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Have a spiritual Christmas

Posted By December 2, 2011 | 4:47 pm | Featured Article #3

Five simple ways to celebrate Christmas

By Stacy Trasancos

As we were blessed with baby after baby in our family, and as I grew in faith on the journey of conversion, our family adopted a number of Christmas traditions that freed us from the commercialism of the holiday season. They are simple things but they made a big difference and I don’t – believe me, this is the truth – I don’t stress out at Christmas time anymore. I am free to celebrate, and I actually find that I guard that closely now. Nothing is allowed to dampen The Celebration of The Birth. If someone had told me 10 years ago that I’d be a mother raising seven children who didn’t dread the holidays, I would have laughed. But, here I am. Maybe these ideas will be helpful to you, or lead you to some new ideas of your own.
One. We get a “Happy Birthday Jesus” birthday cake. A lot of people probably already do this, but that brought everything into focus for the youngest children, and now as they get older, they all anticipate it. It connects in their minds what Christmas is because they get birthday cakes on their birthdays, so at Christmas Jesus gets a celebratory cake and we eat it together as a family. In the truest sense of the word, Jesus is part of our family. Practically, this simplifies the Christmas Day meal too because the cake is the desert. We turn out the lights, light a big candle on the cake, and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus all together. And Mommy has to go wipe the tears from her eyes. It is a very meaningful gesture for little kids – and big ones too.
Two. It’s probably related to the number of children in our family, but we only get them one gift each plus one new set of pajamas. They wear the pajamas for the whole year (yes snowflake footed pajamas even in July) and it is a constant reminder of how our family was together celebrating Christmas. It’s unifying. Practically, my Christmas shopping – I’m serious, this is the truth – is done in a couple of hours online. The kids learned in kindergarten, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” We use that axiom for gift-giving as well as dinner-time. We have made a point not to ask the kids what they want for Christmas. A gift should be received, not demanded, just as we receive the remarkable gifts of grace that are the sacraments.  We do our best to keep materialism in check.
Three. We stopped buying individualized gifts for extended family. It’s just too much confusion to do that with cousins who are growing and changing so fast. We send family gifts now, and for the last three years I’ve been very satisfied with Worcester Wreath Co. They are actually in Maine and the owner’s last name is Worcester, but we like the idea anyway. The wreaths are real Balsam pine and they smell wonderful. They have a “Wreaths Across America” product whereby for $30 one wreath will be sent to the recipient as a gift and a second wreath will be used to decorate a Veteran’s grave somewhere in the United States. It’s a touching gift, and when they all hang on our relatives’ front doors to their homes, we hope it’s a way to show a greater unity in our extended families and support for those in uniform that do so much for us as citizens.
    Four. Well, this one is still evolving, but since we have very young children that still try to destroy the breakable ornaments, we have been trying out the idea of an “interactive tree.” The children love to decorate the tree, so we went with that motivation and decided to keep a craft box with a few simple supplies to make Christmas decorations available. The children make them, put them on the tree themselves, and move them around as they please. It’s worked well except last year a prolific 3-year-old scribbled out 20 pages of notebook paper and pigeon-holed them all over the tree so that it looked more like a papier-mâché mess than a symbol of eternal life, but, oh well. The star was still at the top and one big ornament that says, “Believe,” was still visible. I like the idea of the interactive tree and homemade decorations though. This could mature as our family matures.
Five. Mommy and Daddy make sure to have alone time together on Christmas morning to pray. We give the gift of our time to each other and have begun to even prepare special snacks or drinks just for ourselves, for our own private celebration even as the kids run amidst us. Christ is the center of our lives and what binds us as a family, Christ is everything. Appreciating each other reminds us of our vocation as husband and wife and it allows us to show our gratitude for that baby boy, The Child, who purchased for us the rewards of eternal life.     When I was a little girl I loved the excitement and gifts of Christmas morning, but since I found my way into the Church I have said often that every morning is like Christmas morning. Joyful! So when it actually is Christmas morning and I realize that my reality is right here with my beloved husband and all my children, it is a little overwhelming and the silent, special celebration with the love of my life just makes it all perfect.
I hope these ideas inspire you to some of your own. For me, the biggest realization is that in our home we should never, ever forget – or in any way compromise – what Christmas really is. It is the celebration of Christ’s Nativity. When you get the big things right, the little things fall into place very easily.

