Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hanukkah 2014

Hanukkah begins tonight!  It's a holiday that we always learned about and observed in our own way as a family while we were growing up (minus the gifts), and it always started with a special meal on the first night.

Now, why would a Mormon family want to learn about Hanukkah?  Beside the fact that this is what my Mom and Grandmother always did, here are a few reasons why I do now too:

1.  First and foremost, Hanukkah is about miracles--one miracle in particular.  Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that God is a God of miracles and that He is still working miracles in the world today.  When our family celebrates Hanukkah, we take time to verbalize and thank God for the miracles we've seen in our own lives.

2. Hanukkah is the story of God's people, whom He expected to serve Him only.  As members of God's church on earth, we too are expected to have no other God's before Him.  When ancient Israel fell under foreign rule, King Antiochus demanded that the Jews stop worshiping Yahweh and worship Greek gods instead.  A group of Jews, called Maccabees gathered others around them and stood up to King Antiochus.  They refused to worship false gods.  As members of God's church, we too are striving to remain true to the faith.

3.  Hanukkah is also the story of a people who worshiped in temples.  Mormons too worship in temples, and God has outlined how this is to be done.  After the Jews defeated their occupiers, the first thing they did was cleanse the temple of the Greek gods/symbols that had been installed there.  In order to dedicate the temple, it had to be cleansed and set right.  We too worship God in His set and prescribed way.  More than just in temple worship, but in our personal lives, we must make every effort to make sure we are serving the Lord in His way.

4.  Only after they did all that was required of them to cleanse the temple did the Lord show forth a miracle.  They had cleansed the temple and were required to consecrate the oil used in the temple, but only had enough oil for one day.  The Lord allowed the oil to last eight days in order to complete this proceaa.  One personal lesson that can be drawn from this is that when we repent and return to the Lord, we must do all in our power to set things right before Him.  Then He takes us the rest of the way through His grace and the power of His Atonement until we are whole again.  This is the most amazing miracle that can happen daily in our lives.  And just in case you didn't know, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament who was pre-mortally referred to by many names, one of them being Yahweh.  

Here's a little synopsis of how our dinner went this evening.  

I saw this recipe for a Hanukkah sandwich on NPR this morning, and it was a delicious as I thought it would be (although, I substituted the doughnut for a bagel--sorry!...I wasn't that adventurous.)  Note to my siblings who suffered through straight latkes growing up, this sandwich will surprise and delight you!  Even Honor loved it!

Next, I used the verbage on this website to help me tell the story of Hanukkah (which my children also learn about in school) in simple terms they could understand.

I added in my own perspectives and personal testimony as a Latter-day Saint and a follower of Christ as to why Hanukkah is important to me and why the Jewish people set a good example of faith for us.

Autumn lit the menorah.

Then we took turns talking about what a miracle is and each naming something that has happened in the last year in our lives that was a miracle.  

I am so grateful for all of my Jewish friends who celebrate Hanukkah and the various holidays/observances of their religion.  Seeing their faith helps my faith to grow as well.

Happy Hanukkah!!

To see what we did last year for Hanukkah, read this post. Or read my other post about why I like Hanukkah.

a Christmas Song

I hope you guys are having a lovely Christmas, enjoying time with family, slowing down a bit to feel the love that God has for you.

Our family was asked to prepare a musical number for Sacrament meeting this coming Sunday.  We've never done anything like that, and we just found out about it, so I was playing through some songs and this one "Little Jesus" from the Children's Songbook is a favorite of mine, probably because it's so simple.

So here's me singing it with Honor on my lap trying to play it on the piano as well.  I'm not the best but it's my song and it's my imperfect gift for the Savior, that I am sharing with you.  Hopefully by Sunday (and with my children's voices) it'll be a bit more polished!


Enjoy and whatever you are doing today, do it with your heart!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

St. Lucia's Day

The other night, we visited the country of Iceland in our Christmas trip around the world.

