Light the first three candles and then the Angel Candle.
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."
But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.
The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.
"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David;
and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."
Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"
The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.
"And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.
"For nothing will be impossible with God."
And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth
Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah,
and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
And she cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
"And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?
"For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.
"And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord."
And Mary said:
"My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
"For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
"For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
"AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION
TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM.
"He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
"He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
"HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
"He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever."
And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home. (NASB)
Christmas Possibilities Christmas homeschooling article from Crosswalk.com.
The Blessed Evangelical Mary This is an interesting article that attempts to find a middle ground about reverence to Mary...somewhere between Catholics and Protestants. :o) Good read!
Dinnertime (or anytime!) Discussion
In today's verses, we see that Mary calls herself a "bondslave" of the Lord. A bondslave or bondservant is one who is bound to serve their employer or master, usually without pay. Why do you think Mary calls herself this? Why would it please God for us to be a "bondslave" to him? (Think especially about the definition of "bondservant" and how this person does not receive pay. Does he or she receive something more important in return?)
The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot. Animal lovers of all kinds treasure the stories of country veterinarian James Herriot. Here is a heartwarming story for Christmas about one of his visits to a pet owner who is caring for a stray kitten whose mother has died.
Gateway to Joy--Christmas Stories In 1998, Elisabeth Elliot spent the month of December reading classic Christmas stories on her radio program! You can read them in the transcripts at the link and then click to the next one and the next one... Enjoy!
Here is one of the articles I mentioned above; this one is about Mary: God Came Down
The gorgeous painting at the left is by a well-known artist named Sandro Botticelli. He is probably most famous for his beautiful painting called "The Birth of Venus" (Caution: The painting has partial nudity, but is tasteful, IMO.)
Botticelli was a painter of the early Italian Renaissance and his subjects included both religious images and pagan, mythological ones (see Venus above). He also painted wall frescoes at the Sistine Chapel.
He was apprenticed to a goldsmith and later was taught under the great painter Fra Filippo Lippi (more on him at a later date!). Botticelli spent most of his life in Florence and working closely with the Medici family, painting family portraits and religious pictures. He did, however, visit Rome and that may be what influenced him to paint his "Adoration of the Magi" in a setting of classical ruins rather than the true setting of Bethlehem. Botticelli was one of the first to introduce the popular themes of myths and legends to the Renaissance.
Works of Sandro Botticelli See more of his work here. I especially like his "Madonna of the Magnificat". (Caution: A few nudes, so preview.)
Christmas Carol or Hymn
Away in a Manger This popular Christmas carol has a most confusing history! For many years, "Away in a Manger" was attributed to Martin Luther, causing it to be widely accepted in some circles and rejected by others!
Some sources still claim that Luther is the composer (for example, in my research, Bob Jones University has a page on this carol and they give Luther the credit), however, it is now a common theory that James R. Murray found the untitled music. He printed the song with the title "Luther's Cradle Hymn" in his popular songbook, Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses and even stated that Martin Luther has written it AND had sung it to his children at bedtime!
We will probably never know who the first true author of the music is. Other versions of "Away in a Manger" were published in the late 1800's and it was credited to several men. Once, "Away in a Manger" was published in a songbook--one of many--which gave credit to a man named Carl Mueller who most likely did not even exist! Many times, particularly in the years of World War I, any credit to the German Martin Luther were shunned and more stories about the song's origin popped up.
What we do know is that the very first version was probably written by an American in the mid 1800's. Although it was popular to give Martin Luther credit and tell tales of German mothers singing the tune to their sleepy babies, the Germans had never heard of this song until it reached Europe after gaining fame in America! It is certainly possible that the song was handed down orally for several years before landing in James Murray's hands. Perhaps the person who passed it on to him told him the story of Martin Luther's "cradle hymn". We may never know the truth about the beginnings of this sweet Christmas song, but can be glad that even controversy caused it to be kept alive in hearts and homes around the world!
Holiday Tradition & History
The legend behind the hanging of stockings is really more a story of Saint Nicholas, the generous 4th century priest, than a story of Christmas!
