Category Archives: Holidays

On the Feast of the Nativity (Dec. 25/Jan. 7)

On December 25/January 7 every year, we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This day is an important one for humankind. For on this day the eternal God, who had deigned to take on human flesh in order to save us from the power of Death, is born into time and space. On this day we celebrate His birth to the Theotokos in a cave. We recognize Joseph’s obedience to God’s messengers in the midst of doubt. We remember the shepherds who were the first to know the Good News of His birth when the Angels of God announced it to them. Thus, “the least of these” were granted great mercy. We remember the Magi whose love for and intense study of creation revealed the Good News to them in a manner so convincing that they acted on it and traveled to a foreign land to pay homage to a King they’d never even heard of before. In them, “the wealthy” and “the foreigners” were granted great mercy as well. We recall how nature (for example, the star and the animals in the cave) proclaimed and honored His birth. We observe that Life can come from the depths of the earth, for in a cave our Lord was born, and again later, in a cave, humanity is born into life eternal when He conquers Death and rises from the dead.

It is likely that our children are already familiar with the story of this feast. Let us teach them where to find it in the Scriptures, in Luke chapter 2. As we read this passage aloud together, we find opportunities to discuss the things mentioned above. We can also take a look at the icon of the feast as we read. We can challenge our children to identify different parts of the scripture passage as they are found in the icon. We can talk with our children about the feast and its importance. Once we have established the importance of the day, we should take some time to discuss what we will do on the day of the feast, and together agree on how we can have our actions focus on celebrating the feast itself, not just bending to societal trends and expectations. This can be difficult, especially if we have established so many other Christmas lower-case-t-traditions in our family. Even a little step towards celebrating the feast is a step in the right direction, and will be worth the effort!

The feast will be upon us soon. Let us prepare and celebrate as we should. Blessed Nativity to you and your family!

Here are some ideas of ways to learn together about the Nativity Feast:

 

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Find descriptions of the icon of the Nativity at these links:
Click on parts of the icon  to read about them here: http://www.antiochian.org/icons-explained-nativity

See the icon and descriptions about each part of it here: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/70/62/e2/7062e21a4c0a4cc5358ffe18586bf7fb.jpg

You may wish to create some Nativity icon ornaments to use at home or give as gifts. Here is one idea of a way to do so: http://orthodoxeducation.blogspot.com/2011/11/christmas-orthodox-craft-ornaments.html

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Does your family have a Christmas tree? Have you talked together about how some of its symbolisms can point us to the true meaning of the Nativity Feast? In the feast’s pages in the book “Heaven Meets Earth,” there is a section dedicated to the many symbols of the Christmas tree. For example, “God’s light, symbolized by the lights sparkling all around the tree, reaches into the deepest, darkest crevices of our being.” (p. 20) If your family enjoys simple crafts, consider making paper Christmas trees. To make one, first accordian-fold a large green paper circle to make a “tree” shape. Then decorate it with markers, tiny paper icon “ornaments,” etc. Add two star stickers (back to back) at the top of the “tree.” Use a hole punch to punch holes from the fold side of each of the accordian folds of the tree. Set the tree over an led votive (many dollar stores sell them two to a pack) so that the tree can “light up.” When your tree(s) are finished, review again the symbolisms mentioned in the book, looking for each on your paper tree and your Christmas tree (if you have one).

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Keeping our focus (and our children’s focus) on Christ during the Nativity “season” is not always easy in today’s world. Find resources to help in this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/ideas-for-keeping-our-focus-on-the-nativity-of-christ/

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“Each Christmas we need to ask ourselves and our families what we should get Christ. It is His birthday after all.” ~ Melissa Tsongranis, in her article “What Shall We Offer?”, which pushes us to continue to think about how to keep Christ as the focus of our Nativity celebration. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/family/articles/offering

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Find pins to many Nativity ideas here: https://www.pinterest.com/aodce/nativity/

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This zine can help us teach our children ages 12 and up about the Nativity of our Lord. http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/zines/nativityzine. There is a free parent guide featuring suggested ways to use it with children of different age levels; ideas for celebrating the twelve days of Christmas; and information about Christmas celebrations around the world, as well! http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/christmas_guide (You can also get a teachers’ guide to use with the zine, with these objectives: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/resources/midhightextobjectives#For to Us)

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With older children, we can take time before the Nativity Feast’s vesperal service/Royal Hours to discuss the verses we will hear and/or chant. For example this one:

“O Christ what shall we offer You;
for our sake You appeared on earth as man?
Every creature made by You offers thanks to You.
The angels offer You a hymn; the heavens, a star;
the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder;
the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger:
and we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.”


