Sunday Snippets – Merry Christmas

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at RAnn’s Place for Sunday Snippets where we share posts from the previous week and answer a weekly question.

Today’s question: Tell us about your family’s Christmas traditions. Our Christmas traditions begin with putting out the Advent wreath on the first Sunday of Advent and reading a prayer as we light the candle(s) every evening at dinner. Around the second or third Sunday of Advent, we travel to the local Christmas tree farm and chop down our Balsam tree and put it up near the fourth Sunday of Advent. Then we bake cookies and watch a variety of Christmas movies in the days leading up to Christmas. Sometime before Christmas, the boys pose in front of the Christmas tree (we have photos from just about every year with them posing in front of the tree). On Christmas Eve, we attend the latest Mass on Christmas Eve and, early the next morning, after singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, we open presents. Yes, even though our sons are 14 and older, we still insist they sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. The day usually ends with a huge turkey meal with family here at our house (although this year, we’ll be having a huge meal on Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day. Below is one of the posed photos of my sons from 2006.

Copyright James Hrkach (Christmas 2006)

Copyright James Hrkach (Christmas 2006)

Here are my posts from the previous week:

Manger Memories (A story about our very special manger, given to me by my late mother.)

7 Quick Takes Friday – Favorite Christmas Movie Quotes (please feel free to share your own)

Since we have relatives coming up to visit and since my husband is in a musical this Christmas, I’ll be taking the next week off, so I’d like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach

7 Quick Takes Friday – Favorite Christmas Movie Quotes

7_quick_takes_sm1Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at Jen’s Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

I’d like to share my seven favorite Christmas Movie/Special Quotes!

1. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Clarence to George: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” (This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies and this is one of the best pro-life quotes there is…) This is my all time favorite Christmas movie. Find more information about the movie here: It’s A Wonderful Life.

2. Elf (2003)
Buddy: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
Elf has become my second all-time favorite Christmas movie. Here’s Elf’s profile on IMDB.

3. A Christmas Story (1983)
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] “Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it’s zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.” Find out more about “A Christmas Story” here.

4. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)
The poor Bob Cratchit (played by Jack Cassidy) and family, singing the Lord’s Bright Blessing: “We’ll have the Lord’s bright blessing of knowing we’re together, knowing we’re together heart and hand; we’ll have the brightest Christmas, the very brightest Christmas, a Christmas far more glorier than grand.” (I loved this annual special when I was little!)

5. White Christmas (1954)
Bob singing Counting My Blessings: “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” White Christmas is one of the most popular and watched Christmas movies every year.

6. The Polar Express (2004)
The Conductor: “Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” Learn more about this beautiful Christmas movie here.

7. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Charlie Brown: Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?
Linus: “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Lights, please. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
(Also another favorite of mine from my childhood years…)
More about this special here.

What is your favorite Christmas movie quote?

Manger Memories

manger smMy late mother bought this simple, inexpensive manger back in 1971. When she decided to replace it in 1976, I asked her if I could have it. I packaged it away in my “hope chest,” for use after I got married.

Our first Christmas as a married couple in 1982, I brought the manger out of its box and we have continued to use it every year since. We have replaced the Mary figurine and one of the animals, but otherwise, it is the original set.

It’s not the most elegant nativity set and is probably not worth much more than the original 2.50 my mother spent. However, the sentimental value is…well, priceless.price tag sm

Sunday Snippets – December 15

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

It’s time again to connect with RAnn and other Catholic bloggers for Sunday Snippets where we share posts from the previous week and answer a weekly question.

Question of the week: What spiritual gift do you want for Christmas this year? I’ve had to juggle extra work, the boys’ sporting and musical events, Christmas shopping, writing deadlines etc. This Christmas, I pray for increased charity and patience.

Here are my posts:

Advent Wreath Link Up

A Beautiful Advent Story (from Catherine Doherty, foundress of Madonna House)

7 Quick Takes Friday – Volume 100 Update on my new novel, Christmas card humor, a mini review etc.

7 Quick Takes Friday – Volume 100

7_quick_takes_sm1Please join me and other Catholic bloggers at Jen’s Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

1. A Subtle Grace Update
My editor has finished working on the manuscript of A Subtle Grace and I will be implementing her suggested edits in the coming weeks. The next step will be to have my team of beta readers share their feedback. My capable proofreaders will then carefully read through the manuscript for typos. The Kindle edition will (fingers crossed) be published in January or February. Print edition will be available in the spring.A Subtle Grace front cover Nov2013

2. Advent Wreath Link-Up
If you missed my post about the Advent Wreath Link-Up, it’s not too late to add your own Advent wreath photo.Advent Wreath

3. Christmas Tree Farm
We’re heading to the Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm over the weekend to cut down our Christmas Tree.trees

4. Christmas Miracles
Another favorite book of mine that I read around this time is a book called Christmas Miracles. It’s a lovely book with heartwarming and inspiring stories. Highly recommend!

5. Crazy Love by Eileen Leamy (mini-review)
Crazy Love is a beautiful story of love and faith, joy and loss. Based on true events, Harry and Eileen were blessed to find love late in life. Harry was eventually diagnosed with cancer and their love story becomes a fervent plea to God. Uplifting, heartfelt and inspiring, I highly recommend it!! Buy it here on Amazon.Crazy Love alt green grey front

6. Reading Shelf
A.K.A Genius by Marilee Haynes (published by Pauline Books and Media)

7. Christmas Card Humor
(Last year’s original Hrkach Family Christmas card)

image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach 2012

image copyright James and Ellen Hrkach 2012

Copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach

A Beautiful Story For Advent

Donkey BellsMy latest at Catholic Mom:

One of my favorite Advent books and one that I read every year at this time is a book by Catherine Doherty called “Donkey Bells,” published by Madonna House Publications. I love to read this inspiring book curled up in a comfortable chair by the wood stove, a hot chocolate or apple cider beside me, Advent and Christmas music playing quietly in the background. This lovely book is filled with heartwarming stories, customs and traditions (such as the Advent wreath, baking, the blessing of the Christmas tree) and moving reflections for the season. It is a beautiful way for children, teens and adults to prepare their hearts for Christmas.

The following is a story from Donkey Bells: Advent and Christmas by Catherine Doherty
(Available as a paperback and e-book)

Donkey Bells (by Catherine Doherty)

It came to me, during these days of Advent, that I should share with you a custom which is not necessarily liturgical but which adds to the enjoyment of this lovely season. It has deep spiritual connotations; at least it did for our family, and for many others I knew when I was a young child.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me that if I was good during this holy season of Advent, and offered my little acts of charity and obedience throughout Advent to the little Christ Child for a gift on his birthday, then sometime during Advent, at first very faintly and then quite clearly, I would hear bells. As she put it, the first church bells.

These were the bells around the neck of the little donkey that carried Our Lady. For mother explained that Our Lady carried Our Lord. She was the temple of the Holy Spirit, the first ‘church’ as it were, since Christ reposed in her. And the donkey, carrying Our Lady and sounding his bells as he walked, wore the first church bells.

Around the second week of Advent, mother wore a little bracelet that had tinkling bells. As she moved her hand I could hear them tinkle, and I got excited because I associated them with the donkey’s bells.

As young as I was, my imagination would build up a lot of little stories about the trip of Our Lady from Nazareth to Bethlehem — stories which I would share with my mother, and which would spur me on to further good deeds and little sacrifices.

During the third week of Advent, mother’s bracelet miraculously got many more bells on it. The sound grew louder and louder as Christmas approached. It was wonderful.

My brother and I used to listen. Mother’s bells were first around her wrist and then around her knee too. Then more bells, as it got closer to Christmas. We were really excited about them.

I introduced this little custom in Madonna House. During Advent, I wear a kind of bracelet that can be heard as I walk or move, in whatever room of the house I may be. The members of our family tell me that it spurs them on, even as it did me when I was a child, to meditate more profoundly on the mystery of Advent.

Here at Madonna House, we have begun in these last few years to make a collection of miniature donkeys — of wood, glass, ceramics, rope — you name it. And we have an album of Christmas cards (which we save from the many we receive) that depict the donkey in the manger scene.

The presence of the donkey and the ox in Scripture is symbolic of the prophets who foretold the Incarnation. And also of the fact that “the ox and ass know their Master’s voice, but Israel doesn’t know the voice of God” (Isaiah 1:3). So, you see, there is some spiritual foundation for my love for the donkey which brings such great joy to my heart.

I’m sure that, as a child, Christ rode on a donkey many times. And also as a man, of course. In Scripture we know of only two times: one was when the donkey carried Our Lady, who in turn carried God, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The other was when the donkey carried Christ into Jerusalem as the people laid palm branches before Him, proclaiming him king.

Let us think for a moment: What kind of animal is a donkey? It is a beast of burden, the animal of the poor. Once again, the immense theme of poverty is illustrated in an animal. God chose the humblest, the smallest in status, because among the animals the donkey is considered very low. So God is teaching us a lesson here — a lesson of humility, of poverty, and of simplicity.