Although people in Iceland celebrate St. Lucia Day, a day honoring the patron saint of light, Christians in other Nordic countries such as Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark, do as well.

Now, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not pray to saints as do some other religions, instead, we believe that all believers in Christ are capable of and should act as saints, doing good and serving others where ever we go.  

Around Christmas time in Sweden (and other countries), one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia's Day (or St. Lucy's Day) on December 13th.  The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.

St. Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred for her faith in 304 AD.  The most common story told about St. Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city.  She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things.  Lucy means light, a very appropriate name.

St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head.  Early in the morning on December 13th, the girl passes out coffee and donuts to her family.  Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are used!

Although traditionally, the oldest girl in a household has the honor of playing St. Lucy, I gave Autumn the honor, and she was just glowing with excitement, to be our special guest!

Autumn was true grace under "fire"!  Thank goodness we didn't try to use real candles.  The crown we made was a little wobbly, and the wreath was poking poor Autumn in the head, but she smiled and played her part so well...passing out the Dunkin'Donuts!

She loved wearing the pretty white dress that my sister passed on for their baptism days (coming up!)  She felt very special, and the other girls are eager for their turn in the coming years!  Hopefully we'll come up with a more stable crown before then!

Another tradition that we had a good laugh over was that in Iceland 13 mischievous elves visit children!!!  The first day they come is December 12th and the last day is December 24th.  They leave gifts in children's shoes.  Then they gradually go back to the mountains, one by one.  By January 6th, the elves are gone and the Christmas season is over!  Love it!

The thirteen elves have different names that describe their mischief.  Here are some common ones: Window Peeper, Yogurt Gobbler, Donut Beggar, Ice Breaker, Sausage Snatcher, Pot Licker, Door Slammer, Butter Greedy, Fat Gobbler, Skirt Blower, Doorway Sniffer, Smoke Gulper, and Itty Bitty.

We were cracking up over the names and agreed that we certainly have some elves that fit that description among our family!!

If you'd like to say "Merry Christmas" in Icelandic, you'd say "Gledileg jol", pronounced gled-EH-leh yole.

Gledileg jol!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas in Nigeria

Our Christmas Around the World tour took us to the country of Nigeria last night.  Nigerians have a lot of different foods prepared according to the region in which you live, and they don't generally prepare a lot of sweets, but instead make a TON of different meats at Christmas and make a pilgrimage back to their place of birth to be together with family for Christmastime.  Because of this people stand in long lines to get goats and such to prepare for their Christmas dinner!  (Whereas people in Japan stand in long lines at KFC, in order to eat "American food" on an "American holiday"!)

Instead of decorating evergreen trees, Christians in Nigeria (who make up 50% of the population) decorate palm trees.  They also use palm leaves to decorate the inside and outside of their homes.  Nigerians consider palm branches a sign of peace and a symbol of Christmas.

Nigerian people might also light sparklers and dress in costume at Christmastime.  They walk from house to house acting out the Christmas story for their neighbors!  They often receive money which they donate to the church.

If you want to wish someone a Merry Christmas in Nigeria, you might say, "Eku Odun Ebi Jesu" (pronounced: eh-koo oh-DONE eh-BEE hay-SUE), which means "Happy Celebration on the birth of Jesus Christ."  This greeting is in the tribal language of Yoruba.  The major language in Nigeria is English, but many people use a tribal language too.

Eku Odun Ebi Jesu!

Find out about More Christmas Traditions from Around the World:

Christmas in India
Christmas in Japan
Christmas in Nigeria

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas in Japan

The next country we are visiting in our trip around the world is Japan.  We were all interested to discover that kids in Japan often go to school on Christmas Day, because Christmas is not a national holiday.  

Although not many people are Christian in Japan, many people have adopted Christmas traditions, such as putting up Christmas trees and exchanging gifts.  Christmas in Japan is considered a time to make others happy.  (Japanese New Year celebrations are more akin to Western Christmas celebrations where they spend time with family, have a special meal, pray, and send greeting cards.)

