A Year of Smiles – Day 360: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark (70)

Christmas SMILE #26 (Reason to SMILE #360): THE AFTERMATH

Crumpled wrapping paper,

unraveled bows,

countless opened boxes,

piles of toys, books, clothes, electronics and more,

a myriad of candy wrappers,

crumb-filled paper plates,

happy children and

pooped-out parents –

Oh, the aftermath of Christmas!

Sure, the mess creates more work for the weary but it is also evidence of a Christmas thoroughly-enjoyed.

And when you turn off the lights telling yourself the mess can wait one more day, the SMILE you find is oh, so sweet!

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A Year of Smiles – Day 357: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark (65)

Christmas SMILE #23 (Reason to SMILE #357): THE TRADITIONS

Every Family has their own special traditions at Christmas. Some open presents on Christmas Eve; some open them on Christmas Day. Some eat a huge meal on Christmas Day while others eat their celebratory meal on the night before. Some families participate in religious activities such as candle light services and communion while others spend the holidays in the quiet of their homes surrounded by family and close friends. Though many traditions are specific to the season such as the tree, the stockings and the presents, other traditions are as unique as the different families that observe them.

For as long as I can remember, my family has gathered together on Christmas Eve to begin our celebration of the Savior’s birth. For many years now, we have gathered at the house of my oldest brother. My sister-in-law prepares a delicious meal of salad, lasagna and garlic bread but before the main course, there’s always the yummy appetizers of shrimp, crackers and cheese, black-eyed pea salsa and tortilla chips, pickles wrapped in cream cheese and corned beef (De-li-cious!), cookies and all sorts of goodies. I don’t know how any of us have room for dinner!

After dinner, we gather together in the living room to exchange gifts. Before the presents are passed around, however, my dad opens the Word of God to read the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2. Some years, he has his grandchildren read the scriptures. Others, he reads the verses himself. Whoever reads, the goal is to remind us of the reason for our celebration – the gift of God’s Son to the world. This precious time of reflection on the meaning of Christmas ends with a prayer of thanksgiving and praise for God’s great love for us.

Our Christmas Eve continues with a few games and more of those yummy goodies that began the evening. It is time I hold dear, a time I cherish, a time that replenishes my store of SMILES and the cheer in my heart. It is a time of Christmas tradition that I pray will continue for many more years to come.

A Year of Smiles – Day 355: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #21 (Reason to SMILE #355): THE GIFTS MADE WITH LOVE

Some gifts are found in a box on a shelf, mass-produced and packaged for the general consumer.

Others come from the heart of one who knows you best, fashioned with your happiness in mind and packaged in the warmth and comfort of love.

Hand made Christmas

Aren’t these Christmas Ornament Placemats and Christmas Tree Coasters the cutest? They were made by the loving hands of my mom. These sure do make me SMILE!

Have I ever told you how incredibly awesome my mom is? Yep, I wanna be just like her one day. Hmmm. I guess that means I need to learn how to quilt! 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 348: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #14 (Reason to SMILE #348) THE COOKIES AND CANDIES

Reasons why we all make the resolution to loose weight every new year:

Sugar cookies shaped like Christmas Trees, Reindeer, Candy Canes, bells and Santa

Chocolate Chip Cookies made from the Nestle Tollhouse recipe on the bag

Gingerbread men (I don’t care for gingerbread but the cookie makes me SMILE so…)

Peanut butter and Hershey’s Kisses cookies

Pecan Crescent Cookies

Shortbread cookies

Divinity

Candy Canes

Peanut butter balls (or Buckeyes)

Chocolate covered cherries

White Chocolate Peppermint Trufflesshortbread cookies

Boy, oh boy! I’m gaining weight just thinking about all these delicious Christmas treat. (Actually, I’m probably gaining weight from eating this tin of shortbread cookies while I’m writing but why would I admit that? 😉 )

There are so many treats to choose from at Christmas and everyone has their own special sweets that they look forward to making or eating during the Christmas season. For me, it’s two things: peanut butter cookies and strawberry candies. I don’t make either! But my mom does and they are my favorites of all her wonderfully delectable creations.

Now, first things first. Peanut butter cookies. Unless they have the criss-cross on the top, they are not worth eating. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? After the cookie dough is prepared, it’s rolled into a ball and placed on a cookie sheet. Then, the back of a fork is pressed down onto the ball and then again in another direction to make a criss-cross pattern on the top of the cookie. Kind of like a culinary hashtag!

peanut-butter-1164861_1280

Sorry folks but if the cookies don’t have the criss-cross, they’re not real peanut butter cookies. 😉

The other of my two favorite Christmas treats is Strawberry Candies. This is a sweetly delicious soft candy made with strawberry flavored gelatin, sweetened condensed milk, pecans, coconut and a few other ingredients you can find in the recipe below. They are addictive. I don’t have a picture of my own for you because, well, I’ve never thought to snap a picture of my mom’s strawberry candies at Christmas. I’ve only thought to eat them! Here’s a picture courtesy of a blog called, “Urban Drivel”:

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Don’t they look scrumptious! They’re easy to make and if you love strawberries, this is a candy you definitely want to try.

Ingredients:

3 packages strawberry gelatin
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients.
Mix in condensed milk and vanilla.
Cover and chill for at least one hour.
Shape into berries using about a teaspoon each.
Roll in red sugar.
Dip top of berry in green sugar to create the leaf.

That’s it! I hope these strawberry candies make you SMILE as much as they do me. And if they don’t, feel free to send any unwanted candies my way. 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 347: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark (6)

Christmas SMILE #13 (Reason to SMILE #347): THE YULE LOG

It’s amazing what you find out when you do a little research. I’ve discovered that the practice of burning a Yule log goes back to before the 12th century and people actually burned a log in the fireplace. They didn’t just light candles that were placed on the log. I’ve also learned that the remnants of the Yule log, a small piece kept to light the Yule log the following year, were also thought to have powers that could ward off evil spirits, unfortunate circumstances and poor health. How about that!

I’m pretty sure my family Yule log has no magical powers – at all. But it is pretty awesome! Take a look:

yule log

That’s 39 years of candle wax right there. C’mon. You’ve gotta admit that’s cool!

For my family, the tradition of “burning” the Yule log began in 1978. The log came from the woods surrounding our house. I can’t say I remember burning the first candles of our Yule log but I can say that every Christmas I do remember, the Yule log was there with candles burnin’ and wax a-drippin’.

Now that I think about it, there may just be a bit of magic in this Yule log for it sure does invoke so many happy memories of Christmas traditions, family and love. And it always conjures up a SMILE.

A Year of Smiles – Day 345: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark

Christmas SMILE #11 (Reason to SMILE #345): THE BELLS

The story goes that one Christmas Eve when I was very young, my family was visiting my grandparents. The evening had grown late and the time to load up the car to return home had arrived. The problem is I didn’t want to leave. I was busy playing with my new Christmas toys and apparently, I was being quite the stubborn little redhead.

“Okay,” my mom declared. “You can stay here but Santa’s on his way. If you’re not in bed when he gets to our house, he’s not going to leave your presents.”

Nice try, mom. I wasn’t budging.

Just then, from the TV set, rang the metallic clanging of Christmas bells. My ears perked. My face brightened and I scrambled to my feet.

“I think I hear bells!” I exclaimed as I ran to the door to leave. Santa was coming and I had to get to bed!

I really don’t know what movie was on TV that night. I have a feeling it was something like It’s a Wonderful Life. Remember the scene at the end when George’s daughter explains, “Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings’.”? (Watch it here.) No matter the movie or TV program, though, I heard bells and it had to be Santa’s sleigh!

Ever since that Christmas Eve so long ago, I cannot hear Christmas bells ringing without declaring “I think I hear bells!” (To myself, of course – imagine if I said it out loud! 😉 )

And I certainly can’t hear the bells of Christmas without finding a SMILE.

A Year of Smiles – Day 343: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark (56)

Christmas SMILE #9 (Reason to SMILE #343): THE WISH LIST

Do you remember making your Christmas wish list as a child? Did you make a list for your parents or did you write a letter to Santa? Although I may have when I was very young, I don’t remember writing letters to Santa. I always had a Christmas wish list, though! Well, actually, it was more like a catalog – the Montgomery Ward catalog, that is.

Every year, my brothers and sisters and I would flip through the Montgomery Ward catalog (or Monkey Ward, as we called it – I have no idea why!) and mark all the toys or clothes we wanted for Christmas. I loved flipping through each page, seeing all the new toys and the latest electronics (like boom boxes – Haha!) and drooling over the coolest fashion trends. I knew I wouldn’t get everything I wanted for Christmas but dreaming of all the possibilities while turning each catalog page made it all seem so magical.

No one flips through catalogs anymore, do they? Nowadays, my kids make a wish list on Amazon and then share their list with me electronically. They find the items they want, add that particular item to their list and forward it to me. Then, I decide which items I can afford, add them to my cart and click, click, click, the shopping is done. It’s not quite as magical as it used to be. Convenient and less time consuming, I suppose, but missing so much of the wonderment and excitement I remember as a child. (Maybe that’s because I’m footin’ the bill!)

Who knows. My kids may feel just as much magic creating their wish lists online as I did flipping through the pages of the “Monkey” Ward catalog. After all, a wish is a wish no matter how it’s made. And where there’s a wish, there’s always hope. And where there’s hope, the SMILES can’t be far behind.

What are you wishing for this Christmas?

A Year of Smiles – Day 342: The SMILES of Christmas

Adobe Spark (54)Christmas SMILE #8 (Reason to SMILE #342): THE PICTURES WITH SANTA

The lines may be long. The kid behind you might be screaming and throwing a fit. The parent in front of you might be talking too loudly on her phone and completely ignoring her child who is eating the plastic candy cane decorations. Your own kids may be antsy and whiny and doing everything within their power to test your patience. You may have to promise an early Christmas present to convince your kid it’s okay to sit on the lap of the creepy old man reaching out to grab him. You may have to jump up and down, make silly faces and wave a favorite toy above the photographer’s head to get your baby’s attention or stop your baby from crying. But nothing, and I mean nothing, will deter you from having your child’s picture taken with Santa.

