Category: Advent, Christmas (page 2 of 5)

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It

Over tea, a friend recently told me that she had never heard of Advent until last year, when she and her husband showed up to church one day and found blue and violet clothes draped behind the cross at our church and candles everywhere. She covertly googled “what is advent” as our pastor began his sermon.

She told me this story and both of us laughed, but I find myself coming back to that conversation, because I, too, showed up for church one Sunday in December years ago and found that Advent—whoever that was—had arrived. I am well-acquainted with Advent now, but it was humbling to realize that I have grown so well-acquainted with it that I don’t think to slow down and introduce others to the season as well.

I know you are all from a variety of backgrounds. Some of you grew up celebrating Advent; some of you, like me, grew up celebrating presents. So I want to assume nothing today and tell you all a bit about what Advent is and how we celebrate it as a family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

Advent is the season preceding Christmas, when we prepare ourselves for the entrance of our Creator God into his disordered creation. The season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas (that is, last Sunday the 27th), though most of our Advent readings begin on December 1. The important part is that, whether it’s four weeks even or more-or-less four weeks long, we spend that time meditating on the Incarnation of Jesus, both independently and as a family.

There are so, so many ways to do this, both at church and in our homes, but here are a few of our favorites:

We use a Jesse Tree to remind us daily of where Jesus fits in his long lineage of ancestors (and of how surprising it is that God used the people he did to shape that tree). I have written a few posts about that for this blog. If you’re interested, you can learn about what a Jesse tree is and how we use it here. You can learn how to make ornaments for it here.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

We use an Advent calendar in tandem with our Jesse Tree. You can learn more about how we use it and how I made ours here.

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

We light candles each Sunday to mark our progress toward Christmas. Many people use Advent wreaths for this; we use a cheap tea light holder from Ikea that conveniently has four wells for candles. It gets the job done and it’s pretty.

I try to do some devotional reading on my own. Last year, I spent the season studying for and co-writing the Advent series at the Deeply Rooted blog (you can read my posts from that series here, here and here. If you want to know more about why I love Advent so much, they’re a great place to start!). This year, I plan to read through John Piper’s book, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy and Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him. But on the years when I’m feeling less structured, I at least try to read through one of the gospels on my own.

So You Want to Celebrate Advent | Little Book, Big Story

We try to do some sort of service as a family. The older girls usually visit a nursing home with their school and sing carols. I like to serve in the worship team at our church during Advent, though that doesn’t happen every year. But finding some way to use our gifts to bless others, even if it’s just bringing something sweet to the neighbors (sometimes that, honestly, is the extent of our service) is a goal we aim for each year.

Advent Books | Little Book, Big Story

And, of course, we read a lot of beautiful books. I pull out an old favorite from the attic every few days, but I also like to purchase one or two new Christmas books each year to build our library. By the time Christmas rolls around, we’re swimming in beautiful stories about Jesus. If you’re looking for some of our favorites, you can read this list, or you can peruse the “Christmas” section of this blog. The Read-Aloud Revival podcast also has a lovely episode all about Christmas books that aired last year, full of great ideas for how and when to read with your family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

There. That’s a flyover view of how our family celebrates Advent. I’ll be back next week with more beautiful Advent books and resources for you.

Does your family celebrate Advent? Do you have any favorite traditions to share?

My Book House | Olive Beaupre Miller

Our shelves are full of books I believe in. We own adventure stories, where after a few battles and close calls, good triumphs over evil. We own fairy tales, picture books, poetry collections, and a whole lot of Sandra Boynton board books. And books are everywhere in our home: in fact, the only room in our home that doesn’t have a single book in it is our laundry room. Everywhere else has a cache of books tucked into some corner or other.

I tell you this not because I’m in a mood to state the obvious, but because I want to paint a picture of a family who loves books, who reads them often, and who trades favorites on a regular basis. We read a lot—but we’re not very structured about it. I trust that by filling our shelves with great titles, our kids will get a well-rounded literary education.

But, of course, I am the weak link there: they will get a well-rounded education in books that I am familiar with. Books that like.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

So when I heard about My Book House, I was intrigued: In 1920, Olive Beaupre Miller, the series editor, chose character-building stories from classic literature, mythology, fairy tales and more, and arranged them in multiple volumes, each one progressively more challenging than the last. The idea was that a family could read straight through the series and provide their children with a rich literary foundation, from nursery rhymes to great historical speeches.

