How was your Christmas?

Hello, and how was your Christmas? Or, more to the point, how are you? Full of food and love and happy thoughts I hope.

I find the work for Christmas begins several days before, when I start making lists. Then I have to rewrite the lists, because I’ve lost the originals. This year I decided to also make a time-plan, like we used to make in Domestic Science lessons at school: 11:40 boil potatoes and parsnips, 11:55 potatoes into oven, 12:00 parsnips into oven…you get the idea. I hoped it might solve the “finding the chestnuts for the sprouts in the fridge, when I put the remains of the turkey in there” problem, which tends to happen every year. It didn’t work of course, but at least I had evidence that I had tried.

Another pre-Christmas job is laundry – washing everything that’s in the dirty washing basket. This was partly because I didn’t want to have to do washing during the Christmas period, and partly because I knew Son 2 would arrive with a suitcase of dirty washing, and I prefer not to have to queue for the washing machine. Husband then made helpful comments about, “Gosh, we must’ve been burgled, and they stole all that stuff you’ve been storing in the washing basket for months.” But I ignored him.

Actually, understanding Husband is sometimes difficult. He often embarks on a major DIY project just as my workload feels over-whelming. Like the year he decided it would be helpful to re-floor the kitchen on Christmas Eve. Yep, Christmas Eve. This year he mended the extractor fan in the bathroom. At least, that’s what he told me he was doing, it looked awfully like he was playing Candy-Crush whilst sitting on the sofa, but who am I to know?

To be fair, Husband mainly helps to stop me spiralling into despair. When I woke him at 3:30am on the morning of the 23rd, to tell him in panic I was completely out of control, the time had slipped away from me and it was already Christmas and I wasn’t ready, and I still haven’t managed to proofread Clara, he was very calm. He just sort of absorbs all my worries and tells me it will be fine. Which it was. Perhaps that’s why I married him.

There were a few low points. I had decided this year to avoid the ‘pull the crackers and then leave all the stuff on the table’ activity which happens every year. I decided to buy those make your own crackers and buy a gift people would actually want, which in my family is alcohol. The trouble was, the crackers did not arrive in pieces, as I had expected, they were already formed but with one end open. So inserting miniature bottles of drink was a struggle, and adding the hat and joke was impossible. I basically had to screw them up and stuff them inside. Which did, I admit, look less than professional when they were opened, but everyone merrily wore scrumpled hats. I guess the alcohol helped.

Another unexpected moment was when the food order arrived on 23rd. Who knew you could buy such tiny packets of stuffing?

The absolute low point however, was our family trip to the cinema to see Pitch Perfect 3. Husband’s choice. I knew it would be bad, but I hadn’t realised quite how bad. Words cannot adequately express my feelings towards such drivel. But everything else about our Christmas was brilliant. Next is New Year’s Eve party – not so much potential for disaster there. Is there?

Take care,

Love, Anne x

xxx
anneethompson.com

 

******************************************************

 

Pre-Christmas Jobs

Christmas is an excellent time to sell books, so when a local bookshop owner suggested I might have a book-signing event in his shop, I was keen to accept. Off I toddled, laden with posters and books, and hoping for an easy place to park. (Sometimes, the most stressful thing about events is trying to park.)

I was given a little table in the coffee shop area of the bookshop, and set up my stuff, then sat back and hoped for customers. Book-signing events are unpredictable. Everyone in the shop is there because they read, which is excellent. However, they do tend to be there because they have come to make a specific purchase, so it can be hard to entice them to try something different. (This is different to general Christmas Fairs, when people are there to buy “something” and a book is as good as anything else.)

Mostly, things went well, and I sold 22 books. It’s not always very efficient, as some people just want to chat. I have found that trying to ‘sell’ my books doesn’t work, so now I simply explain what they’re about as interestingly as possible, then sit back and let people decide whether or not they want to buy one.

My mum was hugely helpful. She caught the bus to the bookshop town (because I had an early start) and then stood outside, enticing people into the shop. I don’t think a single person managed to pass the shop without popping inside. The bookshop owner wants to employ her. If you were one of the many people who arrived inside looking rather bemused, then apologies and thanks. Some of you bought a book, some avoided looking at me and hurried to the opposite corner of the shop; though most people ended up buying something, even if it was a calendar or different book – so I can see why the shop owner was delighted to have Mum there. He did suggest she should dress up as Mrs Christmas, as he had a costume upstairs and Father Christmas was also there – but she declined. Which was a shame, as she’d have looked wonderful with her white curls and sparkly eyes. Maybe next year.

Anyway, it was a fun, if exhausting day. Now I need to prepare for Christmas, and try to fit in checking the proofs that have come from the type-setter ready for printing Clara. But that might have to wait until the new year now. I have just written a list of everything I need to do before the 25th. This was a bad idea, as the list is very long, and there are very few days left. Not sure the animals are going to get much love this week. (There’s an extra one now, as a pheasant has decided our garden is a good place to live. I guess, as the dog keeps the foxes out, he’s probably safer here than in the lane, as long as he doesn’t get into a fight with the cockerels. Not sure how long he plans to stay, but he’s very noisy in the mornings.)

