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Whose Birthday? #20 FUN ACTIVITIES

Fun Activities

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Savoring Christmas Letters

by Leslye A. Korvola, Fairbanks, AK

We struggle to focus on and share celebrating Christ's birth with friends and family at Christmas. Initially it seemed impossible to insulate myself from the cacophonous din about spending money and about Santa Claus, but gradually I learned to just turn it all off, and I convinced at least some of my family to respect my view. Eventually Christmas Eve was celebrated in our home as a birthday party for Jesus, complete with a birthday cake frosted with shredded coconut and decorated with a simple nativity.

This year our children -- with children of their own -- said they wanted to celebrate in their own homes and my husband and I were faced with the prospects of being 'alone' on this very special holiday. Alone on Christmas? Alone? This was to be the quiet Christmas I'd always said I wanted. The idea of how to spend the day took on new possibilities; after church we'd just come home and ponder the meaning of Christmas. That did not appeal to my husband who was feeling sad that there would be no children, no grandchildren, and not even the families or friends from our church congregation.

There were, however, those notes and letters from loved ones across the miles. As they arrived in the mail I put them aside unopened for my husband and I to open together on Christmas day. What wonderful gifts to open with news from families and friends to whom I'd mailed our letter weeks earlier. As I addressed our message to them I'd thought about how in past years sometimes I'd barely found time to send them off. Now we had all the time in the world to quietly think about others, and we were not alone at all!

Sometimes our memories fail us. My husband and I could share memories where one of us had forgotten. Who was that? Or from where did we know them? When is the last time we saw them? It took us all day to go through the cards and letters, because some inspired me to answer their notes immediately. It was a day full of friends and family and quiet celebration of life and this special day of Christ's birth.

In the weeks since Christmas additional letters have arrived and some people from whom we'd not heard (but to whom I wrote on Christmas Day because we were thinking of them) have telephoned. It seems it's 'the thought that counts.' Christmas cards have become a tradition that busy people sometimes find more of a chore than a gift of sharing thoughts of the birthday celebration that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son to come and live among us. Letters that only tell of our family's accomplishments and/or difficulties miss the opportunity to tell others of why Christmas means more to us than spending money and awaiting Santa Claus.

One person said she so enjoyed our Christmas letter (I have long since given up the expense of Christmas cards), she wanted to keep it as an outline for how she would write her Christmas greetings in the future. (I enclose a copy of the letter to share a little about our family.) I felt honored, but even more importantly, I realize that it takes more than turning off the cacophonous din: holiday greetings are a way to turn up the volume of Christian joy. Thanks for letting me share this thought with you.

Sharing the love of Christmas,
Leslye A. Korvola

P.S. By the way, while in Anchorage, we did celebrate Santa's arrival on Nicklaus, the 6th of December, a German tradition; and on Christmas Eve after the candlelight service at our church, we did have a birthday party for Jesus with our little ones living nearby in North Pole.

From Christmas Letter:

So at this holiday season it is my wish to share with you the reason for celebrating. I don't think I could face the challenges of life (or death) without the confidence that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him should not die but have eternal life.' (John 3:16) What a blessing to believe I am here for a purpose in this world so full of injustices and wrongdoings. What a blessing to be able to trust in God that in the end 'All things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28) This gives me peace that is beyond human understanding; I am at peace with God through the grace of Christ, my Savior, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. It is our wish that you and your loved ones will also have that joy and peace in your life.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • 'What Shall We Tell the Folks?' from Whose Birthday? 1988 and 1989
  • 'We Chose Something Different: Making a Change for the Better' from Whose Birthday? 2000

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    The Joy of Reading Aloud


    by Bruce Forbes

    As I struggle to resist distracting pressures during the Christmas season, seeking instead a meaningful and fulfilling Christmas, I frequently ask friends and acquaintances what is their favorite Christmas custom or activity. It's a great way to gather ideas. If someone asks me the same question, here is mine:

    A small group of my close friends annually selects an evening shortly before Christmas to get together. We each bring a snack or a dessert to share. It is not primarily a time to exchange presents, but some of us can't help ourselves and bring token gifts or humorous items. We start a fire in the fireplace in the living room, sit in a circle on furniture and on the floor, and spend the evening chatting and munching. For our featured activity, one of us selects a favorite Christmas short story. We read it aloud to one another, passing the book around the circle, with each person reading a page at a time. I imagine that it is a little like the 'olden days' when families gathered around a big console radio to listen to a radio drama. The Christmas stories usually are humorous or touching or both.

    Every one of us claims that this is the highlight of our Christmas season, and the reason, I think, is because it is so simple. No one has to prepare a meal or spend a lot of money. (At most, I have to clean my home!) Our gathering, simply sharing time and reading aloud, is an oasis with one another in the midst of a bustling Christmas season.

    As a footnote, our favorite source for Christmas short stories is Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old, edited by Miriam Leblanc, available from Alternatives.

    Bruce Forbes serves as Professor of Religious Studies at Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa, and as a member of Alternatives' board of directors. He's the author of new book 'Christmas: A Candid History.'

    If you enjoyed this article, you will enjoy these resources:

  • Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent & Christmas
  • Tracks in the Straw: Tales Spun from the Manger
  • Christmas Stories Set: Christmas Reader, Collection and Sampler

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    St. Nick -- The Real Santa Claus

    A St. Nicholas Event

    by Bonnie Morgan

    My husband Bill and I have been Santa and Mrs. Claus for years both for various charities and professionally. One Christmas eve some ten years ago, we could not attend regular Christmas Eve services unless we came in costume because of commitments. We asked the pastor at that time whether we could slide in the back pew at the midnight service in costume to attend worship. He agreed, much to our surprise.

    All was quiet and went very well until we took communion. After the service we passed out our remaining candy canes and were overwhelmed by grandparents who lamented that their grandchildren and children were not there to see Santa and Mrs. Claus putting the emphasis on worshiping Christ above commercialism and not presuming to be special, but indeed, to be last in line. We offered to set aside Christmas Eve service time for the earlier service for the children and do the same thing the following year as it had been so well received. . . with a twist.

    This Christmas we're putting on a community event to reduce the 'gimme' theme and commercialism and to focus on being Christ centered. We plan to ask the children to bring a gift to the baby Jesus that would be distributed to those in need in our community. We will have nativity characters tell their side of the Christmas story as the children wait for their turn with St. Nicholas (rather than Santa Claus) and again as they take their gift to the manger. We will have a photographer and allow the parents to bring their own cameras.

    The ideal date for such an event is Dec. 5th, St. Nicholas Day, though any time in Advent is appropriate.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Christmas Campaign Kit: Prayerful Santa greeting card
  • St. Nicholas and the Tax Collectors (Whose Birthday? 2007 BONUS)
  • Picture Your Child with St. Nicholas (Whose Birthday? 2005)
  • The Spirit of St. Nicholas (Whose Birthday? 2006)
  • St. Nicholas Celebration (Whose Birthday? 1999); A Saint Nicholas Day Celebration ('What Is a Gift?' Christmas Pack); St. Nicholas: A Puppet Play ('Reclaiming Christmas' Christmas Pack); In the Spirit of Saint Nicholas (Whose Birthday? 1991); The Song of Saint Nicholas (Whose Birthday? 2001); Christmas Sermon: A Visit from St. Nicholas (Whose Birthday? 2004); Good-bye Santa! Hello, Saint Nick! (Whose Birthday? 1988)

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    Gift of Our Gifts

    by Mitch Harbison

    A few years ago a group called 'Peace in Our Day' from the Roman Catholic parish of St. Luke the Evangelist in Glenside, Pennsylvania, started a unique form of holiday giving. Held on the Feast of the Epiphany to commemorate the gifts brought by the Magi to the infant Jesus, the activity was called 'Gift of Our Gifts.'

    Some in the group had participated in what is known variously as Yankee Trading or Stealing Pollyanna within their families or at work. The concept is that everyone involved brings a wrapped present to the event. Numbers are drawn to see who will be first, second, etc. to select a gift. Number 1 chooses a gift. The second person may choose a new gift or take the one just unwrapped by Number 1. If the first person loses his/her gift to the second person, he/she may choose a new package. Number 3 may choose a new gift or take either of the two unwrapped gifts, and on it goes until the last number has been drawn.

    The twist added by 'Peace in Our Day' was that all of the 'wrapped packages' were gifts of time and talent, written on the reverse of used Christmas cards along with the name and phone number of the person offering the gift. Some gift examples would be dinner for four, help in writing a resume, babysitting, mending, and even a singing telegram. Offers of house cleaning or handyman help would change hands over and over again.

    'Gift of Our Gifts' was designed to be a fun way to meet parishioners as well as a chance to share a talent by doing a job you love (or at least don't mind) for someone else while avoiding a chore you don't particularly like. And no one had to go out and buy a present that might add to the clutter or stand in line to return a gift that didn't fit.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Christmas Campaign Kit: Gratitude Cards
  • Gift Theft (Whose Birthday? 2003), Gifts of Ourselves (Whose Birthday? 1996), and 'Guidelines for Alternative Giving'
  • The Art of Debt-Free Living

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    Extending the Joy

    by 'Just Joan' Huguenard

    Here's an idea for extending the joy of the holiday season.

    Start with a dozen identical cards on which to write something like, 'From someone who cares.' Then identify a family who's down on their luck, perhaps someone right there in your own neighborhood. If you need help with this, nearly any church or social agency can identify a prospective recipient family.

    Now the fun begins. On the 25th of each month, go shopping. Buy all the components of a healthy dinner for the selected family with generous portions so there will be yummy leftovers. Occasionally you could include extras such as flowers for the table, a family game or a special dessert.

    Now if your grocery does not make deliveries, you'll have to hire a teenager who can keep a secret or maybe hire a taxi to bring the surprise brown paper bags to the recipient along with one of your unsigned cards.

    I believe you'll find immense pleasure in these shopping trips as you carry the Christmas spirit throughout the year. Next December, of course, the delivery will arrive on the 23rd or 24th and the final matching card may reveal your name, if you wish.

    (First published in The Sonoma Valley Sun, December 28, 2006 within the weekly column known as 'just joan.' Read the complete article at www.justjoanonline.com.)

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • The Christmas Game and The Anytime Game
  • Advent Table Prayer Cards
  • The Better World Handbook and Better World Shopping Guide

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    Twelve Days of Christmas Activity Envelopes

    by Barbara Howard

    As a gift to our friends and family this year, we put together intergenerational activities for each of the 12 Days of Christmas. We put one activity per envelope per day and decorated the outside of each envelope with clip art we found on the computer. (Those living farther away received their activities via e-mail.)

    We started with an envelope for Christmas Day explaining the unique gift: We often forget that Christmas celebrations begin on December 25 and continue until January 6 - the Epiphany . . . As a gift to you (because we know you don't need more STUFF), we put together some activities for your family to do. Don't worry. They're simple and they can travel with you. The feedback the stack of envelopes tied with a ribbon was positive! Many are saving their activities to do again next year.

    Here are some sample activities.

    December 26 - The 1st Day of Christmas

    To show the travels of the Kings and the shepherds, move them far enough away from the nativity that they can move a little closer for each of the 12 days arriving on the Epiphany, Jan. 6. If you're visiting a relative's house, be sure to ask them if you can use their nativity or bring yours and have them share in the fun.

    Talking point: Looking back over Christmas Day have each family member share their most memorable or special moment. Consider keeping these memories in a Christmas journal you write in each year.

    December 29: The 4th Day of Christmas

    Move the 3 Kings and the shepherds/sheep closer to the nativity today.

    Just 4 You! Often we are our own worst critics. We tell ourselves so many negative things. Be honest with yourself today and think about 4 gifts you feel God has given you or 4 things that you do really well. Share out loud or not, but at least write them down so you can read them again when you're feeling sad or discouraged. Remember, God says, 'You are mine!'

    December 30: The 5th Day of Christmas

    Move the 3 Kings and the shepherds/sheep closer to the nativity today.

    High 5! Give a High 5 along with a thank you to each person who does something nice for you today. Try to give out at least 5 or challenge yourself to give out 5 for each person in your family!!

    For complete set of cards, visit BONUS.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Christmas Angels: Garland and Calendar
  • What Kids Really Want That Money Can't Buy

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    by Barbara Howard, Mooresville, NC

    Last year we opened our family's Epiphany celebration to our entire parish -- our first ever Epiphany Dinner and Celebration. The focus of the evening was to write down our gift to Jesus for the New Year and present our gifts, rolled like scrolls, to Jesus at the nativity. After dinner, crown making, and entertainment provided by our teen band, we processed to the church, gifts in hand, singing We Three Kings. After reading from Matthew, we presented our gifts. Upon leaving, each family received the light of Christ, in the form of a votive, to take home. Everyone was also encouraged to take a different route home, just like the Magi. Once home, the light of Christ was to be carried into each room inviting Jesus to be with them in that room throughout the New Year.

    The event was such a hit that we are now doing it each year! This year our entertainment was provided by our Special Needs Family Support Group and our Hispanic Ministry who also provided us with a live nativity! Having a celebration to end the 12 Days of Christmas has really made a difference in both my immediate family and my church family. The focus for us now is not on the easily broken New Year's Resolutions, but on the everlasting gifts that we give back to God and Jesus with gratitude!

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Treasury of Celebrations: Create Celebrations That Reflect Your Values and Don't Cost the Earth
  • Simply in Season Cookbook and Simply in Season Children's Cookbook

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    Simple Candle-Lighting Ritual

    by Meg Cox

    To celebrate Christmas with her extended family, one grandmother I know performs a simple ritual in a room where all the lights have been turned off. Each person in the family is given an unlit candle, and they stand in a circle. One candle is lit and then that person lights the candle of the person next to him or her, and so on, around the circle (with extra help and supervision for children). The entire family sings one verse of Silent Night, then everyone blows out their candles all at once and shares a moment of silence. Lovely.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • The Mini Book of New Family Traditions
  • Celebrate Simply
  • Wedding Alternatives

    Christmas Math

    By Meg Cox

    At this time of year, like many of you, I start to cringe at all the fake cheer. I feel that if I see one more over-decorated store, I will choke. Most of these stores are filled with poorly made goods that nobody needs and the very air feels clogged with tinsel.

    I want to run away to a clean room with a decorated tree and a pine-scented candle on the mantelpiece. I want to sit in a cozy armchair and read a good book to my kid while we drink cocoa.

    Then, it will feel like Christmas.

    Don't add more to your to-do list this year. Subtract anything you can if it makes you feel dis-spirited. Only add activities if they make it feel more like Christmas to you!

    From Meg Cox's Ritual Newsletter for December, 2006. Visit MegCox.com.

    If you enjoyed this article, you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • 31 Words to Create an Organized Life
  • Unclutter Your Home
  • The Knitting Way

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    Breaking the Rules

    By Aiden Enns

    Mark 2:15-17 Jesus said, 'Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick; I have to call not the righteous but sinners.' (v. 17)

    Especially at Christmas, we North Americans engage in a lot of shopping. When middle-class religious leaders drive fancy cars, wear the latest fashion, use new technology and talk with glee about Christmas presents, they plainly bless our consumer society.

    Some of us decided to sing a different song.

    Last Christmas a group of us sang anti-shopping carols outside major shopping centers. And we got into trouble with the authorities.

    Jesus got into trouble with the leaders of his day for transgressing their codes for upright behavior. He dined with tax collectors and sinners, which made him unclean in the eyes of the religious law.

    He justified his breaking of the norms for ethical conduct because the norms were not serving those who need serving.

    When we live in a society so saturated with consumer messages, perhaps the spirit of Christmas is to inject a simple message of fun, creativity and generosity without all the shopping.

    Is it possible? Of course it is. You can make, bake, and share things you already have. You can give vouchers, create meals or hold special celebrations of song and stories.

    PRAYER: Dear God, help us overcome the temptation to love things more than people. Help us discover divine love in simple acts of compassion and celebration.

    Discussion Questions
    1. Why do you think Jesus ate with sinners and broke religious rules?
    2. What religious rules are helpful? Which need questioning?
    3. According to religious leaders, Jesus reclined with outcasts. What would similar behavior look like today?

    by Erica Avery (courtesy of The Center for a New American Dream -- NewDream.org)
    For more lyrics, visit buynothingchristmas.org >> resources.

  • Consumer Wonderland (to the tune of 'Winter Wonderland')
  • Uh Oh, We're in the Red, Dear (to the tune of 'Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer')
  • Profits Here (to the tune of 'Jingle Bells')
  • Buy and Sell (to the tune of 'Silver Bells')
  • Carol of the Toys (to the tune 'Carol of the Bells')

  • Slow Down, Ye Frantic Shoppers (to the tune of 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen')

    Slow down ye frantic shoppers for there's something we must say
    If you would spare a moment all the stores would go away
    Big business has been telling us what Christmas means today

    Now it's time we decided for ourselves, for ourselves
    Yes it's time we decided for ourselves.

    To some folks Christmas means a time for gathering with friends
    And enemies might take it as a time to make amends
    But TV says it's time for pricey gifts and selfish ends

    Now it's time we decided for ourselves, for ourselves
    Yes it's time we decided for ourselves.

    Some people feel that Christmas is when Jesus makes a call
    For others it's a time to stress good will and peace to all
    But advertisers tell us it means Santa's at the mall

    Now it's time we decided for ourselves, for ourselves
    Yes it's time we decided for ourselves.

    Aiden Enns is the publisher of 'Geez' magazine: holy mischief in a time of fast faith, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He is also the co-founder of BuyNothingChristmas.org.

    If you enjoyed this article you'll also enjoy these resources:

  • Carols with Justice booklet and music CD
  • Sing Justice! Do Justice! booklet and music CD
  • The Good Life curriculum and music CD

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    Christmas Poems

    During this Christmas season,
    May you be blessed
    With the spirit of the season,
    Which is peace,
    The gladness of the season,
    Which is hope,
    And the heart of the season,
    Which is love.

    John Greenleaf Whittier

    * * *


    What then should we do?
    How can we be satisfied
    with only one coat?

    - Cathy Brechtelsbauer

    Based on Luke 3:7-18 -- The Proclamation of John the Baptist - for the 3rd week of Advent (Cycle C), vv.10-11 And the crowds asked John, 'What then should we do?'' He replied, 'Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.'

    Meet Cathy at post #129.

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