Merry Christmas from Spoken Bride

As we join our families and loved ones on this Christmas Day, we receive the gift of most Holy Family; the most perfect mother, the most chaste spouse, and the most obedient child.

PHOTOGRAPHY:    An Endless Pursuit

PHOTOGRAPHY: An Endless Pursuit

“Only through family does life escape exhaustion and weariness by discovering its duality to be trinity, by seeing its love continually reborn and re-known, by having its mutual self-giving transformed into receiving. Love thus defeats death, as it defeats exhaustion. It achieves a kind of immortality as self-renewal becomes self-preservation.

The family is human society; mutual self-giving, which ends in self-perfection.” - Three to Get Married

May the Nativity of Christ fill your hearts with a fulfillment of joy and a light to guide your path through the coming year. Know of the blessing you are to this community and of our prayers for you and yours.

Why a Christmas Octave Wedding is a Beautiful and Unique Choice + How to Plan One

MARIAH MAZA

 

On December 30, 2017, I entered into a mystery, the sacrament of holy matrimony, with my high school sweetheart and love of my life--only five days after Christmas and one before New Year’s Eve!

I never thought I would get married during the Octave of Christmas, the period of eight days after the second highest solemnity of the Church: the Nativity of our Lord.  

In fact, the end of December was far from my first choice. I had begun blissfully imagining a spring or summer wedding, since winter was my least favorite season. Unfortunately, my college schedule and that of my fiancé, who went to school two hours away, made it one of the few available weekends. So I reluctantly agreed. Our engagement was already going to be 18 months long, and after seven years of dating I couldn’t wait any longer to finally be married.

At first, I was afraid that a “Christmas” wedding would feel like one more holiday event for my family members to drag themselves to after the exhausting celebrations at the beginning of the same week. My wedding, the happiest day of my life, was about to be sandwiched uncomfortably between Christmas and New Years.

Fortunately, I was very wrong! And as my nuptials loomed closer and the planning progressed, the more excited I became about my winter wedding. In his generosity, almost like a divine wedding present, the Lord surprised me with a gift I didn’t even know I wanted.

So if you are still trying to settle on a date for your big day, and the Christmas season is one of your only possibilities, here are five reasons a Christmas wedding is a beautiful option:

The holiday cheer and festivity.

This one element of the season, which I thought would most distract myself and everyone else from the actual wedding, was ultimately one of the best parts of getting married right after Christmas. As I opened presents, feasted, and spent amazing quality time with my family and soon-to-be in-laws, the excitement of my wedding coming only a few days later heightened the Christmas joy to a level I had never felt before. I celebrated knowing our families would soon be united forever by my marriage, and that thrilled me.

I drifted from the celebration of the Incarnation, Jesus Christ made flesh, to the celebration of another kind of incarnation: my husband and I made one flesh.

Advent.

The liturgical season leading up to Christmas is a time of preparation and joyful anticipation. What better way to spend the last weeks before your wedding than in a spirit of stillness and anticipation with the whole Church?

When wedding planning gets stressful and chaotic, take this time of Advent with your fiancé for extra spiritual preparation and intentional silence. This prayer time and reflection will benefit you greatly the day after the wedding is over, and the lifelong marriage covenant begins.

The church is already decorated.

Who doesn’t love to save money? Decorations are a major part of wedding planning that can easily cost thousands of dollars, especially between beautifying a church and a reception venue. When you choose a church, keep in mind that during the Octave of Christmas, a lot of flowers, lights, and trees (and possibly a beautiful Nativity scene) will still be up for Christmastide. Besides Eastertide, this is one of the weeks the inside of a church is most beautiful.

If you are beginning to plan more than a year before your wedding, go check out how the local Catholic churches are decorated for Christmas. You may not only save on flowers, but someone else will have done the work of decorating days before your wedding! Scratch that off the list.

Christmas music!

There is something about Christmas music that is both incredibly special and nostalgic. Most people have at least one or two Christmas hymns that they look forward to singing and hearing every year. If you are planning your liturgy during the Octave of Christmas, you may have the unique opportunity to choose favorite Christmas hymns for the nuptial Mass.

