

The Church’s observation of meatless days led to eating more pie at the Christmas season—often fish pies. Fruit pie became popular in the 1500s with the lowering of sugar prices. The nobility enjoyed them on holidays and special occasions.

Others soon began to eat pies but kept the custom of baking them on holidays and other special occasions.

Pumpkin pie recipes are found in English cookbooks from the seventeenth century though American cookbooks generally didn’t have them until the early 1800s. Pumpkin pie soon became a staple at Thanksgiving.

Pumpkins are harvested in the fall, making them a natural addition to holiday dinners. Our family has pumpkin pie at both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The world’s largest pumpkin pie was baked on September 25, 2010 at the New Bremen Pumpkinfest in Ohio. The pie had a diameter of 20 feet!

I am including a link to the recipe for my mom’s delicious pumpkin pie.


-Sandra Merville Hart


“History of Pie: Why do we eat Pie During the Holidays?” Marie Callenders, 2018/11/05

“National Pumpkin Pie Day,” Holiday Insights, 2018/11/05

“Pumpkin Pie,” Wikipedia, 2018/11/05


Ten Christmas Songs that Mention Reindeer

Many of us grew up watching Christmas specials like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And who could forget The Santa Clause movies? I look forward to watching them every year.

It’s that time of year again. I thought it would be fun to search for songs that mention reindeer. I didn’t have any trouble finding them. Here’s my list:

  • “Up on the Housetop” – Up on the housetop, reindeer pause
  • “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
  • “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”
  • “Run Rudolph Run”
  • “Here Comes Santa Claus” – Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer
  • “The Christmas Song” – to see if reindeer really know how to fly
  • “The Night Before Christmas” – eight tiny reindeer
  • “This is That Time of the Year” – To Dasher, Dancer, Blitzen, Prancer
  • “Must by Santa” – Eight little reindeer pull his sleigh
  • “Little Saint Nick” – Run run reindeer

Can you think of others?

Merry Christmas!

-Sandra Merville Hart


The Ornament Keeper by Eva Marie Everson

A great book!

This contemporary novella is about a couple separated at Christmas. Felicia and Jackson were nearing their twenty-year anniversary when he moved out.

In spite of the separation, their three children are excited about continuing family traditions of selecting a live tree and decorating for Christmas. Felicia reluctantly agrees but tells them she’ll put on the ornaments herself.

The memories stirred by these decorations take Felicia—and readers—through the painful mistakes both she and Jackson made in their marriage.

I loved this story. The characters are believable though sometimes Felicia’s choices frustrated me. The story is woven in such a way that readers experience the children’s pain and loss as they try to cope with the situation. Though told in Felicia’s perspective, the honesty of the writing showed Jackson’s heartache and loneliness as well.

This well-written story is brutally honest. Inspiring. Recommend!

-Sandra Merville Hart


Chestnuts Roasting …

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire …

I love listening to “The Christmas Song” during the holidays. Roasting chestnuts must have been a beloved holiday tradition for many families in days gone by.

American chestnut trees once grew in abundance in the United States—so many, in fact, that they made up almost 25% of the forest. Tragically, an Asian blight attacked the trees, virtually wiping them out from 1920 – 1940. About 4 billion trees died.

There is a bit of good news–scientists working on ways to save them from extinction are making some progress.

Today, China leads the world on chestnut production.

Chestnuts are harvested in the fall and winter. When buying them, look for a shiny brown exterior. Make sure they are firm. Refrigerate until ready to use.

I had never roasted chestnuts on the fire or the oven, yet sources suggested roasting them in the oven as more reliable. I followed this advice.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Wipe chestnuts with a wet cloth.

IMPORTANT: Cut an X with a sharp paring knife, placing the slits on the rounded side. (One of my chestnuts popped inside the oven even with an X cut into the side. I will make the slits a bit larger next time.)

I placed the chestnuts in a cast iron skillet for roasting from 10 – 30 minutes. (Some sources suggested roasting at 450 for 15-20 minutes.)

I set the timer for 10 minutes to check it. Shells peel back while cooking. Watch for the meat to turn a caramel color to show that it’s done.

I roasted a batch for 25 minutes. One chestnut popped in the oven about 30 seconds before I retrieved them, so I think I left them in a bit too long. I’ll try 20 minutes the next time.

Peel the outer shell off to reveal the browned meaty portion. The consistency reminded me of a baked potato—and the flavor reminded of sweet potatoes, not the nutty flavor I expected.

I have a few chestnuts left in my fridge. I want to roast these over a fire one evening soon.

I’d love to hear if you try roasting them!

-Sandra Merville Hart



Boros, Phyllis A. “Roasting Chestnuts: a holiday tradition for many,” Connecticut Post, 2018/11/04

Smith, Pat. “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, a bygone tradition,” Newark Advocate, 2018/11/04


Vogel, Mark R. “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,”, 2018/11/04


“How to Roast and Peel Chestnuts,”, 2018/11/04

Ten Christmas Songs that Mention Bells

Traditionally, most churches had bells that rang to let folks nearby know of an important event. On Christmas, bells were rung to remember the birth of Jesus.

Here’s a list of ten traditional Christmas songs that mention bells:

  • “Silver Bells”
  • “Jingle Bells”
  • “Jingle Bell Rock”
  • “Carol of the Bells”
  • “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
  • “Sleigh Ride” – Just hear those sleigh bells jingle-ing
  • “Ding Dong Merrily on High” – In heav’n the bells are ringing
  • “Caroling, Caroling” – Christmas bells are ringing
  • “Here Comes Santa Claus” – Bells are ringing
  • “White Christmas” – To hear sleigh bells in the snow

Can you think of others?

Merry Christmas!

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Christmas Bells,” The Merry Syndicate,  18/11/02


A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs

This historical romance is set in Stirling, Scotland, during Christmas of 1894.

Meg Campbell should never have come home for Christmas. She missed her parents, but her brother, Alan, always managed to poison her visits with his bitter remarks. On Christmas Eve, she couldn’t leave Stirling quickly enough.

Gordon Shaw’s business in Stirling had been accomplished without anyone recognizing him as the one who’d caused an accident a dozen years ago that crippled a boy, Alan Campbell. Gordon couldn’t leave Stirling quickly enough.

A chance meeting on a train might have ended there—except for the falling snow that created its own problems.

I loved this multi-layered story with relatable, wounded characters. Higgs reaches deeply to touch their hearts and, in doing so, touches the hearts of readers.

Well-written. Moving. This one will stay with you.


-Sandra Merville Hart