For hundreds of years, children of poor families in Eastern European countries (and all over the world, actually) were accustomed to having only one or two pairs of socks or stockings. Great care was taken to be sure that the thick, warm stockings did not tear or get lost. And, because they were worn every day, families would wash out their socks at night and hang them to dry over the fire so that they would be ready for the next day.
In the small Turkish town where he was born, and in surrounding areas, the young St. Nicholas was very sensitive to the needs of the poor. He was the son of rich aristocratic parents but felt the calling of God at an early age. The stories and legends of St. Nicholas' good deeds and sacrificial giving were written down in the 10th century by a Christian author named Metaphrastes. (You can read translated selections from his The Life of Nicholas here: The Real Saint Nicholas (Symeon Metaphrast). In the writings of Metaphrastes, we find the first legend of how the tradition of hanging stockings by children to receive gifts began!
The story goes that St. Nicholas learned of a widower and his three teenaged daughters who were starving. The father wanted his daughters to marry soon so that they would not have to continue living in poverty, but the only way that the girls could marry was if they had a sufficient dowry to give to their future husbands. Of course, the family had nothing to give. The desperate father was at the point of selling one daughter into slavery so that he could at least rescue his other two daughters from a fate of hunger and poverty. It is said that the father arranged for the daughter to be sold but could not bring himself to go through with it.
St. Nicholas' heart was so affected by this family's plight that he decided to help. Often he would give gifts and money anonymously to families in the villages around his home. Many people already suspected him as the giver and he was loved by many for this humble generosity.
One night, when the widower and his daughters had hung their stockings over the fire and gone to bed, Nicholas came and opened a window, throwing some gold coins into their home. When they awakened, the oldest daughter found the coins and rushed to tell her father of the surprise!
The two following nights, Nicholas visited their home again and left gold coins for the other two daughters' dowries. One version of the story says that he threw the coins for the last daughter into the home because he heard the father awakening and the coins landed in the hung stockings. Another variation says that St. Nicholas hid on the roof of the home and threw the coins down the chimney--the coins landed in a stocking, of course!
Soon, townspeople began to suspect St. Nicholas of the miracle that saved the widower's family because all of the anonymous gifts occurred whenever Nicholas was in town! It didn't take long for children in other families to begin checking their stockings in the mornings, especially when Nicholas had been seen nearby that day! After Nicholas died and was given sainthood, people honored him on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, by hanging their stockings by the fire.
But the story doesn't quite end there. It wasn't until 1823, when a Christmas poem called A Visit from St. Nicholas was published that the hanging of stockings became a Christmas tradition in addition to a St. Nicholas Day tradition.
The poem was, as we now recognize it, "The Night Before Christmas"! The author, Clement Clarke Moore, used the legend of St. Nicholas' kind help to the widower and his daughters but changed the date of that generous act to Christmas Eve. Of course, he used "Santa" as the one who delivered the gifts which filled good children's stockings while they slept.
In the early days after the popular poem was published, children simply hung one of their own stockings. But as the years went by, children and their parents realized that they could make special, LARGER Christmas stockings to both decorate and hold more treats! One tradition that still survives in families around the world is to place an orange in each stocking as a reminder of the gifts of gold that St. Nicholas gave. The tradition of stockings at Christmas can serve as a reminder to all of us that giving even a little of ourselves and the blessings that we have received is one of the best ways to honor Christ..and perhaps the memory of the kind young priest as well.
*Did you know that a century ago if you received a lump of coal in your stocking on St. Nicholas' Day that you considered yourself lucky? It is assumed that because usually poor families received very small and practical gifts like this rather than "exciting" ones such as toys that the association with getting coal became a negative one.
'Round the World at Christmas
In Italy, Christmas Eve is filled with many traditions and each city or village has its own way of celebrating. Many families do not put up a Christmas tree and focus instead on the "presepe" or nativity scene, both in the home and at church. Many cathedrals feature a life-size presepe, casually called a Crib by some, that includes real animals or large animated figures. One famous Christmas tree in Italy, however, can be seen in Bussero, a small town near Milan. They call it the Joyful Tree and is an enormous artificial tree with thousands of lights, moving ornaments and figures. Each year the Joyful Tree gets bigger and better. It has made the Guiness Book of World Records three times! Take a look: L'albero del sorriso--The Joyful Tree. In mountainous regions of Italy, "zampognari" (bagpipers) dress as if they are from Biblical times and travel through the towns playing special hymns and traditional folk songs. The zamporgnari make appearances in Rome, as well, and are represented as figurines in many of the nativity scenes.