One Christmas food that you will see in Japanese bakeries around Christmas time is a white, round, Christmas cake decorated with strawberries, whipped cream, and ornaments (usually ornaments of Santa).

Our children really enjoyed devouring this delicious cake after we came home from Guy's school music concert last night!

We also made these traditional Japanese fans which people use to decorate Christmas trees in Japan, along with  dolls, tiny candles, and wind chimes.  

By the way, if you were wondering how to say "Merry Christmas" in Japanese, you'd say "Meri Kurisumasu" (pronounced: meh-REE kur-i-sue-MAH-sue!) 

And children wake on Christmas morning hoping to find gifts from "Santa Kurohsu" (pronounced koo-ROW-sue).

For more information on Japanese Christmas celebrations see whyChristmas.com

Meri Kurisumasu!

Find out about More Christmas Traditions from Around the World:

Christmas in India
Christmas in Japan
Christmas in Nigeria

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas in India

I love seizing every opportunity to teach my children about Jesus Christ and to build their faith in Him.  Christmas time is certainly no exception.  Over the years, I've written about some of our fun traditions, especially our Christmas Book reading/crafting.

This year, we will be exploring the different ways that believers and followers of Christ in various countries celebrate the birth of the Savior.

Since our children had a two-hour school delay this morning, I thought it was a good day to start our "Christmas Around the World" celebration.

We began by talking about Christmas in India.  According to the website WhyChristmas.com there are 25 million Christians living in India (making up just 2.3% of their population.)  In the book "Merry Christmas Everywhere" Arlene Erlbach, we read that in some parts of India, people celebrate Christmas by setting up a banana or mango tree in their house!  

People cover their ceilings from corner to corner with streamers, fancy garlands, and balloons.  Outside their homes, they light candles or oil lamps and display them on their flat roofs to show people that Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  They also string floating star lanterns from their house to their neighbors'.  And they display a star near their front door to remind people of how the Three Kings found their way to Bethlehem.

I found this particularly interesting: "In north-west India, the tribal Christians of the Bhil Folk, go out night after night for a week at Christmas to sing their own carols the whole night through.  They go to surrounding villages singing to people and telling the Christmas story."

It inspires me to hear of the great faith of these Christian Indians...enough to go from house to house for a week, telling the story of Christ's birth!  It is my hope for my friends and family that we will find our own ways to let our faith in the Savior shine brightly this Christmas season and always!

Following the suggestion in our book, we made our own "glittery garland" like ones that Christians in India might hang in their homes.

How to make Indian Christmas garland:

1.  Cut long strips of paper (approx 3 feet).
2.  Decorate with crayons, markers, glitter pens, etc.
3.  Glue tinsel, strips of ribbon, and stars (we cut ours ourselves) and let them hang from the strips of paper.  Then hangs from a ceiling or tree.

By the time it was time to go to school, we had created quite the mess and quite a beautiful display.  I hung it above my kitchen island, because I just thought it was so cheery and beautiful!

I found a large, free, printable world map to use during our celebration at yourchildrenlearns.com.  I'm going to hang it up so we can keep track of our Christmas "travels."

Oh, and in case you were wondering, there of the 16 languages spoken in India, one of them is English...so to say Merry Christmas in India, you say "Merry Christmas!"

You can read more information about Christmas in India at this site.

Find out about More Christmas Traditions from Around the World:

Christmas in India
Christmas in Japan
Christmas in Nigeria

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Books for Children

I've put together quite a few Christmas Book Lists over the years.  The reading of Christmas books started with my parents who always read The Littlest Angel to us on Christmas Eve.  It is such a tender story and has all the elements of the innocence of childhood, of wonder, of selflessness, of Christ's birth, and of God's love.  This year's list focuses on similar themes, but also gives a big nod to serving others and to Santa and all of the wonderful values that this time-honored tradition has brought into my life, both as a child and as a parent.

