Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Away in a Manger

I'm not sure I've ever written about our manger activity and wanted to share it again. I think its a really beautiful, tangible way to teach children the meaning of advent, of preparing our hearts to receive Christ - and it can be done so simply for families!  I organized ours a few years ago, so now each year, I just get it out (making sure to keep the baby hidden until Christmas).

You need:
a manger or box
yellow yarn
a doll

I convinced John to build our little manger a few years ago, but you could also buy a small crate or use a shoebox. We keep a jar of straw colored yarn next to the manger, already cut into pieces about the length of our manger (you could also just keep the skein of yarn and scissors nearby). And I made a baby doll a few years ago, seriously simple and made from scraps, but of course, you don't have to make one. Any small baby doll wrapped in white cloth would be perfect. [If you want to start this year, all you need today is the box and yarn, you still have time to get the baby. :) ]

And then we pay attention to each other and try to be kind.

Anytime we notice someone doing something kind or selfless, they get to add a straw to the manger. It's not very structured, it just sort of works spontaneously, e.g. "That was so kind of you to share your dog with your sister, June! Would you like to put some straw in the manger?" "Mommy, thank you for making lunch - you should put straw in the manger!" It is rewarding to put straw in the manger, but it also feels good to be aware of other people's kindness, too.

We explained to the children that just as Mary and Joseph made a soft bed for Jesus from the straw, when we are kind to others, we are softening our hearts to make room for Him, too. Even a dark cave filled with livestock can be a welcoming place when we are kind.

Many advent traditions bargain with you to being nice in order to get stuff, or give you treats every day on the way to Christmas. I like this tradition because, instead, we are working together to make something beautiful. On Christmas morning, when the manger is brimming with soft, kind yarn - before the girls get up, I will lay the baby in the manger. And we will all remember that Christ is born and God is with us!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Christ shall be born

My heart is heavy today, and not nearly so soft as it should be; yet I am moved by the music of the Nativity Paraklesis today.

Christ shall be born raising the image that fell at the beginning. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Making Ready for the Nativity

Nativity table begun! 
I can't wait! I love getting out all of our little ornaments and mangers and nativity scenes and talking to the children about softening our hearts. For my non-Orthodox friends, we do Christmas a little differently - we fast 40 days before Christmas, so we try to avoid too many treats and parties and focus instead on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But we still celebrate the fast with much joy and anticipation! And because we start early, I have to hold myself back a little, and not pull out all the things on November 15. I know some people feel like the activities and crafts are too much pressure this time of year, but for me it is a joy. And most of my work was done in years past, so I keep it pretty simple now. Here's my plan:

Celebrating the Nativity Fast, Feast and 12 days

At the start of the fast (Nov. 15): Put up a simple garland on the fireplace for our Jesse tree ornaments, and get out our empty manger to start our manger activity (we're making a soft place to welcome Christ through acts of kindness). Also, put up our Nativity Countdown Printable to keep track of the days. Make a meal plan and put that on the fridge, as well.

The girls and I will be reading through the books of Luke and Acts in the mornings during the fast. And we're looking forward to praying the Advent Paraklesis at church on Wednesdays during the fast.

On St. Nicholas Day (Dec 5/6): Put out our shoes for St. Nicholas, and find them filled with treats in the morning. Later in the day we will put up our Christmas tree!

On St. Lucia Day (Dec. 13): Put up lights in the kitchen window to remember our saint of light. We'll also make Lucia buns to take and share at church.

The Sunday of the Holy Forefathers (Dec. 13): Get out our toy nativity set to play with as we approach Christmas. Our ongoing Jesse Tree activity teaches the meaning of this Sunday, so I'll briefly talk about this to the kids on the way to Liturgy. All the stories we've been reading point to Christ, listen to the hymns and readings today to see how many of the Old Testament stories you know!

Christmas Eve (Dec. 24): This year, we'll celebrate Christmas here at our own mission church for the first time. We're very excited about celebrating in our own town with all of our people (and about not having to drive late at night). The Liturgy starts late, after 10 PM - don't forget to take a nap!

On Christmas Day (Dec. 25): Find our baby Jesus in the manger! Open presents and eat sausage balls and other goodies! I've seen an old custom to eat your Christmas Dinner with straw on the table under a linen table cloth. I've always wanted to do that (how memorable for the children!) so maybe this year will be the year!

The Twelve Days of Christmas (Dec. 25 - Jan. 5): This is the time we usually spend with family, doing the laid back celebrating. We make sure to eat lots of goodies and do lots of singing during this time. We usually end up doing all of the Jesse Tree readings for this period all at once, and usually the night before Theophany.

New Years/St. Basil's Day (Jan. 1): We are often just getting back home from our travels. We'll enjoy a lazy day unpacking, and bake a vasilopita using my favorite recipe.

Theophany (Jan. 6): I love this service at church with the Great Blessing of the Water. We'll drink whatever Holy Water we have left and take our cleaned bottles to church to fill with new water. After Theophany, we'll put away the tree and clean house to get ready for our house blessing!

How beautifully the church calendar rolls around again and again. Thank God!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New 40 Day Nativity Fast Printable

40 Days to Christmas - printable

Last year I made a quick nativity printable to count the 40 days leading to the birth of Christ. This year, I wanted to make it a bit prettier. My oldest daughter sat down with me and helped me decide just how to make it, and I think we're both pretty happy with it. As usual, I can't just do one thing - I also made a black and white version if you want to let the kids color their own... and then I made a version with only 25 stars for my non-Orthodox friends.

This works great as a last minute advent calendar if you don't already have one, or to accompany your Jesse Tree readings so you can quickly see your progress. We will put ours on our fridge and probably X, count, or otherwise draw on the days as we go. We also used a magnet last year, but it was often knocked out of place, so writing seems to work best. :)

Just grab the png and print. Enjoy!
25 days to Christmas - printable

25 days to Christmas - coloring page

40 days to Christmas - coloring page

cross-posted on We Wilsons

Thursday, October 15, 2015


This post is out of season, but I've had this photo waiting in my picture file for while. For the record, I built this Holy Friday bier, not the kids - I kept thinking about it in my sleep, and so finally I made it. I did let them help me decorate it with flowers though. :)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


"Sacraments do not simply bless things as they are, but transform them in a dynamic manner towards what they should be. In the case of the Eucharist, this transformation is complete. But in those sacraments that involve the freedom of persons, the transformation can only be seen as a dynamic. Man and woman are blessed towards what they should be. The heart of marriage is self-emptying love towards the purpose of union and the procreation of children. It does not exist for the self-fulfillment of our tragic existence ... but towards an end that is only just now being made present." - Fr. Stephen

"In the ancient Church, crowns are a symbol of martyrdom. The word "martyr" means witness. The common life of the bride and groom is to bear witness to the Presence of Christ in their lives and in the world. Martyrdom is usually associated with death. So the reality of God's Kingdom in the life of the husband and wife will necessarily take the form of dying to one's self, to one's will, and the giving of one's life totally to the other, and through the other, to Christ." - Wikipedia
"Bless (+) this marriage and grant unto these Your servants a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, love for one another in a bond of peace, offspring long‑lived, fair fame by reason of their children, and a crown of glory that does not fade away." - from the crowning service

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Back to School with Calendar Printables (and other stuff)

We're back to school this week! I'm really grateful for a return to routine, oh yes, I am.

We've returned to a mostly Charlotte Mason style again this year, although we're keeping many elements of the Waldorf program we used last year. Its hard, really hard, to make all the choices about what and how to teach and to feel confident you've made the right decision. But I'm really appreciating Ambleside Online this year, and I'm feeling more and more confident that what we're doing works well for us.

Calendar Cards sitting on our kitchen corner shelf
Last year, I shared these feast day cards, and as I noted at the time I had forgotten a few important feasts. We moved our school work from upstairs to the kitchen table (which has been great), and suddenly our feast day cards have a nice place to sit and are much easier to see and remember. This has worked really well for us as a Church Year Calendar, and our whole family has enjoyed them beyond school time.

Initially I kept the extras in my teaching folder, but now the entire stacks sits on this corner shelf. I flip the card to the back when the feast/fast is passed to see what's coming up next (being mindful of moveable feasts and feast days in the middle of a fast). You can download the updated file here.  There are 40 cards: one for the 12 major feasts, many popular saints, and fasting periods. Each card includes the date of the feast and the troparion (or other relevant hymn for fasts). I printed mine through fed ex printing on nice card stock (and they even cut the pages for me).

We're enjoying our Dormition Fast printable, and looking forward to celebrating the feast this weekend with lots of flowers!

I made some new animal bookmarks (sea animals and horses) for my girls. You can find the animal bookmark printables on my craft blog.

Happy New School Year!