I usually post a blog piece every Monday – but next Monday will be busy. I have lots of people coming for Christmas lunch – including my in-laws, and a range of meat lovers and vegetarians, so what could possibly go wrong? I’ll write afterwards and let you know how things go. But whatever your time zone or religion, I hope your Monday goes well and you have a great day.

Take care,
Love, Anne x

(It’s always thrilling to see my books in a ‘real’ bookshop! Even if my name forces them onto the very bottom shelf. Did you know ‘Lee Child’ made up his name, just so his books would be placed on the bookshelf next to Agatha Christie?)

 

 

 

 

********
Thank you for reading.

I usually post a blog article every Monday. Why not sign up to follow my blog, then you won’t miss it?
anneethompson.com

*****

Mary’s Story continued…

“… After eight days, Joseph came and circumcised the baby. We were in the main part of the house by then, and when Joseph appeared with the sharpened knife, I knew what he was going to do. How the baby wailed! It felt cruel, though I knew it was the right thing to do, even in this strange place we must obey the Jewish laws. We also formally gave him the name Yeshua, the name we had been told to give him by the angel, all those months ago. I wondered if Joseph minded, people would know it wasn’t a family name. (I also had no one called Yeshua in my own family, though I did know a boy from my childhood with the name.)

After forty days, we had to travel to Jerusalem, to pay for redemption at the temple. As Joseph was from the tribe of Judah, we had to pay five shekels of silver. We couldn’t afford a lamb, so bought two pigeons to sacrifice. It was nice to leave Bethlehem and to have some exercise at last, to see people and to take my baby into the world. I felt quite excited as I approached the temple, our holy place. I didn’t recognise anyone, but everyone could see we had a new baby and lots of the women came over to see him. I felt so happy! It almost made up for my mum not being there, it was nice to show my baby.

We walked through the Beautiful Gate and up to the Gate of Nicanor. A timeless place, even the stones seem holy somehow, and permanent, like they will always stand there. The house of God.

Then something strange happened. As Joseph and I walked through the temple, a man approached us. He came to look at Yeshua, and indicated that he wanted to hold him. That was a little unusual but there was something about him, something that made you sure he was a good man, someone you could trust. When he looked at the baby, he got all emotional and prayed, thanking God and saying that now he could die in peace. He blessed me and Joseph too, and then he leant towards me and said something which was very strange. He said Yeshua would cause “the fall and rising of many in Israel” and would be “a sign that would be opposed so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

What does that mean? I know that he is God’s own son, and that he is part of the plan to establish God’s reign on earth. Will he be opposed? Surely everyone will accept God’s annointed one. We have waited so long for him.

Then he said something that made me afraid. His face was very near, I could smell his breath. He spoke in a low voice – with all the bustle and noise of the temple, I’m not sure that anyone else heard. He stared into my eyes, and said that a sword would pierce my soul.

It made me very frightened, I practically snatched Yeshua away from him. I want my son to grow strong and be happy, will I suffer for this? I knew I was tired, not getting enough sleep, and it was hard to care for a new baby in a strange place without my mother to help me. I didn’t want to hear the man’s words, even if they were true. Who was he anyway?

The man left us, and almost at once an old lady approached. She was ancient, her white hair showed under her mitpahath, and she leant heavily on a stick. But what I noticed most were her eyes. They almost sparkled! You could tell at once that she was a holy woman, but also one who loved to laugh.

As soon as she saw Yeshua she started to pray loudly, thanking God, and telling people nearby that if they wanted Jerusalem to be redeemed, they should look to the baby. I was glad that no Romans were allowed in the temple, we would have been in trouble. Several people stopped when they heard her, and stared at the baby. But no one else approached, and I kept tight hold of him. How strange it all was. I felt that I had had enough of strangeness now, I needed a bit of ‘normal’.

We finished making the offerings, and then went back to Bethlehem. I didn’t know whether to tell Joseph what the old man told me. I kept thinking about his words, worrying about what they might mean. I was so tired, I decided I would wait and maybe tell him later.

***

The months passed, and we settled into life in Bethlehem. We moved into a little house and Joseph worked on the many building projects that the Romans have introduced. It’s a good time to be a carpenter, there’s lots of work to be had.

Yeshua continued to thrive. He grew into a sturdy toddler and would walk around the room, holding onto the stools and baskets. I loved to feel his solid weight when I carried him on my hip, the snuffle of his breath on my neck when he slept against me. He started to sleep much better at night, and Joseph and I were thinking about having another child.

Then everything changed.

It was one evening, still quite early, but we had filled the lamp with olive oil and lit the linen wick. Joseph put it on a bushel basket, so the room was well lit and we could talk about the day. Suddenly, there was a banging at the door.

