Three Reasons Dicken’s A Christmas Carol Packs an Emotional Punch

by Sandra Merville Hart

With Christmas just around the corner, I read Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, and discovered at least three reasons why his story is a beloved classic.

The first thing I noticed are the engaging descriptions that bring depth and meaning to the story. He paints vivid pictures of the settings and characters in a way that captures the reader’s imagination.

The many beautiful images made it difficult to choose an example to illustrate this point. One that made me smile was Dickens’ comments about Scrooge’s nephew:

If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blest in a laugh than Scrooge’s nephew, all I can say is, I should like to know him, too. Introduce him to me, and I’ll cultivate his acquaintance.

Simple yet vivid descriptions fill the classic tale.

Dickens also writes about realistic characters. At first glance, Scrooge comes across as a stingy boss who refuses an invitation to a family Christmas dinner and a request to give to the poor. He only grudgingly grants his clerk Christmas Day off.

The writer then tells Scrooge’s back story in a creative way. Ghostly journeys into Christmas Past reveal a boy alone in a boarding school when all his classmates go home for Christmas. The sight touches our hearts.

Dickens also includes timeless truths in his tale of a lonely, unhappy old man. Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, maintains an optimistic outlook despite his anxiety over his son’s health. Tiny Tim’s faith and courage touches everyone around him. Scrooge’s nephew forgives his uncle for rejecting his family.       

The Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge two imminent deaths if nothing changes—one deeply mourned and one barely noticed.

Dickens’ novel lives on in our hearts. Some reasons for this are his engaging descriptions, realistic characters, and timeless truths. The story vividly reminds us how one life affects another.

A timeless tale.       

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What Did the Magi Eat on their Journey?

 

by Sandra Merville Hart

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.

Sources

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

https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-stories/three-wise-men.html.

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

http s://bibleask.org/far-magi-travel-see-jesus/.

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

Pumpkin Pie: A Holiday Tradition

 

by Sandra Merville Hart

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.

Enjoy!

Sources

“History of Pie: Why do we eat Pie During the Holidays?” Marie Callenders, 2018/11/05 https://www.mariecallendersmeals.com/articles/history-pie-why-do-we-eat-pie-during-holidays.

“National Pumpkin Pie Day,” Holiday Insights, 2018/11/05 http://holidayinsights.com/moreholidays/December/pumpkinpieday.htm.

“Pumpkin Pie,” Wikipedia, 2018/11/05 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumpkin_pie.

 

Happy Birthday, Jesus Cake

The tradition of birthday cakes for Jesus began over 500 years ago when desserts were a rare treat.

Children looked forward to baking a cake to celebrate Jesus’s birthday. Moms often hid little gifts inside the batter. Children found tiny toys like marbles or even a coin in their servings.

The cake itself contains special meaning. White cake symbolizes the sinless life of Jesus. I followed a yummy vanilla cake recipe from the Food Network for my white cake recipe.

The cake rises while in the oven to represent His resurrection.

Red icing reminds folks that Jesus died to save us from our sins. I made a basic buttercream frosting and tried to dye it red using red food coloring. The icing became bright pink.

My sister, who sometimes decorates cakes, suggested using red paste, which is available at cake and candy decorating specialty shops. Next time I will purchase this paste to create red icing.

The light of a single candle reminds us of the star the Wise Men followed to Bethlehem. Candlelight also means that Jesus is the light of the world.

I wrote “Happy Birthday, Jesus” on my bright pink frosted cake. I gave the children red and green M&M’s to decorate their own piece. It was a hit.

Merry Christmas!

-Sandra Merville Hart

“Basic Vanilla Cake,” Food Network, 2017/11/01 http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/basic-vanilla-cake-recipe-2043654.

 

 

12 Christmas Shows that I Look Forward to Each Year

by Sandra Merville Hart

I love the Christmas season! Each year I look forward to watching my favorite movies and shows. Here’s a list of my top twelve shows I make time to watch each year.

I had a hard time ranking these shows so I went in the order that I really want to snuggle up in a blanket and watch.

If you don’t see your favorites here, leave a comment with the movie title so I can watch for them.

12)  How the Grinch Stole Christmas – the original animated version

11)  Elf

10)  A Christmas Story

9)    Frosty the Snowman

8)    The Christmas Shoes

7)    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

6)    The Santa Clause

5)    A Christmas Carol

4)    It’s a Wonderful Life

3)    A Charlie Brown Christmas

2)    While You Were Sleeping

1)    White Christmas

 What is your favorite holiday show?

