Bethlehem

A family tradition is to take a walk through Bethlehem sponsored by St. John United Methodist Church in Atlanta. It’s usually held on the first weekend of December and this year didn’t disappoint. Centurions at the city gates yelled out, “Sign the Census. Sign the Census.”

 

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The first order of business is to sign the Census rolls upon entering Bethlehem

 

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After signing the scrolls on the table lit only by candlelight, we entered the city. It was bustling with music, drumbeats and people all over the place. In one corner was a woman selling bread. Another market vendor sold bright jewelry but gave beautiful precious stones to the children. Soldiers urged people along to pay their taxes. A group of children were getting their Hebrew lessons. One woman came up and asked us if we had seen the bright star in the sky.

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Bethlehem is translated as bread of life

 

Hebrew children are learning their lessons

Hebrew children are learning their lessons

 

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“I have beautiful jewelry to sell you.”

We were ushered to the room to pay our taxes. While there, we were told there was no room in any of the inns nearby.

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Time to pay taxes

"We have no room at our inn."

“We have no room at our inn.”

As we exit the city, there are three angels on the roof singing “Emmanuel.” Afterwards, our attendtion is focused on the stable and a live nativity with Mary, Joseph, a baby (this time a real live baby!). It’s cold outside and we feel for the actors having to perform on such an evening. Yet, it is a reminder that it may have been that cold or colder when Baby Jesus was born. As children sit on the hay bales, a donkey grazes nearby. The three wise men arrive carrying their gifts to the new born king. As the song concludes, the church minister welcomes us and invites us into the sanctuary for music, the chapel for prayers and the fellowship hall for cookies and hot chocolate.

 

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Wise men greet the new baby

Wise men bow to the newborn King

 

We head into the narthex of the sanctuary where the lights are dimmed low. Christmas carols come from the piano in the sanctuary. All is calm. Candles are ablaze and the altar is flanked by two Christmon trees. Common in the United Methodist church, these are green Christmas trees with white lights and white and gold ornaments. Although it sounds plain, it is beautiful. A few people sit on the pews and listen to the musician. It’s peaceful in here, but the children don’t want any part of it.

The fragrance of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies fill the air upon entering fellowship hall. Served on platters are treats of all shapes and sizes: sugar cookies, chocolate dipped pretzels, brownies, lemon bars and  of course, the chocolate chip cookies. The lady who offered us goodies informs us that there is a children’s area with crafts. Taking our cookies and hot chocolate to the far corner, we are some of the first to arrive. One child is trying on headscarbes from biblical times. Coloring pages and crayons are on another table. My little neighbor makes a beeline for the big craft table. Using two popsicle sticks, children are instructed to decorate and glue the manger to a sheet of construction paper. After adding hay, they add the Baby Jesus and a blanket to cover him. In the background, the Charlie Brown Christmas Special plays on a nearby screen.

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We get one last round of drinks – this time hot apple cider before heading out. Two women have a table set up for donations to the Community Action Center in nearby Sandy Springs. They thank us for visiting. But I thank them. Without this experience, it wouldn’t feel like Christmas. For more information, visit http://stjohnatlanta.org.

 


Christmas Cookies

One our favorite traditions is baking Christmas cookies. I’m not even going to apologize for using the word “Christmas.” When the cookies are in the shapes of angels, Christmas trees, bells and reindeer, they are not holiday cookies – they are Christmas cookies.

I have a favorite sugar cookie recipe that I use. After letting the dough chill for a couple of hours it was time to roll it out cut out fun shapes.

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Usually for convenience, we just use sprinkles which look fine after they’re baked.

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This year, I decided we’d take it a step further and decorate the cookies after baking – with frosting or icing. The few times I’ve used the frosting from the grocery store, it’s turned into one big mess. Additionally, it’s just too sweet to eat with the sugar in the actual cookie and then gobs of frosting compounded together. I saw a post on Sally’s Baking Addiction with a link to an her favorite icing recipe from All Recipes. The pictures looked so pretty, I thought we’d give the icing recipe a whirl and see what happens.

The frosting recipe took no time and I had the ingredients on hand – including the food coloring.

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It wasn’t messy and we invited our neighbor over to help decorate the cookies as well.

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The best part was the icing could be spread on the cookies thinly, preventing the sugar overload. I also liked that I could make a small amount of icing for the number of cookies we baked. In fact, they were the best homemade sugar cookies, we’ve made to date. We ran out of sprinkles early on, but everyone got creative by mixing another color on top of the first layer of icing. My favorite is the purple and pink “Dr. Seuss” Christmas tree cookie below.

 

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Christmas Trees In North Carolina

IMG_3775A few years back, we started going to a Christmas tree farm to select our annual Christmas tree. However, we noticed that we didn’t like the Leyland Cypress trees that are offered in Georgia. They just don’t seem to have sturdy enough branches for our ornaments. We would still get the fir trees that had been brought in from North Carolina.

This year, I wanted to do something different. Why not go to North Carolina and find our tree at a farm?

We headed up to Waynesville/ Maggie Valley area to go to the Boyd Family Farm which I had found through searching the web.

On the way up, we stopped in the small town of Dillsboro. It looked so cute, but we didn’t have time to explore. There is a train from Bryson City that does a round trip to Dillsboro. They had just arrived so the Kostas Family Restaurant we wanted to try had a 20-30 minute waiting list. Because we had gotten a late start that morning, we decided to go to Sylva, which is another nearby town for lunch.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Dillsboro.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Dillsboro.

Sylvia looked cute too with a large courthouse perched on a hill. The main street (called Main Street) T-intersects with it. We stopped at a downtown restaurant which was fine, but took a long time as they were obviously unprepared for the crowds. Afterwards, we went to Signature Brew Coffee, which looked like a neat place to sit and hang out for a while. Rejuvenated by coffee, tea and a cookie, we headed to Waynesville.

Sylva, NC is only three miles from Dillsboro.

Sylva, NC is only three miles from Dillsboro.

The further north we drove, we began to see snow – especially on the shady sides of the mountains. The drive was beautiful. Once we got to the Boyd Family Farm, there were trees galore. And snow! The staff directed us to a parking place and we headed to the entrance. After receiving our saw, we headed up the mountain to find the perfect tree.

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For this Louisiana born girl, the snow took me to a winter wonderland! We found the perfect tree and the staff cut it down for us. Better him that us as even he fell while coming down the mountain. What I really liked was that they bound the tree tightly before putting it on top of the car. In fact, we forgot we had a huge tree with us when we came out of a McDonald’s later on. While I went to the tent to pay, DH got the car to get the tree loaded. They had free hot chocolate and apple cider. Also, in the tent, there were children’s activities, as well as garlands, wreath and souvenir items for sale.

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The loading of the tree onto the car took a lot longer than we realized. There were so many cars in front of us, but it didn’t bother me. The scenery was beautiful and it looks like they offer cabins for rent. It was a great kick-off to Christmas! For more information go to http://www.boydmountainchristmastreefarm.com.

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Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm