A few years ago I found a beautiful Christmas tapestry. I love tapestry, but what caught my eye the most was that it made “NOEL” into an acronym for “Night of Everlasting Love.” This wonderful idea is the jumping point for this year’s new Christmas unit, fresh out of my thinking cap. Merry Christmas and Happy Homeschooling!
The First Noel
Sing “The First Noel” (Hymn 213 in the LDS Hymnbook, also found in most books of Christmas carols.)
Discuss the word noel. It has two meanings: a) Christmas; b) a Christmas carol. There is argument as to the word’s etymology. The French say “Merry Christmas” by saying “Joyeux Noel,” so it would appear the word is French. While the Norman invasion of Anglo-Saxon Britain did greatly influence the language, you may still find the word spelled Nowell, which is the original English spelling, and there is more evidence suggesting the song’s origins are English. According to one source, this traditional spelling is due to the English supposing it a contraction of the phrase the angels spoke to calm the shepherds: “Now all is well.” That gives the word a magnificent new meaning and true connotations of good tidings! Either way, the word derives from the Latinnatalis, meaning birthday or natal.
If you have several books of Christmas carols, a comparison might reveal that there are more verses to this song than included in the LDS Hymnbook. At church, we sing only 2 verses, while the original text had 9 stanzas; most sourcebooks still only quote 6 or 7 of them at most. No one knows who penned these words. They were first published in a collection of Some Ancient Christmas Carols in 1823 by David Gilbert, the music a traditional thirteenth or fourteenth century folk tune from the west of England. Research and the carol in its entirety point to it being written by an unlearned person. The awkwardness of some of the lines as well as it not being completely scripturally accurate, point to a medieval author, who obviously wouldn’t have had access to the Bible, nor would he/she have been able to read it if they had. Still, faith and joyous enthusiasm created one of time’s most beloved songs. The entire text can be found here: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/f/r/frstnoel.htm (A discussion may follow here about folklore, oral traditions, literacy, and what one can do with faith.)
Read Luke 2:8-20 and compare the carol’s lyrics to the scriptural account. You may note that in the song we sing of the shepherds seeing the Christmas star, whereas there is no mention of the star in relation to the shepherds in the scriptures. Angels made Christ’s birth known unto the shepherds, and spoke of a different sign for them in Luke 2:12. What sign did they have?
The rest of the words of “The First Noel” speak much of the wise men. Read Matthew 2:1-12. The star was a sign to them. Read and compare Genesis 1:14-16, Moses 2:14-16, and Abraham 4:14-16. Discuss stars as signs.
Read Helaman 14:2, 3 Nephi 1:1-21, and/or A Night Without Darkness – A Nephite Christmas Story by Timothy Robinson. Look up signs in the Topical Guide. When and why does God give us signs?
You may also want to include Abraham 3 and discuss astronomy and its usefulness.
Continue discussing stars. Find out all about them. You can simply read up on the science or assign research papers or posters or projects.
Plan a Star Night: make star-shaped sugar cookies and lots of cocoa and choose a clear night to bundle up and go outside to contemplate the stars together. Share this quote from Neal A. Maxwell:
“The new star [of Bethlehem] would have had to be placed in its precise orbit long, long before it shone so precisely! By reflecting such careful divine design, it underscored what the Lord has said: ‘All things must come to pass in their time’ (D&C 64:32). His planning and precision pertain not only to astrophysical orbits but to human orbits as well. This is a stunning thing for us to contemplate in all seasons! . . . There is a personalized plan for each of us. Like the Christmas star, each of us, if faithful, has an ordained orbit, and priesthood path, as we pass through this second estate.” (The Christmas Scene, booklet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994] 2-3 or This is the Season Beloved of the Year [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2002] 5)
You may also want to watch Elder Maxwell’s talk from the Hubble Telescope on the Special Witnesses of ChristDVD, and/or read his CES address titled “Our Creator’s Cosmos.”
When we think of stars, we often think of just the 5-pointed star or pentagram. However, there is also the Star of David to consider, as well as the “fancy” star with a circular or square center and 4 triangular rays extending from the compass points, and even star “burst” shapes. Provide tangrams for your children to experiment with making the different star shapes.
Pentagram: 1 pentagon, 5 equal isosceles triangles; triangle bases the same length as the sides of the pentagon
Star of David: 2 equilateral triangles of the same size; also try 1 hexagon and 6 small equilateral triangles
Compass Point Star: 1 small circle or square, 4 longer, skinny isosceles triangles
To see other possible star shapes go here: http://www.northpolechristmas.com/starshape.html
Other possible star activities include:
*Make 5-pointed stars with glittery pipe cleaner by bending at the proper length and proportion.
*Cut 5-pointed stars like you would snowflakes. Instructions can be found here: http://www.dltk-kids.com/usa/fold_and_cut_star_shape.htm
*Learn about symmetry. Fold a piece of paper in half, then unfold, and using tempera paint half a star on one side, from the center fold out. Fold over, stamp the blank side, unfold and let dry.
*Teach little ones how to draw a 5-pointed star.
You may also wish to research and discuss the symbolism of these shapes.
Night of Everlasting Love
Introduce acronyms. They’re all around us. What common ones do you and your children know?
Learn the song “C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S,” found in the Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook or athttp://kokomo.ca/xmas/christmas_lyrics.htm . Have the children make their own picture cue cards for learning and remembering. Give each child 9 pieces of paper, one for each letter. Have them make a large “C” on the first one, drawing a picture of the Christ child next to it. Continue for each letter.
Talk about NOEL being an acronym for “Night of Everlasting Love.” Discuss what that means and why it’s appropriate.
Using familiar words have everyone make acronyms of their own. Introduce acrostic poems. Begin with one word per letter, then increase the difficulty and see if phrases can be made; then try to make lines that rhyme. Be sure to do an acrostic for star.
The star was in the east. The wise men came from the east. Now is a good time to talk about the four cardinal directions. Include the mnemonic acrostic Never Eat Soggy Waffles to help your children remember which way is which. Make up a map activity in which children look for places that are east of other places.
Songs and Stories
I’m sure you can think of additional songs and stories to accompany these few ideas, especially if you delve into the additional verses of “The First Noel.” More could be done with shepherds and wise men. Other song suggestions would be “Stars Were Gleaming” from the LDS Primary Songbook, and the traditional “We Three Kings.” And even though we’re not sure the shepherds were aware of the new star, I recommend reading the tender story, “Anniversary” by Margaret E. Sangster, which can be found here: http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=hearth;rgn=full text;idno=6417403_1405_006;view=image;seq=36 (follow the page skips), or as a booklet under the title “The Little Shepherd” with a forward by Don Black.
As always, personalize the lessons for your family. If you have additional ideas or suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I pray we all learn a little more and get a little closer to the Savior this Christmas season.
Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins
A Christmas Celebration in Song and Story by Al Remson
Come Let Us Adore Him – Stories Behind the Most Cherished Christmas Hymns by Robert J. Morgan
Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook
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