Christmas Trees

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Have you ever noticed the differences in Christmas trees?

Some are simple – others are ornate.  Some are flocked – others are a beautiful evergreen.  Some are real – some are artificial.

It seems Christmas trees are a very personal thing in our country.  One person may have a designer tree full of gorgeous department store ornaments, ornate ribbons, and hundreds of lights.  Truly a sight to see.

Others may prefer a simpler decoration – perhaps just lights and some tinsel.  Or maybe all homemade decorations.  There are trees with ornaments depicting our hobbies and memorializing our deceased loved ones.  Some of us use garland, others use ribbons, some tinsel, and others pinecones.  Trees run the gamut from truly country-style to high-end upscale fashion.

Yes, Christmas trees are a personal expression of ourselves.  For us, our tree this year is one with multi-colored lights (I generally prefer clear, but am outnumbered by 3!) and decorations of all kinds.  There are the beautiful ones my Mom bought for my sister and I a couple of years ago.  There are ones the girls have made with no help from anyone.  A few were purchased at the girls’ first or second Christmases.  One is a photo ornament of my late father-in-law given to us by my sister-in-law last year.  Perhaps the most sentimental to me are the ones that John has chosen for the girls each year.  It is a special gift from him each year to his girls, and they all look forward to the tradition.  There are puffs of white tulle in various places on the tree (my attempt at simulating “snow” – actually very cute!), wonderful large ribbons of varying colors and types of ribbon – all made from bows received on ornately-wrapped gifts in the past.  Tucked in the tree in a few cozy spots are small teddy bears – remnants from a set of 12 we bought for Alexis when she was a toddler.  She insisted on using the red beaded garland, so that encircles the tree, as well as a 4′ length of cranberry garland she made this year.  With the exception of ONE – every ornament we have, I believe, is on the tree this year!  And, to top it off, they are all on the front 2/3 of the tree!  LOL….When I asked the girls if I could move a few to the back and rearrange a little – they both said, “NO!”  So, the tree remains a little “front heavy.”  Hopefully it will stand straight until Christmas!

The night our tree goes up, I always like to stay up after everyone goes to bed with the lights out and only the tree lit.  It somehow really helps to put me in the Christmas spirit.  This year was no different, and while I sat, God gave me this thought:

We (God’s children) are like Christmas trees. 

How?  Easy.  We are all different.  No two of us are exactly alike – we all come with different experiences (ornaments) and backgrounds (the tree itself).  The tree itself represents the whole of our lives, and the lights reveal His presence.  Like our individual Christmas trees are to us, we are all very special to Him, indeed. 

He sees the absolute beauty in each ornament as it adds something unique to our lives that no one else has.  He put it there!  The ornaments of our lives are used by the Lord to shape our hearts and bring us closer to Him, while showing an outward sign of what He has done for us, and can do for others.  The ornaments are one way for us to show the love of Christ.

He is the Light that illuminates our trees and shines so that the holes where ornaments are missing, or broken ornaments are placed, can be seen.  Clear or multi, the lights reveal empty spaces and magnify mistakes.  The Light of Christ reveals unrepented sin, and therefore, the lights are the most important of all the elements.

The tree itself was grown and handpicked specifically for us – God knew the exact tree:  shape, size, type, flocked or not – and He knows why that tree was chosen.  Sometimes we are disappointed in His choice of trees, but we shouldn’t be – #1 – we can’t change it.  Our past is our past and our background is what made us who we are today.  And #2, God has reasons far beyond our comprehension for choosing the background we have had.  He can and does use any circumstance for good, and for His purposes.

So, you see, your Christmas tree can remind you of more than the birth of Christ this year, although I am in no way taking that away.  I merely want to add that your Christmas tree can remind you, if you allow God to use it that way, of what He has brought you in your life.  Of what He has brought you out of in your life.  And when you look at the top of the tree – the star, the angel – let that be a reminder to know where He is taking you in your life.

I hope that after reading this, you look at your Christmas tree a little differently.  And I hope that you spend a little time in the Light of your tree, looking to the One who decorated it so beautifully.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Homemade & Inexpensive Gift Ideas

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Here is a (very) short list of ideas for homemade or very inexpensive Christmas gifts (that could easily be used at other times of the year!)

