From the Archives: 4 Ways to Avoid Holiday Letdown

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This weekend, I’ll be very busy Nutcracker-ing. (Is that a verb? It is now.) I’ll return next week with a regularly scheduled post, but for now enjoy this holiday post I originally published in 2015. 

Christmas is almost upon us, and if you’re anything like me, you’re getting very excited about it!

But even as we hype ourselves up for the wonderful morning, we also expect the letdown when everything is over. You know the feeling: the presents are opened, there isn’t anything left to do, and you start feeling disappointed, sad, or frustrated that it’s all over.

How can we avoid this holiday letdown and spend more time focusing on the true joy that Christmas is supposed to bring? Here are four things you can do to help prevent and offset those feelings of disappointment.

1. Don’t build up unrealistic expectations.

We are all prone to building up and anticipating Christmas much more than we actually should be. We hype up the gift part of it so much and expect everything to be perfect and wonderful for the entire day.

This is dangerous; don’t allow yourself to imagine Christmas being perfect. The world is still fallen on Christmas, the presents don’t last forever, and things will not be magically perfect on the twenty-fifth of December. Don’t imagine it that way.

2. Make God the center from the start of the day. 

If you wake up before your siblings or have to wait for your parents to get ready in the morning, spend that time before you open gifts reading the Christmas story in your Bible and praying that God would give you the right heart during the day’s festivities.

This will help remind you of the purpose of the day before the gift-unwrapping starts. And even if you don’t have time to read your Bible beforehand, you can still say a quick prayer to yourself to help center your mind on God.

3. Focus on the right things while opening gifts. 

While you are opening gifts, take your time. Don’t rush through it. Focus on enjoying the delight of others when they receive the things you picked out for them. Focus on appreciating each gift that you open. Take it slowly and keep yourself in a generous and thankful mindset.

4. When the presents are gone, spend time in the Word. 

The letdown usually hits in the time between the end of gift-opening and the next order of business for the day. You are just sitting around staring at the piles of gifts that have all been opened, waiting for whatever happens next.

Avoid this by immediately spending some time reading your Bible or a devotional and praying after all of the gifts have been opened. Thank God for the blessings He has given you and refocus yourself on the greatest Gift of all: Christ Himself.

Will you try these strategies? Have you experienced letdown in the past? How else have you dealt with it? 

love, grace

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December 2016 Month in Review

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Christmas trees, Christmas music, Christmas cookies, Christmas presents…annnd just like that, December is over. In rolls January, bringing goals and fresh starts, snow (?) (please?), and a return to the normal routine.

I get very excited over making goals for the year. Last year I changed all my goals like three times during the year and then ditched them altogether, but let’s see if I can do better this year. I have a new planner, which always makes me optimistic about what I can do with my life. (I’m a planner nerd.)

And I really, really hope it snows soon! It never snows in December where I live but we usually get quite a bit of snow in January and February. Snow days are amazing.

This Month’s Devotions

This month, I read through Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, an Advent devotional with Bible passages, readings to go with them, and questions for reflection. It was the second time I used this book during the Advent season and I absolutely loved it.

Ann Voskamp’s writing is superbly beautiful and the perfect way to stay focused on Christ during Advent. If you missed it, my Advent Reflections series was based on some of my favorite quotes from the book. All of those posts will be linked in the next section.

I’m currently studying The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. I started to have some questions about faith and the proof for God that I wanted to seek out answers to. I had read this book before, but not thoroughly, and didn’t remember any of it. This time I’m taking notes!

Bloggings

Image result for noel josh groban I shared some of my favorite Christmas music, both old favorites and new discoveries

childhood-christmas-favorites2 I also shared nostalgic Christmas favorites that I still enjoy

advent reflections part 1.jpgadvent-reflections-part-2advent reflections part 3.jpgadvent-reflections-part-4 the Advent series: part 1part 2part 3part 4

 a fun Christmasy tag

book and movie of the year 2016 2.jpg this year’s best book and movie

from other blogs…

A beautiful post about the wonder of God.

Also from The Rebelution, an interview with Tony Reinke about teens and technology. Totally worth listening to the whole thing!

