Christmas Snapshots, Part Two

Christmas is almost here! Enjoy a quick break from your many activities (including last-minute shopping, anyone?) and read about some of our authors’ favorite Christmas memories and traditions.

“To help focus my children on the real meaning of Christmas, I put a slip of paper that lists an activity in each pocket of the advent calendar. The activities are things like Red and Green Day, Luke 2 day, Candy Cane Day, Wise Man Day, etc. We do fun activities that center around the theme of the day and focus on the meanings behind the traditions.

The Hedlund family on Wise Man Day.

The Hedlund family on Wise Man Day.

“For example, on Red and Green Day we eat red and green foods and wear red and green clothes, but we also talk about what red stands for (the blood of Jesus shed for our sins) and green (the new life he gives us). For Luke 2 day, we get out our nativity set along with reading Luke 2 (the birth of Jesus). The entire month of advent activities is something my kids look forward to every year and makes the Christmas season more about Jesus and less about us.”

Jody Hedlund, author of Love Unexpected

MateerCookies“One of our most treasured traditions is making Christmas cookies with all the cousins. My mother still hosts this event at her house, with the 10 grandchildren that live in the US all in attendance, even though four of them are now in their 20s! After rolling the dough, cutting out the shapes and baking the cookies, every kid decorates as many or few as they want. Nana and Papa get to keep one from each grandchild, but the rest are taken to their homes to enjoy. Such a fun time to gather with family in the midst of our busy lives!”

Anne Mateer, author of Playing by Heart

“When I was a child, my family always spent Christmas at my grandparents’ house. All the kids would wake up early and rush to the living room to see what was under the tree. However, we were never allowed to unwrap anything until the adults were up and breakfast was eaten. The one thing we were allowed to dig into was our stockings, where we discovered fun new toys and candy and activity books to keep us entertained. When my husband and I discussed which Christmas traditions to hand down to our own kids, stockings were at the top of my list. I love to cross-stitch, so I cross-stitched stockings for Wes and I and for each of our children before their first Christmas, making the tradition even more meaningful. I still get a thrill when I rush out to the living room and see what “Santa” put in my stocking. It’s my favorite part of Christmas morning.”

Karen Witemeyer, author of Full Steam Ahead

The Witemeyer mantle.

The Witemeyer mantle.

“Christmas of 1994 loomed as possibly my saddest holiday ever. Since my husband and I were expecting our first child in early January, we couldn’t travel home to see my family, and they had decided to wait and visit once the baby was born. Then on December 18th, when I saw a beautiful new baby girl at our church Christmas party, I declared, ‘I want my baby in time for Christmas.’

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“My wonderful daughter, Christiana Rose, complied immediately, and I went into labor late that night. She was born three weeks early, perfect, and she made it home in plenty of time for Christmas.”

Dina Sleiman, author of Dauntless

Your turn: what is a Christmas that stands out in your mind because of something special that happened?

Christmas Snapshots, Part One

What says, “Christmas” to you? Is it the sound of the Salvation Army bell-ringers outside the grocery store? Maybe the smell of pine or a ham baking in the oven. Or maybe it’s the glow of candlelight inside the church for the Christmas Eve service. We all have certain memories associated with this time of year, and I asked our authors to share some of theirs, either an annual tradition that they look forward to every year or a particular Christmas that stood out to them. I hope you enjoy their stories!

Wade_Becky“My kids and I make Christmas cookies together every year. I typically let each of them pick a recipe that they’d like to make with me individually. Then we have a few (like gingerbread) that we either a) make together or b) I make alone if the kids have lost interest and wandered off. Once all the cookie baking is done, we divide the cookies up, attach a ‘Merry Christmas from the Wades’ note, and deliver the packages to our neighbors and friends.”
Becky Wade, author of Meant to Be Mine

The Wade family with cookies!

The Wade family with cookies!

Turano_Jen1“Before my parents passed away, it was my tradition, no matter where I lived, to travel back to my hometown of St. Clairsville, OH. Even after my son, Dominic, was born, we would fight the crowds at the airport and fly from Denver to Ohio, braving the weather and delayed flights, and even having the supreme enjoyment of flying out on Christmas Eve one year–something I would not recommend doing with a three-year-old. But, once arriving at my mom’s house, a sense of peace would wrap itself around me, and there was always a great sense of being home as I gathered with my brothers and sisters in the living room, a room that certainly seemed to shrink as all of us married and had children.