Joseph went at once and there, in the road, was a group of Persian travellers. They had dismounted from their horses and were peering intently into the house. They told Joseph they had seen a star, and had come to worship the king. I was so glad I hadn’t gone to bed yet, they were terribly grand.

We let them into the house, and I went to get Yeshua. He was damp from sleep, and his tired eyes looked blearily around him. I wondered if he would cry, but he seemed fascinated by our strange visitors. They wore their hair in long curls, one had a band of gold on his head. It glinted in the lamp light, I could see Yeshua watching it intently, watching the reflections from the lamps. Their clothes were patterned with birds and flowers.

We offered them wine, it was clear they were tired from their journey. I was embarrassed that we only had two stools to offer them, but they didn’t seem to mind, and in fact insisted that I should sit on one with Yeshua, they were happy to sit on the rush mat. They didn’t really sit anyway, they wanted to kneel before Yeshua.

Then they gave him gifts. They were beautiful to look at. They gave him gold, signifying that he is a king. They gave him frankincense – the strong aroma filling the house. I wondered if Yeshua was to be a priest, even though he is not descended from Levi. They also gave him myrrh. Myrrh is costly – but is for embalming a dead body. It was a strange gift for a baby, and I wondered what it meant.

They told us their story before they left. In their Persian home, they were magi, watching the stars and foretelling the future. Many months ago, at the time of Yeshua’s birth, they had seen a special star, which they knew meant a powerful new king had been born. They determined they would find and worship him. Unfortunately, following the star caused them to go to Jerusalem first (I always knew that star gazing was a misleading activity!) They went to Herod’s palace, and asked where the new king was. (This was scary, Herod had shown he was not a king to be trusted, and his cruelty was well known. I would not have wanted to visit his palace.)

However, it sounded as though he had decided to be helpful. He asked the scribes to research the early scriptures, and they discovered that the promised king was to be born in Bethlehem. The king told the Easterners and asked them to find the king and then return and tell him the exact location, so that he too could worship.

I wondered what would happen next. Would Herod himself come to visit my precious baby, or would we be summoned to the palace? This was not a comfortable thought.

I also wondered why the palace scribes had not come to visit us. Did they not believe the scriptures that they studied so diligently? Surely if they were truly expecting a redeemer they would also have come?

The men left. They planned to sleep in an inn, returning to Jerusalem the next day. We could not offer them lodging in our tiny house, and they seemed content to leave now they had seen Yeshua.

I returned Yeshua to bed, and soon after, Joseph and I also went to sleep.

I had not been asleep for long when Joseph woke me. He shook me awake, then went to light the lamp. I could see his face was tense, and instantly turned to check Yeshua was well. He was sleeping soundly.

Joseph told me I needed to get up at once, we needed to leave. He said that he had had a dream, like the dream when the angel told him that the baby inside me was God’s son. It was so intense and real, he could not ignore it. He said he had been told we must leave Israel, Yeshua was in danger, Herod planned to kill him. While he was talking he was flinging things into sacks, packing up our few possessions, rushing to leave.

I didn’t move at first, and sat wondering why I too had not be warned. And then I realised – God had told Joseph to take care of me and Yeshua. That was a hard task for a man, to care for a son that was not his own. So God was now telling Joseph alone what we needed to do, underlining his role, establishing him as head of our family. It was a kind act, it’s so important for the men to feel in charge, so they have the respect of those around them.

I began to help pack our things but Joseph was hurrying me, telling me to only take what was essential. We were to go to Egypt. Egypt! Could this be right? Was Yeshua not to be king of the Jews? I packed hurriedly and we left that very night.

As I carried Yeshua to the cart, I wondered, what would the future hold? Would we ever return to our home town? The future was uncertain, but I knew that something bigger than us was happening. Whatever happened, God had a plan and no one could alter the course of that.”

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

This account necessarily involves some imagination but I believe it is also as historically correct as possible (and a lot more correct than some of our Christmas carols!)
If you are aware of any historical errors, please tell me and I will modify it.
I used a variety of sources including:
The gospels of Matthew and Luke
Geoffrey Bromily (1995)
William Hendriksen
William Barclay
Joseph P Amar (university of Notre Dame)
Michael Marlowe
Tessa Afshar


Thank you for reading.

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy Hidden Faces by Anne E. Thompson. Available from bookshops and Amazon:

hidden-faces-final-cover-6-july-2016

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

anneethompson.com

xxx

Mary’s Story

Mary’s Story

by Anne E Thompson

“I travelled to Bethlehem in a small cart. Every bump (and there were many) was agony. As I was jolted along, I was racked with pain. The baby’s time was near, you see and the pain was almost unbearable. Later, they would sing songs about a cute donkey carrying me. Nice thought! I don’t think there’s any way you could’ve got me on a donkey. As each contraction cramped every muscle in my torso, I huddled up like an animal, and prayed for it to be over.

I could see Joseph, watching me as he walked alongside. He really didn’t have the first idea what to do. Oh, how I wanted my mother. I yearned for her to be there, holding my hand, telling me everything was alright and would be over soon.