Amanda’s post about facing the future really encouraged me as I start to think about what might be in my future…

Grace had a really great post about why she’s not ashamed she homeschools. I may not be homeschooled anymore, but I am still one of its biggest advocates, and this post hit the nail on the head.

Katie Gregoire is not a beauty guru. Also subscribe to her channel. She’s great.

A Studio C sketch in which the holidays are personified. One of my favorites of theirs recently!

If you haven’t seen Moana, you should. If you need more convincing: listen to this song.

And finally, if you still need more Christmas music in your life, here’s a gorgeous acapella Silent Night.

Readings

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  • Fourth Dawn: 3.5 stars. A very interesting look at Mary and Joseph and the history surrounding Christ’s birth. Read my Goodreads review for more.
  • The Greatest Gift: 5 stars of course. I think I’ve talked about this book enough on here already.
  • Letters from Father Christmas: 5 stars. I got this book as a gift; it was a Tolkien book that I didn’t even know existed! And the cover is gorgeous and glossy with that red and gold design; so pretty. Obviously I loved it, it’s Tolkien 😉
  • Library of Souls: 4 stars. My least favorite of the series, but still good. And the ending! It was actually happy. I was not sure how it would end happily, but it did!

Watchings

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Yes, it was Christmas break. How can you tell?

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas: 4 stars. It was high time I actually watched this, and it was cute! A nice way to start my break.
  • Moana: 4 stars. Such a good movie! I would recommend seeing it in the theater if it’s still in theaters to get the quality sound and everything. The music is 5 stars (obviously, since it’s by Lin Manuel Miranda). And he even sings in one of the songs!
  • Elf: 5 stars. I’ve watched bits and pieces of this over the years but never actually seen the whole thing until this month. I loved it! So cute, and definitely something I will watch for Christmases to come.
  • AGT Holiday Spectacular: This is definitely a guilty-pleasure show, but this holiday version was fun! It was fun to see contestants come back and perform without the judging part.
  • The Nutcracker: Well, of course I had to watch this. I featured it in my childhood favorites post, and I can’t let a Christmas go by without seeing it!
  • Alice in Wonderland: 4 stars. I got this for Christmas and watched it immediately. It’s a relatively new, very creative ballet, that even people who are new to ballet would like because of all the different aspects (puppetry, tap dancing, etc.).
  • Sherlock: I just finished Season 3 last night. Still one of my favorite shows. CANNOT WAIT FOR SEASON 4 (which, if you hadn’t heard, is finnnnnnaly airing on Sunday!)

Listenings

I did a whole post on Christmas music so that basically covers it.

Upcoming in January

  • An official review of the first three seasons of Sherlock
  • Why I Don’t Date in High School: the beginnings of a two-month series on relationships in the teen years

 

I hope you had a wonderful December! What did you enjoy reading and watching this month? Are you excited for January? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

Advent Reflections, part 4: Love

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Tonight, candles flicker in the dim light. Christmas trees are lit. Carols fill the air, voices raised by the thousands in songs of joy.

Tonight we wait for the birthday of Christ.

Christmas: a miracle of love. A celebration of a God who loved us so much that He came down to us in the humblest of circumstances so that we would not have to remain separate from Him.

Christmas is a celebration of love. That is what it’s all about: the decorations, the music, the food, the gifts; everything is a celebration of God’s incredible, abundant love. And what incredible love it was!

The note in my study Bible said that there is a possibility Jesus was born in the open air. The God of the universe, born to a poor couple in a small village in an alley somewhere. He lowered Himself this much because of His love for us.

Here, tonight, the story of salvation begins: a baby born who would grow up to be the Messiah, to die on a cross so that sinners across the ages could be saved. The story begins that will continue through the months and culminate in Easter, in His joyous conquering of death.

So let tonight and tomorrow be a joyous celebration of wondrous love! Christ is born! Hallelujah!

 

Merry Christmas to all of my lovely readers! I hope you have a wonderful day full of love, joy, and peace. 

love, grace

P.S.: 4 Ways to Avoid Holiday Letdown

The Christmas Tag!!

It’s Christmas Eve Eve, as my sisters like to say!