What would it be like to hear a rendition of “What Child is This” played after communion? Or “Joy to the World” as the recessional song, as you walk out of the church as husband and wife for the first time? Some other ideas could be “O Holy Night,” “The First Noel,” or “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Check with your pastor or musicians to find out what kind of music is allowed or possible.

Winter and Christmas color schemes.

I admit my first choice for wedding colors was something more pastel and softly pretty that would go with the feeling of a spring wedding. But when I set my date for five days after Christmas, I felt like a spring color scheme would feel very out of place in a season of red and green.

I decided to do some research into deeper, more wintry color combinations, just for fun.

Think deep maroons, wine reds, emerald greens, dark navy blues, rustic browns, off whites, and silver and gold accents.

These colors together, in the right shades, were strikingly beautiful in a solemn and elegant way.

We decided on wine red, emerald green, navy blue, rustic brown, and gold accents. For a girl who prefers silver over gold in almost everything, I was surprised how much I loved the look of the glittering gold pieces in my decorations and wedding ensemble.

It is true, there are some drawbacks to planning a wedding during the Octave of Christmas: some guests may have been traveling, for instance, or maybe you live in a state where the end of December and early January is unbelievably cold, and a wedding during this time would mean being buried under feet of snow.

And yet, I have no regrets about my December nuptials. Looking back, I would not want to get married any other time of the year. Almost everyone we invited was able to attend, and nobody froze to death at the reception.

The day after our wedding was the Feast of the Holy Family, an extremely fitting celebration. On this day, my husband and I celebrated the miraculous creation of our new, little holy family for the first time.

Two days after our wedding, we started the new year as newlyweds. It was powerfully symbolic of the end of the first chapter of of our lives and the start of our vocation together.

Even if it never occurred to you before, consider the Christmas season for your I dos. I pray that as you discern the date for your wedding, you’ll be filled with the joy and peace that God loves to grant his children--should we seek it--every day of the year.  

Are you planning a December or January celebration? Find more inspiration here:

Winter Weddings | Holiday Weddings


About the Author: Mariah Maza is Spoken Bride’s Features Editor. She is the co-founder of Joans in the Desert, a blog for bookish military wives. Read more

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Christina + Kristian | Austin Christmas Wedding

As our Associate Editor Christina Jaloway and her husband Kristian celebrate their first anniversary this Christmas season, we're overjoyed to share their wedding day with you!

Revisit Christina and Kristians' testimony and proposal here, then read on for the story of their Christmas season wedding, with beautifully rustic seasonal touches.

Christina and Kristian had a whirlwind courtship that began when Christina's mom met Kristian after Mass on January 31, 2016 and "introduced" them to each other via Facebook. A week later, Kristian flew from Austin, TX (Christina's hometown) to Phoenix, AZ (where Christina was living at the time) to take her on their first date. From almost the beginning of their relationship, both Christina and Kristian had the sense that the other was "the one", but they both felt the need to be prudent. When you're 32 and 40, prudence looks like waiting a few months before deciding to live in the same city and seriously discern marriage. Christina moved back home to Texas in May, Kristian proposed in July, and the couple were married on December 29, 2016--less than a year after they first met.

In Christina’s words: Our nuptial Mass was heavenly. From the moment I heard the preludes begin, I had total peace about entering into the sacrament of marriage with Kristian. As I walked down the aisle to "O Come All Ye Faithful," I had to hold back my tears; I was surrounded by family and friends who had loved and supported Kristian and me throughout our lives. My dad and I tried to keep our pace on the slow side so that I could take it all in, and I did. Kristian was beaming at me as my dad handed me off, and it locking eyes with him at that moment was surreal, to say the least.

I thought my joy was full at that point, but the Lord seemed to expand my heart as the Mass progressed: through the readings (read by our dads), which we had so carefully chosen, the beautiful music, and the gorgeous neo-Byzantine chapel with Christ the Teacher gazing down on us from above. By the time we got to the vows, I was overflowing with the deepest joy and gratitude I'd ever known. I'll never forget pledging my love for Kristian while holding the crucifix, and hearing him do the same for me. I'll cherish the memory of bringing flowers in honor of the Blessed Mother to the Nativity Scene and chanting the Salve Regina with what sounded like the entire congregation joining in.

Before we processed out of the chapel, Kristian and I paused and faced our friends and family as we sang "O God Beyond All Praising" with overflowing hearts. I could hardly believe that after so many years of praying and hoping and crying and waiting that I was finally united to the man who would help me get to heaven. My tears began to flow, but they were the most joyful tears of my life.

Later, at the reception, one of my aunts, who works at a Catholic church and has coordinated many wedding Masses, told me I was the happiest bride she'd ever seen. To which I replied, "How could I not be?" It took many years of single life for the Lord to bring Kristian and me together, but I can confidently say now that it was entirely worth the wait, and that the wait made that day so much sweeter and more profoundly beautiful than either of us could have imagined. I have to give major credit to our photographer for capturing the joy of the day so well: thank you, Leah!

In terms of the look of the wedding, I took advantage of the fact that we got married during the Octave of Christmas, which also happens to be my favorite time of the year, especially in Texas. Instead of picking one or two colors, I just went with rich jewel tones and gold accents, and let my bridesmaids (who are all family) pick their own dresses. The fact that they all ended up wearing long dresses in some iteration of navy was their doing entirely; I knew I didn’t have to worry about what the girls would pick as they all have excellent taste.  

Gretchen O’Neil and her team at Petals, ink. did a fantastic job on the florals: my bridesmaids and flower girls wore flower crowns (because...why not?) and I carried the most delicious-smelling bouquet of gardenia, ranunculus, roses, and winter greenery, wrapped with a beautiful white rosary that my sister Elisa bought for me. I also carried my deceased grandmother Flora's prayer book with me down the aisle, which all of my aunts and married cousins have also done. At the reception, I wore a wreath (also made by Gretchen) which was the perfect accent to my tulle ball gown and made me feel like queen-for-the-day.

Our beautiful and delicious cakes were designed by my brother Sean and his artistic team of bakers and decorators at Sweet Treets Bakery. The bride’s cake had three different flavors (my favorite was the almond) and was decorated in the “nearly naked” style that I prefer since I’m not a big icing person. Gretchen and Sean worked together to make the cake even more beautiful with florals and greenery. The groom's cake (a tradition in Texas) is a nod to two of Kristian's great loves (flying and the mountains), three of the places where he's lived/gone to school, and the fact that he reminds me of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, whose famous saying was "Verso l'alto!" or, "To the heights!"

Our invitations, seating chart, programs, and table numbers were all designed as a gift by one of my former students, Jenny, who is a talented graphic designer. She spent hours working on everything so that it would all look cohesive and beautiful, and I can't thank her enough.

The wedding favors (which I don't have a full photo of) were small Rose Harrington Art Prints of one of my favorite St. Augustine quotes, "Love is the beauty of the soul." I can't recommend her beautiful work highly enough!

Although the farm-to-table food at Barr Mansion was insanely good, my two favorite parts of the reception were by far the dancing and the toasts. My family loves to dance and our wedding reception was no exception (see photographic evidence below). Kristian and I took dance lessons for a few months before the wedding so that we could do a polished waltz to "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by Lady Antebellum. It was so much fun and a great bonding experience for both of us. The toasts, especially the Holy Spirit-inspired one given by my sister Elisa were eloquent reminders of how blessed Kristian and I are to have such incredible families.

Speaking of families: there were a lot of them at our wedding. We had over 50 children under ten in attendance, and made sure they (and their parents) had a great time by providing coloring books, supervision during dinner--courtesy of my obliging college-age cousins--lots of outdoor space, and plenty of room on the dance floor. I loved seeing my nieces playing with my friends’ kids and watching my supermom friends dance with their babies in tow. The number of children at the wedding and reception was a reminder to everyone present that one of the two purposes of marriage is the procreation of children; plus, kids make dance floors more fun!

As Kristian and I got into our getaway car and headed to our honeymoon suite at a little B&B, I had one of the lines from "O God Beyond All Praising" stuck in my head: "blessings without number, mercies without end."

From the Groom: I have never experienced such a fast Mass as at our wedding; it literally seemed to fly by. Maybe part of it was the long wait to get to that day, or maybe it was just that Christina prepared the Mass with so much attention to detail, but it seemed like everything was in fast forward. Well, everything except for the twenty-one petitions Christina wrote for the prayers of the faithful.