TurnaoChristmas2“Those children allowed us to share the traditions of our youth—ice-skating on the little pond, sledding down the hill behind my parents’ house on an aluminum toboggan (which was never very comfortable but always had to be done), or setting up the trains my mother loved as a child, and watching the awe on the children’s faces as the train smoked and chugged its way around the track.

My son Dom as a little guy--yes, I did have him wear this outfit on the plane to Ohio.

My son Dom as a little guy–yes, I did have him wear this outfit on the plane to Ohio.

My siblings, Dad, and I at my grandparents' house.

My siblings, Dad, and I at my grandparents’ house.

“After my parents died, I found it next to impossible to dwell on those memories, and Christmas changed for me, not for the worse, mind you, but it was just different as I started new traditions in Denver, having no reason to travel back to Ohio. I had not been able to pull out those memories, nor pull out the boxes and boxes of pictures until just this year. To my surprise, (and I must admit, relief), I was not sad in the least over what each box revealed, but thankful to have tangible proof of some of the fabulous Christmas memories that I’ll always have to cherish, even if my parents are no longer here on this earth to cherish them with me.”

Jen Turano, author of A Match of Wits

GOULD_Leslie1crop“The real meaning of Christmas comes in unexpected moments for me, no matter how hard I try to focus on it. Last year it came in a century-old, candlelit church I visited with my oldest daughter. After a sermon about Immanuel—’God with us’—it was time for communion. As I drank the symbolic wine, the image of Christ’s blood mixing with my own overwhelmed me, followed by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. I’d never felt the story of God—born as a babe, sacrificed as a man, risen as a savior, and always with me in spirit—so acutely. It was God’s best gift to me last Christmas and one I’ll always treasure.”

Leslie Gould, author of Becoming Bea

Bylin_Victoria1“It wouldn’t be Christmas without my grandmother’s almond crescents. Each year she made hundreds of them and gave them as gifts in special foil boxes. I remember being five years old and helping her. They’re delicious, but the best thing about these cookies is the fun of making them with people you love.”

Nana Bylin’s Almond Crescents

1 lb. butter or margarine
1 c. sugar
4 c. flour
2 tsp. vanilla
½ lb. whole raw almonds
Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Use a food processor or blender to grind the almonds into a coarse powder. Add ground almonds and vanilla to the bowl with the butter and sugar. Mix well. Add flour. I usually start mixing with a spoon and end up mixing with my hands. Shape into small crescents.  Bake 25-30 minutes.

Bottoms are usually light brown. I let them cool on the cookie sheets, and the bottoms brown up a little bit more.  Let cool, then roll in powdered sugar.  This makes about 10 dozen, but it varies tremendously with “crescent” style.

Victoria Bylin, author of Until I Found You

And, if you’re looking for more Christmas recipes, Anne Mateer is sharing some quick-and-easy holiday bars on her website, and Dani Pettrey has some delicious-looking coffee drinks based on some of her characters’ favorites. Check them out!

Your turn: what first jumps to mind for you when someone asks for a holiday memory?

Advice for a Simpler Christmas, Part Two

Ever have the feeling that Christmas has gotten just a bit out of hand? If you’re like me, you have the best of intentions: this year, I will slow down and focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Sometimes, though, life just gets in the way.

To help you (and me!) out, some of our authors sent in practical tips for simplifying your Christmas. (Check out last week’s post on the same topic!)

Bunn_Davis“For the first several years of our marriage, my wife and I were ‘required’ to spend our Christmases with family members who did not believe in God.  For them, the entire process revolved around a cultural event, and the holiday’s commercial side.  As a result of this, our desire to focus on something else has remained a core ingredient of the season.  And this ‘something else’ is the key.  What we have found is that to simply say, ‘no’ to commercialism isn’t enough.  There needs to be an alternative, some great and interesting project or date or event that is big enough, and fun enough, to make the absence of commercialism really not matter so much.  Each year now we plan on some big event that we can see as our Christmas.  This year, for the first time in twelve years, my mother has felt well enough to join us.  We are arranging for her and my sister and her husband and their two daughters to all come down and have a Christmas eve dinner in the Polish tradition.  My wife is first generation American, both her parents were Polish.  The Polish celebration is focused upon Wigilia, a twelve-course meal without meat.  It will take us two days, possibly three, to prepare.  And it is this preparation, as much as the event itself, that forms for us the Christmas season.”

Davis Bunn, author of The Patmos Deception

Nancy with little Aidan.

Nancy with little Aidan.