Today I’m taking a break from the Advent posts (there will be one more post in the series tomorrow) to bring you a fun Christmas tag from my fellow Grace. Because it’s a Friday, the Friday before Christmas, and sometimes something lighthearted can be healing to our souls.

Here we go:

1. What’s your favorite Christmas film?

Well, The Nutcracker, of course, as I mentioned last week. I also just (finally!) watched Elf all the way through for the first time. I’d seen the beginning countless times but never all the way to the end. It was great! Probably a new favorite. It is a classic, after all.

Hm…I also really like Disney’s Prep and Landing, about the team of elves that prepare houses for Santa on Christmas Eve. I feel like it’s not nearly as well-known as a lot of Christmas films, but it deserves to be! And the second one is good too.

2. Have you ever had a white Christmas?

I don’t remember. Probably at some point in my life, but not very often. It snows a lot where I live through January and February, but usually not early enough for white Christmases.

3. What’s your favorite Christmas song?

I did a whole post on Christmas music so I’m not going to elaborate much here. But I would like to add one more favorite song to that:

IT’S SO GOOD! So much fun. It makes me want to dance every time I listen to it.

4. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph. Did I get it? I think I got it.

5. Do you have a real or fake tree?

We used to have a fake tree, but we got rid of it and now we get a real one.

6. Where is your dream place to spend the holidays?

I would LOVE to be in New York City during Christmas. Everything happens there- the Macy’s parade, all the Christmas shows (like New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker!), the decorations and shopping, and then of course New Year’s Eve. It would be amazing!

7. How good are you at wrapping?

I think I’m pretty good at it. I took like half an hour to wrap four presents yesterday, so I’m not particularly fast, but I like to take my time and make the ribbon all coordinated and make the gifts look really pretty.

8. Do you open presents on Christmas Eve?

Nope! We open stockings and presents on Christmas morning. On Christmas Eve we go to a church service, drive around and look at Christmas lights, and eat cookies.

9. Do you do anything for Boxing Day?

(The only reason I actually know what this is: other Grace didn’t and looked it up and explained it in her tag :))

No, we’re usually at my grandparents’ house for a few days after Christmas, just hanging out. So if that counts as doing something?

10. What is your favorite Christmas food/treat?

Pressed cookies. If you’ve never had these they are tiny and bite-sized and delicious and dangerous because you want to eat about five thousand of them at once. Behold:

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They have a certain flavor that just melts in your mouth and I love them so much.

So now I tag some people.

*lazy feelings*

If you’re reading this and you want to do this tag, consider yourself tagged!

I hope you enjoyed this little fun interlude of Christmas spirit! I’ll see you tomorrow with the final Advent post!

How good are you at wrapping presents? Where would be your dream place to spend the holidays? And what is your favorite Christmas treat? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

 

 

Advent Reflections, part 3: Perspective, Hope

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Part 1 Part 2

Christmas comes closer, and the world waits, still and silent, for the Advent of its Savior.

As we go about the final preparations, everything takes on a sort of sacredness, as we prepare to celebrate the birthday of Christ.

This is the most important thing: that Christ was born God and man in one to live a perfect life and die a perfect death. That in His life and death we are saved. That is what we celebrate on December twenty-fifth.

Day 13: Perspective

“Joy is a function of gratitude, and gratitude is a function of perspective. You only begin to change your life when you begin to change the way you see…

“From Hollywood to Pinterest, the media of this world aggressively schools your soul to see the exact opposite of the way God sees…

“…if it’s mostly the surfaces that absorb us, then we’re mostly superficial. When my priorities aren’t the things seen- when my priorities are rather all things unseen- it’s only then that my life begins to have substance and weight.” (pp 125-127)

Our life can be transformed if we look beyond everything the world sees. If we look past the shallowness of life and into the depth of the life God has given us.

If we don’t have time to read our Bibles, if we don’t have time to do something kind for someone else, if we don’t have time to seek out God’s will for our lives, our priorities are in the wrong place.

Rather, say that you don’t have time to check Pinterest, to watch YouTube, to go to the movies, because you are too busy reading your Bible, being kind to people, seeking God’s will.