When we arrived at Joseph’s uncle’s house, the women folk came and helped me inside. The room was crowded. All Joseph’s male relatives from miles around had come to the house, for shelter and food. The women were busy cooking supper and the men were drinking wine and comparing stories. They all told Joseph how much he resembled his grandfather Matthan and laughed at old stories from years ago.The smell of fish and fresh bread was nauseating. I was so tired and so uncomfortable.

Joseph knew I was suffering and asked if there was somewhere quiet that I could go. There was no chance that we would get a place in the inn, they had filled up days ago. Somewhere quiet, in a little house packed with relatives? There were some fraught discussions, and then his aunt suggested that going down, to the lower floor, with the animals, might be best. It wasn’t terribly clean, but it would be quiet and private and at least it wouldn’t smell of fish!

Joseph helped me go down, and a couple of the women came too. One of them examined me and told me the baby was a long way off yet, first babies always take their time in coming. This was not great news but I felt better having her there. I felt that she knew what was happening, had seen this before and it took some of the fear away.

I was frightened you see. I was horribly afraid that somehow I would damage my baby. My baby and God’s. I knew he was going to be special, I knew I had a great task ahead of me but it all seemed to be going horribly wrong. I trusted that God was still in control but He felt so far away. Could the baby not have been born in a palace, surrounded by comfort? Would these poor beginnings really be part of a plan? Could they really make this king accessible to the people? I had no idea. I was a mere girl, I had no education and my memory of scriptures was often fuzzy. To be honest, at this present moment, I didn’t even care. I just wanted this baby OUT! Special or not, my body was tired of carrying him, tired of being stretched and pushed, of fitting something inside that was now too big to be there. I needed this baby to be born and I was too exhausted to wait much longer. How I longed for sleep.

The pain in my back was terrible. Great waves of cramp that seared through my body, making me oblivious to everything else. I was vaguely aware that someone was sweeping the floor and moving the animals to a far corner. They had laid out a mattress and blankets for me to rest on but I couldn’t lie still for long. I felt better standing, rocking in time with the pain, trying to remember to breathe, in out, in out. Someone offered me water but I couldn’t drink. I wasn’t thirsty, I just wanted this baby to be born.

I could see Joseph with his big anxious eyes watching me. He didn’t know what to do. Someone suggested he should go into the house to eat and I nodded in agreement. There was nothing he could do and the poor man must have been tired too. He had endured such an emotional time lately. First there was his fear and anger when he first heard about the baby (now that was a difficult conversation!) Then he had to endure the smirks of his friends when the pregnancy became public knowledge. He never complained, but I know he felt embarrassed, wished that God could have chosen a different girl.

We had been travelling for five days, with hardly any rest and the last couple of days had been more chilly. I know he felt the burden of caring for me, watching for bandits on the roads and wondering if we would make it to Bethlehem in time. If the baby had come early I don’t know what he’d have done – left me with strangers on the road somewhere I guess, and come to register on his own. One didn’t mess with a Roman decree…

The pain eventually became almost constant. Joseph had eaten and rested, but I continued to sway in discomfort in the little cave of animals. Every so often, one of them would poop, and although the women with me cleaned it up quickly, the smell pervaded the atmosphere. I could hear the musicians gathering outside, someone must have told them the birth would be soon. That gave me hope, maybe soon the baby would arrive.

Then at last, in a final searing pain, the baby was born. I looked down at his blue waxy body as he wriggled on the blanket and I knew that he was mine. One of the women wiped him down with oil and salt and I held him in my arms while they looked for the swaddling bands in our luggage. How beautiful he was. His indigo eyes would soon turn brown and they gazed at me trustingly. I loved him with my whole being.

Outside, there was the sound of music and singing as the musicians heralded the arrival of a boy.

Joseph came and took him from me. He held the tiny baby in his giant carpenter’s hands, hands that spoke of hard work and safety. Then the baby started to mouth for food and Joseph passed him back. The women showed me how to feed him, but he was soon asleep. Then we gently wrapped him in the swaddling bands, securing his tiny limbs so he would feel snug and secure and his bones would grow straight and true. He was so beautiful. It was hard to remember what the angel had told me, that this was God’s son too. I began to wonder if I had imagined it, if it were all a dream. This baby did not look like God, he was a baby. My baby.

“If it’s true God,” I thought, “Let there be another sign. He is so little and I love him so much. Remind me again…”
I too needed to sleep. Joseph fetched fresh hay and put it in the animal’s manger, covering it with a soft blanket. I didn’t want him to put the baby there, I wanted to keep him on the bed next to me, but Joseph was worried I might roll on him in my sleep. Then he laid the baby down and told me to sleep.

He looked deep into my eyes and brushed my collar bone lightly with his fingers. “Soon you’ll be truly mine,” he whispered. I knew what he meant and felt myself blush.

I was so tired, I thought I would sleep for a week.

