Celebrating Epiphany

Celebrating Epiphany
I am grateful to have grown up in a church that celebrated the full Christmas season.  Epiphany, as well as the messages that came along with it, were always one of my favorite times in that historic building.  As an adult, I love it because it is a wonderful reason to keep our home decorated longer with greenery and twinkling lights.   
 If you didn’t grow up with Epiphany, it’s never too late to add it to your family traditions!  I’ve got you covered with six ideas to help you get started.
  1.  Let’s start with the basics, such as when is Epiphany and why does it matter?   Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January 6th, although some Orthodox churches have a calendar that places it later in January.  You’ll find different denominations acknowledge it in various ways, from the day the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem, to the baptism of Jesus as an adult, to the wedding at Cana when Jesus turned water into wine.  As a child, I always knew it as Three King’s Day.  If you have little ones, it is quite fun to talk about how travel would have been during Biblical times and how long it would have taken the Magi to make the journey.
  2. The King’s Cake:  You’ll find multiple variations of recipes as each country (and sometimes region) has their own take on this delectable dessert.   I’m the only one in my family who likes the cream cheese one, which is typically more closely associate with Mardi Gras, so this year I am making a Galette des Rois, a delicious, flaky, almond cake, French in origin.  Many cultures hide either a dried bean or a plastic Baby Jesus in the cake, and the goal is to be the lucky one “crowned” for finding the prize in their slice. 
  3. Epiphany pageant:  This may be my favorite.  The small, country church in which I grew up never had a Christmas pageant … it was always for Epiphany.  I loved every moment of it, especially how we used real frankincense and myrrh resin burners.  Even once I was in college, I would at least get a last minute call to be a reader.   If I close my eyes, I can still picture the inside of church at night, the smells of the essential oils, and the feeling of peace. Now, you may not have time to throw together a “pageant”, but you can wing some stuff out of the dress up bin and tell the Christmas story, easy peasy! 
  4. Paper crowns:  these are fun no matter what your age.  You can only make one really fancy to go with the winner of the King’s Cake, or everyone can sport a crown!  I personally love decorating with as much glitter as possible, but I understand some people think that stuff comes from the fiery pits of hell.   If you are glitter-adverse, break out whatever crafty stuff makes you happy. 
  5. Sing some carols:  Have you ever really listened to the words of carols?  Some of them are quite obviously meant to come after Christmas Day.  A clear choice for Epiphany is “We Three Kings.”
  6. Learn more:  If you are homeschoolers (or currently schooling at home), turn it into a history and/or religious studies lesson of who the wise men were, what life would have been like for them, why their gifts were seen as valuable, and any other point you see fit.

These are just a few ideas to get you started.  If your family loves craft projects, you’ll find a plethora of ideas on the internet.  For more ideas on implementing traditions into modern life, join Old Souls with New Ways
I hope you can find a way to make Epiphany as special for your family as it is for mine.  Remember, if nothing else, it means you get to leave those gorgeous Christmas decorations up just a little longer. 
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Roasting Chestnuts

Roasting Chestnuts
While the lockdown has been hard on all of my children, there has particularly been few activities at all for my youngest.  So, in early December, when she asked if we could really roast chestnuts over an open fire, I said, “Absolutely.”

Our fabulous neighbor offered the use of her fire pit, and I already had cast iron skillets we could use.   Then the hunt for chestnuts began.   I’ve seen them in various grocery stores in past years, but of course, now they were nowhere to be found.  Internet to the rescue!

Of course, delivery was also delayed, but that turned out to be a wonderful thing.  The nuts came in time for the winter solstice, which also was the night to see the Christmas “star.”  Our Boy Scout built the fire for us, and we got to roasting.  We sang Christmas carols, watched for the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, and waved to neighbors who walked by.

Did the chestnuts take a long time to roast?  Yep.   Did I freeze my tushie off?  You bet.  Was it all worth it?  No doubt in my mind.  Seeing the joy on my daughter’s face, hearing her laugh, listening to her discuss astronomy (one of her top interests), and simply spending time together was a beautiful experience.  Roasting chestnuts will be one of my favorite 2020 memories, and we will add it to our list of traditions.