Sometimes you may have time for both, but always give priority to the unseen. Never let worldly shallowness outweigh the things of God.

Day 14: Hope

“Christmas can only be found.

“Christmas cannot be bought. Christmas cannot be created. Christmas cannot be made by hand, lit up, set out, dreamed up. Christmas can only be found…

“That is the message of Christmas. The message of Christmas is not that we can make peace. Or that we can make love, make light, make gifts, or make this world save itself.

“The message of Christmas is that this world’s a mess and we can never save ourselves from ourselves and we need a Messiah.

“For unto us a Child is born…

“And once the light of Christ shatters your dark, shadows forever flee your shadowlands. There’s no going back and living in the dark; you live in the impenetrable, safe Light of light, and Christmas never ends for you. A Christian never stops living Christmas…

“When you really believe in Christmas, you believe there is really hope for everyone. When you get Christmas, people get hope from you- they don’t lose it.

“Unless you keep passing on the miracle of hope, you live like Christmas is a myth.

“So light the Advent candles. Light them, light them.

“And you can see it, with every lit candle, sparks of the dawning.

“Hope catching on everything.” (pp 138-140)

The world has made Christmas into a feel-good, do-good time of year, all about peace and love and joy. It looks good on the outside, but the Christian cannot fall for that message. It gets everything wrong, stemming from a belief that humans are good and that we have the capability for perfection all on our own.

No, the real message of Christmas is that sin is dark, humans are wicked, and we cannot save ourselves. The real message of Christmas is that of glorious light breaking through an awful darkness. A miracle.

And if we believe that the light does not come from us, but from God, that gives us so much more hope than the good-feelings spirit of secular Christmas. Because God can do anything, and so there really is hope for anyone. 

Literally anyone. God can break into any life, heal any soul, and restore any spirit. He can bring light into the darkest of dark places, not just hypothetically, but for real.

The true meaning of Christmas is hope and healing for anyone, not through themselves, but through the all-powerful God who can pierce blackness with glorious light.

 

Which of these readings encouraged you the most today? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

Advent Reflections, Part 2: Peace, Grace, Light

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If you missed it: Part 1 (Wonder, Rest, Laughter)

The season marches on. More and more gifts appear under the tree, goodies appear in the kitchen, lights twinkle on the bushes. Anticipation grows. But are we anticipating the right thing?

Here are three more selections from The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp to help you stay saturated in truth this season:

Day 7: Peace

“You don’t need to climb mountains named I Will Perform.

“You don’t need to climb mountains named I Will Produce.

“Every mountain that every Christian ever faces, the Lord levels with sufficient grace: The Lord Will Provide…

“Worry is belief gone wrong. Because you don’t believe that God will get it right.

“Peace is belief that exhales.

“Because you believe that God’s provision is everywhere- like air.” (pp 59-60)

For a perfectionist worrier like me, trying to remember that God cares and provides can be like trying to walk against the wind. It’s an uphill battle every single day. But it is so important.

As soon as we reduce the Christian life to performance, we miss the whole point of the baby in the manger. He came and lived a perfect life, so we wouldn’t have to. And it is only when we fully embrace God’s provision in our lives that we will fully have His peace.

Day 11: Grace

“Nobody and no situation- no sin, no mess, no decision- meets the diagnosis of despair. Because there’s God’s cure of amazing grace.” (p103)

The glory of Christmas is that no matter how far gone we are, it is never too far for God.

Through His grace, He sent Christ. And Christ’s work can rescue the most broken, the most messed-up, the most imperfect people in the world, and make them beautiful.

There is never such a thing as too far gone.  The voice that tries to whisper in your head that there is no way God could love you now? That is not the voice of truth. That is the voice of Satan. Reject it.

And rest in God’s amazing grace.

Day 12: Light

“…because, for all its supposed sophistication, cynicism is simplistic. In a fallen world, how profound is it to see the cracks? The radicals…they are the ones on the road, in the fields, on the wall, pointing to the dawn of the new Kingdom coming, pointing to the light that breaks through all things broken, pointing to redemption always rising and the Advent coming again. Brilliant people don’t deny the dark; they are the ones who never stop looking for His light in everything.” (pp 113-114)

People think it’s somehow intellectual and profound to talk about how dark the world is. As if that wasn’t obvious for everyone to see. The world is dark, and to see that is not deep. That is surface-level. Anyone can see it.