Every family has its own unique way of celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas. Families pass down these cherished traditions from generation to generation and many survive even when members move to America or other countries.
Many families, particularly Roman Catholic ones, may fast for the entire day on Christmas Eve up until a large feast that evening. There are a few popular ways of feasting on Christmas Eve in Italy. For all, only meatless dishes are prepared and many consist of fish and shellfish. A very traditional dish is baked EEL (sometimes it must be only a female eel!). The number of dishes prepared has a special significance depending on where a family lives and what tradition they are following. Some families celebrate with 7 fish courses because 7 is thought to be a holy number associated with God or to represent the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit or the 7 Sacraments. Families honoring this tradition may attend 7 different churches or cathedrals during the day on Christmas Eve before returning home to their feast.
In another custom, families will prepare 12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles. (Or, 11 dishes for the apostles MINUS Judas...or, 13 dishes for the 12 apostles plus Jesus!). Many people attend church, pray and light candles for the 9 days leading up to Christmas. These days are special because they represent the 9 days that it took for Joseph and Mary to make their way to Bethlehem.
In each home, the presepe holds a special place. Sometimes they are displayed on a "ceppo", or Christmas tree-shaped shelf. The presepe is on the bottom and gifts, flags, angels or other decorations go on the other shelves. Sometime before Christmas Eve, children may write a special letter to their parents that promises good (or better!) behavior in the new year and wishes for a Merry Christmas. These are read aloud at the Christmas Eve dinner and sometimes burned in the fireplace so that any special wishes or prayers will be whisked up to heaven!
Children in Italy open their gifts on either Christmas Day or January 6th (Epiphany), depending on the tradition of their church and family. The night before Epiphany, some will leave their shoes by the fireplace in hopes that a traditional Christmas figure known as Befana will leave gifts in them. Befana is similar to the Russian Babushka and is an old woman who missed her chance to travel to see the baby Jesus with the magi and now, in regret, she leaves gifts for children since she cannot give them to the Christ child. Some children believe that Befana leaves their presents at Christmas and others believe that it is Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus) or Babbo Natale (Father Christmas). Finally, on Christmas day, families will eat a large lunch or dinner with meat!
The wide variety of Christmas traditions in Italy are a testament to the importance of faith and family to the people there. While Italians observe one of the least "flashy" Christmases around the world, they honor it more than most with their love of family tradition and reverence for the first Christmas!
Some Christmas customs in Italy have their roots in the pagan culture of the Roman empire. It was believed, especially by peasant folk, that eating nuts would bring fertility to both the people and their crops. Even today, most Christmas sweets contain nuts of some kind for this reason! Here is one popular Italian Christmas candy to try:
Torrone (Hazelnut or Almond Nougat Candy)
2 2/3 cups superfine sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup diced candied fruit, plus additional for topping
1 cup sliced almonds
Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until a candy thermometer temperature registers 260 degrees F.
Meanwhile, in an electric mixer, beat egg whites to soft peaks. When sugar reaches 260 degrees F, slowly pour in a thin stream into egg whites, while the mixer is running. Add extracts, beat on medium speed for 13 minutes, then fold the candied fruit into the mixture. Mix for another 2 minutes, then fold in 1/2 cup of the almonds. Pour mixture into 9-inch square cake pan sprayed with baking spray. Top with remaining almonds and additional candied fruit.
Let sit overnight, then cut into serving pieces.
*Recipe courtesy FoodNetwork.com
PopCap Games Here is one of our children's favorite online game sites.
Christmas Stocking and other Christmas coloring pages.
Make Your Own Stockings Family Fun offers these templates and instructions to make some unique stockings!
Presepe Coloring Page Nativity coloring page from an Italian site for kids.
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