We got to the vows in no time. My heart was bursting with joy the entire Mass. My friends knew how long my discernment had been, and how close to the priesthood I got, but I must say that not even serving at the Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica could compare to this Mass. At the end of this Mass, I would be united to the most amazing woman in the entire world for the rest of my life.

A priest buddy of mine says discernment is where your will and God’s will meet. For me, that happened when I met Christina Grace. There we were, less than a year after our first meeting, standing before the Church, with several priest friends, with our parents and siblings and buddies and everybody else--all knowing full well what was going to happen that night--saying with their presence that this is good. God is good and he loves us so much, and we could feel it as he looked down from heaven and from the altar upon us, his little children. He continues to look down from the crucifix that hangs on the wall as I write this, with Christina snuggled up next to me on the couch. God’s will is mysterious, because she is a woman (dolcemente complicata or "sweetly complicated" as the Italians say), but it is so beautiful.

Advice from Christina: I don't think Kristian and I would have had such a blessed wedding day had we not prepared so much for our marriage through prayer, reading, tough conversations, and counseling--but especially prayer. During our engagement, we prayed every night, out loud, and extemporaneously. I think it makes a big difference in your relationship with Christ and with each other if you speak to the Lord together without the comfort of memorized prayers (those have their place, of course).

The fruit of this kind of prayer became clear to me at our pre-rehearsal Holy Hour: all I could pray the entire time was, "thank you, Jesus." Because despite the stress of engagement and wedding planning, I had complete peace about marrying Kristian. Kristian and I also met before the Mass in the confessional (so we wouldn't see each other) and prayed together, which I highly recommend. Prayer is the foundation of the spiritual life, and praying with your fiancé or spouse builds intimacy in a way that nothing else does.

Photographer: Leah Muse Photography  | Church: St. Louis King of France Catholic Church  | Reception & Catering: Barr Mansion | Flowers: Petals, ink.  | Dress: Second Summer Bride | Cakes: Sweet Treets  | Lighting: Ilios Lighting Design  | Alcohol: Trader Joe's  | Bridal party hair: Blo Blow Dry Bar| Programs and seating chart: Designed by a friend, printed by Miller Printing  | Invitations and table numbers: Designed by a friend, printed by Paper Place | Wedding Favors: HatchPrints | Band: Jumpstart

Five Distinctively Catholic Ways to Celebrate Christmas as a Couple

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

The season of Advent is rich with rituals and traditions: prayers like the O Antiphons and St. Andrew Christmas Novena; Advent wreaths; nativities; Lessons and Carols; the feasts of St. Nicolas, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Lucia. Each of these point us to our Bethlehem, stretching us in desire and anticipation for the Father’s most generous gift to us: his own, beloved son.

But what about the Christmas season? Suddenly, after four weeks of preparation and deeper silence, you’ve arrived at the humble stable where our Savior was born, perhaps with a sense that there’s less time or opportunity to celebrate liturgically. It’s true the Christmas season might bring with it different social obligations than the days prior--matters like travel and extended visits with family and friends--yet it’s still possible to truly enter into Jesus’ birth by creating new spiritual traditions of your own. Here, five suggestions for continuing to cultivate prayer, reverence, and wonder with your fiancé or husband after the fourth purple candle is lit:

Go to Mass, as a couple, as often as possible.

If the two of you have time off from work or school, take advantage of daily Mass. At Christmas, the reality of the Incarnation--of our salvation come down to us in the flesh--rings out. Meditating on the living Jesus in the Eucharist, in light of his coming to us as a tiny child, is profoundly beautiful. May we receive him, may we come to adore him, in full. Even if you’re staying with faraway family or friends as guests or have a packed social calendar, carving out an hour to attend Mass together, maybe with time for a quick coffee date after, is a relatively small investment of your time that pays dividends in graces received.

Host a Christmas morning party…

...in the middle of the night. If you’re attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, invite friends from your parish or community to celebrate with you after. It can be as simple as a potluck, caroling and games or as involved as a more formal, elaborate meal. One of my fondest memories of growing up is the block party my parents and neighbors would hold each year on the night of Christmas Eve, chatting in the street around a fire pit while sharing Christmas cookies, wine, and simple hors d'oeuvres.

