Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Guest review: The Twelve Blessings of Christmas, by T. J. Mills (reviewed by Valerie Phillips)

The Twelve Blessings of Christmas, by T. J. Mills; illustrated by Joy Marie Dock
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010

Guest reviewer: Valerie Phillips


Okay, I know this is trite and probably untrue, but I am Christmas’ Biggest Fan! The smell of cookies, scraping Fantasy Fudge out of the pan, Christmas carols, all the memories stored away with the Christmas ornaments, the Christmas Eve candlelight service, the store clerk who breaks out in a big smile when you wish her a “Merry Christmas” after she said, “Happy Holidays,” and on and on!

If you have read this blog for long, you know the Phillipses have lots of Christmas traditions, and we are constantly on the look-out for ways to honor Jesus more, to celebrate Him more, to turn our hearts and minds to Him more. So when Dan was offered a review copy of The Twleve Blessings of Christmas, by T.J. Mills and illustrated by Joy Marie Dock, I jumped up and down (figuratively), and said, “Oh yes, please get that!”

Published by Thomas Nelson, this hardbound 7” x 7” book, approximately 150-page book is filled with gift ideas, poems, decoration suggestions and recipes arranged around the Twelve Blessings: warmth, greetings, music, kindness, memories, faith, beauty, friends, love, giving, family, and hope.

What struck me first about this book are the heart-warming illustrations. They remind me of artwork you would see in Gooseberry Patch publications: blues, greens, golds and reds that have been washed with a brown tint, giving that antique heritage look to gingerbread boys, snowmen, a church, a nativity scene. The illustrations are delightful, and I might have bought the book just for them.


For those starting on the path of developing Christmas traditions, this book will get you going with many tried and true ideas: recipes for sugar cookies and caramel corn; gift basket ideas; pomander ornaments (you know, those oranges you stuck with cloves as a kid); providing transportation for the elderly; a birthday cake for Jesus — and more.

Throughout the book, the author shares her poems and musings on the Twelve Blessings. And this is where the book loses me. “Glory to God – And let peace guide the way to the love and celebration of a joyous Christmas day.” What does Ms. Mills mean? How can peace lead the way? Rather, Let God’s promise fulfilled of a Savior guide the way. . . or Let the peace that comes through Jesus’ sacrifice lead the way. . . .

Another: “. . .activities that reflect the spirit of our deep faith in this celebration of God’s love for us.” Do we have deep faith in the celebration, or in God’s love?

Or how about “Let the peace and tranquility of this holy night, be an everlasting source of inner light”; or “As you celebrate the birth of Jesus, celebrate the blessing of your own life and lives of your loved one.”

While there are many sweet, sentimental writings, these examples from the book elicit cringes from me. I’m all for the sentimental, heart-warming, sweet family times of Christmas. But anything that blurs the beginnings of the Gospel message troubles me. Maybe it is because of those times where at Christmas pageants the pastor won’t give a clear Gospel message; or the office Christmas parties becoming Holiday parties; or the “Jesus is what I do for health and wealth and to feel good about myself” that permeates so many pulpits and Christians. I’m bothered whenever the Christmas and Gospel message are toned down.


Should you buy The Twleve Blessings of Christmas? It is a lovely book intended for gift giving, featuring a to/from page in the front. It might be worth it just for the illustrations. You might appreciate it as a beginning book on Christmas traditions, activities, recipes. Maybe you shake your head and wonder why I cringe over the sort of writing I mentioned previously. In that case buy, enjoy, give.

And if you are our way during December, drop us a line. There’s usually cookies and coffee and tea, a warm welcome, a messy house — and LOTS of cat fur!

27 comments:

Becky, slave of Christ said...

Yay! Nice to hear from Mrs. Phillips! This is a great review, Valerie; thanks for employing you discerning eye that recognizes excellent artwork and your discerning mind that recognizes problematic language for our benefit. I love the final invitation as well. Clearly that ubiquitous cat fur is everywhere...even in CA. >^..^<

Merrilee Stevenson said...

How lovely to hear from the dear Mrs. Phillips! Your book review is appreciated. I agree that it's so important to consider whether the message is clearly what you would say yourself--especially regarding the gospel. Christmas has long been cluttered with fluff that often doesn't cut it. I suppose in moderation, like sugar cookies, they might not do too much harm, if countered with a healthy diet.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

How lovely to hear from the dear Mrs. Phillips! Your book review is appreciated. I agree that it's so important to consider whether the message is clearly what you would say yourself--especially regarding the gospel. Christmas has long been cluttered with fluff that often doesn't cut it. I suppose in moderation, like sugar cookies, they might not do too much harm, if countered with a healthy diet.

Rita Martinez said...

thank you for this review Mrs. Phillips, like you I have got to be the biggest Christmas fan! it is my favorite time of year and I just smile at the thought of it :D and now more so than ever after the Lord saved me and I can truly celebrate it for what it means.
I completely understand what you mean I cringe at things like that as well but I think we can hold fast what is good about it :)
I'm definitely getting this book since Lord willing by next year I will be starting my own Christmas traditions with future husband :D

God bless you and hope to see more reviews and post by you this Christmas time :D and recipes! :P if its alright with Mr. Phillips.

Robert said...

Thank you for the review...it was quite bittersweet for me. I started off reading it and thought, "Wow! My wife would love this for her birthday (in a couple of weeks)." Then I read the rest of the review and thought, "How sad that it had to be ruined by being sold out into the ooey-gooey feelings about ourselves that the world makes Christmas out to be."

