At first I was too driven to consider a “Christmas Term.” When I was a new homeschool parent, I was striving to check off the boxes on the schedule, get everyone to piano lessons, physical therapy, PE class and co-op, and not fall too far behind. The idea of taking three weeks and focusing on Christmas seemed utterly impractical, and somewhat unnecessary, given the hectic schedule of Lessons and Carols rehearsals, Christmas play rehearsals and performances, Women’s group meetings and myriad other seasonal obligations.
That was then.
This year my thinking shifted. First, I received this inspiring post from Brandi at Afterthoughts describing her Christmas Term. Then, a lovely e-newsletter from Homeschool Enrichment arrived offering great resources. Finally, I could acknowledge with relief that, for now anyway, our schedule is free of overwhelming-and-pressure-inflicting-external-Christmas-commitments. So a Christmas Term seemed very do-able. In fact, the idea of focusing on Christmas literature and music for three weeks greatly appealed to me (and to GraceNotes too)!
Our first Jesse Tree ornament on the branch
Last year we faltered on my planned Advent Jesse Tree Devotional (A Post Advent Evaluation). So this Advent, the devotion will take the place of Bible Study. (You can download the free devotional materials here: Ann Voskamp – AHolyExperience) We will continue to persevere per the usual schedule in Latin, Science and Math. However, we will wait on Famous Men of Rome and Augustus Caesar’s World until January, and in the meantime, read classic Christmas stories, with preference given to those written before Santa idolatry had completely taken hold of American publishing. (Before you think I’m extreme, go to any Barnes and Noble and check the Children’s Christmas Books for sale.)
We started with a fun book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. I was delighted to find it at the Book Exchange and could use my credit. It is an excellent read-aloud. The narrator’s frank characterizations and amusing descriptions of the events that contribute to a surprisingly “successful” pageant, kept both GraceNotes and Mr. Garner in stitches for all 7 chapters. Having participated in so many Christmas pageant productions over the years, we recognized ourselves and others in this story! (No, not you!) We spread this small book out over three evenings, and I hope to track down the video.
We are now reading the Five Staves of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I purchased our first Lapbook ever, this one from Hands of a Child, which provides study of the literary elements and history behind A Christmas Carol. We are putting the elements together and placing them on cardstock in a notebook, and so far, so good! GraceNotes has always been a bit spooked by A Christmas Carol, largely because of the video portrayal of the scary ghost scenes that center around Jacob Marley’s visit. Now, reading aloud, as I concluded Dickens’ First Stave (chapter), it was quite illuminating for her to hear this bit,
“He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever. “
It casts the chapter, the entire story, in a brighter light. Sometimes stage and video productions seem to convey that Ebenezer was “scared” into acts of faith by moaning ghosts and long bony disembodied fingers. Already, we’ve discovered that Dickens compelling text is really telling us about a genuine transformation towards true and joyous selflessness. (Reminds me of the T-Shirt slogan “Don’t judge a book by its movie”) After we finish reading, we will watch the 1970 production, “Scrooge,” with the delightful music, Albert Finney and Alec Guiness, my personal favorite. Then we will compare and contrast the video production to Dickens text.
Winter Term Books and CD’s
Next on the schedule are The Mansion, and The Other Wiseman both by Henry Van Dyke. Van Dyke’s classics are available on Kindle for free or very little. However this year for the 100th anniversary, The Mansion has been published as a picture book, with abridged text accompanying the illustrations, and the full text in the back. The Other Wiseman is also available abridged in picture book form. Van Dyke’s Christmas stories were new to me, and now having read through them, and the other selections in Van Dyke’s Christmas Collection I find these relatively short but beautifully written stories reflect the deeper meaning of the season of Advent, Christ’s birth, and the Epiphany in just the way I hoped; and will certainly be part of our family traditions from now on. I’ve selected a few passages for dictation, and we’ll discuss vocabulary as needed. (There is also a video production entitled The Fourth Wiseman, based on Van Dyke’s The Other Wiseman, which we will watch after we read the story. )
Three lovely picture books (one is never too old for a beautifully illustrated picture book!) with equally rewarding texts that I’ve included are Christmas Day in the Morningby Pearl Buck, A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote (also found at the Book Exchange!), and The Third Gift, by a favorite contemporary author, Linda Sue Park. We will read through these and enjoy them and then add them to the collection of Christmas picture books that we still pull out every year and read through.
Our work in our Commonplace Books continues. During December we will focus on poetry about Christmas and there are several wonderful poems in my current nightstand favorite, A Treasury of Christian Poetry: 700 Inspiring and Beloved Poems.
December brings us to the last chapter in our wonderful Apologia Exploring Creation with Astronomy text. Although, since we have fallen in love with gazing up at the star-studded heavens, and the planets feel like old friends now, I don’t think we will ever stop studying Astronomy. I have my eye on Jay Ryan’s Signs and Seasons Curriculum, and I’ve scheduled The Star of Bethlehem as our celebratory activity!
Music is an enormous part of Christmas for us, so we will be listening to Veni, Veni Emmanuel, in the Latin, which will be our hymn for the term. My absolute favorite seasonal hymn, it perfectly depicts the yearning that is Advent. YouTube has many gorgeous recordings. Go look!
A quick check through our copious collection of Christmas CD’s yielded some wonderful classics. We will also hear selections from Handel’s Messiah, Camille Saint Saen’s Christmas Oratorio, Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, and my favorite Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti. We always have a few other things playing in the background during the holidays: On Yoolis Night Medieval Carols and Motets (Anonymous 4), A Medieval Christmas, A Renaissance Christmas, The Carol Album, and last but not least, Apples in Winter, by our favorite historically correct musicians, The Itinerant Band.***
We are really enjoying the Christmas Term!
***In the interest of full disclosure we also listen to Charlie Brown Christmas, Anuna, Celtic Christmas 1, 1.5, and 2, David Benoit, Glen Miller, John Doan, Al Dimeola (this one is great), Mannheim Steamroller (several), Sting, GRP Christmas, Bing Crosby…GraceNotes and Mr. Garner listen to Muppets, and Chipmunks. Mr. Garner listens to Gene Autry.
(Mr. Garner was concerned you would think that we are nose-in-the-air classical music snobs…)