Delve into the gift of self.

St. John Paul II wrote, “The human body includes right from the beginning…the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift – and by means of this gift – fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.” If you’ve never taken in this great saint’s Theology of the Body, a series of weekly audiences intended to illuminate our identities as man and woman within the Father’s divine plan for creation and salvation, the Christmas season is the perfect time for an introduction. The Theology of the Body explains the ancient, constant truth of God’s immense love of lavishing gifts on us, his created and embodied children--made out of love, for love, in his own image--in the language of spousal imagery and the hope of our resurrection and eternal life. After all, it’s through the body that Christ is born to the world; through the body that he lays down his life; through the body that we receive his real presence still, the source and summit of our faith.

Create a ritual to celebrate the Christmas Octave.

The Octave of Christmas, as its name suggests, is the first eight days of the season, beginning on Christmas Day and concluding with the Nativity of the Lord. Liturgically, each day of the octave is celebrated as a solemnity, as if each day is equal in magnitude and joy as December 25.

To acknowledge and feast in these eight days, consider employing a special ritual with your beloved for each day or night of the Octave. You might exchange daily love letters or prayer intentions, Mass or Adoration, and enjoying a treat together--samplers of coffee, spirits, or chocolate are widely available, at every price point, around this time of year.

Anticipate Epiphany.

It’s a great gift to us that seasons within the Church are so distinctive, with particular practices for all her various feasts and celebrations. As the Feast of the Epiphany, the conclusion of the Christmas season approaches, take time to consider ways you might celebrate as a couple, such as King Cake or the Chalking of the Doors.

The first year we were married, my husband and I drove four hours to stay our families for the holidays, the trunk of our shared car packed with half-ready gifts. We stayed up long past midnight on Christmas Eve, drinking coffee and wrapping presents. He hoped, he told me, that every Christmas to come would be marked with a similar giddiness borne of anticipation, exhaustion, and a shared life. My heart beats faster when I stop to recognize that in the years since, that’s been more than true.

We love walking with you in your vocation and your own pilgrimage to the Christ Child, and would love to hear the Christmas rituals you’re developing in your own relationship and home!


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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It's Okay Not to Have a Picture-Perfect Valentine's Day.

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

From food to emotion to personal interactions, our culture prizes authenticity, even in instances like social media when that same culture places the authentic just out of reach. Yet authenticity does carry real weight when it comes to truth and self-knowledge. Knowing yourself is a way of understanding truth: the more you come to know God, the more he, the source of all truth, reveals you to yourself.

My husband and I have our differences when it comes to special occasions. Until recently, I’d find myself scrambling around at this time of year, trying to think of a creative gift and out-of-the-ordinary date to share with my husband, wanting to share with him something original that I myself would enjoy receiving. That I would enjoy.

In my eagerness, I tended to ignore or forget the fact that my husband simply isn't interested in many bells and whistles. He is quick to communicate his appreciation when I give him a present or propose a different way to spend our time, but I’ve ultimately come to realize those aren’t as meaningful gestures to him as others. Gift-giving is not my husband’s love language, and he is true-blue to his favorite hobbies.

What’s more, even without the threat of a single Instagram post in sight, he sometimes struggles to feel at ease with things that, on the surface, seem more like something fun a couple should do, rather than what they actually want to do. I admit that I used to perceive this as disagreeable, a sentiment purely for the sake of making a statement against the falseness that can accompany social media.  

In reality, the only statement my husband expresses in these preferences is who he is. And who he is is someone I have chosen, someone who fascinates me and about whom I still love learning something new. With time, I have found more and more contentment in our different viewpoints about Valentine’s Day and other celebrations, because joy is a fruit of putting another before yourself.

We have grown in self-knowledge, and from that knowledge flows peace. As a spouse, I’ve grown increasingly aware that the best gestures are the ones that feel most authentically us. It’s my responsibility to honor and fulfill my husband’s preferences when it comes to holidays and celebrations, just as it’s his responsibility to do the same for me. We are specific. We are known. We are loved.