    – Mrs. Trasancos is a columnist for The Catholic Free Press. She has a website – Accepting Abundance at – on which she would like you to share your ideas about celebrating Christmas.  

The gift of a story

By JoAnn DiVerdi Miller

As Christmas approaches, a great tradition to start is to read (or give) a book to your child or grandchild that celebrates the true reason we celebrate December 25. The following are some suggestions that are also beautifully illustrated making them a pleasure for both child and adult to experience. Some of these books are available at local libraries, others at book stores and of course, all are available online.

For ages 2-4
Who Is Coming To Our House?
by Joseph Slate
Room For A Little One; A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell
Both stories are available as laminated board books for those who occasionally drool as they’re being read to. Both also tell the story in simple rhyme and from the point of view of the animals who ready their manager for the arrival of Mary and Joseph and the miraculous birth of the baby Jesus.

For ages 4-8
Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Strega Nona’s Gift by Tomie dePaola
Everyone can enjoy these stories, though they’ll hold special memories for those of Italian descent especially when Strega Nona prepares the Christmas Eve feast which includes baccala, and cenci and attends Midnight Mass. Strega Nona reminds her assistant Big Anthony and all of us that: “Christmas has a magic of its own.”

Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt; illustrated by Raul Colon
“When my mother, Angela, was six years old, she felt sorry for the Baby Jesus in the Christmas crib …” so starts Pulitzer Prize winner Frank McCourt’s only children’s book. As you read this story aloud you’ll begin to notice that you’re speaking with an Irish accent as thick with emotion as the story itself. You see, Angela, convinced that the Baby Jesus on the altar is cold, sneaks him home to keep him warm. What happens next is by turns tender, heartbreaking, and wholly unforgettable.
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
In 1940s looking New York City a young girl, Frances, is troubled when she notices the neighborhood organ grinder and his monkey still out on the street late at night. Where do they sleep? she wonders. She can’t stop worrying about them, even while getting ready for her church’s Christmas pageant. (To me Frances’ mother looks suspiciously like Maureen O’Hara from “Miracle on 34th Street”.)

Do you know that many adults collect children’s books? Publishers do, that’s why this next book exists and why it’s a perfect gift for any new moms you may know.

For Moms of any age

Tonight You Are My Baby; Mary’s Christmas Gift by Jeannine Q. Norris
“Tomorrow you will be King, but tonight you are my baby,” Mary whispers tenderly to her newborn son. “You are my beautiful gift from God above and to you I give a mother’s love,” Mary’s heartfelt words to the Baby Jesus expressed throughout this children’s book for grown-ups, mirrors the emotions that all mother’s feel the very first time we cradle our own precious gifts from God in our arms.