I actually slept for about two hours! I was abruptly woken by loud voices, and a draught of cold air as the door was flung open. There, standing uncertainly in the doorway was a group of youths. Their clothes were dirty and exuded the strong smell of sheep. Joseph was with them.

“Mary? Are you awake?” he asked.
It would be hard not to be with all the noise from outside.

“These shepherds want to see the baby. They were told by angels where they could find him and they have come to look at him.”

I nodded and they trouped into the room. They seemed so big and clumsy in such a small space, I was worried they might hurt the baby. But they didn’t try to touch him, they just stared for a while and then one of them knelt and they all followed suit, kneeling before the manger, staring at the baby.

Then they told me their story, how they had been in the fields and an angel had appeared. They had thought they were going to die, to be struck down right where they were. The angel had reassured them, told them that a saviour had been born, the Christ who we’ve all been waiting for. They would find him lying in a manger. Then suddenly there were lots of angels, all praising God and saying he was pleased with people on earth. After the angels had gone, finding they were still alive after all, the shepherds decided to come at once and see for themselves. It was as though they couldn’t quite believe what they had seen and heard, they needed to actually see the baby with their own eyes.

I felt so humbled, and so cared for. God had heard my thoughts, He was reassuring me. I felt tears prickle my eyes, and blinked them back, tried to look serene. But I was shaken by how much He cared. It was all His plan, not some terrible mistake. We were meant to be here. He even knew about the manger! I listened and smiled and treasured my thoughts.

The shepherds left as noisily as they came. I could hear them in the streets, shouting their news, telling everyone what had happened. They were so excited! A few people shouted back, telling them to be quiet – I guess not everyone was pleased to hear the news, they had other things they wanted to do (like sleep).

The shepherds had of course woken the baby, who was now crying with a thin wail that jarred my nerves and was impossible to ignore. So I fed him some more and then we both slept. A tired, contented sleep borne from exhaustion and wonder.”

xxx

Continued tomorrow. Why not sign up to follow my blog so you don’t miss it?

anneethompson.com

So, Mary Rode on a Donkey. Right?

So, Mary Rode on a Donkey – Right?P1040342

  The Nativity story is always told at Christmas time and you probably think you know it well. So, to test your knowledge, and because quizzes are fun, here is a Christmas Quiz.
Read the statements below and decide if they’re true or false, using what we know from the Bible accounts. It did of course happen a long time ago, so using our historical knowledge of that period, some answers will have to be “probably true” or “unlikely”. The answers are below……Can you get them all right?

 An angel told Mary she would have a baby.

 Angels have wings.

 Angels have magic wands.

 Joseph was pleased and excited when Mary told him she was having a baby.

 Mary and Joseph were married when Mary had the baby.

 Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth.

 Mary rode on a donkey when they travelled to Bethlehem.

 Joseph knocked on lots of doors, looking for somewhere to stay.

 All the hotels were full.

 The baby was born on the night that they arrived in Bethlehem.

 The baby was born in a stable.

 Mary put the baby in an animal’s food trough.

 Mary wore a blue head shawl.

 The new baby was wrapped in swaddling bands.

 Shepherds were told the baby had been born, on the actual night of his birth.

 The shepherds were scared of the angel.

 The shepherds visited Jesus the night he was born.

 The shepherds told people what they had seen.

 The shepherds took a gift of a lamb.

 Angels told wise men that a baby had been born.

 There were 3 wise men.

 We know the names of the wise men.

 The wise men visited Jesus the night he was born.

 When Jesus was a baby he never cried.

Christmas Quiz Answers

 An angel told Mary she would have a baby. True Luke 1:31

 Angels have wings. Probably, sometimes. They are described as having wings in Revelation. However, they were often mistaken for men and therefore must not always appear with wings.

 Angels have magic wands. False. Angels are real. They are NOT fairies!!!

 Joseph was pleased and excited when Mary told him she was having a baby. False. Matthew 1:19. He was rather shocked, as they weren’t yet married (see below) and so he assumed she had been unfaithful and planned to ‘divorce’ her.

 Mary and Joseph were married when Mary had the baby. False. Luke2:5. They were betrothed – or promised to be married.

 Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. True. Luke 2:4

 Mary rode on a donkey when they travelled to Bethlehem. Unlikely. There is no mention of a donkey. Ask any woman who has been pregnant if she would want to ride a donkey and she will say no. Just trust me on this. Joseph was a carpenter, he probably made a cart for her to ride in.

 Joseph knocked on lots of doors, looking for somewhere to stay. Unlikely. Joseph’s family came from Bethlehem. As there was no room in an inn, they would probably stay with relatives (though with so many people returning to Bethlehem it was probably very crowded.)

 All the hotels/inns were full. True. Luke 2:7 11. Hence a lot of family, all being forced to arrive at the same time to register, would make for very full houses.

 The baby was born on the night that they arrived in Bethlehem. 
 Probably. However, not necessarily. The Bible does not say when Jesus was born but Nativity plays always show him born that night – because it makes for a good play.