It's an ongoing refinement, and I still struggle. Gift giving is one of my love languages, for instance, and as young parents I truly love the rare opportunities we get to vary our routine with a date night that’s not at home. But now it actually makes me happy not giving my husband extravagant gifts or planning elaborate nights out, choosing to do extra chores around the house and carve out time to spend together instead. In turn, he finds happiness in the occasions where we do go out for something fancier, knowing that I enjoy it.

The more I know and love my husband, the more I know myself.  Our lives are so shared that it doesn't feel possible to know one of us better without knowing the other. I am blessed by a man so intentional and discerning in his choices, and so comfortable and un-self-conscious in them, because that’s who he is. Like in the fact that for one anniversary, we got burritos from Baja Fresh and then stayed home for the night. My husband wrote a beautiful poem that made me cry. I love his quiet creativity and I loved the entire day. There are certainly times I wish we took advantage of more photo ops for our future selves, or that we documented some of the recipes we've tried or places we've gone. But on the whole, this is our life and these are our celebrations, and they feel peaceful and perfectly suited to us because they’ve brought us into deeper knowledge of each other.

And that’s the point. It’s not about whether it’s more praiseworthy to share a quiet Valentine’s date at home or a more photogenic evening out. The best Valentine’s Day for you and your beloved is the one best suited to your particular personalities and love languages. It’s about about how special occasions--and what they look like for each person’s heart--are telling. Revelations. You are specific. You are known. You are loved.


 

About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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Editors' Picks | Vol. 4: Our Christmas Gift Guide

At Spoken Bride, we love a good book, a good meal, a standout statement necklace, a heel you can dance in, and the list goes on. And when we make those discoveries, we want to tell everyone. So every month or two, we're sharing our latest and favorite finds in everything engagement, wedding, and honeymoon related.

This month, we're pleased to share with you a few of our favorite finds for your family, friends and wedding party members, and of course, for your beloved, as the Christmas season approaches.

 

Elise, Social Media + Marketing

For Your Sister: Hatch Prints Joan of Arc Print or CraftMonkee Ring Cone. I love this image from Hatch Prints! I hope it reminds my sister to conquer each day with grace and courage. Is your sister newly engaged? The ring cone is sassy and something different. It's a perfect spot for her to rest her bauble after a long day of showing it off to friends!

For Your Mom or Mother-In-Law: Terrain Chef's Kitchen Gift Set or Linnea's Lights Diffuser. Terrain is an awesome place to shop for mom or mother-in-law! The Chef's Kitchen Gift Set is full of goodies for the seasoned chef. It's filled with fun ingredients like lavender balsamic vinegar for her to use in her cooking. Looking more for something homey? The diffuser in the Peony scent looks amazing.

For Your Godchild: Bitte Twill Apron and Kitchen Tools, Magnatiles, or Ele Story Tutu. Hunter and I love to spoil our goddaughter, Lily! It's so difficult to narrow it down to just a few gifts to give, we came up with a list of some really adorable items. For the little cook, the apron and tool set is perfect for helping Mommy or Daddy in the kitchen. The boys I used to nanny played with Magnatiles and they never.got.old. And for your little princess, Ele Story's beautiful dress is just too cute to pass up.

 

Jiza, Co-Founder + Creative Director

For Him: SENSO Bluetooth Headphones. I give my husband all the credit for this gift pick. He uses his bluetooth headphones often: at the gym, on a bus/metro commute, on the airplane, while doing computer work, or even at home when he’s watching a war movie I am not particularly interested in while the children are sleeping. He uses them to listen to music, podcasts, and audio books, as well. These are noise canceling headphones, so if you ask your guy a question and he doesn’t reply, I promise it’s not because he’s ignoring you. It’s because you got him a great set of earbuds.

For Girlfriends: Sseko Designs “Brave” Necklace with interchangeable charms. I am a huge fan of supporting ethical and mission-oriented businesses when you can. Sseko Designs is a fashion brand based out of Uganda, giving job & college education opportunities to women of East Africa. Originally starting with sandals, Sseko has now grown their products to a variety of footwear, leather bags, scarves, prints, and jewelry. You can find the perfect gift for anyone.

For Family: Laser Engraved Cutting Board. Do you have a favorite family recipe written by a loved one? This would be a beautiful heirloom to give to your parents, in-laws, or anyone in your family. It's the perfect keepsake for everyone to enjoy.

