Advent and Christmas at Home

Here are my Advent and Christmas posts linked for easy reference:

Martin of Tours, Veterans’ Day, and Advent now updated in 2022 with resources that reflect new thinking about the binary of light and dark.

Advent ideas are suggestions for a slower, simpler start to the season, including music to set the mood.

Advent at home with reading recommendations, and this post on an Advent picture book, with a reading for each day.

Celebrating Christmas at home has some thoughts about crèches, squeezing more people around your holiday table, and Epiphany.

Christmas morning ideas and a recipe for my eggnog French toast that you’ll need to assemble the night before.

Christmas Proclamation adapted from Roman martyrology, a fantastic addition to your Christmas Day liturgy or gathering!

Christmas very much at home from the first pandemic Christmas, with simmer pot and honeycomb recipes and links to liturgies.

Light of the World, a homily preached on Christmas Eve 2021 at Saint Mark’s Cathedral.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Gifts of joy and wonder 2022

… Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, p. 308

Whatever the season or reason for gift-giving, these words from the Episcopal prayer for the newly baptized encourage a different mindset, a way of thinking about giving gifts that will be truly nurturing. I have a clear bias towards books—always my favorite thing to give and to get— and the ones mentioned here were all published in 2022, but I have other suggestions as well.

An inquiring and discerning heart:

Progressive Christian educator and author Brittany Sky McRay has created a subscription series of Family Time Kits to explore faith and inspire compassion, connection, and courage. There are four age categories: 0-36 months, ages 3-6, 7-11, and adult. You can cancel any time after the first month, but I can’t imagine you’ll want to.

Rabbi Toba Spritzer’s God is Here: Reimagining the Divine examines ancient metaphors such as Water, Place, Rock, Cloud, and Fire with new understandings for God, not as an abstract exercise but to change the way we live and act every day, with spiritual practices that accompany each of the divine metaphors.

The courage to will and to persevere:

The long-awaited Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry, is already a best-seller, and its power rests in Hersey’s prophetic voice, strengthened by her grounding in Black liberation theology and Womanism. It’s designed to help all of us push back against white supremacy and capitalism and give us what we need to truly rest.

Conversations with People Who Hate Me: 12 Things I Learned from Talking to Internet Strangers by Dylan Marron is a lively, engaging, and inspiring read about finding connection and common ground in a divided world. Dylan Marron is an actor, activist, and host of the eponymous podcast. Highly recommended for high school youth and adults.

How to Begin When Your World is Ending: A Spiritual Field Guide to Joy Despite Everything by Molly Phinney Baskette is laugh-out-loud funny and bracingly honest. Her insights about how and why to live fully and exuberantly no matter what should be shared with abandon. Molly is a UCC pastor, a parent, a cancer survivor, and a gifted writer. Give this to your besties, your book club, someone who’s struggling right now, and be sure to download the Doomsday Pollyanna Dance Party-slash-Book-Club guide, complete with food and drink pairings and a playlist.

A spirit to know and to love you:

More and more since I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I come close to God in nature. This nature meditations deck is designed to be used by those who are new to mindfulness as well as those with well-established meditation practices. You can slip the box into your backpack before heading out for a hike, choose one for your coat pocket as you go for a walk, or take one to read when you’re stuck inside at your desk.

Seasons of Wonder: Making the Ordinary Sacred Through Projects, Prayers, Reflections, and Rituals: A 52-Week Devotional by Bonnie Smith Whitehouse, an English professor and Episcopal lay leader, is a new interactive devotional for families brimming with prayers, activities, and simple suggestions for families who want to be intentional in discovering and celebrating the Holy throughout the church year and in the natural rhythm of the seasons. There is a special focus on creation care in these practices.

The gift of joy and wonder in all your works:

Here: The Dot We Call Home, The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell, and  Sun in My Tummy  are three outstanding picture books by my dear friend Laura Alary. While these books are not religious, there are spiritual connections to be made, and Laura is a gifted theologian. They make excellent gifts on their own for the children in your life, and their themes inspired me with several ideas for others on your list.

Here, a book that deepens our concepts of home while inviting us to think about our responsibilities to our neighborhoods and to our planet, comes with an excellent downloadable activity guide. You may wish to gift this earth pillow (it also comes ball-sized) or a set of plantable pencils and either this creative journal for budding activists or a gratitude journal like this one.

The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything is a beautifully illustrated biography of a remarkable 19th century woman, Maria Mitchell. Astronomy enthusiasts of any age will appreciate the stunning photography in the 2023 Deep Space Mysteries calendar from Astronomy Today, a connect- the-stars constellation mug, and tee shirts featuring Maria Mitchell or astronaut Mae Jemison, both designed from striking cut paper art by high school student Maggie Donnelly.

Sun in My Tummy is an imaginative and lyrical science lesson on how we get our food. It made me think of this sweet set of weather story blocks for little ones, as well as the award-winning environmental board game for youth and adults, Photosynthesis. I’m also charmed by these lightweight, packable solar lanterns.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Gifts of joy and wonder 2021

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

… Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer, p. 308

Whatever the season or reason for gift-giving, these words from the Episcopal prayer for the newly baptized encourage a different mindset, a way of thinking about giving gifts that will be truly nurturing. While not all of these suggestions are overtly religious, some invite the connection to God and the Holy; others ask us to be a part of God’s transforming work in the world.

An inquiring and discerning heart:

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC) has created three card decks, one for children, one for youth, and one for adults, for lively conversations about five spiritual practices of discipleship: Pray, Learn, Serve, Give, and Share. These can be used intergenerationally, at gatherings, around the dinner table, or before bed.

What is God Like? by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner (2021) is a beautifully illustrated picture book that uses images of God in scripture to show us glimpses of God’s expansive love for all people, everywhere.

Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and Jeff Chu (2021) is a final book of essays by this beloved progressive Christian author, with essentially the same message as her children’s book—simply, that God’s love is without limits, conditions, or rules. Highly recommended for high school youth through adults.

The courage to will and to persevere:

Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints 2022 Wall Calendar — whether or not you have read the wonderful book of the same name by Daneen Akers, you’ll appreciate this vibrant wall calendar for all ages. Highlighting the lives of twelve holy troublemakers of different faiths who are women, LGBTQ, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, the calendar also includes “important holidays from diverse faith traditions, social justice movement anniversaries, and dates that help us remember that joy is an essential part of holy troublemaking.”

You Are Revolutionary by Cindy Wang Brandt (2021) and Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman (2021) are two inspiring picture books for kids who are ready to change the world right now.

If there is one new book to give adults who can handle truth when it’s told with wit and grace, it’s No Cure for Being Human (and Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler (2021).

A spirit to know and to love you:

These olive wood holding crosses fit comfortably within the palm of an adult’s hand, and are smooth and sturdy enough for a baby to chew on.

A finger labyrinth is just the thing to center yourself wherever you are. This one is pocket-sized.

My favorite new music to stir the spirit is They’re Calling Me Home by Rhiannon Giddens (2021).

The gift of joy and wonder in all your works:

This Box of Natural Wonders is filled with unusual items to touch and see, and can be enjoyed by all ages.

The Seasons: A Year of Nature Journaling is a downloadable set of guided nature journals and a supporting curriculum that’s a wonderful way to connect to God’s creation through the seasons.

Dimming the Day: Evening Meditations for Quiet Wonder (2021) by Jennifer Grant invites youth and adults alike into contemplation and awe through the natural world, from hummingbirds to humpback whales.

Bird feeders bring joy and wonder as close as your window! This one is from the company my husband the birder says is the gold standard, but a simple one like this can be hung anywhere.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

‘Twas the Season of Advent by Glenys Nellist

Cover illustration by Elena Selivanova

Glenys Nellist recounts the timeless story of the Incarnation–God coming into the world as Jesus, born of Mary–through a gentle retelling of scripture from the Old and New Testaments over twenty-five days in her newest book, Twas the Season of Advent. Beautifully and sensitively illustrated by Elena Selivanova, the stories, which begin with a rhyme following the style of the beloved Christmas poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and include the scripture citation, are meant to be read one each day from December 1 through Christmas Day. Each ends with a simple prayer. A downloadable activity pack is available to help families deepen and further the conversation. A wonderful addition to the rich treasury of Advent and Christmas stories, ‘Twas the Season of Advent may become a new tradition to add to your holiday devotions or bedtime ritual.