12 Christmas Books that Inspired Me

by Sandra Merville Hart

I love snuggling up in a blanket on cold winter evenings and reading my favorite Christmas novels! Each year I read some old books as well as add new ones so my list of top 12 books changes each year.

Here is this year’s list of my top twelve Christmas books and novels. The hardest part about making a list like this is ranking them. I’ve written book reviews for a few of these. I’ve included the links if you’d like to read them.

If you don’t see your favorites here, leave a comment with the book title and author—I’m always looking for great stories!

12)    Object Talks for Christmas by Verna Kokmeyer

11)    Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs at Christmas by Ace Collins

10)    Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas by Ace Collins

9)      Crashing into Love by Yvonne Lehman

8)     The Christmas Baby by Lisa Carter

7)     Yuletide Angel by Sandra Ardoin

6)     Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

5)     A Miser. A Manger. A Miracle. by Marianne Jordan

4)    The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

3)    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

2)   The Christmas Child by Max Lucado

1)    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

 What is your favorite holiday book?

 

https://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Merville-Hart/e/B00OBSJ3PU/

12 Christmas Traditions You can Begin this Year

by Sandra Merville Hart

Like so many others, I love the Christmas season! Children look forward to doing the activities they enjoyed last year. Adults also like the nostalgia of specific traditions and activities.

Here are a few things that are fun to do every year. Maybe there is a new idea tucked inside this list for you!

12)  Send out Christmas cards. It’s still nice to be remembered around the holidays—especially if your loved ones live far away. Some folks decorate their homes and apartments with Christmas cards.

11)  Buy or make a new ornament or Christmas decoration. My husband and I began this annual tradition as a newly married couple. Children love this one!

10)  Decorate your home for Christmas. I love the fresh smell of a real tree every year, but my husband is not a fan. Whether you put up a tree or not, a few decorations add to the festive mood of the holiday.

9)    Decorate a Gingerbread house. Perhaps you are about as artistic as me. Thankfully there are gingerbread kits you can buy. The children in your life will love decorating a house with candy that they can eat afterward!

8)    Listen to Christmas music as you drive around looking at Christmas lights. My family had very little money growing up, but we did this every year—a special memory.

7)    Donate a gift to a charity or needy family. If this gift involves shopping, include your child if feasible. They will feel part of the giving.

6)    Looking for gift ideas for your children? Take them to a toy store. Observe the items where they linger longest. Then write down ideas when they aren’t looking.

5)    Treat yourself to a meal out after a long day of shopping. Even if it’s fast food, you won’t have to cook!

4)    Plan an evening to watch Christmas movies/shows with family or friends. Serve holiday desserts or popcorn. This can be an easy holiday gathering. Just have fun.

3)    Bake and decorate Christmas cookies. Include your children. Praise their efforts and creativity. Invite grandparents if you like. The whole house will smell wonderful.

2)    Visit a Nativity.

1)    Attend Christmas Eve services.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?

 

Object Talks for Christmas by Verna Kokmeyer

I love this book for children!

The author has taken many of the common items associated with Christmas and created an easy, fun lesson for preschool children through elementary.

The author uses items such as ornaments, candles, candy canes, cranberries, cookie cutters, holly, pine cones, and many more as interesting object lessons.

With each object is a scripture reference, discussion, prayer, and activity. The discussions are appropriate and useful for parents and teachers.

Included are Christmas crafts or activities that children can do with parents. Some crafts will be easy for an elementary-aged child to create without much adult assistance.

I definitely recommend buying this book for your children and grandchildren. Packed with great ideas!

-Sandra Merville Hart

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas    – Use coupon code SandraMHart for a 20% discount on Lighthouse Publishing books!

The Christmas Truce

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by Sandra Merville Hart

The war had been going on for five long months. Soldiers missed their families, their homes, and those special girls who awaited their return.

They also missed being warm and well-fed on this cold winter’s evening. Earlier in that December of 1914, Pope Benedict XV had suggested the armies suspend fighting temporarily to celebrate Christmas, a request denied by the countries at war.