“On Christmas Day two years ago, our lives changed forever. God gave us the most wonderful Christmas gift, our first grandchild, Aidan Jackson Mehl. Almost a year later, my husband, Norman, and I sold our home in Wichita, Kansas and moved to Missouri so we could be near our son and daughter-in-law and be involved in Aidan’s life. Blending families has meant that many of our long-held Christmas traditions had to change. But we’ve discovered that traditions are all about family, so adjusting them so we can watch this wonderful little boy grow up isn’t painful at all. It’s a joy”

Nancy Mehl, author of Gathering Shadows

Austin_Lynn1“One holiday season when my children were young, I grew stressed as I saw Christmas and my book deadline rapidly approaching. I longed to create a perfect Hallmark Christmas with homemade cookies and gingerbread houses but I could see that I was going to have to simplify. I asked each family member to choose one holiday tradition that was special to them, and we would do it. Surprisingly, they chose simple, uncomplicated things like watching a favorite Christmas movie together or driving around to look at the neighbors’ lights. No one asked for cookies and gingerbread houses. It became our tradition to each choose one special activity to do—and they could choose a different one each year. In the end, keeping only a few special traditions made each one seem even more fun.”

Lynn Austin, author of Keepers of the Covenant

These blog posts are your official permission to stop. Slow down. Take a few moments to pray. Breathe a little. Cross a few things off your to-do list, not because you’ve completed them but because you don’t have to do everything.

I promise: Jesus will still feel sufficiently celebrated even if you don’t make all possible types of baked goods, attend every holiday party, or imitate each Advent tradition you’ve ever heard or read about.

At the end of the day, rehearsals and presents and decorations aside, the baby is still in the manger. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Emmanuel. God with us. Let’s keep it simple, because there is a beauty in that simplicity, and it has the power to change the world.

What is one thing that helps you focus on Jesus at Christmas time? (A song, a tradition, a verse?)

The Music of Christmas

If you listen closely around this time of year, you can almost always hear faint jingle bells or distant strains of Irving Berlin. There’s just something about music that creates atmosphere, stirs emotion, and teaches deep truths in a way that nothing else can. Some of our authors are on the blog today to share how these songs have been a part of their Christmases.

Also, we love this idea: take a clear glass ornament, remove the top, and fill with lines from your favorite carol (print from the Internet so you don't have to shred a hymnal!).

Also, we love this idea: take a clear glass ornament, remove the top, and fill with lines from your favorite carol (print from the Internet so you don’t have to shred a hymnal!).

Peterson, TracieHands down, Handel’s Messiah has always been an important part of my Christmas celebration and memories.  I was born into a musical family, so music was always important, but there was something about Handel’s music set to Scripture that touched me deep inside.  We had a local church that would have a community singalong of Handel’s Messiah each Christmas, and there were a couple of occasions that my mother and I attended.  It was an amazing time, and though most of us weren’t trained vocalists, it was some of the most beautiful music I’ve even known…and a wondrous time of worship.

Tracie Peterson, author of Steadfast Heart

ThomasChristmas

Sarah and her father.

I have a weakness for Christmas carols. I’ve been known to sing them at the top of my lungs while hiking (alone!) at just about any time of year. I have favorites—”The Cherry Tree Carol,” “I Wonder as I Wander,” “The Ballad of the Christmas Donkey”—but my VERY favorite is “Up on the Rooftop.” When we were kids, Dad would lead us in sing-alongs whenever we traveled around Christmas, and he’d make up verses for each of us. Something like: “Here comes the stocking of little Sally (his pet name for me), oh dear Santa what a tally, give her a dress that whirls and twirls, and then you can give her hair some curls.” We’d beg for verse after verse, throwing out the names of family, friends, and made-up acquaintances. And Dad always came through with a rhyme.

Sarah Thomas, author of Miracle in a Dry Season

Jagears_Melissa1My favorite Christmas song is Downhere’s “How Many Kings,” and if I’m playing a Christmas album it’s likely to be this one. I’ve always been fascinated by the Wise Men, which may be part of the reason why I wanted to start a new tradition with my family and start celebrating Epiphany since the Christmas season has morphed into nothing much more than a get-together with presents. I also think the reason why I love this song is that it goes beyond the wise men to sing of the ultimate romance—a divine King’s love for the undeserving.

Melissa Jagears, author of A Bride in Store

And, finally, a song recommended by one of our readers in last Thursday’s blog post, “Carol of the Bells.” (This is one of my favorite versions.)

Do you attend a special musical event around Christmas? If so, what is it?

How to Make a Book Tree and a Note from Beverly Lewis

It’s another week in our online BHP Christmas celebration! We have more holiday goodies for you, including some wonderful giveaways and a virtual greeting from Beverly Lewis. (I’m sure she’d love to give you all hugs in person too, but sadly, you’re all a little too spread out for that.)