Have you ever seen a newborn donkey? Well, every donkey has a black cross on its gray fur, a marking which is especially noticeable just after it is born from its mother’s womb. It gets less clear as the donkey matures, but still is visible. I share this fact with you to teach you to open your heart to the bells of the donkey that carried Our Lady and also God.

The breath of the donkey and the ox made the stable warm. So we meditate on several things at once: the poverty and humility of the donkey God chose, and which should be our poverty and humility; and the breath of our love, which should warm God in our neighbor constantly.

Let us remember that the donkey also had no room at the inn. Neither woman, nor man, nor donkey had a place at the inn. So they went to live in a poor stable that wasn’t too well prepared for animals, let alone as a decent habitation for human beings.

Now, another meditation comes to us. Think of the millions of people who are left homeless on our streets. Tragic is this situation. We, as apostles, must be very careful that we do not exclude anyone from the inn of our heart.

I pray that our heart, our soul, our ears will hear very clearly ‘the bells of the donkey,’ not only in Advent but throughout the year. For whoever who is pure of heart and childlike shall hear the bells of the donkey ring in their life.

(Creative Commons Licence Pass It On by Madonna House Publications is free to re-publish under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.)

Tags: Advent, stories, Catherine Doherty, Christmas

Do you have a favorite Advent or Christmas story? Please feel free to share.

Advent Wreath Link-Up


Today, I’m participating in the “Advent Wreath Link-Up” over at

Our Advent wreath has been used by our family for over 20 years. My husband, James, lovingly made it when our children were small and we have continued to use it over the years. Every year, we replace the candles (although we keep the rose-colored candle for a few years) and the evergreens, which we obtain from the forest beside our home (in this case, I cut the greens during a blinding snowstorm). Advent Wreath

To see more Advent wreaths, come on over to!

Sunday Snippets – December 8

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Please join me and other Catholic bloggers over at RAnn’s Place for Sunday Snippets where we share posts from the previous week and answer a question.

This week’s question: What is your favorite title for Mary, and why? My favorite title for Mary, the Mother of God, is the Immaculate Conception, not only because December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, but because this is the way Mary introduced herself to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. Mary was immaculately conceived in her mother’s womb, without sin, and we can look to her as a holy example.

Here is my one and only post this week:

7 Quick Takes Friday – Volume 99 (a video preview of the upcoming Christmas musical my husband will be in, Yo Vikings, a mini review and an Advent cartoon, among other things.

Copyright 2013 Ellen Gable Hrkach

7 Quick Takes Friday – Volume 99

7_quick_takes_sm1Please join me and other Catholic bloggers over at Jen’s Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday.

1. Feast of St. Nicholas
Happy Feast of St. Nicholas!! Read more about St. Nicholas and traditions here.

2. Immaculate Conception (December 8th)
Sunday is the beautiful Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Since it is a Sunday, however, the Mass on Monday, December 9th will celebrate that beautiful feast day.

3. Yo Vikings – Kanata Theatre
If you’re in the Ottawa Valley and would like to see a wonderful children’s musical during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, consider coming to see “Yo Vikings.” My husband, James, plays a viking and this song is entitled “The Prayer.” It was recorded earlier this week at one of their rehearsals. (James carved and made the instrument he uses in this number.) The website for tickets is also listed at the end of the clip.

4. Snow and Blue Lights

photo copyright James Hrkach

photo copyright James Hrkach

5. Mareritt by Krisi Keley (Mini Review)
Mareritt is the first book in a new “Friar Tobe” series by talented author Krisi Keley. Private investigator Tobias (“Friar Tobe”) Berger is a former novitiate of a religious order who is hired to investigate the unexplained coma of a high school girl and the frightening incidents and continuing close calls experienced by her three friends. Interspersed throughout the contemporary story is an old-fashioned fairy tale involving another “sleeping beauty.” Tobias is now a lay person living out his Catholic faith; he must set aside his growing attraction to one of the girls to focus on finding out why the incidents are continuing to happen and if they are connected. The characters are flesh and blood multi-dimensional and it’s easy to get to know them. Not surprisingly, my favorite character is the main protagonist, Tobias. He is likeable, though imperfect and entertaining at times I didn’t expect. Krisi Keley is one of the best contemporary (and, I believe, undiscovered) novelists today. Her rich language, complex story lines and well-defined characters make the reading of any of her books a compelling, enjoyable and entertaining read. This one is no exception. At only .99, the Kindle edition of this book is a “steal,” and I highly recommend it!!

6. Reading Shelf
Ceremony of Innocence – Dorothy Cummings McLean

7. Advent Cartoon

Image copyright Full Quiver Publishing Please do not use without permission

Image copyright Full Quiver Publishing Please do not use without permission

Copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach