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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: CHRISTMAS, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 1,150
1. Winterfrost (2014)

Winterfrost. Michelle Houts. 2014. Candlewick. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I very much enjoyed Michelle Houts' Winterfrost. This wintery read is set in Denmark. It opens one Christmas Eve. The first chapter starts off with a family celebrating together. That first chapter ends with a phone call and a promise. A promise not to the characters, but, to the readers:
It should have been an ordinary Christmas on the Larsen farm, nestled among the flat, snowy fields of an island called Lolland in the south of Denmark. But it wasn't. And if it had been, well, we wouldn't have much of a story to tell, now, would we?
Bettina, the heroine, is left on the farm with her younger sister, Pia. Every year, her father visits his uncle at this time of year--the week between Christmas and New Year. Her mother is called away unexpectedly with news about a family member's health. (Just who is not mentioned in the first chapter.) So Bettina, aged 12, can take care of a nearly 1 year old and a whole farm, right? Well? Mostly.

In her parents' rush, the entire family, it seems, forgot to put out the traditional bowl of Christmas rice pudding for the nisse. The Larsen family's nisse, Klakke, is NOT happy. Klakke isn't necessarily "bad," just in a bit of a bad mood. But even in a horrible mood, he'd never do anything to hurt any human.

Winterfrost is about what happens when her parents are away. It's about one girl's adventure with nearby nisse. Though traditionally, nisse are not supposed to show themselves to humans, to interact with them, rules are broken in Winterfrost.

It is a fun fantasy. Bettina is a lovely heroine. It is a quick read that I enjoyed very much.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Rush to make memories this holiday season

A Time for Rushing and Remembering


The countdown is on! The days rush by with ‘to do” lists that grow with the rapidity of the nose of a less-than-honest Pinocchio. I saw the phrase “rushing and remembering” as the lead in to an article in our local paper and it brought me up short. I wanted to sit down and write a heart-to-heart to all young parents during this time of the rolling year. I wanted to plead with them to stop rushing so for their own sakes, and build “remember whens” with their children. For THAT is what their children as they grow older will say to them. “Remember when… mom?” And it will be followed by the memory.

My girls are young women now. They have their own lives and we often talk about their growing up years in hindsight with an evaluative eye. They say hindsight is twenty twenty. Believe me, it can bring a halt to your gallop when they tell you what THEY remember as a precious moment from a holiday, versus what I, as a parent, tried to fashion into my ideal of perfection that I thought they needed. VERY differing viewpoints, let me tell you, were the outcomes of our little tete a tete times.

All I can say is that THEY remembered harried parents rushing, rushing rushing, with little time and much to do to make everything LOOK effortless. All that perfection is exhausting! Remember in the movie, “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy and her pals unmask the Wizard behind the screen? He’s huffing and puffing, frantically pulling levers and implementing sound effects to create an illusion of who he tries to be. Why? Because he thought that’s what the Munchkins expected for a Wizard to be and that’s what he became. We all have expectations this time of year and we try frantically as parents to meet them, for ourselves, but mostly for our children.

What DO my girls remember of past holidays? They remember the traditions of TIME SPENT TOGETHER and not dollars SPENT ON THEM. They remember a song, a story, an ornament they loved, sock fights (they’re fun and softer than snowball fights) or the taste of a favorite cookie we always baked together.

Most of all they remembered the family time we spent with one another. Maybe it was driving around town to see the decorations at other houses, playing the carols from my own childhood as we decorated the tree, figuring out whose turn it was to put up the star on top of the tree and diving through tissue paper in search of those crumbling Play-Doh ornaments they made in elementary school? Did they survive another year packed away?

Whether you know it or not, THESE are the rememberings YOUR children will take with them for a lifetime. And here comes my plug. Please make one of their rememberings a favorite picture book story at the end of the day or maybe MIDDAY, with the two of you cuddled up. Snuggling is a very underestimated healing activity during the rushing season, they say.

There is a reason for all the herculean efforts we make this time of year. It’s to build memories in time of shared experiences! President Harry Truman had a very unusual phrase he called “foxholes of the mind”. It spoke to a moment in time that he could relive that was sweet and satisfying from the past and that he could call up when needed. Strange how fortifying those “foxholes” can be to children and adults today in our very stressful, fast forward world.

Rush to make memories this season. For in the life of a child, that is probably the most meaningful present you can give them – yourself.

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3. Sorry To See You Go

My technophobic wife has taken an increasing shine to internet shopping.

Point, click, receive, wrap… Point, click, receive, wrap…

At this point, you might be thinking this is another husband-rant about all of the clicking activity and the bill that will come due in January. Well, that may be a subject for another post (I hope the title changes), but right now I’m trying to wrap my mind around the amount of email spam that her clicking has brought us. You see, we share an email account. Mistake? Maybe… but it has worked thus far.

Here is the problem, cleaning my inbox is the one thing I’m OCD about. I need it to be current or I lose focus. At work, I churn through emails faster than a Gopher on balsa-wood. If I can answer it immediately, it is gone. If it makes me mad, gone. If it is ambiguous and may not pertain to me, whoops, I hit delete. My inbox is squeaky-clean. The one at work, that is.

The shared inbox at home gets bogged down in December with order confirmations, shipping information, and advertisements. Oh the advertisements. Did I mention my wife is a technophobe? So, while she has mastered the checkout function of two hundred seventy-four websites, I can’t convince her that they won’t think any less of her if she unchecks the little box that says, “Would you like us to send you an ungodly amount of emails that are irrelevant, obnoxious, and likely to cause enmity between husband and wife?”

I should be working a second job to prepare for the aforementioned bill, but I spend my December trying to unsubscribe from every mailing list known to mankind. Only they lie to you when they allow you to hold the illusion that leaving them is an option. It’s a web of deceit – an impossibility. You cannot be removed from mailing lists. “You have been removed from our mailing list. We are sorry to see you go” is a lie from the bowels of the earth.


What the little button should say is, “Thank you for verifying your existence, I will now torture you every fifteen minutes with a blinking email reminder of your incompetence.”

After trying unsuccessfully to remove our email address from yet another list, I marched to the den, bowed out my chest, and sternly gave my wife an ultimatum!

“Either you learn to uncheck the subscribe button, or we are changing our email address!”


Women don’t like ultimatums.


Of course, our email address remains the same and though wounded and alone, I am off to fight a MailChimp.

Filed under: It Made Me Laugh

9 Comments on Sorry To See You Go, last added: 12/17/2014
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4. The Christmas truce: A sentimental dream

By December 1914 the Great War had been raging for nearly five months. If anyone had really believed that it would be ‘all over by Christmas’ then it was clear that they had been cruelly mistaken. Soldiers in the trenches had gained a grudging respect for their opposite numbers. After all, they had managed to fight each other to a standstill.

On Christmas Eve there was a severe frost. From the perspective of the freezing-cold trenches the idea of the season of peace and goodwill seemed surrealistic. Yet parcels and Christmas gifts began to arrive in the trenches and there was a strange atmosphere in the air. Private William Quinton was watching:

We could see what looked like very small coloured lights. What was this? Was it some prearranged signal and the forerunner of an attack? We were very suspicious, when some­thing even stranger happened. The Germans were actually singing! Not very loud, but there was no mistaking it. Suddenly, across the snow-clad No Man’s Land, a strong clear voice rang out, singing the opening lines of “Annie Laurie“. It was sung in perfect English and we were spellbound. To us it seemed that the war had suddenly stopped! Stopped to listen to this song from one of the enemy.

“We tied an empty sandbag up with its string and kicked it about on top – just to keep warm of course. We did not intermingle.”

On Christmas Day itself, in some sectors of the line, there was no doubting the underlying friendly intent. Yet the men that took the initiative in initiating a truce were brave – or foolish – as was witnessed by Sergeant Frederick Brown:

Sergeant Collins stood waist high above the trench waving a box of Woodbines above his head. German soldiers beckoned him over, and Collins got out and walked halfway towards them, in turn beckoning someone to come and take the gift. However, they called out, “Prisoner!” A shot rang out, and he staggered back, shot through the chest. I can still hear his cries, “Oh my God, they have shot me!”

This was not a unique incident. Yet, despite the obvious risks, men were still tempted. Individuals would get off the trench, then dive back in, gradually becoming bolder as Private George Ashurst recalled:

It was grand, you could stretch your legs and run about on the hard surface. We tied an empty sandbag up with its string and kicked it about on top – just to keep warm of course. We did not intermingle. Part way through we were all playing football. It was so pleasant to get out of that trench from between them two walls of clay and walk and run about – it was heaven.

The idea that football matches were played between the British and Germans in No Man’s Land has taken a grip, but the evidence is intangible.

“Officers and men of 26th Divisional Ammunition Train playing football in Salonika, Greece on Christmas day 1915.” (1915) by Varges Ariel, Ministry of Information. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The truce was not planned or controlled – it just happened. Even senior officers recognised that there was little that could be done in this strange state of affairs. Brigadier General Lord Edward Gleichen accepted the truce as a fait accompli, but was keen to ensure that the Germans did not get too close to the ramshackle British trenches:

They came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks. What were our men to do? Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men. Let them come? You could not let them come into your trenches; so the only thing feasible was done – and our men met them half-way and began talking to them. Meanwhile our officers got excellent close views of the German trenches.

Another practical reason for embracing the truce was the opportunity it presented for burying the dead that littered No Man’s Land. Private Henry Williamson was assigned to a burial party:

The Germans started burying their dead which had frozen hard. Little crosses of ration box wood nailed together and marked in indelible pencil. They were putting in German, ‘For Fatherland and Freedom!’ I said to a German, “Excuse me, but how can you be fighting for freedom? You started the war, and we are fighting for freedom!” He said, “Excuse me English comrade, but we are fighting for freedom for our country!”

It should be noted that the truce was by no means universal, particularly where the British were facing Prussian units.

For the vast majority of the participants, the truce was a matter of convenience and maudlin sentiment. It did not mark some deep flowering of the human spirit, or signify political anti-war emotions taking root amongst the ranks. The truce simply enabled them to celebrate Christmas in a freer, more jovial, and, above all, safer environment, while satisfying their rampant curiosity about their enemies.

The truce could not last: it was a break from reality, not the dawn of a peaceful world. The gradual end mirrored the start, for any misunderstandings could cost lives amongst the unwary. For Captain Charles Stockwell it was handled with a consummate courtesy:

At 8.30am I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with ‘Merry Christmas!’ on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He put up a sheet with, ‘Thank you’ on it, and the German captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches – he fired two shots in the air and the war was on again!

In other sectors, the artillery behind the lines opened up and the bursting shells soon shattered the truce.

War regained its grip on the whole of the British sector. When it came to it, the troops went back to war willingly enough. Many would indeed have rejoiced at the end of the war, but they were still willing to accept orders, still willing to kill Germans. Nothing had changed.

The post The Christmas truce: A sentimental dream appeared first on OUPblog.

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5. Seventeenth day of Advent - Ruffed Grouse

Seventeenth day of Advent

One last bird from Woodland Christmas, the Ruffed Grouse with a nice Elizabethan ruff collar.

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6. XMAS 2014 - cath kidston

In this last week before Christmas I wanted to bring you as many Christmas snaps as I could and we start today with Cath Kidston. Their Christmas collection this year centres around this seasons 'Townhouses' print mixed with an earlier stars pattern which is recoloured to bring the whole scheme together. In the range are cards, roll wrap, sticky labels, ribbons, gift boxes, kitchenware and much

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7. XMAS 2014 - clinton cards

And a few more interesting card designs spotted in Clinton. The baubles (above and below) are part of the Collage range UK greetings, and there are lots of cards from the USA (Clintons is now part of American Greetings), as well as great value cards in the Simply Clinton range.

