Merry Christmas, Dear Readers!

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Nothing says Christmas like a snow-covered pine bough. We’ve seen lots of the white stuff so far this year, which is a little unusual for our region. But it does give my Christmas spirit a boost. I hope your holidays are filled with family and fun this year. And remember, the important gifts don’t come in boxes. Time. Touch. Sound.

I know there are times when family can’t be physically together for the holidays. It’s those times that you can still take time to call or skype. Hearing a loved one’s voice from far away can make the holidays so much brighter. God bless you and your family with the most important things in life.

Now, I need to go hang up my stocking and put a pan of cookies in the oven while I watch my favorite Christmas movie. Thanks for stopping by. And don’t forget to buy books!

If the snow has you housebound, here’s a couple of Kindle suggestions for you. Happy reading! Nike Chillemi’s Goodbye, Noel, Write Integrity Press’ A Ruby Christmas (various authors), and The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt (various authors). Those last two are novellas and so much fun! By the way, these are not paid links. I do not receive any payment for these suggestions.

Happy Holidays!

The Skinny on Some Christmas Traditions, by Nike Chillemi

http://nikechillemi.wordpress.com/

I’m so glad you stopped by today. It is with great pleasure I welcome Nike Chillemi as a guest writer. I am so honored to promote her latest release, Goodbye Noel. As you may have guessed, it has a holiday theme. Nike writes historical suspense/crime novels and she’s such a good storyteller! If the reviews (found here) are any indication, this one doesn’t disappoint.  

Nike Chillemi- 

In popular publications we’ve been told umpteen times the first “Christmas” celebrations came from the mid-fourth century during Constantine’s rule in ancient Rome and were adopted and adapted from solar pagan rites. This is not entirely accurate.
There is evidence the Ethiopian Church celebrated the birth of Jesus on December 25th in the 2nd century. Other Eastern churches in the second and third centuries determined the birth of Jesus to be January 5th or January 6th. The Eastern Church still celebrates the birth of Jesus on January 6th, while in the Western Church that date is Epiphany. These December 25th calculations came wholly from church history and heritage (much of that oral). This was before and separate from the papacy decision to declare December 25th the birth of Jesus for conversion reasons. The second century Egyptian theologian, Clement of Alexandria, wrote that ancient Egyptian church scholars practically tried to outdo each other with efforts to pinpoint the date of the birth of Jesus. They also came up with April 20th or 21st and May 20th…all of this having nothing to do with Roman paganism. Is December 25th the actual birthday of Jesus? I don’t know. To me every day is Christ’s birthday. 
It’s true worship of the oak and other trees were quite common in pagan Europe. However, the modern Christmas tree originated in Germany where legend has it St. Boniface cut down a great oak under which human sacrifices were made. Supposedly, in its place a tiny pine sapling grew the following spring and Boniface remarked it pointed to the heavens. That autumn he dug up the small tree and brought it into his house to have for Christmas. Many claimed these trees’ triangular shape signified the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The custom of a potted fir tree in the house at Christmas rapidly spread among Germanic Christians. In time they began decorating trees with bits of sugar candy which they gave to children on Christmas day. That tradition soon evolved into candy canes on tree boughs. Soon other gifts such as dried fruit and small bits of jewelry found their way onto trees.
Then in the 17th century, on a walk home from church late one night before Christmas, Martin Luther passed a grove of evergreen trees. When he looked up, it seemed as if the stars adorned the trees. He immediately cut and decorated a tree with lit candles for the Christmas Eve service. Cut and candle-lit trees quickly spread among Germanic Christians. When Germany’s Prince Albert married the love of his life, the young Queen Victoria, he brought to England the practice of decorating the Christmas tree with candles, candies, fancy cakes, small gifts, and toys. German immigrants brought this to Pennsylvania in the 1800s and the custom rapidly spread across America.
Eggnog is entirely American. While it’s true Europeans of wealth enjoyed eggy-milky drinks with fruit. The first true batch of eggnog was mixed up in 1607 at Captain John Smith’s Jamestown settlement. At that time it was called “egg and grog.” I’m sure we can all imagine what the ingredients were, as colonists called any drink with rum grog. It soon became a drink given to carolers at Christmas along with sweet meats and confections.
Stock.Xchng image #1148932
What about ye olde fruit cake? Cakes with fruit have been baked, well…as long as cakes have been baked. What we think of as the fruit cake, made with preserved fruit and nuts goes back to the middle-ages and the Crusades when people took this type of hearty cake on trips to sustain themselves while away from home. The British love affair with fruit cake began in the 1400s when dried fruits first arrived in the misty isles from the Mediterranean. In the mid-1800s cake with candied fruit had become a Victorian tea cake. It also became a cake served at weddings. Naturally in a time before fruit could be flown to markets from orchards and groves in a warm climate, the candied fruit cake made a perfect Christmas cake. In modern times it seems not to be as popular as years gone by, but fruit cake sales are still surprisingly high.
Whether you’re looking for a good holiday read, or the perfect gift, Nike Chillemi’s Goodbye Noel is a good fit. 