**Oh, and by the way, don’t let online searches of “how to roast chestnuts” keep you from trying it.   It really was simple.  I rinsed the nuts, my husband scored them on the flat side, we threw them in cast iron skillets, then set on the grill over the fire.   We stirred them with tongs occasionally.   It did take at least half an hour for the first ones to be ready, but I think that had to do with how cold it was outside.**

Have you ever roasted chestnuts or at least eaten them?  I would love to hear your story! 
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When Life Gives You Ice

When Life Gives You Ice
A few days ago, we were told to prepare for at least 8 inches of snow.  Then the weather people changed it to 3-5 inches.  That’s okay, the kids were still excited and got the sleds all ready.

This morning, we woke to … rain, sleet, and ice.  Needless to say, the disappointment pouring off our youngest child was palpable. 

Part of me wanted to say, “Well, that pretty much fits 2020.”  But as I sit here enjoying the warm glow of the Christmas lights, gazing out the window at the beauty of the ice covered trees, I say to myself, “Yep, it’s 2020.”

What’s the difference, you ask? 

With all the disappointments, frustrations, and sometimes downright hatred we’ve faced since March, I’ve worked hard to find bright, shining moments for our children. Today was no exception.  We talked about how the ice on the trees is prettier than looking at plain old rain.   One kid decided to see if the back deck would act as a skating rink (spoiler:  it kind of did, and the dog thought it was quite entertaining.)  Now they are busy discussing which favorite cookie recipe fits the weather of the day.  

So that’s why I say, “Yep, 2020.”  We can still find beautiful smiles and free laughter if we search hard enough … and looking for those brings so much more joy than pouting about the wrong weather. 

What are your shining moments for 2020? 
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Twelve Free or Cheap Favorite Christmas Traditions (by Kids)

Twelve Free or Cheap Favorite Christmas Traditions (by Kids)
One of my most favorite things as a parent has been sharing generations of my family’s Christmas traditions with my children while adding in new ones from the five of us.  However, when I asked my kids which ones they loved the most, I was truly surprised.

You see, all of their top choices were either free or very inexpensive … truly Christmas magic.  Here is our list of 12 Favorite Christmas Traditions:

1.  Pajamas on Christmas Eve:  We haven’t always done this, but we’ve been doing it long enough that the kids can’t remember exactly when we started.  Yes, you’ll have to spend a little bit of money, but here is my tip – you don’t buy actual Christmas pajamas.  Instead, I buy ones that represent something my children love (Star Wars, princesses, theater, etc), which means I can buy them here and there in the months leading up to December, utilizing sales and coupons.  2 out of 3 of our kids said this is their most favorite tradition. 

2.  Sitting together to eat the Christmas Day meal:   Okay, this one came from our youngest child and kicked in a bit of mom guilt.  It made me realize how hectic our lives have become and that all five of us rarely sit down to eat together.  Of course, she is also my chef and loves how we use the fancy china and silver for our Christmas meal.  This one costs you nothing as it is simply spending time together, even if you are eating PBJ.

3.  Watching Rudolph (and other Christmas movies):   This one is another freebie – well, as long as you have TV and electricity, which should never be taken for granted.  Our eldest loves Rudolph the most, and I learned a long time ago to purchase it on DVD in case we missed its air time.  Of course, now we have it on DVR for the same reason.  If those aren’t options for you, your local library will usually have some options to check out, or try your best to catch it on prime time. 

4.  Advent calendar:  I didn’t have one of these growing up, but all three of my kids absolutely love it.  My mother-in-law gave us one when we only had two children.  It hangs on the wall, and has the cute little padded ornaments that go on it.  The kids take turns every year, and we have to have a schedule so there is no arguing about who hangs Santa on Christmas Eve.  This is one of those traditions where you can choose to buy a calendar or get inventive and make your own!  Either way, it will be a fun memory for your family. 

5.  Making snowflakes:  Our middle child reminded me the other day this doesn’t have to cost a dime, as he was making a snowflake out of a fast food napkin. For this one, you can spend as much or as little as you like.  The goal isn’t perfection; it is the joy in doing something together. 

6.  Baking cookies:  Once again, this one doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.  Do what fits your budget.  We invite my best friend and her son (whom we consider aunt and cousin) over to make cookies every year. No cookie cutters, no problem!   Roll into balls or use a butter knife to make your own shapes.  Even the teens still get into this one.  The cookies are far from perfect, but the children have a blast, and Santa has never lodged a complaint. Here is my biggest tip for you:  if you do sugar cookies from a mix, add a tablespoon of vanilla – they will taste like homemade. 

