The Carpenter's Gift

The Carpenter’s Gift

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We don’t celebrate Santa Claus in our house, although we do teach our children about Saint Nicholas and his generosity and kindness. We want them to feel charitable toward those less fortunate and to share the love of Christ with their fellow men the same way that Saint Nicholas did.

This book may seem secular at first glance, but it’s message is full of profound truths and goodness!

I hope you enjoy this lovely book as much as we did! It is a great way to introduce the season or to bring in some fun, low-prep homeschooling during the busyness of December.

The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale About the Rockefeller Center Tree by David Rubel

“The Carpenter’s Gift – A Christmas Tale About the Rockefeller Center Tree” is a heartwarming children’s Christmas picture book with a wonderful message. 

The story begins at the height of the Great Depression in 1931. Henry lived in a drafty, unheated shack with his parents. One Christmas Eve Henry’s father borrowed a truck and invited Henry to go with him to harvest some spruce trees to sell as Christmas trees in New Your City.

When they had finished selling the trees for the day, there were several large trees left over. Henry’s father donated them to the construction workers who were kind enough to let Henry and his father sell trees on their building site. The workers decorated the trees with all sorts of homemade items, including a newspaper star folded by Henry.

When the street lights came on the tree sparkled like nothing Henry had ever seen. In his excitement Henry made a Christmas wish for a warm house for his family.

The next day, all the construction workers collected discarded construction lumber and brought it to Henry’s house. There on Christmas Day they built a new house for Henry and his family. Henry planted a pinecone from the trees they had sold in the front yard of his new home.

As Henry grew, so did the pine tree. It eventually grew into a large, perfectly-shaped specimen. One day, when Henry was old, a man came by and asked Henry if he would be willing to donate the tree to Rockefeller Center as their annual Christmas tree.

The man said that it would be cut up and the lumber used to build a home for a family in need. Upon hearing that, Henry knew what he needed to do.

I loved learning the history behind the Rockefeller Center’d Christmas tree tradition, and the history of the Habitat for Humanity organization. I also loved that this delightful story reaffirmed to my children the fact that service brings the giver greater joy than the receiver.

This story inspired my family to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity — the exceptional community outreach program of neighbor helping neighbor. 

Literature Activity: Make a newspaper star, like Henry’s in ‘The Carpenter’s Gift’

I found this tutorial over at Homemade Gifts Made Easy. Credit for this design belongs to Shuzo Fujimoto, who created the design in the 70s.


  • a square sheet of paper. I like to use sheets of newspaper, so I can make larger stars. 12 x 12 sheets of scrapbook paper also work well.
  • some scissors

The finished star Christmas ornaments will be about 60% of the size of the square you start with. So a 12″ square will make a 7″ star, or a 8.5″ square will make a 5″ star.

First, you’ll need to cut your square into a pentagon with equal sides and angles. You can either trace this pentagon template , or you can use an origami trick. I prefer using the origami trick because it works for any size of paper, and also it’s quicker. Here’s a quick, 2-minute video showing you how it’s done:

Video 1: Cut a Pentagon from a Square (origami trick)

Once you’ve got your pentagon, you’re ready to fold the star. Here’s another quick video to show you how.

Video 2: Folding the Star

Wasn’t that simple? How did your star turn out? Won’t these make beautiful decorations on your Christmas tree, or your fireplace mantel? 

My kids had so much fun making them that we ended up with a whole pile!


Literature Activity: Plant a Pine Cone

While reading ‘The Carpenter’s Gift’ my kids were anticipating the craft, activity and snack that they knew would follow. I had already decided to fold origami newspaper stars, like the one Henry makes to hang on the Rockefeller center tree.

But my 6-year-old had her own idea. She just knew that we needed to plant some pine cones in our own front yard, like Henry did, to grow future trees.

Her little heart was so thoroughly set on this idea (and it’s a great idea!) that I decided to indulge her. Luckily, we have a plethora of pine cones laying around, and many empty acres.

We talked about how you can’t just plant an entire pine cone, but rather you have to mimic nature in order to get seeds to grow.

If you’re curious and enjoy experimentation, planting pine tree seeds is an interesting project. Although sprouting whole pine cones won’t work, there is a way that you can harvest the seeds from the cone, and successfully grow a tree.

Here’s how to grow a tree from a pine cone:

  1. Harvest pine cones from a tree in autumn.
  2. Place the cones in a paper sack and put them in a warm room. Shake the sack every few days. When the cone is dry enough to release the seeds, you’ll hear them rattling around in the bag.
  3. Place the pine seeds in a resealable plastic bag and store them in the freezer for three months. Why? This process, called stratification, mimics three months of winter, which most seeds require (Outdoors, the seeds would lie buried under pine needles and other plant debris until spring.).
  4. After three months, plant the seeds in a 4-inch container filled with potting medium. Be sure the container has a drainage hole in the bottom. Plant one pine seed in each container and cover it with no more than ¼-inch of potting mix.
  5. Place the containers in a sunny window and water as needed to keep the potting mix slightly moist. Never allow the mix to dry out, but don’t water to the point of sogginess. Both conditions can kill the seed.
  6. Once the seedling is at least 8 inches tall, transplant the tree outdoors.

Ours are blue spruce, so maybe someday someone will come knocking at our door, wanting one of our trees for Rockefeller square, just like Henry. I doubt it, since we live in Utah, but it’s fun to think about.

Literature Activity: Family Service Project

My very favorite part of ‘The Carpenter’s Gift’ is when the construction workers show up to build Henry’s family a house. Henry’s greatest wish is to have a warm home, instead of the drafty shack his family lived in.

I love that every year, after serving it’s purpose, the Rockefeller tree is milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity to use to build a deserving family a home. The best feeling in the whole world is when you give of yourself to help someone else.

Choose a way to serve as a family so you, too, can enjoy that wonderful feeling! Here is a list of 45 Family Service Project Ideas, from simple acts of kindness to more elaborate opportunities.


Literature Snack: Evergreen Trees

This beautiful story is all about an evergreen tree, so we’re going to make ourselves some evergreen Christmas trees. All you need is a bag of stick pretzels, some green melting chocolate, and sprinkles.

This is a super fun and easy treat. In fact, they’re so simple your kids will be able to whip them up all by themselves in less than ten minutes, with zero dishes to wash and minimal cleanup.


1.Line some pretzel sticks up in two rows on a sheet of waxed paper.

2. Melt your green chocolates in a plastic ziploc bag in the microwave. Mush them up so they’re fluid, but be careful — the bag will be very hot! Snip a small triangle off the corner of the bag and squeeze, back and forth into a tree shape over each pretzel stick.

3. Drop sixlets and sprinkles on (to look like ornaments) before the trees dry, so they’ll stick.

Pin these awesome storytime ideas for later!

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  1. Hey, thanks for the inspiration. Love the sound of that book and those crafts are lovely to pass the time over the holidays.

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      You’re welcome! Merry Christmas!

  2. I love all of you fun crafts and activities you do with your kids and I’m always looking for good book suggestions for my kiddos! Thanks for this.

  3. This is such a great book to help teach my boys about the true power of giving instead of focusing on receiving at Christmas! The activities to go along with it will be perfect for our icy/snowy weekend coming up too!

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      I love ‘The Carpenter’s Gift’ for exactly that reason!

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