Links to order the book:

Amazon – ($2.99)                          Christianbooks – ($2.89)

Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers (Ning). She was an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category and a judge in the 2011 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader’s choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction. She writes monthly book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine. Burning Hearts is the first book in the crime wave that is sweeping the south shore of Long Island in The Sanctuary Point series. 

Fruitcake photo from: Stock.Xchng image #1148932

I’m Thankful for Thanksgiving

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I have a confession to make. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a beautiful time, when families gather together. We live on a small court and like us, many of our neighbors have lived here a long time. As the holiday approaches, extra cars are parked in their driveways. Their children have arrived.
I remember those days, when we packed up the car and left on Tuesday night, or Wednesday evening, to drive the seven hours to Mom and Dad’s. It was a special time filled with hikes in the woods, roasting marshmallows over a fire, and of course, the main event: Thanksgiving Dinner. Mom spent days preparing and finally, dinner is spread on the table and we sit down. 
Yes, it was over in minutes. But we lingered around the table, laughing and talking. Clean up meant time spent on my own with Mom as we put the food away and washed the dishes. We put away all the special things she only used on holidays. We reminisced about past Thanksgivings, and loved ones now gone. Our sleep was sweet, maybe because of all the turkey we ate, but also because we were tired from all the activity. 
If you ventured out on Thanksgiving evening, stores were closed. Restaurants were closed. Ghost town. And I liked that feeling. Families gathered together to celebrate. They weren’t working. They weren’t shopping. I was reminded of my childhood, when Sundays meant darkened store windows. Even the grocery stores closed on Sunday, the traditional day of rest.
Those days slipped away and now you can buy groceries on Sunday. And if you forgot cranberry sauce, you can buy it on Thanksgiving. I guess it’s convenient and the stores make more money, but it makes me sad to see these old traditions slip away. And now, Christmas has encroached on Thanksgiving. 
Yes, in a way, Christmas has always out-shined Thanksgiving. When I was little, I was happy to see the back of Thanksgiving, because I knew Christmas was close behind it. Now, I want the days to linger longer. I want to enjoy Thanksgiving and then turn my attention to Christmas. But I realize it’s a personal choice. Christmas lovers all around me already have their houses decorated. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. 
Their emphasis is still on celebrating families, and that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. Taking time to be thankful for the year’s bounty. I’m thankful for all that God has given this year. Like so many others, we’ve been through some things. But in the midst of all that, I can be thankful for God’s provision throughout our time of need. He’s brought our family together in a positive way and helped us overcome our difficulties. 
When we sit down to Thanksgiving Dinner this year, we’ll have so much to be thankful for, beyond the food that is set before us. Each individual sitting at our table is a part of something so much greater. When all the pieces come together, we are whole, and we are blessed. 
I hope your Thanksgiving is a time of celebration. Thanks for stopping by!

photo credit: cafemama via photopin cc

A Cherished Christmas Memory

Mike, Eddie & Me (Betty)
We all have a favorite Christmas memory. This is mine. The picture was taken on my first day of school in San Diego, California. The story takes place on Christmas Eve of the same year.

San Diego, California, 1959 -The house we lived in was just blocks away from the San Diego Zoo and the mission at Balboa, so our yard was often filled with exotic sounds like the roar of a lion, the call of the peacock, the trumpet of elephants.

We didn’t have much money, but my mother could always find a way to make Christmas special for us. She made many of our gifts and baked lots of cookies.
Dad had been looking for another place to live, further out from town, so we’d spend the weekend looking at houses. I liked one particular house very much because it had an upper story which fascinated me. There was even a life-sized cardboard cutout of Shirley Temple in one upstairs bedroom. 

The former owners had left a pile of trash in the yard. On that pile, I found a handmade doll cradle. It was broken and dirty, full of leaves and rainwater, but to me it was a treasure. Only rich kids had such things. I knelt down beside it as children often do, to get a better look. In my heart was a deep longing, too innocent to be described as covetous. I wanted a doll cradle like that one.
On Christmas Eve, my older brother and I were begging to stay up. “Just a little bit longer, please.” To no avail, for I’m sure my mother had a million things to do to get ready for the big day. She stubbornly resisted our pleas. Then she received a little unexpected help by way of a stiff breeze outside. The front door blew open about six inches or so. Mike and I stopped our pleading to gaze at the door, then at each other. His eyes were large and his mouth formed an “o”. Chills tickled my spine.
“See there?” Mom said, always quick on the uptake. “Santa is trying to come, but you two are still up. He can’t come in while you’re awake.” There was no more argument. We ran as fast as we could and jumped into our beds. 
Early on Christmas morning, we tiptoed out of our rooms to see what treasures Santa had left for us overnight. Oh, there seemed to be so much stuff beneath that tree. My brothers dived in at once, grabbing toys and showing them off to each other. I stood in awe, for there to my great surprise and joy, was the same little doll cradle I had seen on the trash pile. I knew it was the very same one, even though it had received a fresh coat of powder blue paint and was no longer broken.
Mom had made a small mattress and pillow, complete with embroidered sheet, pillowcase, and quilt. A brand new doll lay on top of it all. The doll could cry real tears and wet her diaper, but I barely noticed. I was enraptured with the refurbished cradle, even though I knew its last home had been a trash pile. 
Long after I outgrew playing with dolls, that cradle sat in my room. When I was finished with it, Mom (who seldom threw anything away) used it as a planter. Every time I saw it, I remembered that special Christmas. It became one of my most cherished memories. 
It’s not always necessary to spend a lot of money to make Christmas special. Sometimes a little imagination and a whole lot of love can bring the most joy to someone’s heart. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? 