Find the rest of the vesperal service here: http://lit.royaldoors.net/. Watch your children during the service, to see their faces light up in  recognition when this verse that you have discussed is chanted in the service!

Ideas for Keeping Our Focus on the Nativity of Christ

We are now well into/nearing the end of the Nativity Fast. Very soon we will be celebrating the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. In the cultural “hustle and bustle” of Christmas, it is easy for us to be overcome by busyness and we can lose sight of what we are celebrating: the coming of Christ to earth, God incarnate! Let us find ways to focus on that, and prepare to celebrate it with great joy! Here are a few ideas that will help us to keep the Nativity of Christ at the forefront of our celebration.

 

Educational ideas:
This printable pdf (free for personal use) is full of Nativity-themed coloring pages and practice words for young children to read and write: http://www.mamaslearningcorner.com/nativity-coloring-pages/

For those who love to color, print these 24 coloring pictures with quotes from the gospels, that work together to tell the story of the Nativity: http://www.dltk-bible.com/advent/index.htm

Find other Nativity-themed coloring pages here: http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/nativity-colouring-pages

Find action rhymes and finger plays related to the Nativity (among others) here: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/action.html

Find a Nativity-themed word search geared at upper elementary students here: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/puzzles/The_First_Christmas.html

Older children and adults will enjoy reading and pondering the poems in this collection which are Nativity themed: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/christmas-poetry.html

Print this Nativity-themed word scramble: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/puzzles/One_Night_In_Bethlehem.pdf

 

Play ideas:

Make these simple popsicle stick puppets for young children to use in their play: http://biblelovenotes.blogspot.com/2011/03/play-friendly-nativity.html

Print this charming Nativity set on cardstock for your children to color, cut, and play with: http://madebyjoel.com/2012/12/paper-city-nativity-scene.html. Or, if you prefer, this one: http://media.focusonthefamily.com/clubhouse/pdf/MyNativity.pdf

Going out to eat? Print and cut this tiny Nativity set, tuck it into an empty mints tin, grab a few crayons or colored pencils, and surprise your children with something to do that reminds them of Christ, while they wait for the meal to come: http://madebyjoel.com/2013/12/travel-size-paper-city-nativity-scene.html

Challenge your lego builders to make this basic Nativity set: a stable with star, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, manger, shepherd, and sheep:  http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/11/16/lego-nativity-set-instructions/

They could also make this tiny Nativity (“Project #4”) found here: http://frugalfun4boys.com/2014/12/05/lego-christmas-projects-instructions/

Create a basic wooden Nativity that will be played with and cherished for years to come: http://little-inspirations.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/wooden-doll-nativity.html

 

12 Days of Christmas Celebration Ideas:

Consider reading together the devotional book “Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas: a Family Devotional in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition”  by Wigglesworth. Read about it here: ”https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/gleanings-from-a-book-celebrating-the-twelve-days-of-christmas-a-family-devotional-in-the-eastern-orthodox-tradition-by-amandaeve-wigglesworth/

Older children and adults can study these sermons/quotes/writings, discuss, and learn from them together: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/great-feast

Listen to Fr. Andrew George (Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Cranston, RI) as he talks about how Orthodox Christians should be preparing for Christmas and then celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas: http://myocn.net/12-days-christmas/ (about 25 minutes)

Find several brief articles offering great ideas and encouragement for Orthodox families and teachers on ways to prepare for the Nativity with children: http://www.goarch.org/special/advent/pfn_nativity_articles.pdf

Gather more ideas from this blog post: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/family/articles/offering

 

To Celebrate Picture Book Month With Books About Thankfulness

Did you know that November is International Picture Book Month? It’s the month of the year when people of all ages are encouraged to enjoy carefully worded writing paired with beautiful illustrations. For those of us living in the United States, November is also the time when we focus on Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving season is a welcome change from the norm, offering a break from school and perhaps also from work. Let us consider spending some of this extra family time in reading together. Many happy memories can be built during family read-aloud times, so why not add to the fun of Thanksgiving memories by reading and discussing some related picture books?

