Tag Archives: Christmas eve

The Magic of Christmas Eve


Christmas Eve…a night filled with the magic of possibilities!

Nowhere is the magic more pronounced than the Christmas magic found at the Homestead on Christmas Eve.

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Toby had the day off work so we packed up the car with sleeping bags and pillows, Christmas pajamas, bags of stocking stuffers, wrapped presents, and some very excited children, and headed out to Ohio.

We arrived and were greeted by the enthusiastic barking of Ranger and Rosie, the resident German Shepherds. After long-overdue hugs with Travis and Krista, our family from the Lone Star state, and Christmas greetings with Mimi and Pop Pop, we bid them good-bye as they left for early Christmas Eve mass.

While they were gone we began preparations for our Christmas Eve feast of appetizers and dips. The spread was as abundant as it was varied.

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Everyone pitched in to help,


With breaks taken for sampling and checking out the action on Santa Tracker.

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Despite knowing the truth about Christmas, Ozzie, my map loving kiddo, still loves watching Santa’s progress across the world on Christmas Eve.

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When the rest of the family arrived home, the celebration began in full force.

We had Grace and Zach with us on Christmas Eve for a few hours, before they left for home to spend Christmas Day with Zach’s side of the family.

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It was a joy to have them with us for our Christmas Eve traditions!

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The newlywed’s first Christmas

Our evening of fun began with our evening feast.

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We enjoyed filling our bellies with delicious food while feeding our souls with family time as we chatted and laughed together.

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The O3- united again!

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Oh,  how I love this boy of mine!


After dinner it was time for games and our annual white elephant gift exchange. This is a tradition that began a decade ago and always leads to many laughs.

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This is a tradition I have responsibility over, which means each year I shop for inexpensive, but ridiculous gifts, that I wrap up to look far more appealing than the gift within actually is. Dollar Tree is my usual shopping spot as it offers the weird and the unusual for as cheap as can be. After 10 years of my annual shopping trips to Dollar Tree I found I had exhausted all the possibilities for our white elephant game.

It was time to up the stakes!

Five Below, here I come!

The result of a slightly increased game budget and a new shopping venue paid dividends.

Everyone battled for gifts they were certain held treasures.

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Once everyone had a gift in hand, we all took turns unwrapping and revealing our AWESOME wins!

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Braden’s face speaks volumes!

And boy were they belly-laugh inducing!!



Tyler enjoying his remote control poop…

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Travis trying out Krista’s voice altering machine.

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I think Grace loves her new board game!

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Mimi creating beautiful music with her piano tie.

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It was like something from a SNL skit.

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Rusty made his own Forky!

After our game we bundled up and headed to the barn for another Christmas Eve tradition…

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Dad reading the Christmas story from Luke as we sat in the stillness of the barn.

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It is always the highlight of my Christmas. There is something holy about the experience as we sit in the darkness of the barn, listening to the slow cadence of my father’s voice as he tells the story of Christ’s humble birth so many years ago…

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Interrupted only by the occasional call from a goat.

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Our time in the barn ended with the singing of a Christmas hymn and some donkey lovin’ on Georgie before we made our way back to the house.

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Grace and Zack prepared to take their leave. They had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of them, made all the more arduous by the thick fog that had settled on the valley…

And the other kids unwrapped their gifts of new pajamas for Christmas Eve.

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“Yabba Dabba Doo!”

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The Flash, A ballerina pig, Genie, and Jack Skellington

Warm and snuggly, they headed off for bed while the rest of us brought Christmas to life by filling the empty spaces around the tree with beautifully wrapped packages,

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And filled the stockings with trinkets and treats.

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Christmas could now arrive!

And then it was off to bed for a few stolen winks of sleep for the adults before the festive fun resumed.


Day 4 of Christmas: Christmas Eve!


On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

A Christmas Eve with George, the donkey!

IMG_5036 (2)The next round of Christmas fun came the following day when we loaded up two cars with gifts, stocking stuffers, appetizers and children to drive out to my parents’ home.

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Christmas at the Homestead is nothing short of magical and all the kids were eager to share this special tradition with Brandon.

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The tradition of spending Christmas Eve with my parents, and waking up to Santa’s gifts at their home the next day, is an annual tradition. My Mom always makes the holiday so special.

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The kids love the predictability of the traditions that repeat themselves year after year and couldn’t wait to show Brandon why they love Christmas at the Homestead!