That’s pretty awesome. The series includes things I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward—fables, folk tales, and nursery rhymes, to name a few, as well as things familiar and well-loved. It’s delightful to be drawn outside our box.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

But while I was immediately smitten with the idea behind My Book House, it wasn’t until I saw pictures of the books themselves that I decided to take the plunge and order a set. The books are beautiful, and there’s something satisfying about seeing that many good stories huddled together in matching jackets on our shelves.

To clarify: Yes. I bought the books because they’re pretty.

Buying these books is a hefty investment, and I hesitated about whether or not to post them here because I hate to talk you into adding $100 worth of books (however beautiful) to your wishlists unless I’m positive you’ll like them. But the thought that you might see a set at a garage sale and pass it by because you’d never heard of them finally convinced me that I have a duty to share these books with you. So, check thrift stores, garage sales, and eBay (that’s where I found mine)—perhaps you’ll get lucky!

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

How We Use Our Set

These books have become a part of our home school routine. I read them aloud to the girls, but I also encourage my newly fluent first grader to practice her reading on some of the early volumes.

We have been studying geography this year, so it’s been fun to read some of the stories from other countries. (I will warn you, though, that these books are a little dated in places. Some of the perspectives on race and culture might bring up some interesting discussions with your kids.)

I love digging into them around holidays: my set has a giant index at the end of the last volume, so when a holiday rolls around, it’s fun to rummage through that index and find the stories and poems that relate to each holiday and incorporate those into our reading for the week.

Plus, my girls love them so much that they often pull a volume down and curl up on the couch with it. That’s a hearty endorsement from the intended audience right there.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

A Note on Editions

I understand that there are different editions out there and that some of the older ones are a bit better than my 1971 set (read more about that at the link below), but I didn’t know that until after I purchased mine. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because the 1971 set is so darn pretty.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

One Last Thing

If you would like to know more about either the history of My Book House or how you might use it in your home, Pam Barnhill has an excellent article all about the series on her blog, Ed Snapshots. Read it here.


My Book House
Olive Beaupre Miller (1920)

The Christ Candle | Deeply Rooted Blog

The stable falls silent and then—a cry. The thin cry of an infant, so welcome to waiting parents, to a laboring mother, who breathes a sigh of relief and falls back on her improvised pillow, laughing and weeping at once. As the father wraps the baby warmly and delivers him into Mary’s waiting arms, creation shares in her delight: the wait is over. The work is done. Emmanuel—God With Us—has come.

The Christ Candle,” the final post in Deeply Rooted‘s Advent series, went up today, and writing it was a well-timed blessing: while I prepped for gatherings and baked sugar cookies from scratch with all three girls (because we will make memories, by gum!) and tried not to curl up in a weepy, overtired, pregnant ball, I also got to meditate on Jesus as the Light of the World. Verses like this one kept me going:

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone . . .
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be on his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2,6)

Merry Christmas, dear readers! Worship the Lord in quiet ways and with great noise (and sugar cookies) today. He has come!


The Christ Candle
Théa Rosenburg, Deeply Rooted Blog

Good King Wenceslas | John M. Neale

I once sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in a high school choir. We all dressed in black and walked down the aisles with battery-operated candles, singing eerie, anticipatory harmonies to our parents and loved ones.

I loved the song (and still do), but I had no idea what I was singing about.

Good King Wenceslas, by John M. Neale | Little Book, Big Story

I think that is often the case with Christmas carols: so many of them retain the beautiful language of centuries passed, filled with words that have dropped out of our vocabulary and doctrine. Though we know the words by heart, it is hard to take them to heart without a dictionary. The carols become so familiar as we sing that we forget to listen to them.

Good King Wenceslas, by John M. Neale | Little Book, Big Story

Good King Wenceslas takes a familiar carol and slows it down: though I like to sing the words as I read this book to my girls, the illustrations draw out the story behind the song and surprised both my husband and me. Oh! we thought. That’s what the song is about!