Crochet/knit/sew a scarf or hat for a child

Take a favorite photo and frame it in an inexpensive frame for a distant relative

Create a coupon book to give to your spouse:  back rubs, date night, dinner for two at home, etc.

Coupons for your children:  30 minutes with Mom/Dad, picnic, extra game night, extra bedtime story, their choice for dinner, etc.

Coupons for neighbors, friends, parents, etc.:  help rake the yard, help spring clean the house (hint hint!), wash their car, etc.

Make loaves of fresh breads and wrap slices individually, labeling the flavor, and give a sampling to several people

For the kiddos, try our suggestion:  this year, at each house, the kids had to make their own gifts for one another….they chose names, chose the gift they would make, and made it.  The cost needs to be very low – no more than $5 each for materials – but preferably something you already have.  For instance, one of my girls chose to make bobby pins and barrettes with buttons as a gift.

Look up an inexpensive bath salt recipe online and make a batch.  Present them in cleaned, empty jelly jars with a small scrap of fabric covering the lid and tied with raffia or a ribbon.

Make flavored olive oil in small vintage bottles:  stuff fresh herbs into bottles, fill with olive oil, place a cork in each.  Tie with raffia, add some small silk flowers, and present in an inexpensive wicker basket filled with shredded tissue.

Make snack mixes, etc. and present in large clear plastic cups wrapped in colored celophane.  Tie a ribbon or raffia around each cup.

Make a set of scented sachets for a lady to place in her dresser drawers:  create 4×4″ pillows from scrap fabrics and fill with rice and some lavender buds, rosemary, or other favorite frangrance.

Pick up an inexpnsive calendar and paste your own photos on each month.  Be sure to add all the special dates the recipient has to remember!

Soup, jambalaya (for you Cajuns!), or other mixes – present with a wooden spoon and 2 pretty bowls.

Create a small pedicure kit for a young girl:  place dollar store finds in a small basket, paint can, or other container and wrap with ribbon.  The paint can has the advantage of a smooth surface that can be decorated very easily with paper and stickers you already have on hand.

Create placemats from photos that didn’t make the cut to go into your scrapbook:  on an 11×14 sheet of paper (posterboard will work, but since you’ll want to laminate it, it will get pretty thick), make a sort of “scrapmat” from your photos and scrapbook papers.  Be careful using items that are bulky, since once you are done, you will want to take these to your office supply store to have them laminated.  Sets of 4 are great gifts for grandparents, parents, etc.  You can vary this and use only papers with no photos for a more general theme.

Use the above method for creating coasters on a 3.5-4″ circle.  Laminate each.  (I recommend sets of 6 or 8.)

Let a young girl learning to cross-stitch create a sampler or small project for a grandparent or neighbor.

Be sure to involve your kids in the selection process!  They not only LOVE to make things, sometimes they have much better ideas than us big people do!

There are TONS of places online that can give you some great ideas for very meaningful Christmas (and other ocassions!) gifts.  I hope you and your family have a wonderful time this year creating this and other gifts so that you can enjoy the True Meaning of Christmas!

Blessings,

Toni

If you have some more great inexpensive or homemade gift ideas, please add your comment and let us know!

Christmas for Kids: To buy or not to buy

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It’s that time again.  Christmas!  The gorgeous trees, the twinkling lights, the delicious foods (gluten-free for me, please!), the beautiful carols of old, and snowmen, reindeer, a fat guy in a red suit, and gifts?

I love Christmas…really I do.  I love the emotions that surround it – people seem to be much nicer (excluding the cases of trampling at Black Friday sales – that was horrible) and even more forgiving.  But I think that somewhere along the way we have gone drastically wrong in our interpretation of what Christmas is supposed to be about.

We recently exposed Santa Claus to our kids – STOP!  Finish reading before you deride me for be a horrible, uncaring, miserable Scrooge.  There is a very good reason for it.  Our girls are young – 7 & 9.  But, for some time now, we have been experiencing the conviction from the Lord that using Santa in our Christmas celebration was a secular way of taking the focus off of Jesus.  Think about it:  when we talk about Christmas to our kids, here’s the conversation:

“You better behave because Santa is watching you.”

“What do you WANT Santa to bring you this year?”

“Go to sleep because Santa can’t come if you are awake!”

And on and on.  Now, if you choose to leave Santa at your house, so be it.  That is a decision between you and God and your family.  I am not here to judge.  My point is that when we continue to point out Santa to our kids as the reason for good behavior, are we not taking credit away from Jesus, where it rightfully belongs?  Not to mention the fact that we remind our children often of the “truth” of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, etc., and know that someday, they’ll discover it isn’t true.  The risk is too great that once they learn that we essentially “lied” to them about Santa, they may wonder, “did Mom & Dad tell me the truth about God, too, or is He made up also?”  I know, I know….some of you right now are saying, “Toni, this is really taking things to an extreme….I mean, it’s ONLY Santa…BIG difference in Santa and Jesus.”

But wait, there’s more. 

What about our Christmas decorations?  What do they say about our priorities at this, one of the two holiest of Christian holidays?  Do we throw Santas, snowmen, bells, and bright red bows over everything?  Or do we place a bright star at the top of the tree – and then EXPLAIN to our kids WHY that star is there?  What do we have for decorations in the yard – Snoopy and Barney wearing (again) Santa hats, or a Nativity scene?  Those things are cute, and yes, Christmas should be fun…but we need to be careful to make it fun and HOLY and WONDERFUL for the right reasons! 

And yet, I’m still not done…..

The gifts…..ahhh the gifts.  I think that the incident….no, make that the TRAGEDY at Walmart less than a week ago highlight where I’m going with this.  Jesus, the Savior and Creator of the world (read: universe) was born in a MANGER.  Do our children understand what a manger is?  Do they realize that while we sleep in warm beds every night, that his first bed was a trough for feed, and that this precious little baby was surrounded by animals, and everything that comes with them?

If we as adults understand that, then why do we feel the need to purchase such extravagant gifts every year?  Sure, we claim that it’s in honor of Christ’s birth….but, is it really?  Do we say to the recipient, “This is a gift to help you remember the birth of Christ throughout the coming year,”?  Generally, no.  And, it should be that the gifts we give are an expression of our love, not just our financial position.  I know people who tend to get very upset if they don’t get gifts that at least meet a certain price range criteria.  I’m sorry, but that seems so very shallow.  And, to top it off, we are doing a HUGE disservice to our children if we buy them everything they ask for….and sometimes if we get them anything they ask for.  If they don’t understand WHY the gifts are exchanged, and if we don’t make that Truth a priority, then nothing on their wish list should even be considered.  (And, yes, that’s my opinion.)

This year, our girls, as most kids will, have created a relatively long list of “I wants.”  However, not only because of our finances, but also because of conviction, we have decided to make all except one, possibly two of their gifts.  They will each receive a homemade Bible cover, and a bed pocket.  We have considered purchasing one game each for their DS’s (Yes, they have them, but they are not allowed to play them except at certain times and for short periods.  These games are something they have to earn the right to play – it is, therefore, a reward of sorts.)  In fact, nearly all gifts given by our family this year will be homemade, and next year, we don’t plan to buy anything.***  We aren’t being cheap, and its about more than frugality.  Its about bringing back, at least for our part, the true meaning of Christmas.  Christmas is not about mp3’s, plasma TVs, Barbie’s, DVD’s, and new spinners for your car.

Christmas is about the birth of the One who came to earth to save us all from our sins.  Its a time to reflect on His glory, and His love shown by His willingness to come in such a humble way. 

Our family is resolving to put Christ first in our Christmas celebration this year.  My challenge to you, dear reader, is to do the same. 

Is there something you know God is quietly telling you to change, or to stop altogether?  Is there something He wants to teach you this Christmas season?  I’m sure there is….if you let Him.

 
***If you are interested in some examples of homemade Christmas gift ideas, check out my next post!

Homemade & Inexpensive Gift Ideas