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This year was a little different than past years, however. This year my brother and his new bride were celebrating Christmas in Texas with Krista’s family.  My grandmother, now an Ohio resident, is living minutes from my parents’ home, so rather than staying at their home over Christmas, she traveled back and forth from her apartment to the Homestead to join in the activities that she felt up for participating in. This meant for a portion of the Christmas holiday it was just Toby, the kids and I at the Homestead with my parents.

Despite missing our loved ones who were far away this Christmas, we enjoyed another magical Christmas Eve at the Homestead, made all the more special by the addition of our newest son.

We arrived and Brandon got settled in, with the kids showing him where he would be sleeping and explaining what to expect.

The first event of the evening was dinner, with our usual meal of appetizers and hors d’ oeuvers.

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While Dad left with Ozzie to pick up G.G., the rest of the crew began laying out the feast!

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It was another AMAZING spread and when Dad, Ozzie and G.G. returned we ate until we couldn’t eat anymore!

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After a quick clean-up, it was time to convene in the living room, for the talent portion of the evening.

Tyler, Ozzie, and Brandon chose to be audience members, rather than perform, but the oldest three all came with prepared talents to share.

Rusty had prepared two musical pieces to play on the keyboard.

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Molly provided a repeat performance of the musical number she had performed at church on Sunday,

And then the girls both signed to a song they had been working on all month. The musical numbers all brought a sweet spirit to the Homestead, and we all found ourselves wiping away tears, moved by the beauty of the songs.

Tears were quickly followed by laughter as we followed the talent part of the night with the game portion of the evening.

Mom and Dad had purchased a new game for the holidays:

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The premise of this game, developed by Jeff Foxworthy, is to pick a punchline to the start of a joke. Played much like “Apples to Apples,” everyone has a pile of responses that they can pick from and the “comedian” reads them all out load and chooses their favorite.

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The game is rated for 14 and up and we soon discovered why. It was a bit saucy but downright hilarious. I don’t know when I have laughed so hard.

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After getting our ab workout from an hour of belly laughs, my Dad left with G.G., Brandon and Tyler to take Grandma back home for the night. She would return in the morning for all our Christmas fun but would enjoy the comfort of her own bed in her own home overnight.

When Dad and the boys returned, we headed out to the barn for my very favorite part of Christmas…

There in cold and quiet barn, lit only by the luminaries and lights of a small tree, we took our places on bales of hay and listened to the melodious voice of my father as he opened his Bible and read the story of Jesus’ birth.

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The only sound was the shuffling of animals in their stalls.

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There in the barn we reflected on the greatest miracle of humankind that occurred in a similar place 2000 years ago.

There in a dusty stable long ago, surrounded by animals much like these, Mary brought the Savior of the world into this world.

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What a powerful experience it was to reflect on that night, and all it entailed, as we sang the words of “Silent Night,” in the darkness of my parents’ barn.

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When we were done, the animals were all tucked into the stalls.

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We bid them good night.

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And headed for bed…

Eager to see if Santa would make a showing.


Christmas Eve



From the time I was a young girl my favorite day of the Christmas season was always Christmas Eve. I don’t know if it was the joy of anticipation, or the magic evening my parents and grandparents created so selflessly. It could have been Christmas Eve mass, or the activities that followed: the appetizers and Christmas play that were performed by a group of untalented, yet eager children, whose talents were applauded as though they were Broadway stars. It could have been the feel of soft, new, unworn Christmas pajamas or the silence that settled in the room as my siblings and I listened for the sound of sleigh bells, willing our eyes to get heavy before Santa passed us by.

I have always preferred Christmas Eve to Christmas day.

Even as a little girl I found that I got more joy out of the anticipation of an event (any event, not just Christmas) than the actual event. This was by no means a negative reflection of the reality of the experience because usually the actual experience lived up to or surpassed my childhood expectations. No, I think it was more the delicious feelings of excitement that would bubble up from within that made the anticipation of the event so delightful. In the weeks leading up to the big event my mind would flirt with the possibilities and milk every bit of enjoyment out of the day long before it ever happened.

I find that to still be the case today. My favorite part of any experience is the planning, preparing and anticipating of the event.

That is the case with Christmas as well.

I love the build-up. I love the trimming of the tree, the decking of halls, the secret shopping and ribbons and trim that come before Santa’s arrival. That anticipation builds and builds all month, climaxing with Christmas Eve.

I love Christmas Eve.

I love the way my family celebrates Christmas Eve.


Through the years the location of our Christmas Eve has changed. As a child my first memories of Christmas Eve are of  celebrating at my Grandmother’s house. After marriage the festivities moved to my parents’ McKeesport home where we celebrated year after year when my teenagers were little. Then my parents moved to the Homestead , the place where we have gathered every Christmas Eve for the past five years.

Regardless of the location, every Christmas Eve plays out with many of the same traditions…traditions that have continued on from my childhood.

To this day Christmas Eve is still my favorite day of the Christmas season. I am now one of the “Christmas makers” rather than a receiver of the gift, but there is still something magical in the air as we await the blessings of Christmas day.

And there is no place I would rather await the magic of Christmas than with my family, at the Homestead.

The preparation that goes into having Christmas away from home is extensive. We get the animals set up, pack bedding, gifts, stockings, stocking stuffers, props for the Christmas Eve play, cookies and treats, outfits for Christmas Day and our Christmas PJs.

Then when the car is loaded we are ready for the adventure to begin. Our 2 1/2 hour trip to the Homestead is filled with eager anticipation over the fact that Santa is already circling the globe in the eastern hemisphere, and the boys regularly ask for an update on his exact location via my phone and the Santa Tracker website.

When we arrive there are hugs and hellos as we greet Uncle Travis, whom we haven’t seen since out visit at Carlsbad Caverns in September, and G.G. (my paternal grandma) whom we haven’t seen in close to a year.


The evening of fun begins with dinner, which for our family is hour devours  on Christmas Eve. It is fun and festive and the spread is always unbelievable!


Next comes the annual talent show. This is a tradition that began when my siblings and I were little. It became expected that we would have some sort of talent or play that would be performed for the grown-ups following dinner. The tradition has continued with my kids. This year they did a variety show with Rusty telling jokes, the girls performing two songs they learned the ASL signs to, and a funny play they wrote about the application process reindeer go through to be chosen to be on Santa’s team.


Following the talent show we usually head to the barn for the most special part of Christmas Eve…the reading of the Story of Christ’s birth as we sit on bales of hay, in a barn lit by luminaries and a small tree,  surrounded by the farm animals.


This year my parents planned something special to go along with this activity. Before we walked out to the barn my Dad spoke with us about the gifts of Christmas and asked us to consider what gift we could personally offer the Savior this year. He gave us suggestions to ponder, suggestions like the gift of time, of forgiveness, of patience, or of being kinder with our words.


He gave us a few minutes to ponder what personal gift of sacrifice and service we wanted to gift Jesus with in the upcoming year. We then wrote our gifts for Christ on the back of paper slips that looked like gifts so that when we were out at the barn we could place our gifts in the manger of my childhood nativity that now sits in the barn.


In the barn we sat in a hush of reverence as we listened to my Dad read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke. The only sound was the deep timbre of my father’s voice, with the occasional sound of the goats snorting or the donkey braying.


After our special time in the barn we returned inside to send our Christmas gifts to Jesus  by burning our slips of paper in the fireplace and allowing our prayers to be carried heavenward by way of the smoke from the fire.


Then it was time for the kids to get in their PJs, put out milk and cookies for Santa, and head to bed, where visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.



Kids were tucked in. Then the real magic of Christmas began!



‘Twas the Night Before Christmas



On Christmas Eve we left to spend the night at my parents’ house in Ohio. My father’s mother (G.G.) and my brother (Travis) were already there. Christmas Eve is so much fun and has been since childhood. We now celebrate Christmas Eve at my parents’ house, as opposed to G.G.’s house where we celebrated Christmas when I was a child. We now celebrate in Ohio as opposed to my parents’ house in McKeesport where we celebrated Christmas up until a few years ago when they retired to Ohio,

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but regardless of the change of venue and the passing of time, our Christmas traditions remain pretty much the same. For Christmas Eve dinner we always feast on appetizers as opposed to a traditional sit-down meal.

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During dinner Ozzie asked where Santa might be in his travels. We decided to look and see. We searched and discovered Santa Tracker through google maps that tells you where he is, how many presents he has already delivered, where he is heading next and when he will arrive at your home. Well, needless to say, Ozzie was enamored! It combined the magic of Christmas with his obsession for maps and he just couldn’t get enough! It was a really cool site!