Christmas should be all about Jesus and celebrating Him coming to earth in all humility to live a perfect life and provide an atoning death for our sins. How often do people who take up the name of Christ do Him and the people around them a disservice by bringing the focus off of Him and onto us?

Thank you for being thorough and honest enough to review this book properly. Now I have to decide if it is worth buying it to glean what is good from it. I have a feeling I might just stick to our current traditions and leave that one on the bookstore shelf.

Rachael Starke said...

Me too with the "Yay for the Lady Phillips post!"

Can I ask a question about the title? Does it, or the list of blessings, come from some long-ago tradition or something, like the twelve days of Christmas? If not, what was the rationale for deciding that these are the big twelve?

Maybe I'm thinking too hard about this too? The whole "what can I give the neighbors for Christmas that's gospelly but neither pompous nor cheesy" is certainly a huge minefield. But the verbiage you call out makes this book seem crafted to completely strip Christmas of all of its true significance, to make it "safe" to give unbelieving coworkers or neighbors.

Just my (less gently and charitably offered) two cents...

DJP said...

Valerie's response:

I don't recall that the author explains the why of twelve blessings. I'll double check when I get home.

There are some waffly sentences and poems, but the Christmas story from Luke is in the book. She does make mention of doing things because of our faith, like helping the elderly. I probably would give something more frontal, but Christ's nativity is certainly there.

candy said...

Thanks for the review Valerie. I enjoy good illustrations in a book and have bought children's books for the pictures. I love Christmas too. We have an open house should you choose to travel over the mountains to see actual snow. We have coffee, cookies, other treats, and a very small place...with just a bit of cat fur.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Hurray! A "sighting" of the elusive Mrs. Phillips :D

I too LOVE Christmas, and enjoy many of the traditions that go beyond the true essence of Christmas. Yet... how disappointing that they put in such ambiguous sentiments.

Yes, the lives of my loved ones are a blessing to me, but that's not what I'm celebrating at Christmas, yah?

Thanks for the review.

And Dan... Messiah rehearsals are in full swing...

Julie

Kim K. said...

Too bad about the squishy sentiments. Aside from that, I don't usually pick up books about traditions. We have developed lots of traditions over the years (for some reason 90% involve food - LOL!)but in the past I've felt depressed at times because there seems to be so much pressure to "do" Christmas right. Traditions are wonderful, but when they start taking center stage I want to rebel. (Steps off soapbox now.)

Nice to read Mrs. Phillips. I hope Dan gives you more opportunities.

GrammaMack said...

Thank you for the review, Mrs. Phillips. This will no doubt be an extra special Christmas with your first grandchild!

Cathy M. said...

I'm considering selling all the Christmas stuff in a yard sale and booking a cruise. Thanks for the review though.

Susan said...

You know, Valerie, if Dan did not specify that it's a guest review from you, he could have passed it off as his own! (A gentler, kinder version, perhaps?) ;)

Thank you for the balanced review and the kind invitation. What a wonderful thing it is to ponder about Christmas now...when America's focus is on a certain day singled out for demonic glorification....

DJP said...

That review is all Valerie. I just loved it, thought it was absolutely terrific, passed it to y'all with joy and gladness, knew you all would love it too.

DJP said...

BTW, good news: God willing, there's more to come!

Herding Grasshoppers said...

I'll be watching for more from Valerie.

@Cathy, so you've read "Skipping Christmas"? ;D

Toyin O. said...

Sounds like a great book; will have to check it out.

http://youcanfacetodaybecausehelives.blogspot.com

Halcyon said...

A Christmas review before Thanksgiving? Before even Halloween?

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

candy said...

Susan, you said: when America's focus is on a certain day singled out for demonic glorification....

did you mean election day? :P

DJP said...

Dear wife speaks again:

Rachael, the book doesn't explain why Twelve Blessings.

Also, I know, I know, Christmas before Reformation Day! It is taboo in the Phillips' household. Decorations go up, music is played the day AFTER Thanksgiving and stay up until Epiphany. But I wanted to be considerate to the publisher and get the review done soon after we received the book.

The best thing I ever wrote, was actually written by Dan. I wanted to respond to a newspaper article about abortion being a women's issue. It so angered me that it is considered a women's issue to kill their offspring, but I didn't have time to write. I told Dan want I wanted to say and he wrote a magnificent article from a women's viewpoint!

— Valerie

[That was some of the funnest writing I've done. "As a woman, I am particularly offended...." --DJP]

Rachael Starke said...

*snickering at the mental picture of Dan getting in touch with his feminine side...*

Susan said...

Um, no, Candy, that wasn't exactly the day I had in mind.... ;)

Susan said...

And Valerie, reading your response to Rachael makes me realize that my idea of a "switcheroo" article wasn't so far-fetched at all. I just didn't expect the switch to go the other way!! (Dan, just how does it feel to be a woman for one article?) :)

Halcyon said...

Mrs. Phillips:

You get bonus points for mentioning Reformation Day and Epiphany. 8^D

Becky, slave of Christ said...

This didn't seem out of place at all. My daughter listens to Christmas music all year and has Christmas in July parties!

candy said...

I can't wait to get out The Messiah, The Chieftains Bells of Dublin, and Sufyan Stevens Christmas music (that my daughter gave me).

I love Christmas decorations, and candlelight Christmas Eve dinner with family.

Susan said...

I listened to The Messiah all the time whenever I felt like it, Christmas or not...well, that was before my iPod broke. :(