Happy Advent and Joyeux Noël! We're excited for this lovely month, in spite of some family health concerns and the turmult in Paris. My dad, a self-taught pianist, once pointed out to me that Christmas carols have a lot of minor chords. This seems fitting to me—not only because of the longing that many people have for a Redeemer, but also because peace on Earth is such a profound need.
In the darkness of winter, light is so meaningful. Earlier this week I told my children about la Fête des Lumières that is taking place in Lyon, France, now and this coming weekend (always around le 8 décembre). They were amazed to see the lights from years past. You can catch an animated preview of it here and you'll find this year's displays on Instagram now.
Since we are currently homeschooling, we have the gift of time to reflect on Advent and the hope of Christmas. This year I discovered Jennifer Naraki’s Slow + Sacred Advent; her sweet and simple activities are a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas. We made orange, cranberry, and popcorn garlands earlier this week, and beeswax candles today, and I'm grateful for these creative, calm, and joyful moments that my children are experiencing. Check out the Instagram feed of the many other families practicing slow and sacred Advent and it will bring joy to your day!
Since this is also crunch time for gift ideas, I thought I'd share with you a few of our favorite children's gifts from past Christmases. (A few of these are affiliate links; all refer to items we've loved.) We follow the theme of "something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” In those categories, here are some gift suggestions:
Wooden bow and arrows made from Jennifer via Etsy: All three of my children adore their bow and arrows made by Jennifer. The quality is amazing, the cord is easy to restring (it's practically unbreakable), and the arrows fly fast and far while still being safe thanks to the round felt tip. The small bow was perfect for my toddler; my 5- and 8-year olds can handle their larger bows well. Unfortunately it's too late at this moment in December to order a set in time for Christmas, but keep this in mind for a future birthday gift—our bows made by Jennifer are a favorite outdoor play item!
Hanna Andersson's long john pajamas : These organic cotton pjs are incredibly comfortable and the sewing is the best quality you can find. (Better yet, they're only $24 at the moment.) A tip I've learned for Hanna items: if the item you'd like to buy is not on sale, call one of their outlet stores: if the outlet has the item you want in stock, it's often much cheaper than the online price, and the outlet can ship it directly to you for $5.
Books, books, books: I've learned to search more accurately to find gently used French children's books on Amazon.com here in the U.S.: Use Amazon's advanced search function to select French, used, children's books, in stock only. You may have to pay a few dollars for shipping since used books are sent by individual booksellers, but the books are still much cheaper than ordering from France. Borrowing or renting books is another good option, especially right now since Les Petits Livres has a code, CHEER2018, for 40% off the first month's subscription (The code validity ends this Dec. 31st).
A French children's magazine subscription: We just re-subscribed to Milan and Bayard magazines after returning from France. Subscriptions are pricey in the U.S., but the children get so much delight in receiving their magazines, and I find it's worth the cost to support bi-literacy and language development. We re-read them regularly. My 9-year-old daughter chose Curionautes, a new science-themed magazine for boys and girls, while my six-year-old son chose Toboggan (for the focus on mental puzzles and games). My three-year-old is moving up from our beloved Popi to Toupie, which offers an Advent sticker poster in the December issue. To subscribe for the best price, send an email to Coralie Bollier (for West Coast subscriptions) at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Catherine Lamy (for East Coast and Central U.S. subscriptions) at email@example.com. You can also check out my more detailed reviews of French children's magazines here and here.
Toys by Janod: Janod is a French company specializing in colorful and unique toys made from wood for children up to ten years old. We have two of their story box and train sets, and I'm even considering a third set—they are sweet, timeless, and worth keeping even for any grandchildren someday. I'm also considering their body magnet set this year because it's charming, educational, and includes body part cards in 9 languages.
Another French toy brand I appreciate is Moulin Roty, which is expensive but focuses on heirloom-quality items ranging from soft doudous (lovies) to realistic wooden tool sets, wooden doctor sets, tiny dollhouses, Parisian tea sets, and more. Moulin Roty's U.S. supplier, Bonjour Petit, often has better prices than Amazon.com.
What are some favorite memories your family has made? Are there some gift items you've given or received that have seemed especially sweet?
May you have a blessed holiday season and experience moments of deep peace and joy.