What is deep and profound and wise is to seek out the light, to look for God’s light even within the brokenness. To have a spirit of joy, not cynicism, that sees the complexity of everything that happens in this world and goes beyond the dark to the light breaking through.

Because there is light breaking through, always, if we look closely enough.

 

Did any of these excerpts particularly encourage you? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

Advent Reflections, Part 1: Wonder, Rest, Laughter

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As Christmas approaches, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement, the hustle and bustle of preparation, without really thinking about what we are preparing for. We get excited about the season without getting excited about Christ, and that sucks any real meaning out of it.

To combat this, I’ve been reading The Greatest Gift, an advent devotional by Ann Voskamp, and I love it so much! The book captures what the spirit of Christmas should be and presents it in such a beautiful way.

Over this week, I want to share some of my favorite passages with you (not all of them, because I want you to be able to enjoy the book for yourself!) Each post will feature 2-3 quotes and a little elaboration on why I love them. I hope this inspires you and helps you to keep focused on Christ in this season.

And I highly, highly recommend this devotional! These quotes are even more powerful when read in the context of the entire reading, and there is so much more that I won’t be mentioning on here.

Day 2: Wonder

“Ravished with wonder.

“That the earth outside your window is tilted right now at just twenty-three degrees…so the planet’s bulk of six sextillion tons…spins perfectly balanced on an invisible axis…

“So go to the window. Go to the hills, the desert, the corner, the back door, and be ravished and taken and awed, and you who were made by Love, made for love- be still and know and watch love come down.

“The answer to deep anxiety is the deep adoration of God.” (13-14)

If we love God and appreciate His incredible creation, there will be no room for anxiety in our lives.

The truth is that this world is pretty amazing. Things in our everyday life are gorgeous: fall leaves, spring flowers, the snow, the ocean. Every time I start thinking about space, my mind gets blown. I just don’t understand how anyone can look at something like supernovas, or even just the size of the galaxy, and not believe in a God. His hand is everywhere.

And through Jesus, we are given access to this God, the God who created everything far beyond what we could even fathom. This powerful God loves us and cares for us every day. He is on our side, and if He is on our side, what do we have to lose? 

Day 4: Rest

“While other creeds endeavor to get us out of the world and into heaven, in Christianity, heaven comes down and Christ comes into this world to get us.”  (31)

The big difference between Christianity and Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism…we do not have to do anything. 

Christ’s sacrifice paid everything. There is nothing more we could possibly do to get ourselves into heaven, and nothing more that is necessary. Christ poured out his blood for us, suffering impossible agony. Why would we diminish that by thinking we must add to it?

Christ came to us. We do not have to climb to Him. And so we simply rest. 

Day 6: Laughter

“The gigantic secret gift that He gives and we unwrap…we who were barren now graced with the Child who lets us laugh with relief for all eternity. There is nothing left to want. There is nothing left to fear…So loosen up, because the chains have been loosed, and laugh the laughter of the freed. Laughter- it’s all oxygenated grace.

“In the press of a dark world, laughter comes…as the reliever and then the reminder- that ache is not the last word for those who believe God. Jesus is. Jesus is the last word, and we rejoice and rejoice again and re-joy again because grace is our oxygen now.” (50-51)

From the gospel, from the Christmas story, comes infinite joy. God is real. He cares for us. We are saved. He loves us with an everlasting love that will never end.

When you feel sad, when you feel insecure, always remember that your sufferings do not have to be the end and that Jesus came to give you infinitely more. Through Him, we may not live perfect lives, but in the midst of the problems and the suffering, we can find joy anyway. That which most defines our lives, the gospel, can never change. 

 

How do you stay focused on Christ during Advent? Which of these excerpts is your favorite? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

3 Childhood Christmas Favorites

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If there is one holiday that has tons of nostalgia surrounding it, it’s Christmas. Everyone has childhood traditions that have been part of their holiday season as long as they can remember, that provide continuity from year to year in the midst of growing up and going through changes in life. Christmas is a time to return to childhood, no matter how old we are.

This week, I want to continue the ‘Christmas favorites’ theme, taking a foray into the past and sharing three little pieces of Christmas that have been staples of my holiday season as long as I can remember. These are things that were huge parts of my childhood, that I still enjoy around Christmastime, and that I consider timeless, classic, and enjoyable for all ages.

 

Carpenters Christmas Portrait

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My family has listened to this album over and over on repeat every Christmas as long as I have been alive…first on tape, then CD :). It is such a classic! Not to mention it has so much nostalgia mixed in for me that it is always one of the first Christmas albums that I want to listen to at the beginning of the season. When I hear it the first time, I know Christmas has really arrived.

If you haven’t ever heard this album, you must listen to it! Classic Christmas at its finest.

 

Noelle of the Nutcracker by Pamela Jane

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I got this book one year as a child and loved it immediately, and have read it every year since and read it aloud to both of my younger sisters. I don’t know what it is about it that makes me love it so much, but I do, and it’s as much a tradition for me as anything else that my family does.

If you’re a teen or adult, you can probably read it in one sitting, which is all the more reason you should pick it up; it would also make a great gift for any younger siblings or cousins, etc. who are bookworms (or dancers!). Probably my favorite holiday book of all time!

 

The Nutcracker (American Ballet Theatre and Mikhail Baryshnikov)

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Okay…if I’m being honest, when I was a child I watched this year-round, not just at Christmas. But I’m including it here because it was such a part of my childhood and is technically Christmas-related.

It was probably the first ballet I ever saw, and could probably be credited with making me want to dance, which makes it even more special. Plus, Baryshnikov and Kirkland are such an incredible pair! There are other versions of the Nutcracker that I like just as well now, but none of them have the nostalgia of this one.

 

These three things all hold very special meaning for me, and they would also all be wonderful even without the nostalgia! I highly recommend them to all ages; they would be good for kids, teens, or adults to enjoy, or for families to enjoy together.

What are some of your most nostalgic Christmas favorites? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

Coming soon: Advent reflections from The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp (posts during the week next week since I’m on break from school!)

6 Christmas Albums I Love

Christmas music is what really makes it feel like the Christmas season for me. When I turn on that first Christmas song, it makes me so happy. At that point, the holidays have truly arrived.

I’ve been listening to Christmas music obsessively, and today I want to share some of my favorite albums with you. Hopefully this will introduce you to some artists you haven’t heard before and provide you with some new things to listen to!

(I wish I could share my actual playlist with you, which includes most of these songs and a few more in a very specific order, but I don’t have Spotify or anything so this will have to do for now.)

Noel: Josh Groban

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If you haven’t already listened to Josh Groban’s Christmas album, go do it! It’s classic and gorgeous and usually one of the first albums I listen to at the start of the season.

Two of my favorite songs:

Christmas: Michael Buble

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Here’s another album with a classic sound and gorgeous vocals that is a good way to start off the season!

That’s Christmas to Me AND A Pentatonix Christmas: Pentatonix

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Pentatonix is so talented and can sing so many different styles; all you have to do is listen “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to hear both their classical and contemporary sound.  The songs are so fun, catchy, and well-arranged!

Christmas Beyond the Lights: Sons of Serendip

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I just discovered this group, and their music is so beautiful! Some has vocals (and wow, is the vocalist great), and some is just instrumental (and wow, are the arrangements gorgeous). Calming, reflective, and beautiful.

Rose of Bethlehem: Selah

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I mentioned Selah in my November Month in Review for their hymns album. Their Christmas album is probably one of my top favorite albums in this entire list. It is perfectly balanced with classic carols and amazing original songs, reflective pieces and toe-tapping ones, and every song is gorgeous. So highly recommended!

Plus Two More Songs I Love…

So there you are! A huge list with six favorite albums of mine and my most favorite Christmas songs of the moment. I hope this gives you some new things to listen to during the Christmas season!

love, grace