Looking for the perfect gift?
Don’t forget those that call to mind and bring to heart the Perfect Gift, the Reason for the Season. Religious shops throughout the diocese have many wares to share for such purposes.
“We’re trying to encourage people to give a real Christmas gift, one that’s going to last – Bibles, books, rosaries, anything of a spiritual nature,” says Patricia Quintiliani, owner of A Shower of Roses Religious Shop in West Boylston. “I have a coin here that says it all: ‘He who does not have Christ in his heart will never find him under a Christmas tree.’”
Among her other items are Advent wreaths, candles and calendars, and Christmas cards, ornaments, and creches.
This summer she moved the shop to 339 West Boylston St. (just up the street from her previous location). She had artist Georgio Frattanoio paint on the ceiling the reason for the shop’s name, the words of St. Therese, the Little Flower: “I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.” She also set up a St. Therese shrine.
An open house with refreshments is being held at the shop from 1 to 5 p.m. this Sunday. The shop is open for business 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Denise Boucher-Garofoli, owner of Boucher’s Good Books at 254 Lake Ave., Worcester, says her customers have been reserving copies of the new Roman Missal for individuals, which is to arrive this month or the first week of December. She ran out of chapel copies for churches, but still has altar copies for churches, she says. Gift certificates for the missals or other items are available in any amount. She has copies of the revised New Testament of the New American Bible too, she says.
She also says it seems like more people are using Advent wreaths, which she sells, along with candles and accompanying prayer cards. And always popular are the Fontanini nativities, with new pieces to add to sets annually, and kneeling Santas in card, ornament and statue form.
“That’s always a big hit, especially people with new babies or children in the family,” she says of the visual lesson that St. Nicholas adores Baby Jesus. Other seasonal items include jewelry, new CDs of Advent and Christmas music, and DVDs of Christmas stories for children and adults. Also popular are “The Priests” CDs, which include a new release.
She has inexpensive items teachers can give children or priests can give teachers for their classrooms, she says.
Store hours are 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday, and 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.
Patricia Naple, manager of the bookstore in the Chancery, 49 Elm St., Worcester, says she had Roman Missals for churches from seven publishers, but sold out of two.
“As soon as it comes in, it goes out,” she says.
While she doesn’t carry missals for individuals, she does have other books laypeople can use, including two with connections to the October Diocesan Stewardship conference: “A New Heart,” by keynoter Bishop Robert F. Morneau, auxiliary bishop of Green Bay, Wis., and  “Living Your Strengths,” promoted at the conference.
Her other offerings include “Catholic Christmas” by Kathleen Carroll; “A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms” by Lisa Hendey; “Between Heaven and Mirth” by James Martin, S.J., and Archbooks for children.
The bookstore’s hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
“For anybody spiritual, it’s definitely the place to come,” Angela Berthiaume says of St. Anne Shrine Gift Shop on Church Street in Sturbridge.
“I think rosaries are really important,” the store manager says.
The new Roman Missals are to arrive in December, she says, and she also has crucifixes, statues, medals, and items for non-Catholic Christians, as well as Advent and Christmas things. The shop is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week.
“Even a child can come in and find something that would suit their pocketbook,” Sister Mary Joseph Cross, of the Carmelite Sisters of the Eucharist, says of the shop in the sisters’ convent at 188 Old Worcester Rd., Charlton. She says the prices are low and proceeds benefit the sisters.
In addition to new and used books, they have mugs, tea towels, crucifixes, statues, plaques and jewelry, she says. Items made by sisters include a ceramic St. Nicholas and rosaries, one specifically for Christmas.
Saturdays from 11 a.m-4:30 p.m. is a good time to visit, but there are no set hours; customers can stop in or call ahead to 508-248-2936.
Also offering the wares of religious is the gift shop at St. Joseph Abbey, 2167 North Spencer Rd., Spencer. The shop sells Trappist Preserves, as well as CDs, DVDs, books, pottery and candles. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 1-4:30 p.m. Sunday.
An exclusive item made to order at C.E. Buckley Inc., 61 North Main St., Leominster, is “A Mother’s Rosary,” says Claire Neas, manager, who makes the prayer beads for each individual woman.
“We believe that no one knows a mother’s (or grandmother’s, aunt’s, godmother’s) heart better than Mary, mother of our Lord,” she says. “Come in and see how special these are.”
Perfect gifts for shut-ins and nursing home residents are clear acrylic angels with L.E.D. lighting, she says. And for the Fontanini nativities the store offers a registry, so customers don’t have to keep track of pieces they’ve already purchased.
Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday.

Spreading God’s love through flowers

By Tanya Connor

WEBSTER – “I love the Lord. I want to bring as many people as I can to the Lord. I want to start here.”
Carol Cooke, of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, is talking about the shop she bought earlier this year, which she’s filled with religious gifts – and more.
April 18 she bought “Cindy’s Flowers and Gift Shop,” at 299 Main St. She’s renamed it “Peaceful Dove Flowers & Religious Gifts” and has scheduled a grand opening from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas. (The shop has stayed open during the transition of ownership.)
Ms. Cooke says she’d been in Cindy’s Flowers many times looking for a gift, or an uplift, especially after her husband died in December 2005.
“I felt like whenever I came in here they knew how to cheer you up,” she says.
“We would have tears, we’d laugh, we’d hug. We always shared stories. There was so much love from Donna (Gaulin longtime saleswoman). I left here always happier.”
The shop displays a plaque with Ms. Cooke’s mission statement: “Spread love everywhere you go; let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
“I love people,” explains Donna Gaulin, of St. Louis Parish, who’s worked in the shop for 37 years. She says she brought rosaries and crosses to sell when the place was Dugan’s Drug Store, and continued when it was Cindy’s Flowers.
“You have to make everybody feel comfortable,” she says. “Everybody has to have a smile and a ‘hello’” – to make them smile.
“I had told Cindy when I bought this place, I bought her heart,” Ms. Cooke adds. “And that’s what I want to keep going.”
Mrs. Gaulin says Ms. Cooke never tells her, “Hurry up; get to work; don’t spend so much time with that customer.”
“God has been so good to me,” Ms. Cooke explains. “It’s my time to give back.” She expresses eagerness to see how much she makes from the business, so she can tithe 10 percent of it to a charity of her choice.
Ms. Cooke says she always knew someday she would have a religious shop, but didn’t expect it to be this big.
Around the end of last year, she learned Cindy’s Flowers was for sale, then was disappointed to learn there was a buyer, she says. Hearing the sale fell through, she returned excitedly, only to learn there was another buyer.
“I prayed to Our Lady and said, ‘If this is where you want me, and this is what you want opened in Webster, then…open all the doors,’” she recalls.
After the second buyer fell through, the owner, Cindy Smith, called her, having heard of her interest in the shop.
“I don’t know anything about business,” Ms. Cooke says. “The Lord’s going to provide. I’m learning.” Her lawyer saved her fees by telling her to go forward if she trusted Ms. Smith, she said.
She had no idea what to offer, but “all of a sudden this price came into my head,” and she gave the owner a check for that amount, she says.
“And then I cried; I was happy and scared,” she says.
“That statue of the Blessed Mother” – she points to a prominently displayed image of Mary – “my husband gave me that. That’s the first thing I brought down here. I always ask her to watch over this place. This is her place.”
She took a walk, praying about what to name her shop, and saw mourning doves, which she especially likes, she says. The name came to her.
“That’s what we need,” she decided. “The world’s always going to be crazy. We have to find that peace within us. That’s Jesus.” She says she wants everyone who comes to feel love and peace.
“The hardest part … I always wanted to own a religious store, and guess who can’t be here?” Ms. Cooke says. She’s not even on the payroll, she says. For financial reasons she needs to keep her job as a phlebotomist for Harrington Hospital in Southbridge. But her children are grown, so she comes in mornings, evenings and Saturdays.
“First thing I did when I bought the store – I closed on Sunday,” she says. She told the employees, who had been working seven days a week, “I’m responsible for you not being able to go to church.” She also felt they needed a day off and to be with their families on Sunday, she says.
Ms. Cooke says she kept the flowers and gifts left from Cindy’s Flowers, and added more religious gifts. Boucher’s Good Books in Worcester helped her find good companies to buy from, she says.
“First thing I ordered was medals,” she says. Seeing her excitement upon their arrival, her son, Joshua Rusack, remarked, “You look like a kid in a candy store.” She gave Mrs. Gaulin a list of what the different saints are patrons of, to help match them with customers’ needs.
Some people don’t like the religious flavor, but others respond to it, Ms. Cooke said. A woman saw her message for St. Anne’s Feast Day and was moved to go to St. Anne Shrine in Sturbridge. A man asked, “Do you believe in fate?”
“There’s that opportunity,” Ms. Cooke says. “People want to hear that they’re loved. I’m not afraid. The worst thing that can happen – someone can walk away.”
She figures a flower shop is a good place to evangelize, noting that customers seek flowers for funerals and weddings.
“People come to God during sadness,” she says. “People come to God when they’re happy. Everything about a flower reminds you of God – God’s creation.”