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We always have a talent show of some sort. This tradition began when I was small. The kids were always expected to perform on Christmas Eve. Sometimes it was a funny parody of a classic Christmas story, sometimes a more thoughtful touching story or song. This tradition has continued on with my own children. This year instead doing a skit the girls decided to perform on behalf of the kids. They spent the last two months learning the American Sign Language interpretation of the song, “Mary, did you know?”

Their performance was beautiful and moving.

Then there is always the funny gift exchange. It is, in essence, a white elephant gift exchange that I am in charge of. It sole purpose is for laughs and we all have a fun time with this part of Christmas Eve. I purchase 12 funny/tacky gifts (mainly from the Dollar Store) and wrap them. We then take turns picking gifts and stealing from each other until everyone has a gift in their lap, and then we open them one by one. Here’s a peek into the source of much laughter…

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Then it is time to head outside. This part of our Christmas Eve is a new tradition that began when my parents moved to the Homestead. (And it is now my favorite part of Christmas Eve!) We walk out to the barn, decorated with lanterns and a small tree. In the darkness of the barn, surrounded by animals, we sit on bales of hay and listen as my Dad opens his Bible and reads to us the story of Christ’s birth.

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Even the animals gather around and listen.

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And the Spirit of Christmas is felt in the silence of the stable.

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Then it is time to get ready for bed. The kids all get to open their packages of new Christmas PJs. As a child this was such a treat. I loved the feeling of new, soft pajamas on my skin as I snuggled under the covers and tried to will myself to sleep before Santa passed over our house.

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Once the kids are all nestled snug in their beds the magic of Christmas begins. The adults enjoy sitting and visiting while waiting for little people to fall asleep so that Santa can sneak presents into the house. Once the children have fallen asleep the men carry in all the presents and place them under the tree while the “Mrs. Clauses” fill the stockings. It is a fun time with my mother and grandmother as we gather on my parents’ bed and talk while we fill stocking after stocking.

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Then the stockings are carried into the living room, ready for the magic of Christmas morning.

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It is then time to go to bed where we don’t sleep most of the night. We share a room with the three boys. Rusty sleeps on the couch in the guest room and Tyler and Ozzie each sleep on either side of our bed…and by sleep I mean wake up every 30 minutes through the night and ask if it is time to get up yet. 🙂

When we came up to bed this is where we found Tyler:


We moved him off our bed and onto the floor. By morning he had moved again. In the middle of the night he climbed into my Mom’s decorative, antique cradle and fell asleep…so cute!

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As I lay in bed…not sleeping…I counted my many blessings. My heart was full as I lay in the dark listening for the pitter patter of tiny reindeer hooves.

“But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!”

There’s No Place like home for the Holidays…Part 1


From the time I was a young girl, my favorite day of the Christmas season was always Christmas Eve. I don’t know if it was the joy of anticipation, or the magic evening my parents and grandparents created so selflessly. It could have been Christmas Eve mass, or the activities that followed: the appetizers and Christmas play that were performed by a group of untalented, yet eager children, whose talents were applauded as though they were Broadway stars. It could have been the feel of soft, new, unworn Christmas pajamas or the silence that settled in the room as my siblings and I listened for the sound of sleigh bells, willing our eyes to get heavy before Santa passed us by.

Perhaps it was a combination of all of these things.

To this day Christmas Eve is still my favorite day of the Christmas season. I am now one of the “Christmas makers” rather than a receiver of the gift, but there is still something magical in the air as we await the blessings of Christmas day.

And there is no place I would rather await the magic of Christmas than with my family, at the Homestead.


 December 24th everyone woke and got right to work. There is a lot of work that goes into preparing the farm animals for our absence and moving all the Christmas supplies to Ohio for two days. There are stockings to pack, animals to feed, appetizers to pack in the cooler, and gifts to load in the trailer. There were too many people and too many bags to drive one vehicle so Toby drove his truck, pulling his trailer, while Grace drove my car. It was her longest driving stint since she passed her permit test and although she had to drive unfamiliar roads in Christmas traffic she did a beautiful job getting us safely to the Homestead in just under 3 hours.


 When we arrived we greeted Uncle Travis, who was visiting from Texas, and G.G. (my grandma) who was visiting from Florida. The only thing that would have made the holidays even better is if my sister and her family could have joined us from Michigan.