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8. Favourite Children’s Books of 2015 (Just In Time For Christmas!) – by Emma Barnes

A while ago I compiled a list of my favourite Christmas-themed books.  This year I've been inspired by the newspapers which are full of “Favourite Books of the Year” . Here are some children’s books, published in 2015, that I have really enjoyed, some of them by ABBA bloggers. If, like me, you like to buy your Christmas gifts last minute, maybe one of these will fit the bill.

They are all more-or-less for middle grade or a little older and I've listed them roughly in age of readership.

The Pearl Quest by Gill Vickery

The final book in Vickery’s delightful Dragonchild series is just as compelling as the first. These books concern, who has been raised by dragons, but is now on a quest to recover the jewels that protect the kingdom. It’s perfect for children drawn to epic fantasy, but pitched at a rather easier reading level than most fantasy, making it a great stepping stone to longer books like the Hobbit, the C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia or Le Guin’s Earthsea.

Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers by John Dougherty

Earlier this year, John and I were both speaking at the launch of the Fantastic Books Awards in Lancashire, and I had the pleasure of listening to John read an extract from this wonderfully silly, funny book (I also heard him sing a song about having to cross your legs in class while waiting for the bell to go - that's another story). This book has made a big splash and is perfect for fans of the Mr Gum books.

Deep Amber – by CJ Busby

CJ Busby, like me, is a fan of the late, great fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, and this funny, clever book is in the same tradition, blending two storylines, one concerning siblings Simon and Cat from our world, the other a fairytale world where Dora and Jem set out on a quest together. It culminates in a wonderfully funny and exciting episode in an old folks’ home.

Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

Graphic novels are one part of the book world which is booming – it’s all rather new to me, though, so I decided it was time to explore a little.  I really enjoyed this story in which Helene is being bullied by former friends at school in the most insiduous way - by making her feel bad about herself, as well as isolating her - and takes comfort from literature in the surprising form of Jane Eyre, meets a fox, and finally finds a new friend.

Jet Black Heart by Teresa Flavin

I’ll ‘fess up and say at once that Teresa is a friend of mine, and a fellow Yorkshire author too. I especially like that this story’s inspired by the coast around Whitby – a Yorkshire seaside town I also love – and its trade in jet jewellery. It’s part of the Barrington Stoke range of books, which are carefully designed for children and teenagers whose “reading” age may be lower than their actual age, but with no compromise on content or a first class story.

Daughters of Time - editor Mary Hoffman

This book is a collection of stories from writers over on The History Girls blog – and it’s a wonderful variety of different styles and voices, each story about a significant woman from British history from Aethelfled to Mary Wollstonecraft, Amy Johnson to Mary Anning. Perfect for teenagers and adults too – and in the tradition of the best historical fiction by writers such as Rosemary Sutcliffe and Barbara Willard.  I loved these stories, and wished that many of them could have been full length novels.

Emma's series for 8+ Wild Thing about the naughtiest little sister ever (and her bottom-biting ways) is published by Scholastic. 
"Hilarious and heart-warming" The Scotsman

 Wolfie is published by Strident.  It is a story of wolves, magic and snowy woods...
"A real cracker of a book" Armadillo 
"Funny, clever and satisfying...thoroughly recommended" Books for Keeps

Emma's Website
Emma’s Facebook Fanpage
Emma on Twitter - @EmmaBarnesWrite

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9. 10 quotes to inspire a love of winter

Winter encourages a certain kind of idiosyncratic imagery not found during any other season: white, powdery snow, puffs of warm breath, be-scarfed holiday crowds. The following slideshow presents a lovely compilation of quotes from the eighth edition of our Oxford Dictionary of Quotations that will inspire a newfound love for winter, whether you’ve ever experienced snow or not!

Are there any other wintry quotes that you love? Let us know in the comments below.

Headline image credit: Winter bird. Photo by Mathias Erhart. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr. All slideshow background images CC0/public domain via Pixabay or PublicDomainPictures.net (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10).

The post 10 quotes to inspire a love of winter appeared first on OUPblog.

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10. PAPERCHASE - xmas decorations

I have a final look at Paperchase's 2014 Chrismtas offering today. We start with a look at their quirky modern decorations. They have a wide range of hanging tree decorations, wreaths that are far from traditional and many styles and sizes of reindeer. Look out also for crackers and tableware. This years metallic trend seemed to be copper, or rose gold, and their was plenty of neon pink, orange

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11. Sixteenth day of Advent - Little Sparrow, Big Tree

Sixteenth day of Advent
A wee detail from a much bigger picture of a holly, jolly Christmas.
(Almost finished decorating the tree here. I keep finding more decorations).

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12. The Greatest Story Ever Told by Tess Berry-Hart

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” - Phillip Pullman

“And what do you do?” asks the polite professional lawyer in the group of polite professional people at my polite professional neighbour’s Christmas party.

“Me?  Oh, I'm a writer,” I answer, equally politely.

“Oh, really?”  A wave of heads turn in my direction, polite smiles become suddenly more interested.  “What kind of writing?  Journalism?  Novels?”

“Well, I write stories for children and young adults,” I begin confidently, but oops, I'm losing them already.  Smiles have taken on a glazed quality and I'm starting to be relegated to the category in their minds that houses lolloping bunnies, plucky hobbits and talking lions.  I follow up quickly with a couple of my adult plays and novels but I can see in their eyes that my status has already been set.  Children’s stories! – how quaint.

“But we all tell stories, don’t we,” I begin jovially, in what my husband would term my instructively-speaking-to-a-three-year-old tone.  “Our reality, our economy, our social structures are all governed by stories, aren’t they?”

Deep nods and a strained kind of silence greet this; though a couple of people look a little as if they’re trying to work out if I'm insulting them in some covert fashion.

“And whether you subscribe to the idea that there’s only seven stories in the world or not, it’s amazing how these stories get replayed over and over in media and advertising isn't it?  The small company who fights back from the edge of extinction.  The underdog who wins through on the X Factor.”

Oh dear, the mention of X Factor – the professional version of Godwin’s Law after which any proponent can lose her credibility.  And I haven’t even watched it in years!

A chorus of agreement, though with no discernible words, follows this, and mercifully our hostess comes to our rescue with a tray of mince pies.  People break up into twos and turn to each other with noticeable relief.  “Have you heard about X?”

I take refuge in a mince pie, and think.  Why should we be afraid of confronting our stories?  We adults absorb stories as voraciously as if we were children.  The middle-aged lawyer creates a story to the judge and jury about why they should believe his client’s version of events.  The saleswoman on my left creates stories that we will look better, feel happier and be more successful if we buy her product.  And don’t even get me started on the advertising director opposite.

Stories are all around us, shaping our world and our outlook – and let’s face it, stories are not all capitalist cynicism.  Good stories are centuries old, and they’re around for a reason.  We NEED the story that we can succeed in whatever we do against insurmountable odds.  We NEED the story that the bad guys will get punished and the good guys triumph.

Stories are acutely important for learning.  They are the models by which children see the world and learn from it.  Telling my son a story to deliver a message is ten times more effective that merely telling him the message.  When I see him playing, I can see that games are stories in action.  He’s already channelling the “rescuing hero” story, the “quest” story and the “overcoming the monster” stories all by himself.

Where does the power of story come from?  As psychologists Melanie C Green and Timothy C. Brock note in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the mechanism of “transport” – using detail and emotional affect to involve the reader – is essential for a narrative.  Highly transported readers find fewer false notes in a story than less transported readers, they evaluate protagonists favourably and show many other similar story-consistent beliefs.  Interestingly, corresponding beliefs tend to be generally unaffected whether the reader knows a story is fact or fiction.  I can know that a cream will not make me look younger, but I’ll buy it anyway.

And we’re at a Christmas party after all.  Christmas is a great story.  Though I'm an avowed atheist, I love Christmas!  The human story of birth in humble adversity; the strong baddie that searches to kill the saviour of mankind, the call to adventure, the exiled and returning hero, the love that lays itself down for another; the elements are all there.  And beyond the advent of Christianity, I feel the pagan solstice of Yule as instinctively as one born in the Northern Hemisphere can; the affirmation of life in the midst of snow, the fire lit against the cold and darkness, the shadows on the wall of the cave that mystics interpret, making sense of the sun and the stars, winter and summer, life and death.

Along with other wonderful stories passed down from times immemorial –The Flood, the Apocalypse, the Exodus – the story means something to us because in a sense (whether you are a believer or not) stories ARE real.  Stories hold a deep psychological purpose, about our relationship to the universe and to Time. Stories give us hope, they give us meaning.  In my book, the greatest story ever told is that of life; that we exist, and we do.

Around me the conversation has moved on, and now they’re talking about the recovery. (Belief in the market’s one of the best stories around at the moment!)  I don’t have much to add to this so I gather my things together and start to slide unobtrusively towards the exit, when I feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s the polite lawyer.

“I thought it was interesting,” he says breathlessly, “what you said about stories back there. It really made me think.”

My heart warms to him.  “Why thank you,” I say.

“I've got to get my niece a Christmas present, and your book sounds ideal.  Would I be able to get a signed copy?”

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13. Santa Express


We had our first Christmas Stall experience. It was at an historic Victorian Railway Station - in my language that means old.  I noticed 6  'bellasomish' Christmas trees 4 were down the stairs that led to the station.

My favourite place was the ladies waiting room, it was great, Max wasn't allowed anywhere near it.  There was a real coal fire in the room, wooden benches and a carpet. It felt like it was a sitting room from someone's house rather than a public waiting room. I went in there quite a lot.

Max was interested in the steam trains, the engines were massive black heavy iron constructions and the carriages were complete with highly polished wooden doors. Each engine had a proper name: One of the engines that left from platform 1 was Oliver Cromwell.

I was surprised I had to work so hard to get people to notice me, it doesn't normally happen.  I suppose though the fact that Santa was riding on the train had something to do with it.  You'd think by now that Santa would know how important Bella of Beckingham is. Maybe by next year he will get the message and stop planning events on the same day as me.

It was a great couple of days. But I was embarrassed by how the Ruff Life crew dressed. You'd think being around my fantastic style in fashion they could have turned out more stylish than looking like rejects from the abominable snowman, there's no helping some people sometime.

Well I must go


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14. HoHoDooDa 2014

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the City of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven-year’s dead partner that afternoon. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change: not a knocker, but Marley’s face.
Marley’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up upon its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot-air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression. ~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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15. Mary's Journey

If only Joseph had listened when she told him
one of those three kings, she couldn’t tell which, 
was a harbinger of trouble. But Joseph, being Joseph

couldn’t turn away strangers lest they be angels
from God and welcomed them. The Magi showered
gifts on the newborn, but when they left, 

Mary discovered they had given the child
more than gold, frankincense, or myrrh.
Now she had to trudge through the village, 

to find this old woman, who everyone called
a witch because she knew herbs that could cure
or kill, and beg for a remedy to heal her son

of a sickness she had never seen before. 
The old woman peeled away the swaddling
cloths, wrapped around the child as if to staunch

a wound, went to the back of her hut, 
and pounded leaves into a poultice. 
“Rub this over his chest and he will get better.” 

“A man who is born for the cross can’t drown.” 
Mary nodded. She didn’t understand a word-- 
only what she needed to do to save her son’s life.

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16. Teaching Tolerance This Holiday Season

The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate

By Janice Cohn, D.S.W. illustrated by Bill Farnsworth


How do we teach children tolerance? As the holy days of Hanukkah and Christmas approach, held in reverence by the Jewish and Christian faiths, it seems an appropriate time to bring books to the attention of young readers that evoke the “reasons for the season” as the phrase goes.

Such a book is “The Christmas Menorah” by Janice Cohn, D.S.W., with lush, but realistic oil paintings by illustrator Bill Farnsworth.

Based on an actual series of events in Billings, Montana during the holiday season of 1993, it emphasizes the message to children that in order for hatred and intolerance to flourish, good men usually do nothing. But not so in Billings.

A small menorah with 8 candles to be lit for each of the nights of Hanukkah, glows in the bedroom window of Isaac Schnitzer. A rock flies through his window one night, shattering glass and knocking the menorah to the floor.

“Who did it?” and “Why would someone do this”?, questions Isaac. The police are called and Isaac hears his mom say to the police chief who is very concerned about the targeting of Jewish families in Billings, “We’re not taking down the Hanukkah decorations. Being Jewish is who we are – we’e not going to hide it.”

But that is just what Isaac admits to his mom in a very telling moment. The year before kids were bringing Christmas presents into school. Isaac brings in his Hanukkah gifts and at the last minute says, “Uh…I guess I sort of told them that they were Christmas presents.” Will Isaac continue to hide his faith with the menorah incident as a catalyst for his decision this year?

A classmate named Teresa Hanley and family discuss Isaac’s family at dinner and decide to DO something. I love the family discussion that ensues where each of the members and their feelings are taken into account as they reach a decision that involves some risk.

The Henley family display a picture of a menorah in THEIR window during Hanukkah. Neighbors follow suit and Billings’ windows are filled with pictures of menorahs!

How many times do we see dark deeds done under cover of night as people might be too timid or ashamed to do the same thing in the cold light of day. It takes a moment to destroy, but the creation of something of beauty and goodness like tolerance is a process that takes time.

As the menorah lights shone in Billings, begun by ONE family, just so the destructive force of a rock was thrown with one hand. But the community of Billings, lead by a single family’s commitment, said that intolerance for any faith would not stand in their town without some decent folk standing up for tolerance.

Oh, and by the way, Isaac learned a powerful lesson too. He brought his Hanukkah gifts to school that year and announced what they were. Hanukkah presents!!

This is a picture book based on true life events in 1993 that still resonate today in 2014. Our children need to know that darkness cannot extinguish light as long as a single candle burns. And they may just be the young people who can light it in the future.


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17. Merry Elvis Christmas recollections

In celebration of the recently published biography, Elvis Presley: A Southern Life by Joel Williamson, I thought I would share some memories of Christmas past. In the 1970s we listened to Elvis on vinyl. Every December when it was time to decorate the tree you could hear the deep dulcet warbling of Elvis coming from the hi-fi. Some of my favorite Elvis renditions of Christmas songs follow.

Photo by Ollie Atkins. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Original photo by Ollie Atkins. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

With the tree up and ready to be decorated we’d pop on the Elvis to kick off the Christmas season with “The First Noel”.

In the kitchen we’d often hear my mother sing along to “Winter Wonderland” as she made stained-glass window cookies to hang on the tree.

Photo by Christian Purdy. Used with permission.
Photo by Christian Purdy. Used with permission.

One of my dad’s favorites was “Silver Bells”. He’d sing along so that it sounded like Elvis was his backup singer.

My best friend Tracy had an artificial, all-white tree bedecked in tinsel and lit solely with blue lights. In the evenings we’d just sit in her living room watching the tree as she and Elvis sang “Blue Christmas”.

Now that I am older, I still like to listen to Elvis when I decorate for Christmas. Then when I have everything just the way I want I like to get a crackling fire going, turn down the lights, plug in the tree, toss back a few slugs of egg nog, settle into a comfy couch with someone special, and listen to Elvis’s “Merry Christmas Baby”.

Here’s hoping your stocking is stuffed with Elvis this season. I find he makes the holiday merry.

Headline image credit: Elvis! Photo by Kevin Dooley. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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18. The Twelve Books of Christmas

You may have noticed, with Christmas fast approaching, that the Boomerang Books bloggers have been writing about the festive season — recommending books for Chrissy presents; sharing festive reads; reminiscing about Christmas-themed books; etc. I was originally planning to recommend some Christmas reads… but then I changed my mind. I thought I’d do something a […]

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19. Fourteenth day of Advent - Doves

Fourteenth day of Advent
Another close-up from Woodland Christmas, two turtle-doves
sharing winter berries. 
"You are like the wings of a dove covered with silver, 
And its pinions with glistening gold"  Psalms 63.13

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20. Parenting during the holidays

The holiday season can be an insanely stressful time. Looking for presents, wrapping them, cooking, getting the house ready for visitors, cleaning before and after. Nothing like a normal Saturday night on the couch in front of the TV or with a couple of close friends. The holidays demand perfection. You see it all around you, friends are talking about how stressed out they are, how much they still have to do in just a couple of days. Hyper-decorated stores are talking in their own way. As you approach the 25th of December you still haven’t bought half the gifts you need to rack up for family members, the house looks like a bomb crater and you occasionally wish yourself back in the office with piles of work on your desk waiting to be completed. There are even times when you would exchange a chilly Monday morning and an 8 o’clock meeting for this nerve-racking time that’s supposed to be happy, fun and merry.

What many rattled folks forget in the midst of buying last-minute bequests for loved ones or checking on the unhappy-looking beast in the oven minutes before guests arrive, wishing themselves far away, is that as many as half of the population face a holiday season without their dearest family members. There are people who have lost their loved ones in gruesome ways. I can’t even begin to imagine how they must feel, as they approach every new upcoming holiday season. There are people who have lost their parents to old age, people who have gone through heartbreaking divorces, separations and breakups and people who are overseas defending their country because they have no other choice. The holidays will not be what they once were for any of them. And then there are the single parents, parents many of which have decent custody agreements that are “in the best interest of the children.” According to the US Census Bureau, there are more than 10 million single parents in the United States today. Each year millions among them can look forward to days of loneliness because the little ones they really want to spend time with are with the other parent.

When sane parents separate, many judges, thankfully, divide custody equally. Each parent gets his or her fair share of custody, if at all possible. Even when it’s not possible to share the time with the children equally, judges will usually attempt to divide up the holidays evenly. The kids spend every other holiday with mom and every other holiday with dad. It certainly is in the children’s best interest to get to spend some time with each parent. Most kids, with decent moms and dads, would prefer to spend every holiday with both parents. The precious little ones secretly hope for the impossible: That their divorced or separated parents will get back together. But despite their wishes, they adjust to the situation. They have no other choice.

The array of Christmas presents, by SheepGuardingLlama. CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 via Flickr.

Nor do the parents. As we face the holidays many single parents face a very lonely time. They may be with dear family members: parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. Yet they may nonetheless feel a profound pain in their hearts, even as they watch close relatives savor the pecan pie or scream in delight when they rip open their Christmas presents. Their own children are far away. In most cases the youngsters are in a safe place elsewhere, stuffing their faces with goodies or breaking out laughing when the other grandpa makes a funny face. In most cases single parents know that their children are enjoying themselves in the company of the other caregiver and his or her extended family.

Yet the children are missing from the scenery. Their absence is felt. “It hurts. It hurts every other Christmas when my kids are with their dad during the holidays,” says Wendy Thomas, a St. Louis, Missouri single mother of two girls ages 8 and 5. Thomas shares custody with the girls’ father, who lives in Illinois. “The first year was the hardest but I don’t think I will ever get used to it. Shopping malls and Silent Night make me shiver,” says the 38-year-old entrepreneur. This is her third Christmas and New Year’s without her children.

Each holiday a single parent truly misses his or her children on that one day that is supposed to bring delight to everyone. “It’s going to be a lonely, lonely Christmas without you” may just be tedious background music for the families that didn’t break apart. Each year, however, the oldie is causing a tiny tear to run quietly down the cheek of some single caregiver.

But could some of the reported agony over absent children during the holidays be the result of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a psychological mechanism we use to justify our choices and conflicting belief sets? For example, you choose to volunteer three hours a week at the local children’s hospital. It’s killing you. You can barely fit in everything else you have to do. But you tell everyone, including yourself, that volunteer work is truly rewarding and every (wo)man’s duty. Making irrational decisions seem rational is a way to preserve your sense of self worth.

Studies show that the hardship involved in raising children makes us idealize parenthood and consider it an enormously rewarding enterprise. In a study published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Psychological Science researchers primed 80 parents with at least one child in two different ways. One group was asked to read a document reporting the costs of raising a child. The other parents read the same document as well as a script reporting on the benefits of having raised children when you reach old age. The participants were then given a psychological test assessing their beliefs about parenting. The team found what they expected. Parents who had only read about the financial costs of parenthood initially felt more discomfort than the other group. But they went onto idealize parenthood much more than the other participants and when interviewed later their negative feelings were gone.

“How do single parents get through Christmas as painlessly as possible?”

Could cognitive dissonance explain why single parents feel empty-handed and depressed during holiday seasons without their children? St. Charles, MO, family counselor Deborah Miller doesn’t think that’s what’s going on. “This year it’s my turn to be one of those parents. I’ll be the first to admit that raising a child is not always a blessing. There are countless times when I feel more like a chauffeur or a waitress or a slave than a free agent with some real me-time.” She thinks the lonely-parent phenomenon evidently is not a manifestation of cognitive dissonance, as we don’t idealize away the pain of being without our children on Christmas or New Year’s. The heartache often doesn’t go away until we see our kids again in January and abruptly remember just how draining it is to raise a child. “I’ll finally get some time to myself, and I know my son will have a blast. But I’ll miss him immensely,” says Miller.

How do single parents get through Christmas as painlessly as possible? The solution is not necessarily to have a huge family gathering with your side of the family to ease the sorrow. A gala dinner on Christmas Day may have its advantages. You can hug your little nieces and nephews and maybe feel a bit of comfort as they open their presents in a way only children can approach surprises. You may feel a teensy bit of wonder (or is it jealousy) as you view your siblings and their spouses exchange loving smiles and their young ones take delight in the simplest of things. “It may work for some but there is a sense in which you will only be a spectator,” says Miller. She recalls her Christmas two years ago. “I felt gratified to be part of a functional family, and it was good to see my siblings interact with their children. I also remember being thankful that my parents were still alive and healthy and that they got one more holiday season with some of their grandchildren. But I also felt great sadness, because the dearest thing in my life wasn’t with me. I really missed my son that day.” This Christmas, Miller is getting together with a few friends. “Sure, we will still have Christmas dinner but there won’t be any children or presents or sacred family traditions. So hopefully I won’t be reminded of what I’m missing out on.”

Featured image credit: Christmas Decorations, by Ian Wilson. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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21. Eight Christmas Books

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree. Robert E. Barry. 1963. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Mr. Willowby's Christmas tree came by special delivery. Full and fresh and glistening green--the biggest tree he had ever seen. He dashed downstairs to open the door--This was the moment he'd waited for.

I loved, loved, loved Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree. It celebrates giving in a fun and playful way. Mr. Willowby starts off a long chain of giving when he chops off the top of his too-tall Christmas tree. A tree that is splendid in every other way. He gives the tree-top to the upstairs maid. She's delighted. Very delighted. How thoughtful! How cheery! But the tree is too-tall for her small room. The top must go! Chances are you can predict at this point how the story will go. But that doesn't mean it is in any way less delightful. This little tree-top gets passed down and re-trimmed again and again and again and again and again. And it's just WONDERFUL to see how much happiness and cheer it brings to others.

I loved the premise. I loved the writing. The rhyming was delightful. It worked very well for me! I think this one would make a great read-aloud. I also loved how uplifting it is. (After reading Baboushka and the Three Kings, I needed a cheery story!)

Why didn't someone tell me about this wonderful and charming picture book?! Why?! Well, I am glad to have discovered it now!

Which Christmas books would you consider classic? Which would you recommend?

Uncle Vova's Tree. Patricia Polacco. 1989. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Uncle Vova's Tree is rich in detail and tradition. The author, Patricia Polacco, is drawing from her past and recalling some of her childhood Christmases. She writes, "As a child I celebrated Christmas as most American children did, but at Epiphany in January, my brother, my two cousins, my grandparents and I would go to the farm of my Great Uncle Vladimir and Aunt Svetlana to celebrate in the Russian tradition." The book recalls two family gatherings specifically. The first is Uncle Vova's last Christmas. Though of course, most everyone did not *know* it would be his last Christmas. The second is that first Christmas without him. The book definitely has tones of sadness, but, it is ultimately hopeful. Memories, good, strong happy memories, remain.

The book is rich in detail and tradition. It is informative in many ways. Did you know about the tradition of putting hay underneath the tablecloth to remember and honor the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born? But in addition to honoring tradition--in this case, Russian tradition--it also celebrates families. Readers meet a family that is close and loving and supportive. Little details make this one work well.

Too Many Tamales. Gary Soto. Illustrated by Ed Martinez. 1993. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Snow drifted through the streets and now that it was dusk, Christmas trees glittered in the windows.

Too Many Tamales is a great family-oriented Christmas story. Maria, our heroine, is helping her mom make tamales. She loves helping her mom, loves being grown-up in the kitchen. But things don't go smoothly with this first batch of tamales. And it is her fault. Mostly. Maria really, really, really wanted to try on her mom's ring. Unfortunately, this-too-big ring falls right into the masa mixture. Hours later, she realizes that she never took the ring off. She doesn't know for sure where the ring is. But she has a strong suspicion that it may very well be in one of the twenty-four tamales. With a little help from her cousins, Maria is in a race to find the ring before her mom--and all the other relatives--realize what has happened. Will she find the ring? Will her mom find out? Will her cousins ever want to eat another tamale?!

I liked this one very much.

Angelina's Christmas. Katharine Holabird. Illustrated by Helen Craig. 1986. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

Christmas was coming, and everyone at Angelina's school was working hard to prepare for the Christmas show.

I enjoyed reading Angelina's Christmas. I enjoyed meeting Angelina and her family. I loved how thoughtful and empathetic Angelina was. She realizes that there is one house in the village that is not decorated. She notices that there is one "old man huddled by a tiny fire." She learns from her parents that this old man is Mr. Bell, a retired postman. She decides that she will do something special for him so he won't be all alone at Christmas time. (And Angelina isn't the only one joining in to help make this Christmas memorable for Mr. Bell.) She makes him cookies, her mom sends along mince pies and fruit, her dad cuts him a Christmas tree. They visit him, Henry, Angelina's brother comes along too. But perhaps even more importantly than showing him kindness through things, they take the time to listen to him, to include him. This one is a lovely book.

The Trees of the Dancing Goats. Patricia Polacco. 2000. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

At our farm just outside Union City, Michigan, we didn't celebrate the same holidays as most of our neighbors...but we shared their delight and anticipation of them just the same.

I enjoyed reading The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco. She is sharing yet another holiday memory with young readers in this picture book.

The story focuses on one holiday season when the town is hit by an epidemic, scarlet fever, I believe. The heroine's family is not sick, but, most of their neighbors are. As they are preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, they realize that most of their neighbors are too sick to prepare for and celebrate Christmas. They love their neighbors. They want to do something for them. Working together as a family, they decide to bring Christmas to their neighbors: food, a tree, decorations. Since they don't own any Christmas ornaments, they use animals carved out of wood. One of the animals, as you might have guessed, is a goat. When hung on the tree, it appears to be a dancing goat. Can one family bring Christmas cheer to a community?

I liked this one. I liked the family scenes very much. It is a thoughtful book. I'm glad I finally discovered it!

Morris' Disappearing Bag. Rosemary Wells. 1975. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

It was Christmas morning. "Wow!" said Morris.

Morris' Disappearing Bag probably isn't my favorite Rosemary Wells, but, this one is enjoyable enough that it's worth reading at least once or twice. Morris stars in this one. He has three older siblings: one big brother, Victor, and two older sisters, Rose and Betty. It is a Christmas book, of course. After all the presents are opened, the three older siblings play with their presents and play with each others presents. Victor got hockey stuff. Betty got a chemistry set. Rose got a beauty kit. They take turns sharing. Much fun is had. But not by all. For Morris has only his present (a teddy bear) to play with. He doesn't get a turn with his siblings' presents. But that changes when Morris discovers a fantastic present under the tree. A bag. A disappearing bag. Whatever is in the bag disappears. His siblings all want a turn, and, he lets them in the bag. While his siblings have disappeared for the day, Morris plays with their stuff before settling into bed with his bear.

Max's Christmas. Rosemary Wells. 1986. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I love watching Max and Ruby. I've seen the adaptation of Max's Christmas plenty of times before I read the book. If you like the show, chances are you'll enjoy reading this book. It is very similar. For those new to these lovable siblings, Ruby is the older sibling. She seems to be raising Max all on her own. (Ruby and Max don't have parents. They have a Grandma, but, she does not live with Max and Ruby.) Max is the younger sibling. He is many things: cute, clever, curious. Yes, he can be mischievous, but, he is also super-observant. I love, love, love them both. I might like Max a tiny bit better than Ruby. But still. I love them both.

In this book, readers join Ruby and Max on Christmas Eve night. Ruby is trying her best to get Max to get ready for bed, to go to sleep. Max is excited, of course. Once he knows that Santa is coming to his house tonight, he wants to see it for himself. So he goes downstairs to wait for Santa....

I liked this one very much.

Wombat Divine. Mem Fox. Illustrated by Kerry Argent. 1995/1999. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I found Mem Fox's Wombat Divine to be charming. I loved Wombat. He loves, loves, loves Christmas. More than anything, he wants a part in the nativity play. At the auditions, he tries his best. But there are so many parts that he's just not right for. I love the refrain, "Don't lose heart. Why not try for a different part?" which is used throughout the whole auditioning process. He auditions for Archangel Gabriel, Mary, a wise king, Joseph, an innkeeper, and a shepherd. But there's one role that he'd be just perfect playing. Can you guess it?

I liked this one. I thought it was cute and sweet. I liked the writing. I found it unique and oh-so-right.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Gaudete, Gaudete, Christus est Natus

Ra, Ra, Ra, look at DIS!! I IS POSTING!


I is very proud of me.


Ackshully, I got tagged by Bella over at To Say Nothing of Reality.

This tag, I like it.  Another!

Before I actually do the tag, today is Gaudete Sunday, and my little niece Chloe received her
First Holy Communion today.

She was so excited, it was so cute.  She was shaking when she went up to receive, she was so jazzed. We were all so proud. :-)  (That is an example of how NOT to repeat the word "So" so often.) Anyhoozle, hope your Advent continues well!

Now, for Bella's Tag.

So the RULES to this tag are as follows:

1.) Link back to the person who tagged you.
2.) Answer the Questions (which are not supplied here, but given via Bella's blog.)
3.)Tag five (or more - hahahahaha) people.

Soooooo, I linked.  :-)

Here are the questions lifted from Bella's blog:

1.) When does the Christmas season officially 'start' in your house?
Officially?... It starts AFTER Christmas.  Right now we're in the Advent season.  However, if you're talking about Christmas SPIRIT, it kind of rolls up (on me) on Thanksgiving.

2.) What is your earliest memory of Christmas?
I remember being super little, like three or four, and waking up and smiling into one of my older sisters' face as she woke me and hissed, "It's Christmas!"  I remember thinking, "Wow, Christmas.  That's so cool!"

3.) What is something that is something that is iconically (if that's even a word) Christmas for you or your family?
Probably the food.  Christmas morning is the only day in the world that we have Italian sausage and soft rolls and orange juice for breakfast, and usually the *main* day that we have gnocchi and ham for dinner.  We also do the Advent wreath and sing O Come Emmanuel at dinner.

4.) What are some of your Christmas Traditions?
We always listen to O Holy Night (Nat "King" Cole version and Josh Groban version) on Thanksgiving.
We also watch Holiday Inn on Thanksgiving.
We celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6 and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.
We do the Advent wreath and do Christmas rings, counting down the days to Christmas.
We decorate the house, usually starting around December 6th or 8th.
We bake and make gnocchi the week before Christmas.
We watch Christmas movies.  Many, many, many. :-)

5.) What is one of the traditions that you want to carry on even after you're married?
Just one?  I want to make gnocchi and ham every Christmas, and I definitely want to keep the tradition of Epiphany.

6.) What if your favorite thing when preparing for Christmas? The baking, decorating or cleaning?
The decorating.  Totally, the decorating.

7.) What is a special/unique Christmas memory?
About 23 years ago my Grandpa passed, right around Christmas time, and my mom was not here for Christmas.  So all of us kids at home saved one present and left it under the tree, and when she got back in January we celebrated our first Epiphany on January 6th, and we have celebrated it ever since.

8.) What do you like better, giving or receiving gifts? 
I LOVE giving gifts.  I sit right next to the person and am like, "Open it more... and more... and more... can you guess what it is from the box? Huh, huh, can ya, can ya?"

9.) What are some of your favorite Christmas cartoons?
Mickey's Christmas Carol.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The First White Christmas - The Story of the First Christmas Snow.

10.) What are some of your favorite Christmas movies?
It's A Wonderful Life (My absolute FAVORITE.)
Angel In the House (a recent discovery).
Silent Night.
A Christmas Carol with Reginald Owen.
(These are the four I NEED to watch.)

After that I like to watch:
One Magic Christmas.
While You Were Sleeping.
Doctor Who (Eleven's) Christmas Specials.
A Keaton Christmas Carol.

11.) Do you have a real Christmas tree or an artificial tree?
We have an artificial.  I am of two minds between real and artificial.  I love the smell and authenticity of real.  I don't like how they shed needles or die so soon.  However, I don't like how fake smell... odd, but I do like that you can leave them up through the entire season.

12.) Do you have a favorite Christmas book/story? 
The Crib of Bo'Bossu.  Makes me cry.  EVERY time.

13.) What is your favorite Christmas song?
O Holy Night (Josh Groban and Nat Cole's version)
Believe (Josh Groban)\
What Child is This (Josh Groban and another version that is a group version that I can't find that I LOVE.)
Little Drummer Boy (Tennessee Ernie Ford and Josh Groban)
In the Bleak Midwinter (Julie Andrews)
The Little Road to Bethlehem (Hayley Westenra)
Peace Shall Come (Hayley Westenra)
And too many others too count.  But those are the top seven I could recall one after the other.

Imma not tagging anyone, but I wish youse all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! :-)

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23. PAPERCHASE - xmas cards 2014

It's our final week before Christmas and a last chance to look at seasonal design. The week kicks off with a look at Christmas cards and wrapping papers from the UK's best stationers 'Paperchase'. Their stores always offer a great contemporary mix of exclusive cards and carefully chosen designs from other publishers, and of course most of their holiday products can now be bought online. Here

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24. Fifteenth day of Advent - Blue Tit

Fifteenth day of Advent
"Come, on wings of joy we'll fly"  William Blake

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25. HoHoDooDa Day 13 (late)

o holey knight

Alright, I realize these moths would have to be iron and steel eating moths to put holes in armor… but hey, creative license.

Why not take a stroll on over here for links to see what the rest of the HoHoDooDa doodlers are doing.

Oh, and if you are wondering what the heck HoHoDooDa is, check this out.

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