Laura Alary’s Breathe, Look! and Make Room: Guides through the church year

I am so lucky to have made a friend of Laura Alary, a gifted theologian, author, and educator. Laura’s newest book, Breathe: A Child’s Guide to to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time is the most recent addition to her series of lovely liturgical guides which include Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas and Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter.

Each of these books takes us through a season or two of the church year, with vibrant and colorful scenes from scripture, nature, and a child’s daily life. Mystery, wonder, and celebrations large and small are woven throughout. The connections between church and home, scripture and our own stories are beautifully made, and you’ll find simple, meaningful ideas and practices to try.

In the Godly Play story, The Circle of the Church Year, we are reminded

It is all here. Everything we need. For every beginning there is an ending, and for every ending there is a beginning. It goes on and on. Forever and ever.

Jerome Berryman

Wherever we find ourselves in the circle, we have companions on the way who help us follow Jesus. Laura Alary and her guides are wonderful companions.

Laura has many other books you’ll want to add to your library. Learn more about her and them here.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Advent at home

Photo by Gabby K from Pexels

Here’s what I want for us, lovies: let’s be gentle with ourselves and others. Let’s take joy where we find it. It’s okay to feel sad and out-of-sorts. Do what you need to do. Listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Have some cookies with that coffee. Put up the tree early, or on December 24th. Please remember: Jesus is coming, is with us now, and will be with us again. We can’t screw that up, no matter what.

If you are looking for some inspiration for the holidays, I am glad to share what I’ve found. Traci Smith’s new book, Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred is brimming over with wonderful, simple ideas, and here’s the best part: you are not supposed to try them all. I promise. Traci suggests choosing three. I’m definitely trying the Hot Chocolate Gratitude Party next weekend, which if my family gets through the college application process intact, we’ll certainly need. We are also looking forward to the Silent Night Star Walk, which might be Christmas Eve or Christmas Night. I am especially thankful for the chapter on Difficult Moments, because even without a worldwide pandemic, these are an inevitable part of our holiday experience, and being able to acknowledge them helps us accept them and honor what they teach us.

You may know from my earlier Advent post that reading one seasonal picture book each night leading up to Christmas Eve is a tradition beloved from Peter’s childhood. Matthew Paul Turner has a new picture book with illustrations by Gillian Gamble, All the Colors of Christmas, with not only the bright familiar red and green, but gold and blue and white and brown–yes, brown: “It’s God within a baby’s skin.” The final color is “…You! It’s your own unique hue.” I love this part best, when Matthew reminds us that through our being and doing, we are “part of the story, the joy and the glory.”

Another sweet picture book is Little Mole’s Christmas Gift, by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sally Garland, a charming companion to the spring-themed Little Mole Finds Hope. This book, without any religious language at all, carries a message of kindness and generosity that speaks to the heart.

My devotional recommendation for adults and youth is Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers by Claire Brown and Michael McRay with daily reflections from a wonderfully diverse (in every sense of the word) group of contributors. Each reflection is accompanied by a scripture verse, a prayer and a practice. One of the prayers seems just right for me, and perhaps for you, in this time.

God of the unfolding story, draw us into friendship with our Divine Discontent as a gift of your Spirit. Give us the strength to keep longing for your Kingdom Come, to keep returning to our communities and our peacemaking in gratitude for your guidance toward the world you imagine for your creation. Amen.

Claire Brown, Keep Watch with Me, p. 95

In the practice that follows this prayer, Claire speaks of “the gap between the present moment and the holy imagination” and invites us to “sit with whatever comes.” That I can do. That I will do. With some carols on in the background and my messy life and apartment in the foreground, holding on to the promise and the reality of God-with-us.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, which makes a swell Christmas gift, perhaps this year in particular.