Originally posted December, 2009

Modern Day "Loaves & Fishes" Story

Received via email from Carolyn Gabor:

I recently started working for a friend who is Activities Director at a nursing home. On my first day, I was humbled by the very poor conditions of the residents. Some of them are so poor. Most of them rarely or never have a visitor come to see them. My friend told me that six of these residents were the poorest of poor. Some get around 40 dollars a month to spend for clothes, extras and personal items, but these six do not get that. They get nothing at all. One only has two shirts in her closet.
Christmas donations were down this year, and although St. X school, DePaul School, Home Instead and a few other organizations had helped out with gifts, there would not be enough for all the residents to have a gift for Christmas. My friend had put up an angel tree in the nursing home, and many workers adopted a resident to buy a gift for them, but these workers get paid very little, and many are also poor themselves, so the need was still great. To make matters worse, during this time, the State of Kentucky closed down another nursing home in Louisville, and over 20 new residents were sent to this home, adding to the number of residents in need.
When I heard this, I told my friend not to worry. “God knows, and He will provide gifts for all the residents.” I posted a message on my facebook status, asking people to give. I sent a text message to all of my friends in my phone address book and made phone calls. Several people responded and 8 people were able to help over 30 residents by providing gifts. One even sent gifts all the way from Illinois.
When my daughter Jessica came home from college, I took her with me to visit the nursing home. The director and I began talking about how we needed to start getting donations. We intended to knock on doors and solicit businesses in the area. Jessica said she would help.
My friend was very concerned, because Christmas was less than two weeks away. She worried that there would not be enough for the residents. Once again, I assured her not to worry. God would provide and it was going to come easily.
That day, a friend of mine came to drop off her gifts at the nursing home. When she heard of the need, she immediately got on the phone, called her husband and friends and promised to return bearing gifts.
The next day the activities director went out and received donations from businesses and a couple of area churches. My daughter Jessica started her search by talking to her father and her grandmother, who asked her to write an email explaining the need. Jessica wrote the email and sent it off to her grandmother, Gaye. Gaye forwarded the email to her church group. That email caught the attention of a man who called me and asked if he could give the residents gift cards (anonymously) and asked if he could include a Christian card with the gifts. I immediately said yes. He went on to say, his Bible study group had been looking for a family to help. When he saw the email from Jessica, he was so moved, he knew this was the family they were meant to help. The men’s bible study group provided eight 25 dollar gift cards. The caller told me he wanted to personally give 100 dollar gift cards to the six residents who did not have anything. He brought them over that very day.
The next day, “Anonymous” called me again. He had a friend who also wanted to donate gift cards, and other gift items. He said they would meet me at the nursing home on Tuesday. In the meantime, I received a call from Gaye who said she could donate 100 dollars if we could do the shopping. A few days later, Gaye sent me a message. Her friend Helen saw the email and wanted to donate to help the residents of the nursing home. She would bring 100 dollars to the nursing home that very morning. On the Tuesday morning before Christmas, I went to the home to meet with “Anonymous,” his friend, and Helen. I brought the 100 dollars from Gaye.
When I got to the nursing home, my friend Cathy showed up with 4 large totes and a large box full of lotions, shower gels, music CDs, games, puzzle books, brushes, combs, tins of cookies, sugar free candy, blankets, jewelry, and many more gifts. She and her husband Terry had collected these gifts, along with money to buy gifts for the residents.
While she was there, “Anonymous” arrived with his friend Jerry, who owns several stores. Jerry gave twenty 20-dollar gift cards, 80 ceramic angels, 50 large hand lotions, and gift bags. While they were there, the man prayed for us, for the nursing home residents, and for Jessica. I could see how moved Jerry was and he asked if he could do more. I said we could use some additional gift bags. He asked if we could use socks. We said yes, the residents loved new socks and could always use them. He promised to return.
Meanwhile, one of the resident’s family members arrived with two more gifts and also gave 100 dollars. While she was there, yet another visitor came in with 14 sets of hand knitted shawls and lap blankets. As soon as she’d left, “Anonymous” and Jerry returned with over 250 pairs of soft fuzzy socks for the women and black sport socks for the men. They also had a large box of gift bags.
My friend, who is normally very professional, was overwhelmed and tearfully exclaimed, “This reminds me of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.”
I called my husband Jim and daughter Jessica to tell them the good news and Jessica said, “This reminds me of the miracle of the loaves and fishes.”
God provides and with His provision, there are no limits! Every resident at the nursing home will not only have a gift for Christmas, they will have an abundance of gifts. God is awesome!

Remember those less fortunate. You too can bring a smile to someone’s face. And when you do, your own heart is warmed by God’s grace.