 The baby was born in a stable. Unlikely. They were probably staying with relatives. The houses would be teeming with extended family who had all arrived, and there would be very little space. Therefore, in order to have some privacy, Mary probably gave birth down in the lower floor of the house, which is where people kept the animals.

 Mary put the baby in an animal’s food trough. True. Luke 2:7 14.

 Mary wore a blue head shawl. Unlikely. Although this is how she tends to be depicted on Christmas cards there is no reason why she always wore blue. She was a normal teenage girl and would have worn similar clothes to her friends.

 The new baby was wrapped in swaddling bands. True. Luke 2:7. This was a traditional way to keep a baby warm and safe in those days. They were wrapped snugly in strips of cloth.

 Shepherds were told the baby had been born on the actual night of his birth. True. Luke 2:11 17.

 The shepherds were scared of the angel. True. Luke 2:9. In those days it was believed that if you saw an angel you would die. so, the poor shepherds were terrified!

 The shepherds visited Jesus the night he was born. True. Luke 2:15 19. (And I have to say, as a mother, that after giving birth, I did not think, “Oh, I would love to now be visited by some smelly noisy strangers.” )

 The shepherds told people what they had seen. True. Luke 2:17 20.

 The shepherds took a gift of a lamb. Unlikely. They were working men off to see a new baby. They probably did not own the sheep they were looking after as it tended to be the special temple sheep that grazed on the hills around Bethlehem. (Also, how often do you take a smelly sheep when you go to visit a new baby?)

 Angels told wise men that a baby had been born. False. They were star gazers and saw a star that signified the birth of a great king. Matthew 2:2. It is interesting that as astrologers, they ‘read’ the stars and knew an important person had been born. They then followed the star to Jerusalem, and nearly got him killed. Which shows, I think, that astrology is not really to be trusted. It wasn’t until someone bothered to read their scriptures, that they discovered that the baby was to be born in Bethlehem.

 There were 3 wise men. Possibly. The Bible does not say. They gave 3 gifts, so people assume there were 3 men, but they may have brought the same gifts, or none, so we cannot be sure.

 We know the names of the wise men. False. They are named in a song, not the Bible.

 The wise men visited Jesus the night he was born. False. They came from the East, and started to travel when he was born (when the star appeared.) It probably took them months to travel to Jerusalem. As King Herod killed all boys under the age of two, it is likely that Jesus was a toddler when the wise men visited.

 When Jesus was a baby he never cried. False. This idea is in “Away in a manger” not the Bible! Jesus was fully human, so would have done all the normal baby things that you did, which includes crying.

***

 So, does it matter? Some aspects don’t matter at all, they just make for a good story/children’s play/Christmas carol. I love a good Nativity Play, the shepherds wearing tea-towels on their heads, Joseph with his runny nose, a doll thrown into a cardboard box.

However, the danger is that we forget what really happened. We sometimes put the Nativity story into the ‘children’s story’ box and we forget that it did happen and that it is meant to still have real impact today. If we dismiss the Nativity as ‘a nice story’ then we miss the point. The point is that God thought you were special, and he came so you could include him in your life. That is big, it is not just ‘a children’s story’ and it demands a response from us. Maybe that’s why it’s more comfortable to tell ourselves that Christmas is for children…

***

Thank you for reading. You can follow my blog at: anneethompson.com

Anne E. Thompson is an author. You can buy her novels from Amazon or bookshops (and they make very good gifts!) Which ones have you read?

 

 

 

How to NOT do Christmas

(Reposted because it’s that time of year again.)

How to NOT do Christmas

IMG_3810

by Anne E Thompson

Okay, so it’s that time of year again, when I look around and everyone seems terribly competent, with beautiful houses and cards sent on time. Or are you, like me, still struggling to clear up stray socks and find the floor under dog hairs? Here are some helpful hints for those of you who need to decorate the house, send cards to the correct people, produce a mound of wrapped gifts and cook that all important dinner; whilst also keeping the house clean, the animals alive, and do all the other jobs which fill your life and don’t disappear at Christmas. Hope it’s helpful.

The Tree

Everyone loves a Christmas tree. Here are some things to beware of:
If you take a man with you to buy a real tree, he will lose all sense of proportion. This is true. Crude jokes aside, it seems to be some strange male trait that they always want to buy a tree that is much too big for the space in your home. They always forget the bucket and top decoration adds extra height. And they always forget that you might want to live in the room where they plan to put it – and if it’s too wide everyone will have to scrabble through the branches to communicate. So my advice: do not involve a male of any age in choosing the tree.

You cannot however, avoid them being present for the annual family discussion on where the tree should go. Now, we have lived in our present house for many years and every Christmas we discuss (heatedly) where the tree should be placed. Every year it always goes in exactly the same place.

If you buy a tree in late December, your family will constantly tell you everyone else has theirs already. If you buy a tree in early December, it will probably be bald by New Year.