Pic with Santa

Awww! So cute!

Wait a minute. The only one SMILING is Santa!

Yep. And momma wasn’t SMILING, either. 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 340: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #6 (Reason to SMILE #340): THE STOCKINGS

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

“The Night Before Christmas”, Clement Clarke Moore

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I love to see stockings hanging from the mantel at Christmas. I think if I didn’t have kids, I’d still line the mantel with them. To me, the stockings are a part of the whole Christmas kit and kaboodle. I gotta have them – even if they don’t get filled! (Like mine and my husband’s! Seriously, Santa. We haven’t been that bad!)

Growing up with five siblings meant our mantel was filled with stockings every year. We each had a hand-made stocking crocheted by Mom. I still have mine. See:

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Isn’t it awesome! Each was crocheted with the same colors but we all knew which stocking was ours by the color of the pom-pom on the toe and bow at the top. Mine was red, of course – my favorite color.

Since I never learned how to crochet as well as my mom (That woman can do anything, by the way!), my kids got the cutesy store-bought stockings. I only wish I had thought about overall lifetime use before purchasing my kids’ stockings. If I had, I may not have had to buy so many over the years. Take a look at their first stockings:

stockings

Awwww! So sweet! I have no idea why my 19 year old doesn’t want me to hang up Winnie-the-Pooh anymore. 😉

As they grew and their interests changed, I ended up buying new stockings for my boys. That is, until the year my mom found the time to crochet stockings for all of her grandkids. (Yay, mom!) My days of purchasing new stockings were over. Well, for my older son anyway. He was happy to use the stocking Mamaw made. I’m still waiting on my younger son to come to that decision.

Sigh.

Until then, I’ll keep hanging up a new stocking for him every few years – preferably one that is darker in color, though. They hide coal stains better than the others! 😉

I SMILE when I see my Christmas stockings. They remind me of Christmases past, of childhood – my own and my children’s. They may not all match. They may not all get filled on Christmas Eve but each time I hang these stockings on my mantel, my heart is overwhelmed with joy as I remember all of the time, skill and love that went into the crafting of each one.

Even the store-bought stockings make me SMILE! I did put a lot of thought in the purchase of those things, you know! 😉

A Year of Smiles – Day 336: The SMILES of Christmas

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Christmas SMILE #2 (Reason to SMILE #336): THE ORNAMENTS

For many years, the ladies at my church had a Christmas tradition. They’d all get together a few weeks before Christmas for an ornament swap. The rules were simple:

  1. The cost of the ornament could not be more than $5 – $10 and
  2. The ornament had to be wrapped.

The swapping, however, wasn’t so simple. All of the ornaments would be placed in the middle of the room and the ladies would then be seated in a circle around them. Each lady drew a number which indicated the order in which she could choose one of the ornaments from the pile. Lady #1 would choose an ornament, unwrap it and raise it for all to see. Lady #2 would then choose an ornament or if she liked the ornament Lady #1 chose, she could steal that ornament. If the ornament of Lady #1 was stolen, Lady #1 could then choose again. And so on and so on. The lady who drew the last number always had the advantage because she could see all of the ornaments opened and have the pick of the litter.

If you like beginning your holidays with a bunch of church ladies fighting over a $5 Christmas ornament, this is definitely the event for you! Nothing says, “Goodwill to all mankind (or womankind!)” like stealing an ornament from the preacher’s wife – or, even better, the preacher’s wife stealing from you! 😉 At least the annual ladies’ ornament swap was never boring! Hehe!

The ornament swap always reminded that we all have different tastes when it comes to decorating our Christmas trees. Some love ornate bulbs of silver and gold, sparkling ribbons and elegant angels.  Some love frosty blue snowflakes, glassy icicles, and shiny tinsel. Others love the natural look of poinsettias and holly, burlap and twine covered hearts, pinecones and rustic metal stars. Then, there are the folks like me who love a little bit of it all.

No matter the style, the reason behind the choice of ornaments is always the same: Each ornament is chosen because of the spirit of Christmas that it kindles within our hearts.

Whether a family heirloom that reminds you of Christmases past,

Ornament 1

a paper Christmas tree covered in glitter and sequins that was made by your child,

Ornament 2

a home-made ornament crafted in one of your more creative moments,

Ornament 3

a gift from someone you hold dear,

Ornament 4

a “Gasp! I gotta have this for my tree!” ornament found at a local store,

Ornament 5

a reminder of what Christmas is truly about,

Ornament 6

or an ornament you ended up with because some ruthless church lady stole the one you truly loved,  😉

Ornament 7

each ornament has it’s own stories to tell and it’s own SMILES to share.