By the way, the t-shirt above does not actually exist, I just really, really want someone to make it for me.  I believe in this mantra so much.  I was searching online and saw so many different ways that people "cope" with stress as represented by these "keep calm" sayings, and the only way I could rightly end that sentence for myself, especially during the busy Christmas season, is to keep calm and read to your children.  

This month, I hope you will slow down, hold your children tight, tuck them in at night while they will still let you, and read them a good book.  Or find a child who needs your attention.  Even "big kids" need to be read to.

I hope that as you read this list together, you will make lifelong memories as you explore the true meaning of Christmas, learn the legends and traditions that surround this magical season, and think about what it means for you personally to celebrate and honor the Savior with your children.

Here is:

Jocelyn's List of the Best Christmas Books for Children 2014

1.  Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Richard H. Schneider

2.  I Believe in Santa Claus by Diane G. Adamson

3.  I See Santa Everywhere by Glenn McCoy

4.  A Small Miracle by Peter Collington

5.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

6.  The Christmas ABC by Florence Johnson (a Golden Book)

7.  The Christmas Orange (I like this version best.)

8.  Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate

9. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck

10.  The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy by Jane Thayer

11.  The Shepherd's Whisper by Heywood Broun

12.  The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

13.  The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood

14.  A Christmas Dress for Ellen retold by Thomas S. Monson

15.  Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon (accompanied by this video.)

16.  The Animals' Christmas Eve by Gale Wiersum (a Golden Book)

17.  On Christmas Eve by Peter Collington  (This book is hard to get, but check your library!)

18.  This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten

19.  Christmas Around the World Coloring Book by Joan O'Brien

20.  Helping Santa: My First Adventure with Grandma

21.  Christmas is Here words from the King James Bible

22.  The Last Chimney of Christmas Eve by Linda Oatman High

23.  The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado

24.  The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell (Illustrated by Sergio Leone)

25.  Morris' Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells

Bonus: The Tale of Three Trees: a Traditional Folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt

Monday, November 17, 2014

How I Strengthened My Testimony of Joseph Smith

As a member of Christ's true church, there are so many opportunities to grow...if you will take them.

After General Conference was over in October, I started with Elder Andersen's talk about Joseph Smith for our family's General Conference Review Lessons.

I loved his challenge to read Joseph Smith's testimony, to consider recording it in your own voice and to listen to it often and share it with friends.

Have you ever sat down and thought about your testimony of Joseph Smith?  Have you ever written your testimony down?  Or written down how you feel about him?  Have you ever tried to share that testimony with a friend?

I have.

The first time I did it (that I can remember recently), it was awkward.  You know why?  Because I wasn't used to saying it.  I wasn't used to telling someone those words, "and then he knelt in a grove of trees and he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ."  Oh...and by the way, angels still appear to men on earth. (Insert eyes of friend averting, subject being quickly changed...)

I also noticed something weird about the words coming out of my mouth.  I wasn't 100 percent sure of myself and I sounded unsure of myself.  It was like my preconceived idea of how my friend was going to respond to my declaration colored the way I said words that I already knew in my head were true.  

So it was kind of a flop...except I learned from it.

I went away from that experience realizing that I needed to grow in my testimony that Joseph Smith was the righteous man God chose to restore all of these wonderful truths to the earth...truths that have changed my life completely for the better.

I spent some time reading his testimony and pondering the blessings that are mine and my family's because of the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I thought back to the time when I was serving in Young Women and we learned about Joseph Smith and memorized "Joseph Smith's First Prayer."  When we sang the words of that hymn the spirit witnessed to me that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God.

I thought about how early in our marriage, my husband and I memorized this part of Joseph Smith's experience, "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me....When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air.  One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other--This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"

I thought about all of those quiet moments when I have turned to the pages of The Book of Mormon--the book that Joseph Smith translated--and how much those words have brought comfort to my soul and joy to my path and an understanding of who Christ is...and who I am.