If you decide to ‘plant’ your tree in soil, over time, as it is watered, the soil becomes unstable and the tree will gradually fall over. If you follow the shop’s instructions and “treat your tree like the living plant that it is” and stand it in water, then after a while, the warmth of your house will have turned the water stagnant and everyone will be asking you what the funny smell is. If, on realising this, you then add a drop of bleach to the water, the tree first gets very pale looking and then dies very quickly. A dead tree will droop and all the ornaments slide off the branches. Your lounge also smells like a public lavatory.

If you ever want a tasteful tree, you must NEVER allow the children to put on their home made ornaments. Every year I produce those faded photos in plastic frames, the robin that sheds paint. I even have the clay angels that my sister made one year, which look like they slept in a puddle after an especially hard night out. It is true, they bring back lots of special memories, but I can now never not put them on the tree, so my tree, whilst full of precious memories, is also incredibly tacky.

If you do not water your tree, do NOT leave the lights on it and go out for the evening or it might burn down your house. (This did not happen to us, but it did happen to a neighbour in the US. A dried pine is incredibly flammable.)

If you have an artificial tree, you can spend hours sorting out branches and colour codes. My advice is: tell someone else that they are in charge of putting up the tree because it is too hard for you (this works well if you have males in the family, who will actually believe that you are incapable of matching colours.) They will also be keen to supervise the taking down of the tree because they will know how impossible it is to put up if not stored carefully.

Decorations

Do NOT believe that everyone who helps decorate the house will also help tidy up after Christmas. Every year I say, “Only put out the ornaments that you will put away afterwards”. I may as well not bother. I know this is true because one year I was ill, and we had a Nativity scene on one window sill all year. I find family members are very keen to decorate all sorts of random places, and not at all keen to tidy them afterwards.

Gifts

IMG_3802

Do NOT buy gifts too early and if you do, do not forget where you have hidden them. It is annoying to find winter nightclothes for your daughter in June.

If posting gifts, do not forget to name each gift so the recipient knows who they are for (you would be surprised at what has happened in our family).

Do NOT assume you will know when your child stops believing in Father Christmas (sorry if this is a spoiler). When I asked one of my sons on his eighteenth birthday (okay, so he wasn’t quite that old) if he really still believed in Santa, he informed me that he had not believed for years but hadn’t liked to disappoint me by letting me know. This was a huge relief for the whole family, as we could now stop worrying he was completely thick, and it also meant that I could give the children their ‘stocking gifts’ the evening before Christmas. Which meant that we all slept much better Christmas Eve.

Do NOT forget to check that either your husband has bought his mother a gift, or you have bought one for her yourself. Really, I cannot stress enough how important this one is……

Food

Unless you are a very organised person, do NOT buy a large frozen turkey. They take days to defrost – and where will you put it during that time? If you leave it in the utility room, the cat eats it. If you put it in the garage, the mice eat it. If you leave it in the oven to defrost, you are sure to forget and turn on the oven to preheat – melting plastic over poultry is not a good smell, trust me. If you place it in a bucket of brine, as was suggested one year, what are you going to do with the salmonella-infected brine afterwards, and how will you stop the dog licking it? If you put it in the fridge, you cannot fit in any of the shelves, let alone other food. Trust me, big frozen turkeys are a bad idea.

Do NOT forget that supermarkets are open other than on the bank holidays. I always do this; I try to buy enough food for the whole holiday period, which is a military operation in an over flowing supermarket, with insufficient parking, and queues the length of the Nile . Then, soon after boxing day we always run out of something essential, like milk, and I go to a beautifully empty supermarket (which is now selling all the food that is decomposing in my fridge for half the price.) Being overly prepared is always a mistake I feel. Just buy enough for the Christmas Day dinner.

If, like me, you have a problem with chocolates, when you buy the family tub of chocolates, do NOT forget to also buy tape. Then, if by mistake you open them and eat lots before Christmas, you can buy a replacement, add the ones you don’t much like and reseal the tub. Your family will never know. Honestly, every year my husband tells me that there are a surprisingly large number of green triangles in our chocolate tin.

Important Things

Do NOT forget to go to a carol service. Actually, I do not especially like carols, unless they are sung by a choir. They are mostly really really long. A lot of them also have things in them that are very European and nothing to do with the actual account in the Bible. But I do like carol services, full of excited children, and people in thick coats that they don’t have anywhere to hang. One year at our church we even managed to set someone on fire. (It was an accident, I should add. She leant against a candle and she wasn’t at all hurt, just ruined her coat. The following year as a safety precaution the candles were suspended above us. Unfortunately, they weren’t the non drip variety and we all made polite conversation afterwards with white wax in our hair.)

Do Not forget to build some family traditions of your own. On Christmas Eve, if my children are in the house, awake before noon and sober (I assume nothing these days) then they still like to help prepare the vegetables. We all sit round, peeling sprouts and remembering how we did it every year while watching ‘The Lost Toys,’ and the year that the youngest removed every leaf from his sprout and then declared, “Mine’s empty!”

Most importantly, do NOT forget what is important. Christmas is not about family or tradition or nice food. Actually, it’s about a God who thought you were special enough that he came to this dirty smelly earth as a baby. Even if you don’t believe in him, he believes in you. And he cared enough to come, so that you have a chance to change your mind if you want to. So spend a little time trying to remember what it’s all about. Look in Luke’s bit of the Bible, and read the account of what actually happened – no donkeys, no inn keepers with tea-towels on their heads, no fairies or snow. Just a simple story of something special.

xxxxxx

Thank you for reading.

IMG_3787

xxxxxxxx

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy Hidden Faces by Anne E Thompson, an easy-read, feel-good novel, set in an English infant school. Why not buy a copy today and read something to make you smile?

(Also an ideal Christmas gift for your mother, sister, aunt, or anyone who has ever worked in a school.)

hidden-faces-final-cover-6-july-2016

xxxxxxxx

New York in November

 

The day after Thanksgiving is an excellent time to arrive in New York. The fares are cheaper, you miss most of the shopping frenzy, and everywhere is beginning to get ready for Christmas. New York decorates very beautifully for Christmas.

Husband was working in Manhattan, so I joined him for a few days. I needed to get home in time for multiple Christmas Fairs (great time to sell books) so I decided I would keep to a slightly late English clock. This worked brilliantly, as New York at 6am is fantastic. You can wander along empty streets, all the shops are shut (am not a shopper) and there are enough diners open so eating is easy (I am an eater!)

 

We mainly ate at Westway Diner, 614 Ninth Avenue. It has a plaque up, saying it is the birthplace of the Seinfeld series, but mainly it’s just a great New York diner. I got used to this when we lived here, and I love coming back, and slipping back into the easy routine of eating whenever I want: comfy booths, constantly topped up coffee, huge portions of comfort food, fast service. Nowhere in the world does pancakes, bacon and maple syrup quite like New York. Or cinnamon bagels with cream cheese. Or waffles with bananas and pecans. Or blueberry pie and cream. Really, I come to New York just to eat.

The decorations are good too though. As I said, 6am is the best time, as later there are queues of people lining up to see the displays in the big shops. Saks on Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Cartier – not places I would enjoy entering, but beautiful displays for Christmas. Outside, the Salvation Army ring handbells and collect money for charity. Even the banks make an effort.

There are lots of little parks, with Christmas markets (not that they call them that – they are keen to remove all religion, so they are “Winter Markets”. But everyone knows they are for Christmas.) I especially liked the one in Bryant Park. Early morning, you can wander round, looking at all the wonderful stuff which is great to look at, but you wouldn’t want to actually own it, and no one hassles you to buy.

People are very friendly in the mornings – lots of cheery greetings from the bin men (and homeless people)! New York generates a lot of rubbish, so there seem to be piles of it awaiting collection on every street. You can also, if bored, play a fun game of “spot the rats”.

The main thing to remember in New York, is to look up. At street level, many of the buildings look like boring offices, but several storeys up, they have wonderful carved facades and decorations. Husband assures me this is because when touting for work, architects make models, which are viewed from above, so all the fancy bits are where they will be seen by prospective buyers but are never noticed when the real building is actually built. Not sure if that’s true or not.

You should also visit Trump Tower. Whatever you think of the man or the politics, you have to agree that his tower has the cleanest, fanciest public washrooms in New York. And finding public washrooms you want to use is quite hard in New York.

We also popped into St Patricks Cathedral. They have a Nativity scene, which includes a dog. Not entirely sure this is at all accurate, but it’s sweet to look at. There is also a sign, assuring you that if you donate money, you will receive more in the future. Am sure this is not accurate and was slightly shocked by the gall of it. But it’s a nice building to visit.

We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton, on 40th between 8th and 9th. It was a great position for seeing things, as it’s just down from Times Square and an easy walk from Westway diner. However, it is not the nicest area. You can do a Google search for ‘safe places in New York city’ and there is a map, which shades areas according to how safe they are. Our hotel didn’t score too well – which, as it’s behind the bus station, sandwiched between the Probation office and various sex shops, was understandable. However, whilst I wouldn’t have walked outside after dark on my own, it was fine. And the hotel inside was clean and comfy.

Unfortunately, there is an Apple shop, and Husband was keen to look. Apple shops are very boring, and have a weird queue system, whereby the very long line of people are ordering the new iphoneX, and if you want to buy anything else you have to ask the man in the red fleece, who will put you on a list. However, if you write a blog, there is hours of fun to be had, making every display model look at your blog – which does wonders for the number of views you receive in a day! (But don’t tell anyone, is probably not very ethical.)

 

We decided to walk from the bottom of Manhattan to the park. I’ll tell you about it in a later blog. Why not sign up to follow my blog, then you won’t miss it. anneethompson.com

Thank you for reading.

Here are some more displays, for those of you who like pretty Christmas stuff!

***

Christmas is coming, and books make great gifts. So much nicer than yet another scarf for Aunty Joan… So, why not buy one of my books? Available from an Amazon near you.

  

 

xxx