How To Make a Book Christmas Tree

I'm really excited about this, if you couldn't tell.

I’m really excited about this, if you couldn’t tell.

First, choose your books. Red and green spines work well, but any color is fine, especially if you wrap them around with lights when you’re finished. Consider choosing your favorite books of 2014 for a place of honor.

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So is Erin, on our nonfiction marketing team.

Second, arrange books on a hard surface by stacking layers of similar thickness. A few hints: if you have hardcover books, make sure those are to the middle of the tree where they’ll balance out better. NOTE: It is way more stable to arrange the books in a circle, so spines are facing out on all sides. But we didn’t want you to not be able to see any of the the titles. Also, doing the cute little trunk base was totally worth the slight instability.

Third, adjust with care to balance out the books and generally make the sculpture look as tree-like as possible.

Fourth, decorate your tree. Be careful with heavy garlands, but light tinsel and ornaments work well. (We also used Christy award stickers, which just seemed to fit.) Don’t forget the tree topper!

Admire the final result…and it doubles as a way to recommend your favorite books to anyone who drops by!

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A Christmas Card from Beverly Lewis

Dear Readers,

What is it about time? As children we anticipated the arrival of our birthdays with what seemed to be near-endless waiting. The same was true Christmas, which just took forever to get here!

So much to do; so little time. Don’t we hear this said about our helter-skelter living? And what about “making time” for this or that? If time could be manufactured, would we actually spend time doing it?

“24/7” isn’t just an expression; it’s become our society’s mantra. Stuff… things…people…and issues all consume our time, whether they fit into our goal-oriented priorities or not. Then, of course, come the resolutions, as in New Year’s, every year. And when the attempts at more exercise, a better diet, proper rest, and more time for prayer and Scripture reading fall away around mid-February, we’re right back to marking time, filling up our time. And…lost in time.

Stop and think about this. What if we had only a few weeks left to live? Would we hurry up and live the way we thought we should have all along? Be more tender-hearted and caring? More generous and patient? Would we take time to tell someone about life everlasting, where mansions await those who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ? And where time will evaporate—be “no more.”

Time’s-a-wasting, I heard growing up. And it certainly is. Our youngest children, boy/girl twins, are all grown up, and as for Dave and me, the mirror certainly doesn’t lie. None of us are getting any younger. What we do for Christ, we must not delay or second guess.

The Son of God came to us earthlings at the right time and place. He continues to work His will and plan within the construct of time and space, yet is not confined by it. Mind-boggling? Yes, and incredibly miraculous, too.

The very best thing about Christmas at our house is that hushed and holy time on Christmas Eve, when the mantel is alight with dozens of candles, music from Messiah fills the air, gingerbread houses still uneaten are displayed on the hearth, and loving hands form a circle of thankfulness. Heartfelt gratitude for this Holy God in a human baby, our precious infant Savior. Irresistible in the manger, born for a Cross…for such a time as this!

May your Christmas Season abound with every spiritual blessing!

BevLewisBlessings-signature-gray

Christmas Gift-Away Roundup, Part Two

Once again, I collected various contest from our authors in case you missed any.

Visit this site to win a copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen, which just released last week (and be sure to watch the trailer while you’re there).

Here’s a big one: if you win, you’ll get one of our fiction books…or two…or every single fiction title Bethany House published this year! Enter here! (And check out our nonfiction giveaway as well.)

Regina Jennings will send you a personalized bookplate if you’re giving one of her books for Christmas! (Or giving a gift to yourself. That works too.)

Melissa Tagg’s free Christmas short story, “One December Night” is still available for you to read online or download to your e-reader. Be sure to check out this heartwarming tale of love and bravery during the holiday season.

It’s time to talk Christmas movies with Becky Wade and Melissa Tagg! They’re joining with other author friends to share their favorite Christmas films…and give away books!

Speaking of Christmas movies (or TV specials), what is your favorite?

Advice for a Simpler Christmas, Part One

Are you feeling just a little frantic this December? It’s a busy time of year, and with so much to do, it can be easy to be stressed during a season that’s supposed to be about “peace on earth.” Some of our authors are here to give practical advice on ways to slow down a bit this year at Christmas.

One of our decorations in the Bethany House library.

One of our decorations in the Bethany House library.