There are a plethora of books available today that are appropriate reads for the Thanksgiving season. We will offer a few here, in no particular order, for your perusal. Children of all ages (even adults!) will enjoy these books. While they don’t take long to read, they are thought provoking and can offer many opportunities for discussion!

For more on Picture Book Month, see http://picturebookmonth.com/.

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Thankful by Eileen Spinelli is a rollicking rhyme about all kinds of people, each thankful for something that makes their work or their life more enjoyable. Illustrator Archie Preston adds a heartwarming and playful twist in his illustrations. The pictures show a family whose children dress up as those “all kinds of people,” playing their roles, and interacting with each other in ways that will make readers of all ages smile. Watch the trailer for the book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXLhjE9J-EU. You can buy the book here: http://www.zondervan.com/thankful. Discussion: Ask each person to share one thing that they are thankful for. Challenge: Together think of how Archie Preston would illustrate what you have just said. How would he show what each person is thankful for? How would he tie them together in the illustrations?

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The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood follows a young girl through her day, as she savors the beauty of nature around her. Greg Shed’s gentle gouache illustrations reflect that beauty so that the reader can see it for themselves. Throughout the book, the young girl is looking for something secret. Along the way, she offers words of gratitude for the loveliness around her. In the end, she realizes the secret she had been seeking is this: “The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.” You can buy the book here:http://books.simonandschuster.com/Secret-of-Saying-Thanks/Douglas-Wood/9780689854101. Discussion: Ask each person to think back through this day and share one thing of beauty which they saw, for which they are thankful. Then take time to actually thank God for all of that beauty! Challenge: Take a look at the Akathist of Thanksgiving (http://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Prayers/Akathist-of-Thanksgiving.pdf), and talk about how it compares to this book! If time allows, pray the Akathist of Thanksgiving together, giving Glory to God for all things!

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Thank you, God, by J. Bradley Wigger, is a prayer that thanks God for everything. Jago’s illustrations, created in digital paint with photographic textures, add a deep richness to the book. Watch the trailer and/or buy this book here: http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/5424/thank-you-god.aspx Discussion: After reading the book, ask, “If you were the author, what would you add to this book?” Then page through the book again and take turns adding more things that could have been mentioned on each page. Challenge: Work together to write and illustrate your own “Thank You, God” prayer. (You could even make it into a book!)

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Bear Says Thanks, by Karma Wilson, is a charming poem-story about a bear who wants to throw a dinner for his friends to show his gratitude for their friendship. Unfortunately, as he prepares to do so, the bear discovers that he has no food left in his house! The friends come over anyway, each bringing food to share, and they assure the bear that his stories are his contribution to the gathering. Jane Chapman’s charming acrylic illustrations make the story infinitely more adorable and sweet! Purchase the book here: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Bear-Says-Thanks/Karma-Wilson/The-Bear-Books/9781416958567. Find a free reproducible pdf (geared to 1st or 2nd graders) with activities related to the book here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Bear-Says-Thanks-A-FREE-Mini-Unit-1546522. Discuss: Talk together about the book. Bear felt like he didn’t deserve to be part of the party, since he didn’t have any food to contribute. Talk about times when anyone in your family has felt inadequate or like their contribution was lacking. How did it end up? Talk about how bear’s friends saw the value in his stories, and considered the stories to be his contribution to the gathering. Challenge: Encourage each other to be sensitive to others’ feelings of inadequacy, and find ways to affirm their strengths! You could begin by creating a “Thank you beary much” card to give to someone you appreciate, as suggested here: http://d28hgpri8am2if.cloudfront.net/tagged_assets/13330_40818%20cheer%20on%20reading%20activities_bearsaysthanks.pdf.