 

Stephanie, Co-Founder + Content Manager

For fiancés or husbands: Experience-oriented gifts for the hard-to-shop-for. My husband frequently dislikes replacing anything until it's entirely gone or worn out, and gift giving is not his love language, two qualities that can make him hard to shop for. If your man is similar, I'll share my strategy of choosing gifts oriented towards a shared experience, rather than the material gift itself. I ask myself what my husband might enjoy doing together, then try to come up with gifts that could contribute to that. For instance, we love to make a special meal (well, second dinner) after our kids go to bed, so in the case of this example, a much-appreciated gift might be a new cookbook (Jerusalem and Baked are two favorites of ours) to work through together, along with a premium olive oil, alcohol, or exotic ingredient. Other ideas in this experience category include event tickets for a music or sports lover, equipment to take along on a hike and hot cocoa date for an outdoorsman, or a journal and spiritual book to bring on a pilgrimage together to a shrine or holy site.

For girlfriends: Paloma's Nest I AM NOT AFRAID bowl. I love to give and receive beautiful, indulgent items, the kinds of gifts you are thrilled to open but might never have bought yourself because they seemed too fancy or uneccesary. Gifts in this category can add simple life and pleasure into your routines. These handcrafted porcelain bowls from a family-owned company are just the ticket. Sized just right for storing jewelry or other small items, St. Joan of Arc's invocation on this bowl to Be Not Afraid is the perfect message for the women in your life. Be sure to check out the Wedding Shop on Paloma's Nest, as well. The company's ring bearer bowls can be used during your wedding Mass, and some of their inscriptions brought tears to my eyes.

For family: The Makeshift Gallery Family Tree. Your origins, traditions, and history become even more meaningful in marriage, when you and your beloved merge two families and, as you walk out of the church, take your first steps as your own new family. I love the rustic yet clean design of this custom print, available for four, five, or six generations back, with its image of the rings of a tree.

 

Andi, Public Relations + Vendor Outreach

For kids: Magnatiles, Lego, or Playmobil. I second Magnatiles! They are one of my family's favorite toys, requiring zero batteries, and kids can just build all day with them. Legos are another great option for infinite creativity and hours and hours of play. My kids also love Playmobil sets, which come at every price point from $5 and up. Boys seem to prefer the Historical sets, complete with Viking battleships, little armies, and scenes from the Wild West. My girls love the Fairy, Princess, and Preschool sets, and it's fun to watch them play out different scenarios with the figurines.

For girlfriends: Grace + Salt Maplewood Sign & Be a Heart Metal Mug. "But first, coffee." Two of my closest friends are coffee lovers. One is getting this adorable homemade sign from Grace + Salt for her coffee station, and another is receiving this mug from Be A Heart. My Dominican grandma always has her café in an enamel mug, so I try to share that tradition with the people I love.

For In-Laws: Local Food and Drink Baskets. Mine live out of state, so I love giving gift baskets filled with specialty foodie goodies that aren't available where they are. This year I stocked up at an authentic Italian market down in Little Italy, San Diego: imported noodles with fun shapes, bruschetta and a yummy mix to cover the pasta with, Italian spaghetti sauce, Pizzelles, Sicilian hard candies, and a California Chianti to top it all off. If you have a Trader Joe's nearby, they're an excellent one-stop shop for creating food gifts at any price point. My in-laws loved the infused olive oils from Trader Joe's we gave them last year, also part of an Italian gift basket.


We love making new discoveries through you! Tell us; are there any special gift items you have your eye on this year? Any small businesses whose mission and products you've fallen in love with? Share your finds in the comments!

For more kids' gift ideas, don't miss our list of faith-inspired presents for Flower Girls and Ring Bearers.

5 Tips for Peaceful Holidays as a Couple.

STEPHANIE CALIS

 

For the first two years of our marriage, my husband and I were holiday vagabonds. We’d spend the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas driving four hours to our home state and staying overnight at two or more different homes, all while attempting to cram in a few hours with each of our extended families and old friends.