Mitchell_SiriIt’s always been difficult for me to enjoy Christmas because there’s just so much to do. When I found myself cooking the traditional batch of family candy all by myself one year, I began to think that maybe some of “our” Christmas traditions might not really be all that important to anyone else. My advice for a simpler Christmas? If it doesn’t give you joy and no one else in the family cares, then stop doing it! Eleven months’ worth of happy memories shouldn’t have to be crammed into one month every year.

Siri Mitchell, author of Love Comes Calling

CAMDEN_ElizabethI’ve often heard people suggest a halt to gift giving is a great way to simplify Christmas, although it is perhaps easier said than done. One easy gift solution for adult friends and family is to select an item from one of the many religious groups that sell homemade goods to generate revenue.  Handmade soaps, jam, candles, or candy make for inexpensive but still useful gifts, all while helping support the people who have given their lives to help lead our religious orders. I usually order a caseload of a single item, and then everyone on my list gets a jar of jam or a similar modest gift. If you don’t know of any religious groups that sell such products, Monastery Greetings is an online website hosting dozens of monasteries, convents, and seminaries which sell their homemade goodies. Happy shopping!

Elizabeth Camden, author of With Every Breath

Nathan Ham Photography|www.whataham.comOne way to keep the holidays simple is to decide upon one special event that will create a memory for the family to enjoy. Rather than rushing around and attempting to “do it all,” sit down and discuss some ideas with your family.  The event needs to vary depending upon the size and age of your family, but here are a few ideas: Have a family or special picture taken that will be treasured later in life; go to a Christmas play or musical that your family can enjoy together; go sledding or ice skating together if you live in a cold climate; drive around town and look at the variety of holiday decorations and then go out for a special meal; have the family help you make holiday treats so you’re creating memories as well as cookies—and if you can all decide upon someone to bless with those treats—all the better. Whatever you decide upon, make certain you find time to enjoy each other as you celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Judith Miller, author of The Brickmaker’s Bride

If you had to keep just one Christmas tradition, which would you pick?

Prayer for Authors: December 2014

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Authors with Books Releasing in December:

Jody Hedlund
Regina Jennings
Julie Klassen

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

“He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be our peace.” — Micah 5:4, NIV

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For wisdom to know how to balance writing and other responsibilities, like family.
  • For encouragement in unexpected places.
  • For times when they know that what they just wrote was given to them by God.

Thank you so much to those of you who take time to pray for our authors, especially during a busy Christmas season. It means a lot to us!

Quiz: What Book Should Be On Your Gift List?

Here at Bethany House, we love to celebrate Christmas. Since we can’t invite you all to our decoration day (which is today…I’ll show you all pictures in a later post) or our annual Christmas potluck, I decided that we’d have to find other ways to invite our amazing readers to join in our celebration.

Gift Guide Quiz

We’ll start with a quiz that will help you find some great suggestions for what to put under the tree for someone on your list. (I took this quiz with a friend in mind, and one of the suggestions I got was a book I had already bought for her for her birthday, which she loved. So clearly it’s scientific and accurate.)

If you’re looking for a gift for someone else, take the quiz with that person in mind. If, say, you want to strongly hint to a family member about a gift that would be best with your name on the tag, answer as yourself. Because no one can have too many books, right?

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A Christmas Story

One December NightNo, not the movie. Something better and even more exciting! Click here to read “One December Night,” Melissa Tagg’s Christmas short story, featuring a heroine who had me from the moment we learn that “she’d fallen for Gilbert Blythe the first time she read Anne of Green Gables at age nine.” (Anyone else out there?)

“One December Night” is an e-short companion to Melissa Tagg’s Here to Stay, which also has a few Christmas scenes (including the annual Whisper Shore snowball fight that I really wish I could make a tradition where I live). And the ebook is on sale for $1.99 from today until Sunday, December 7th!

Christmas Gift-Aways Round-Up

Many of our authors are providing contests and giveaways during this season, so I assembled all the links to make entering easier than hiding presents from your inquisitive oldest child. Most don’t require anything more complicated than signing up for a newsletter or commenting on a blog post. Enjoy!

Anne Mateer will wrap and send a fun gift package to a recipient of your choosing if you win this giveaway.

On the Suspense Sisters blog, Nancy Mehl is sharing a Christmas memory and giving away a copy of Gathering Shadows.

“Give the Gift of Books” and enter Jody Hedlund’s giveaway.

You could win a Kindle courtesy of Kate Breslin by signing up for her newsletter.

Regina Jennings and four other author friends are writing lovely holiday letters from their protagonists and giving you a chance to enter to win a fresh evergreen wreath.

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Now, a question for you, readers: what is your favorite holiday song or carol? (I might feature it in a future Bethany House Christmas post!)