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Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London, follows a boy and his dad through their day’s walk in the woods. Throughout the book, the father notices and thanks the beautiful items in nature (because he believes that all things in nature are a gift) for being and for sharing their beauty with him. The boy confesses that he feels a little embarrassed by the fact that his father is thanking everything, but his father tells him how much better he feels when he is thankful, and in the end, the boy thanks the stars as they appear in the night sky. Gregory Manchess’ oil paintings are right for this book, a charming combination of generalities in the illustrations with just the right touch of details. Purchase the book here: http://www.candlewick.com/cat.asp?browse=Title&mode=book&isbn=0763655945&pix=n. Discuss: Talk about the idea of thanking things in nature. What do you think about that? Is there Anyone else Who we should thank for creating those natural things? Challenge: Go for a hike together, and, like the boy and his dad, practice noticing the detailed beauty of the world around you. Stop at points along the way to listen and look, talk about what you hear/see, and then take a moment to give thanks for it!

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My Book of Thanks by Hennessy offers thanks to God for something different on every page; and asks God for help with regard to that thing/person. For example, “Thank you for the earth. Help me to take care of it for you.” Hiroe Nakata’s playful watercolor-and-ink illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the powerfully concise words of the prayer. (Note: the book is no longer available from publisher Candlewick Press, but can still be found from various online distributors.) Discuss: Talk about the prayer as it is written in the book. Why do you think the author included a prayer for help after each thanksgiving? Is that important? Why or why not? Challenge: Make a personalized extender to the book! Take time to each write down one “thank you” that you would add to this prayer. Remember to also include a related prayer for help! If you own the book, keep the extender page(s) in the book for future readings.

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Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving edited by Katherine Paterson is a book full of just that! The poems, prayers, and songs from many different cultures and beliefs offer food for thought for an older audience. The book is divided into themed collections, and each collection begins with a personal reflection written as only Katherine Paterson can write, straight from the heart. Pamela Dalton’s detailed scherenschnitte (detailed cut-paper) and watercolor illustrations are mesmerizing, and provide an appropriate backdrop for each page of the book. Buy the book here: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/titles/giving-thanks.html. Discuss: Paterson’s reflections in and of themselves offer good discussion starters! As you read each section, discuss her thoughts before you dive into the selections in the section. Since each prayer/poem/song is from a different part of the world, discuss the thought behind it. Make connections to our Orthodox beliefs: how is this thought similar/different? How do you suppose the people who first prayed/sang this arrived at these words? Challenge: Have each member of the family find and share their favorite selection from the book, and explain why they like it so much. For an added challenge: Learn more about scherenschnitte (see Dalton’s explanation of her work on another book at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wfyIQFYaao) and/or check out Dalton’s website at http://www.pameladaltonpapercutting.com/. Create your own piece of scherenschnitte art, then copy your favorite selection from Giving Thanks onto your work!

On Preparing Our Hearts, Anticipating the Birth of Christ Each Day of the Nativity Fast

Despite the fact that it is early November, some stores and public places have already begun decorating for Christmas and are playing Christmas music. To some, it may seem too early for that to be happening. But think about it: as Orthodox Christians, we will soon begin our own preparations for the birth of Christ. It is nearly time for the Nativity Fast. Like our secular world, we are anticipating the birth of Christ, although in a different way.

Every day of the Nativity Fast offers us the opportunity to be still and prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ into our midst. One way that we can do so is by feasting our minds on the scriptures. This is an especially good time for us to study the scriptures that foretell Christ’s coming and/or describe the events and people surrounding His birth. This studying can easily be done together as a family, throughout the Nativity Fast, and all the way to Christ’s birth!

There are several ways to submerge ourselves in the scriptures during the Nativity Fast. Two of these include the use of a “Jesse Tree” and an (Orthodox) Advent calendar. Of course, there are many other ways to do so as well, but we will look at these two because they are great to do with children.


1. The Jesse Tree: Set up a tree (or a large wreath, or a swag down the bannister, or a ribbon strung across a wall) just before the fast begins, and then hang one ornament on it each day throughout the season. Each ornament will depict a person or an event that is the focus for that day’s meditation. While creating and/or hanging the ornament, read and discuss the scripture associated with it.

2. The Advent Calendar: Before the Nativity Fast begins, set up a collection of numbered containers (envelopes, painted jars. lidded boxes, etc.), one for each day. Inside each container, place an item (or a picture, or even just a reading for the day) that will guide a brief discussion on a topic related to the Nativity. During the Fast, together open the container of the day, read about its contents, and talk about how it relates to the coming of Christ.