There’s a whirlwind nature to those days that my life lacks now--the arrival of our children has merited more structure and discipline--and though the rose-colored glasses of hindsight make me look back fondly on the facility we had to travel more frequently and spontaneously, I also distinctly remember wishing our holidays weren't defined by constant travel. We were able to visit everyone, go to bed whenever, make the drive back home long after dark. But we were also pretty rootless, missing out on opportunities to consider how we actually did want to define the season for ourselves.

Have you experienced this? Merging your life with your beloved's in engagement and marriage also means merging the lives of your families, for better or worse. Determining a moderate, healthy level of commitment to family obligations is a question that looks different for every couple and evolves through different phases of life. So does the question of how you’d like to form your own rituals as a couple and future family. To help you answer these questions and cultivate peace during this hectic time, we offer you these suggestions for navigating the holidays:

Boundaries don’t destroy freedom; they create freedom.

During the years my husband and I lived far from family, and before we had children, we were able to travel anywhere and everywhere, saying yes to almost every invitation, but we weren’t free. The feeling of needing a vacation from Christmas vacation was a major reminder that freedom didn’t mean the ability to take back-to-back road trips and pack our schedule to the brim, but the ability to accept or decline commitments with unburdened hearts, unchained to duty and calendars.

Giving of yourself is, of course, good and necessary. Relationships with your loved ones deserve your time and attention. When we overstretch ourselves, the quality of our relationships can suffer. After those first busy seasons, my husband and I decided we’d prefer to alternate spending our holidays with one family each year, not both. The times we stayed for two or three hours at one celebration before getting back in the car to drive to a second, we hardly felt time to be present with our relatives before moving on to the next obligation. We were putting in face time, but it wasn’t true quality time.

Arleen Spenceley writes, “[boundaries] keep what is hurtful, unhealthy, or needless out of the way. We are most free when we have healthy boundaries, not when we have none.” Just as it’s fruitful to judiciously draw a line with your social life, so it is with delicate or painful situations that might feel more prominent at this time of year. If you know the season will bring with it certain tensions or difficult relationships, bring to prayer the question of how you can embrace the challenge while protecting yourself--in some situations, that might mean entering into these tensions, and in some, that might mean avoiding them.

Anticipate points of miscommunication, and work through them ahead of time.

Making clear each of your expectations for how you’ll spend and divide your time, filling one another in on your families’ particular rituals, and creating a game plan for travel each go a long way in keeping you and your beloved on the same page.

Start your own traditions.

Traditions are special, and they’re comforting. Creating new ones that belong to the two of you grounds you in these busy months and shapes your identity as a couple. Need ideas? Buy or make an Advent wreath and incorporate it into your daily or weekly routine; my family lights the wreath every night during grace before dinner. Take up a prayer ritual like the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, which begins tomorrow, the O Antiphons, or a daily Rosary of only the Joyful Mysteries. Try out a few new dessert, cocktail, or meal recipes and reserve them for holidays-only. Choose a movie or book to experience each year during Advent or Christmas.

Identify ways to carve out quality time.

When you’re spending weekend after weekend at parties and gatherings, and when you’re staying over as guests with faraway family and friends, it’s easy to go for long stretches without any time as just you and your fiancé or husband. God willing, your time spent in groups and with family is fruitful and precious. Yet there’s value in knowing how extensive social time affects your unique temperaments and in nourishing your relationship accordingly. Even extroverts need time to recharge alone or with their beloved, so plan ways to do that. Choose a day to shelve all things party and shopping-related and go on a special date instead. Load up on podcasts or audiobooks if you have a long road trip ahead of you. Briefly duck out from your hosts to attend confession, Adoration, or a daily Mass together. Take a nightly walk during your stay with family.

Find peace in God’s will, no matter what.

Approach the season with a spirit of flexibility, and embrace times of stress, anxiety, or trial as your road to Bethlehem. St. Teresa of Calcutta constantly thanked God for her suffering, resolving if trial be the Father’s will for her, that it draw her closer into the heart of Jesus. Her holy example is a powerful reminder that the Father’s every whisper to us, everything he wills for us, is a mercy. In him resides our peace.

Know of our prayers for you this Advent. Tell us, what spiritual or practical strategies have helped you find balance during the holidays?


About the Author: Stephanie Calis is Spoken Bride's Editor in Chief and Co-Founder. She is the author of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner (Pauline, 2016). Read more

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