The soldiers hunched in the long trenches across from their enemy, longing for warmth, longing for something to mark this day as Christmas Eve. No man’s land, the area between opposing armies, was only about 100 feet in places. In those spots, soldiers could hear each other. The smell of meals cooking in the enemy trenches often wafted over.

Then the lonely soldiers heard something unexpected on the moonlit night—not the sounds of rifles or cannons, but singing. The Germans sang a Christmas carol in their own language. Next, Allied troops from opposing trenches sang a Christmas tune. This continued until the Allies began the familiar carol, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” German soldiers joined in with the Latin words to the song. It must have been extraordinarily comforting.

helmet-1465352_960_720British Captain A.D. Chater was writing a letter to his mom at 10 am the next morning when he witnessed an amazing sight: a German soldier waving his arms before he and a companion, weaponless, entered no man’s land.

A British soldier cautiously approached them. Within five minutes, officers and men from both armies filled the area. They shook hands and exchanged Christmas greetings.

The soldiers kicked around a soccer ball together. Some accounts mention playing football. A German barber cut a British soldier’s hair. They gave each other gifts of plum pudding, cigarettes, and hats. They posed for photos together and exchanged autographs.

Each side also took the opportunity to bury their dead, soldiers who had been laying in no man’s land for weeks.

Around 100,000 soldiers—two-thirds of the men there—shared in the unforgettable Christmas truce.

christmas-1010749_960_720Peace lasted in a few areas until after New Year’s Day.

The Christmas truce never happened again.

The faith and joy of the season crossed enemy lines one lonely Christmas. Fighting ceased for a moment in time.

 

Sources

Bajekal, Naina. “Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914,” Time Inc., 2016/10/26  http://time.com/3643889/christmas-truce-1914/.

“Christmas Truce of 1914,” History.com, 2016/10/26  http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/christmas-truce-of-1914.

Dearden, Lizzie. “Christmas Day Truce 1914: Letter From trenches shows football match through soldier’s eyes for the first time,” The Independent, 2016/10/26  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/christmas-truce-of-1914-letter-from-trenches-shows-football-match-through-soldiers-eyes-9942929.html.

 

The Twelve Days of Christmas

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by Sandra Merville Hart

The Twelve Days of Christmas isn’t just a song; it was a celebration of Jesus’s birth beginning on Christmas Day. This was the Day 1 or the first day of Christmas.

A saint was honored on each successive day. For instance, December 26th was Day 2. This is Boxing Day. St. Stephen was the one remembered on this day.

The Twelfth Night—or Epiphany Eve—is January 5th, the evening before the Twelfth Day when people celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany. January 6th is the final day of Christmas.

Folks hosted big parties on the Twelfth Night. They played music–usually bagpipes–and played games. Hostesses served Twelfth Night cake every year. It was a fun and festive event.

rock-partridge-50362_960_720Our beloved song, Twelve Days of Christmas, seems to have begun as a “memories—and—forfeits” game, as is printed in a children’s book in 1780, Mirth Without Mischief. The leader began the game by quoting a verse that the followers repeated. This continued until a player made a mistake, when that person paid a small forfeit or penalty—possibly a kiss.

This was one of the games played at Twelfth Night parties. When this and other games finished, guests sat down to enjoy a meal that included mince pies and Twelfth Night cake.

The Christmas season ended on January 6th, known as Epiphany. This day honors two events in Jesus’s life: the first event happened when the Magi traveled from the east to bring gifts to the newborn king, Jesus; and the second event took place when John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

the-three-magi-160632_960_720Many Christians across the world still celebrate Epiphany. Several countries including Austria, Italy, and Uruguay recognize this day as a public holiday.

Citizens of different countries celebrate Epiphany in various ways. For example, the children of Spain leave straw or grain for the horses of the three kings inside their shoes on Epiphany Eve, January 5th. They are delighted to find cookies or gifts has replaced the grain on Epiphany.

The three kings ride into many cities in Spain on Epiphany Eve. Drummers dressed in medieval costumes and military bands enter with the kings as part of the event.

Traditionally, the Twelve Days of Christmas has been much more than a fun song. Learning the history adds meaning to what we already love about the season.

Sources

“Epiphany,” Timeanddate.com, 2016/10/25  https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/common/epiphany.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas,” WhyChristmas.com, 2016/10/25  http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/12daysofchristmas.shtml.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas (Song,)” Wikipedia, 2016/10/25  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas_(song).