I thought about peaceful feelings I've felt as a youth and young adult visiting the Sacred Grove (the place whereabout the First Vision may have occurred, where I sat pondering Joseph's experience,) where I prayed to know if His account of the First Vision was true, and how I felt about him at that time.

I thought about my children and how wonderful it is to know that we are a forever family.  I thought about every blessing I've received via the Priesthood ordinances that were restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith...and I thanked God.

I thought on these things and treasured them in my heart, and I vowed that if the opportunity came up again, I would be ready.  I would not use an apologetic tone when speaking about the Prophet Joseph Smith, because I now knew more in my heart than before.  Because I had taken the time, I now knew what I knew.

That opportunity came a few summers ago, while I was conversing with a very sweet girl, not of our faith, but extremely faithful.  I was so impressed by her expressions of faith and a willingness to do what she felt God required of her as a woman of God, that when she asked me what makes Mormons different, I felt prompted to tell her about Joseph Smith.

This time, the words I spoke were fully mine, laden with a personal witness that the Savior Jesus Christ and God the Father did appear to a 14-year old boy in a grove of trees in New York.  That person was Joseph Smith.  He later translated the Book of Mormon, which, like the Bible, is another testament of Jesus Christ written by inhabitants of ancient america.  The existence of this book and Joseph's experience is proof that God is the God of all men, that he still speaks, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.

This time, as I spoke, I felt the Spirit confirming the words that I said...both to me and to her.  I felt God's approval.  And I knew again that what I was saying was true.

This is a special witness that I have received only because I put my testimony into words and spoke them aloud to another person.

There is so much testimony-building wisdom in Elder Andersen's talk.  I know that his suggestion to record Joseph Smith's testimony in one's own voice is good and true.  These are not just his words, they are scripture, and knowing them and making them our own will help bring the witness that we seek.

I know, because I have done it.  And my children have done it.  

And I know that if you will do it, you too will be blessed, because "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17)

An opportunity for great spiritual growth is before you.  Will you take it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Joseph Smith and Polygamy

As a fairly well-educated, Mormon woman, does the fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy bother me?

No, not in the least.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have always known that Joseph Smith had multiple wives, as did select prophets  who were commanded to in the Old Testament.  This is a fact that is discussed in Sunday School, and I learned about it as a child from my parents.  It is not hidden.

So, when I hear rumblings online about a few articles floating around trying to portray the "shock" of active Mormon women in hearing this information as if it was a major revelation, I just roll my eyes a little and move on with my day.

Did I read said articles (or the comments that surely accompanied them)?  

Nope.  I don't need to.

You don't get "spiritual answers from God" by reading the NYTimes or CNN.com (even though I used to work there) or the plethora of conversations going on on social media on any given day.  Sorry, you just don't.

If there's one thing I've learned from the life of the prophet Joseph Smith it's that if I have a question about anything, I can ask God and He will answer me personally and directly.  

So, to the honest seekers of truth, if you want to know whether Joseph Smith was commanded of God to enter into additional marriage relationships (as did prophets in Biblical times) or if you're sincerely wondering if the boy Joseph knelt in a grove of trees to pray and saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, then all you need to do is ask God.  

He will answer you.

a happy, Mormon woman, who follows Christ, believes the Bible, 
and stands by the Prophet Joseph Smith

(You can read more about this topic here.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fall Family Pictures

Have you guys ever tried to take your own family photo?  It isn't easy.  But the other weekend after church, I set up my tripod and snapped a few pictures using my timer.  This one was about as good as I could get.  Scarlett isn't smiling because she's in between pulling crazy faces.  This is the only one that's halfway decent.  Do you think it'll do for a Christmas card this year???

The other ones I took that day look something like this:

...and this.

Oh, Merry Christmas.  I love my crazy kids!