For future years, consider gathering with a group of friends to do an exchange! Divide up the 40 days’ (52, if you include the 12 days of Christmas) worth of ornaments or items evenly between all of you in the group. Before the exchange, each group member will make an ornament for each of their allotted days for each member of the group (so, if you have 8 members in a Jesse Tree exchange group, each member of the group would make 8 copies of an ornament for each of the 5 days’ ornaments they’ve been assigned). At some point before the Nativity Fast begins, get together and have a festive exchange. If you can’t physically meet, you could mail the ornaments to each other for the exchange. If you cannot find enough others who are interested in participating in an exchange like this, keep your eye out online for groups you could join. (For example, in the summer/fall of 2015, there was a Facebook group called “Festal Celebrations” which collaborated on a Jesse Tree ornament exchange.)

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Need a place to start? Here are several options to help you get going:

Find a set of reproducible pictures for your Jesse Tree here. These can be copied, and then children can color them and paste them onto a cardstock ornament shape while someone reads the related text (if you don’t have time to make the ornaments in advance). They could also be reproduced onto shrinking plastic to make longer-lasting ornaments. Download the pictures here: https://festalcelebrations.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/another-twist-to-our-jesse-tree-project/. The extensive readings to go with these ornaments can be found here: https://festalcelebrations.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/festaljessetreeadditonaldays1-52pdf.pdf.

This version of the Jesse Tree text/ornament ideas extends the celebration to the 12 days of Christmas!

http://www.antiochian.org/content/advent-reading-jesse-tree

This Jesse Tree version (from http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2010/11/tree-of-jesse-for-little-ones.html) offers the scripture passages, reproducible pictures, and the “Children’s Bible Reader” pages related to each day’s theme. http://www.scribd.com/doc/42707446/The-Tree-of-Jesse

Want to make an Orthodox Advent Calendar? Find a daily theme for each of the 40 days of the Nativity Fast, complete with a simple text, here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/xmas/advcal.htm.

Here is another Orthodox “Advent calendar” link: “The idea behind this calendar is to give us a different topic each day to discuss to keep us focused on Christ throughout the craze of the holiday season.” Besides a description of how to make the calendar, there is also a printable coloring book to go with each day’s discussion!
http://pdxorthodoxmom.blogspot.com/2014/11/orthodox-40-day-advent-calendar.html?m=1

Should you wish to have the children “open” each Jesse Tree ornament before hanging it, or if you are making an Advent calendar, find inspiration from these ideas. They are not Orthodox, but can easily be adapted for an Orthodox Jesse Tree or Advent Calendar. http://www.doublethebatch.com/diy-christmas-advent-calendar-ideas/

Ideas for Honoring Fathers on Father’s Day

Since Father’s Day is just around the bend, this week’s blog will focus on ideas for ways to celebrate dads. Suggestions include activities, foods, and gifts. A little planning ahead can help to make Father’s Day a great celebration of the fathers in our midst. Enjoy planning and celebrating!

Celebrating Father’s Day

As a family, remember Dad with these ideas:

Write a thank you note to God for all of Dad’s attributes. Then give him the note.
Make a large Father’s Day card by clipping articles and photos, then make a pictorial collage.
Prepare dinner with Dad’s favorite food. Decorate his chair like a throne. Have children make menus and “play restaurant” by serving the meal at a candlelit table.
Draw a comic strip featuring what you love about Dad. Post it where he can see it.
Wash, wax, and clean the interior of the car.
Bake a batch of Dad’s favorite cookies.
Rent a favorite video, pop a batch of popcorn, and watch the video together.
Have an art show of drawings or paintings of Dad.

Adapted from For Parents Only, May/June 1995 (Children’s Ministry).

© 1996 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).

From http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/secular/fordad.htm, used by permission.

Here are more ideas of ways to bless a father on Father’s Day:

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Find one Orthodox Christian mom’s gathering of ideas for Father’s Day gifts here: http://www.orthodoxmom.com/2013/06/12/diy-fathers-day-gift-ideas/

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At http://eighteen25.com/2012/05/free-download-book-for-dad/ and at  http://www.hellowonderful.co/post/KID-MADE-FREE-PRINTABLE-FATHER—-S-DAY-BOOK#_a5y_p=3862808 find printable books that kids can draw on and write to finish for Dad, for Father’s Day.