7.  White Elephant:  Another one I didn’t do growing up, but my older children loved participating at youth group.  We had a $5 limit, which makes this easy, affordable, and leads to some inventive ideas.   Of course, it is almost impossible to do in 2020, but my son wanted me to include it any way.  You see, last year, he received an actual white elephant statue, and he couldn’t wait to regift it this year. 

8.  Cutting Your Own Tree:  Granted, this one will require spending some money, but it is so worth the memories.  Also, if you like a large tree like we do, cutting your own is actually cheaper than purchasing from a big box store or nursery.  When I was little, my parents started the tradition of taking our family to a tree farm near where we spent Thanksgiving.  All these years later, I live about an hour from that same tree farm, so my kids get to have the same experience.  In fact, we’ve been going there so long that the owners put my wedding announcement up in the wreath room.  Talk about making a customer feel special! 

9.  Ornaments:  Whether you make one or buy one, have an ornament that represents something from each year.  All three of our children already have a large enough eclectic collection that they are set for the first year they need to decorate their own tree. 

10.  Decorating the Tree:  You’ve got the tree and the ornaments, now is the time to decorate it, right?  This is another simple way to make some special memories.  For instance, we always tease my husband not to cut any off, even though we tend to choose a 9-10 foot tree.  Then, hubby puts on the lights, and the rest of us grab our individual ornament boxes.   I love this special time of each child remembering who have them which ornament and what it means to them. 

11.  Stockings:  Our youngest told me the surprises that come out of her stocking are some of the best Christmas memories, and once she said it, the older two agreed.  Santa has some staples he sticks in there – oranges, small packs of Kleenex, and chocolate – but everything else is a total mystery.   And that makes pulling everything out of your stocking fun. 

12.  Christmas Morning Suspense:  Yep, it shocked me, too, when my kids said this was a favorite tradition.   Apparently waiting with your sibling at the top of the stairs while your parents get the tree lights turned on and breakfast in the oven also makes wonderful memories.  And if that doesn’t tell you special traditions don’t have to cost a dime, I don’t know what does. 

Wishing you and yours the merriest of seasons. 
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The Christmas Tree Tale of 2020, or How We Found Trevor

When I was a small child, my parents started taking me to a local Christmas tree farm near my grandparents’ house. We would always go visit the farm on the Friday after Thanksgiving to find the perfect evergreen. Some years, they weren’t even open to the public yet, but they would always let us go ahead and cut down our tree. It should come as no surprise that when I had my own children, I wanted them to experience this very special tradition.

Thankfully, my kids have loved visiting the tree farm as much as I ever did. The friendly beagles, hot apple cider, fresh pine scent, and the hunt for the perfect tree are all just as magical to them as they were to me. I know, you are thinking I’m going to say all that changed in 2020 … but it was actually 2019.

You see, the farm had a terrible needle cast problem that year. Long story short, it is a fungus that affects certain evergreen trees, causing needles to turn brown and fall off. At worst, it can completely decimate a tree, and at best, it leave you with large bare spots or limbs with few needles. We decided we didn’t care and went to hunt for a tree anyway. It took some time, but we finally found one, and we still got to see the owner (who is like family), have cider, hear music, visit the shop, and we were so happy we had made the hour+ trek to the farm.

Enter 2020. We knew things were going to be different. The trees are still recovering from needle cast. The shop is closed due to coronavirus, meaning no friendly visits, no cider, no new ornaments from the Christmas shop. We were still determined, however, to support a business that means the world to us. I, for one, was not truly prepared for how badly things would look once we got there.

We saw quite a few cars leaving without trees. Once we started into the field, we heard a lot of grumbling about how few good choices there were. And I’m not going to lie, it was nothing like the gorgeous choices I’ve seen for four decades. The trees had beautiful, classic Christmas shapes, but they also had large bare patches and very few needles. It would have been really easy to walk away and buy a precut “perfect” tree from some store, but we decided to find a selection there no matter what.

Some people may say we settled. We prefer to think that we found the perfect tree for our family. And to be totally in line with crazy 2020, we did something we’ve never done before and decided to name our tree … Trevor. He may not be full of needles or really green, but he is ours, and Trevor will brighten our home with the true meaning of Christmas.

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