Good King Wenceslas, by John M. Neale | Little Book, Big Story

It’s a beautiful story about a servant king, and Tim Ladwig’s illustrations bring rich and lively details to a song whose story sweeps over the heads of many children (the line “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen” always perplexed me when I was small). I found this one at a used bookstore mere days after reading about it on Aslan’s Library and knew I had found a book worth returning to Advent after Advent.


Good King Wenceslas
John M. Neale, Tim Ladwig (2005)

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas

The first time we listened to A Slugs and Bugs Christmas, we were on our way to the pharmacy for flu vaccines. To give you an adult-to-child ratio, that was me to three small children, all destined to get shots in the next hour. We needed something light-hearted and peppy to boost morale.

The girls were immediately smitten with Slugs and Bugs—Randall Goodgame was speaking their language! I enjoyed the songs, I think, but was inwardly crafting my strategy for the pharmacy: three girls. Me. Narrow aisles; shelves of small things. Shots.

I don’t think I heard much of the album at all.

On our way home, though, I was in a state of elation: we’d done it! We survived! Nobody cried (much), not even me, though I felt like eating a whole pint of ice cream to celebrate and/or de-stress afterward. Instead, we did something better: we listened to “The Camel Song.”

And I fell head-over-heels for Slugs and Bugs.

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

To tell you that “The Camel Song” was just the things for girls whose arms still smarted was one thing, but to tell you that it had me laughing out loud is another. The next morning, I kept listening to the albumwhen it was just Phoebe and me in the van and I could have listened to whatever I wanted. I reached “The Camel Song Conversation” at the end of the album and really lost it, laughing so hard my eyes watered while I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store, waiting for the song to end so I could get out of the car and behave like an adult.

What could be a better endorsement for a children’s album than that? I listened to it on my own, just because I wanted to. And it made me laugh.

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas somehow hits all the markers for a good Christmas album for kidsthere are silly and nostalgic songs at the start, and the end of the album is full of beautifully arranged Christmas carols old and new. A six-year-old friend put it this way: “It’s funny, because there are Santa songs and then God songs and then some songs that are just silly!”

Randall Goodgame, Andrew Peterson and others made an album that is a joy to listen to (and to have stuck in your head throughout the day). But when I read about their vision for children’s music, I loved them even more:

We believe songs are one of God’s powerful tools for building strong relationships. When songs inspire laughter or deep spiritual thought, they can transform a routine car ride into a sweet family experience. Over time, that influence can profoundly impact the culture of the home. . . . Our small hope is that the joyful creativity of Slugs & Bugs music will delight your whole family.  Our grand hope is that Slugs & Bugs kids would find it natural to remember Jesus in their homework, in their friendships, and one day, in the parenting of our grandchildren.

That paragraph makes me glad that I have their other album Under Where? ready to tuck into someone’s stocking on Christmas Eve.


A Slugs and Bugs Christmas
Slugs and Bugs

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever | Barbara Robinson

A good story prepares the soil of a child’s heart for the seed of the gospel. When choosing books to read to my daughters or share with you, I think about that a lot: is this a good story? Will it nourish children and plant in them a longing to see the King return and the world remade? Or does it give them a cramped perspective that this life—with its illness, injury, and evil—is the best that we can hope for? That there is no magic after all?

What I don’t often think about, though, is which stories fed me as a child. I read voraciously but I did not read deeply, so many of the classics featured here are new discoveries for me. All of the Christian literature is new, and because I only dimly recall reading Goosebumps  and The Babysitters’ Club, it rarely occurs to me to wonder which stories the Lord used to soften my heart toward him.

But a few years ago, my mom gave me a well-loved copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever—my own copy, revisited annually throughout my childhood. I read it again for a dose of nostalgia and discovered instead the gospel, embedded in a story I’d loved because it was funny and, in its own way, irreverent.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever | Little Book, Big Story

Because the story is so delightful and unexpected, I don’t want to tell you much about it. Perhaps I’ll tell you that it approaches the question of who does and doesn’t belong in the church with humor and grace, and that it will almost certainly make you laugh and, later, cry. And I’ll tell you that I plan to read it to my daughters this year, in the hope that this story will soften the soil of their hearts so that, when the gospel’s seed is sown, its shoot will flourish.


The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Barbara Robinson (1972)

First Coming

Our Christmas Tree | Little Book, Big Story

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the maker of the Stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane,
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

– Madeleine L’Engle

Merry Christmas!