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Instead of a card, invite children to decorate this fun poster for dad: http://www.confettisunshine.com/2014/05/free-printable-fathers-day-poster.html

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Children can draw a (reversible) picture with fabric crayons. Have an adult use an iron to transfer the crayon drawings onto a tie for dad. http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/13123/fathers-day-ties#

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Fill a “six pack” (of treats) for dad, and a bunch of other ideas here: http://99crafting.co/fathers-day-crafts/

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Find clever, cute, and free printables for dads at http://www.the36thavenue.com/fathers-day-gifts-ideas/
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Make dad “dessert in a jar” http://www.livinglocurto.com/2013/06/fathers-day-gift-dessert-printables/. (The materials for this project can easily make more than one gift. It would work well if you have several men you wish to honor, or if you are working with a group of children.)
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Give dad a gift that offers hours of ideas for fun interaction with his kids. Purchase a book with science project directions, the ingredients for a few of the projects, and a box to store everything. This gift will be used over and over, and offer opportunities for dad/kid fun! (If dad isn’t a science fan, consider basing the project on an art book, a craft book, a game ideas book, etc.) http://curlybirds.typepad.com/curly-birds/2011/06/fathers-day-gift-activity-tub.html

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Find a variety of sweet homemade Father’s Day gift ideas here: http://www.powerfulmothering.com/20-fathers-day-gift-ideas-with-kids/

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Even a small child can help to make this yummy dessert for dad on Father’s Day: http://www.thediaryofdaveswife.com/2012/06/13/fathers-day-fruit-pizza/

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Here’s a simple but beautiful Father’s Day project that can be made by a child who likes to sew: http://teachbesideme.com/dad-string-art/?utm_content=buffer0e116&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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Instead of giving dad a “thing” for Father’s Day this year, consider making a contribution in his honor to the IOCC (https://www.iocc.org/giving/giving_honorgifts1.aspx) or the OCMC (http://www.ocmc.org/donate/index.aspx)!

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Celebrating the Feast of Feasts: Great and Holy Pascha!

Very soon we will be celebrating the Feast of Feasts, Great and Holy Pascha! We have readied our hearts by fasting and praying. We have set aside time to attend and participate in preparatory church services. We have planned to cook special foods and to wear nice clothing for the feast. Pascha is a very special day, and because it is, we prepare accordingly.
But the Paschal season is longer than just one day. Yes, it begins on Great and Holy Pascha, but it continues on until Pentecost, and the whole season is a time of great celebration! We truly teach our children that this is the Feast of Feasts when we celebrate throughout the Paschal season, not just on Pascha itself.

So, how can we celebrate properly? What can we do to demonstrate to ourselves and our children just how important this feast is? Studying and applying the guidelines (about things like fasting, kneeling, The Hours, and a change in our prayers) for the Paschal season found here, http://www.antiochian.org/node/22733, can be a place to start. When we are familiar with the guidelines and some of the reasoning behind them, we can plan our continued celebration accordingly!

There are many ways to remind ourselves and our children about Christ’s triumph over death, and His glorious resurrection. Let us find ways to do so every day of the Paschal season! Even just small ways to celebrate this triumph will set this season apart from the rest of the year, allowing the Paschal season to be truly the most wonderful time of the year.

Here are some ideas of ways to set this season apart:

Gleanings From a Book: Catherine’s Pascha by Charlotte Riggle

This book made me cry. Loud, soggy gasps accompanied my declaration, “I didn’t see THAT coming!”  My husband came running, thinking something was horribly wrong. “I… love… this book!” I assured him between sobs, and then I showed him the cause of my tears. We’ll get to that in just a little bit..

From the moment I cracked it open, this book appealed to me on so many levels. The story is genuine. The illustrations are eye-catching and detailed.The unity of the Holy Orthodox Church is clearly emphasized. The joy of Pascha is palpable. This book is a delightful celebration of Pascha!

Catherine’s Pascha is written in a realistic, believable way. As I read, it was like I could hear my own children being Catherine’s age again, from the “Why do I have to go to bed at regular time, tonight, when I’m getting up again in a few hours to go to church? You KNOW I won’t sleep!;” through the delight of shouting “Indeed He is risen!” in multiple languages throughout the Divine Liturgy in the wee hours of the morning; all the way to the gleeful “I’m not a bit sleepy!” while trying to win at the egg-cracking game and then eating all those things we haven’t eaten in weeks. The story itself is a gentle walk through what happens at the Paschal Divine Liturgy, accentuated with the pure delight that children regularly experience and share. The way the story is written fills me with anticipation for the Pascha celebration that lies ahead! Reading the book gave me excited goosebumps.