When we arrived, G.G. had a surprise for Ozzie. She had finished knitting his stocking. He now has a personalized stocking to match the rest of the family’s stockings. It is a special gift that my grandmother has blessed all the family members with. She has knit dozens and dozens of Christmas stockings over the years as new spouses have married into the family, new babies have been born and little boys have been adopted.

It made the adoption feel all the more official as Ozzie held his new stocking.

As I took the photo I reflected on God’s hand in our lives. Last year God brought Ozzie into our lives when we volunteered to take Ozzie and his sister in for Christmas. They had no place to go. It was a special Christmas as we were able to be part of something blessed and holy. Who would have thought, 12 months later, that little boy would be our son and our family would be +1. It is humbling to see how much life can change over the course of a year.

Ozzie was also reflecting on the previous year when he said, “This year I have my own family.”


Ozzie and G.G.

For dinner on Christmas Eve it is our tradition is to have appetizers. It adds to the festive, fun atmosphere to eat on our laps and enjoy dips and treats instead of a sit down meal.

The Christmas eve spread...YUM!

The Christmas eve spread…YUM!

Like the Christmas eves of my childhood, the kids all received new Christmas PJs.

Posing for G.G.

Posing for G.G.


On Christmas eve the kids have also continued the tradition of putting on a play or a variety show for the adults’ entertainment. This year the big kids did a selection of songs from the movie “Frozen” hoping the good vibes would bring snow. (No such luck. It was in the 50’s and muddy.)

"Love is an open door."

“Love is an open door.”


There was also our traditional “white elephant” gag gift exchange and family games. This year we had fun playing “Heads up.”

Playing "Heads Up!"

Playing “Heads Up!”

Brothers :)

Brothers 🙂

The real magic of the evening, however, happened in the humble surroundings of hay and animals. There in the darkness of the night, we gathered in the barn, that was lit only with luminaries, lanterns and the glow of the tree, and my father read to us the story of Christ’s birth.




It was dusty, and damp, and…Holy.

For a moment we stepped away from the pile of presents and the shine of tinsel and we returned to where the story all began…

In a simple stable,

with family gathered,

and animals around.

After reading the Christmas story my parents shared with the kids the legend of the animals and the magic that happens each Christmas Eve at midnight….

The Night The Animals Talked

“In the frosty mountains and on the snowy fields of Norway, there is a legend that draws children to all kinds to stables and stalls throughout the country on each Christmas Eve night. They are hoping to hear a miracle. They are waiting to hear the animals talk.

Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. This was no abandoned place, but was a working stable, filled with animals of all kinds. Into these humble surroundings, encircled by the innocent creatures of God, the Savior of man came into the world.

Now according to legend, at least, Christ’s birth occurred at exactly midnight. Inside the stable, the animals watched in wonder as the new-born babe was lovingly wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Suddenly, God gave voice to the animals and immediately they began to praise God for the miracle they had just seen. This went on for several minutes and, just before the entrance of the shepherds — who had hurried to the stable because angels had told them the Christ had been born there — the animals again fell silent. The only humans who had heard them were Mary, Joseph and, of course, the Christ child.

The legend of the talking animals persists to this day in Scandinavia. And every Christmas Eve, wide-eyed children creep into stables just before midnight to hear the animals praise God for the wondrous birth of His Son. Of course, adults scoff at this. “Old wives tales,” they grump. “Those children should be home in bed, not out in the cold waiting for the family cow to preach a sermon.”

But the children know — or at least believe — that animals really do praise God at midnight every Christmas Eve. And who of us — those who believe in an all-powerful God — can say that it really doesn’t happen.”

 (by: Ed Price)

We then read from the book, Manger, which is a compiled series of poems written in the voices of the animals that were there for Christ’s birth, on that holy night. We passed the book around, as we sat on the hay, each taking a turn to read an animal’s poem.



Rusty had somebody reading over his shoulder 🙂

Then we tucked in the animals and said good night. The kids talked of sneaking back out at midnight to listen at the barn door. 🙂



 It was then time for bed. Santa’s cookies we placed on a plate, a cup of eggnog at its side, and reindeer food was tossed in the air in anticipation of Rudolph’s arrival.


Magic reindeer food!

The little ones were then tucked into bed so that the real magic could begin.