The brightly colored illustrations of this book are filled with details. There are so many things to look at and look for on each page! The main illustration in the center of the page depicts what is happening in the story: it shows Catherine and her family and/or what is going on in their church at that part of the Paschal service. (An aside: I noticed that the icons are the most realistic parts of each illustration, subtly reminding us that the saints are the most ‘real’ people celebrating Pascha because of their surrender to/reflection of/proximity to Christ.) Surrounding each picture is a border with words that allow the reader to “hear” what is going on in Catherine’s world at that moment: from snatches of the service to Paschal exclamations in a variety of languages to people’s conversations at the Paschal feast after the Divine Liturgy. All around that border which represents Catherine’s immediate world are illustrations of churches around the world, shown as they appear at that same hour of Pascha night. Each church is portrayed in its location, some of them have people arriving, or processing, or leaving, along with Catherine’s family, just as they do at that hour of the Paschal night. Even the sky changes to reflect the location and/or time of night. The attention to detail in these illustrations is impeccable, and leaves me wanting to re-read the book just so that I can look for more details.

The reality of the Holy Orthodox Church being One Church all over the world throughout history is clearly represented in the illustrations. Catherine’s own parish is a multicultural one. Even her best friend is a different race than she is. So, the main story’s illustrations depict a unified Church. And then there are the borders: the outer border of each page while Catherine’s in church features an illustration of a church somewhere in the world. It tells the name of the church and the year that that church building was established. This is where the tears happened for me. I turned one page and unexpectedly found the Church at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Lake Amatitlán, Guatemala, founded in 2007. My parents were Protestant missionaries in Guatemala, so I spent my entire childhood there and consider it my home. The recent conversions of many Guatemalans to Orthodoxy has been a great delight to my own convert soul. Seeing an Orthodox church from my home country represented in a book alongside Hagia Sophia, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Saint Catherine’s Monastery, to name a few, brought tears of immense joy. Truly God is at work through His Church, around the world. And what joy, to celebrate Pascha alongside our brothers and sisters, whatever our cultural background!

The joy of Pascha is evident throughout this book. As well it should be: we are, after all, celebrating both the greatest sacrifice and the most resounding victory ever! We are celebrating our Lord’s defeat of death and His glorious resurrection! The joy that Catherine and her family and friends feel is the joy that we all feel at Pascha. The story and illustrations work well to portray that joy, and leave the reader longing for Pascha, as well.

Ah, yes: this book made me cry. And I cried hard. But the last page made me laugh. Read it yourself to find out why!

You can purchase Catherine’s Pascha at http://www.catherinespascha.com/store/.

Here are some links that can enhance your reading of this book:

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“Picture book illustrations should be more than simple representations of the actions of the story, and far more than decorations on the pages. In stories like Catherine’s Pascha, the illustrations can be windows into whole new worlds.” Read more about the illustrations in Catherine’s Pascha at http://www.catherinespascha.com/book/picture-book-illustrations/.

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See the list of Orthodox churches illustrated in the book Catherine’s Pascha at http://www.catherinespascha.com/book/orthodox-churches-around-world/. Click on the name of the continent to learn more about each church.

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Why do Orthodox Christians celebrate Pascha at night? Why not have a sunrise service like many other Christian churches do? Read the answer here: http://www.catherinespascha.com/pascha/paschal-liturgy/

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Practice Paschal greetings in many languages with your children so that they can reply to the priest during the Paschal service, just as Catherine does in the book Catherine’s Pascha: http://www.catherinespascha.com/pascha/paschal-greetings/

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Find book activities, crafts, and lessons to go along with the book Catherine’s Pascha at http://www.catherinespascha.com/book-activities/.

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Find some helpful parenting tips for Pascha here: http://www.catherinespascha.com/pascha/parenting-tips/

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Discover ideas for Pascha baskets, including ideas for Pascha basket covers and recipes for some of the foods illustrated in Catherine’s Pascha at the book’s main website: http://www.catherinespascha.com/.