The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

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I love so many things about homeschooling. Seriously, off the top of my head I could probably write you a list of a thousand awesome things!

One of my favorites, though (and that is saying a lot, since there are  so very many!) is that we can spend the entire month of December (who am I kidding? We start the moment Thanksgiving is over!) in a kind of relaxed, Christmas school.

During December we like to pull out all of our Christmas books and stack them in a basket by the fireplace so they are readily available. Every afternoon we cuddle up together in a blanket on the couch and enjoy a book (or several!) together.

Over the years we’ve created unit studies around most of these books, so we’re learning all of the subjects, but from a literature approach. I’ve already shared several of our Christmas favorites with you, as part of my Story Time series. Today I’m sharing another favorite — ‘The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree’. I hope you love it, too!


The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is a gorgeously crafted Christmas story steeped in the Appalachian culture. The incredible illustrations of this bygone era will pull you in to the story.

You’ll cry as Papa goes off to war, leaving Mama and Ruthie to run their homestead. Papa has promised to provide the church’s Christmas tree that year, and he and Ruthie have picked the most beautiful balsam fir, growing in a crag on the highest peak. But how will he fulfill his obligation from all the way across the ocean?

Will Ruthie still play the coveted part of the angel in the church nativity — the part that is traditionally played by a member of the family donating the Christmas tree?

This is a heartwarming story of love, family and sacrifice. It’s a story of Christmas miracles.

Your heart will yearn toward Mama’s as she works so hard to make things right. And your children will yearn toward Ruthie. You will be reminded of what is most important this Christmas season.


Literature Activity: Easy Handmade Ruthie Doll

While reading the book, my little girls oohed and aaahed over Ruthie’s angel doll. Each of them decided immediately that they wanted to make one of their own.

So it wasn’t at all difficult to decide what our first literature activity would be — doll making!

I just had to think of an easy enough way to create them, so they could sew the dolls themselves. Otherwise, I would have to sew all of the dolls myself!

We ended up creating small Ruthie angel dolls to be ornaments for our Christmas tree. They aren’t made for cuddling or playing with or dressing. But my little girls were absolutely delighted by them, and we will treasure them for many years to come — with lovely thoughts of Ruthie and her angel doll.

Aren’t they adorable?

Okay, so here’s how you do it!


  • a small scrap of white fabric for the head
  • a bit of stuffing (even a few cotton balls will work)
  • a sheet of white cardstock
  • something stiff for the arms (a craft stick, a twig, welt cord, etc…)
  • a scrap of white lace
  • scissors, needle and thread


1.If you want curly hair on your Ruthie doll, you’ll first need to wrap it tightly around something with a small diameter: a dowel, a wooden pencil, a rope, a screwdriver. Whatever you wrap it around should be mostly oven proof. I used welt rope left over from an upholstery job. After you wrap the yarn around the object, you’ll thoroughly wet it, then bake it in the oven at 350 F until it’s completely dry (about 15 minutes). Unwind the yarn and you’ll have pretty ringlets.


The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree



2. While the yarn ringlets are baking, make the head. Cut a scrap of white fabric, about 4″ square. The size and shape don’t need to be perfect. Set a little stuffing in the middle, then gather the edges of the fabric together and use a rubber band to secure the edges. Arrange the wrinkles and pleats to one side of the shape. You can glue the hair over them so they won’t show.





3. Cut a circle out of a sheet of cardstock, making it as big as possible. Cut the circle in half. You’ll wrap each half into a funnel shape and secure the seam with a piece of tape. One sheet of cardstock will make two doll bodies. Secure the head to the cone with a piece of tape.

4. Make two small holes on either side of the cone, near the top. Poke your arm material through the holes, so your little angel looks like this.

5. Sew the dress. Use a 9″ long piece of white lace that is about as wide as your cone is tall. Fold it in half and sew the two cut edges together. Then make a long, running stitch along one edge, to gather the lace around the doll’s neck. My girls wanted to sew by hand, like Ruthie’s Mama, but you can sew by machine if you want.

6 Add the sleeves. We made ours the same way we made the dress. Cut about a 3″ length of lace, fold it over and stictch up the seam. Slide the sleeve onto an arm and tack it into place.

7. Attach Ruthie’s curls. You can tack them on with brown thread, or even just hot glue them. My two youngest wanted Ruthie to have long curls, so that’s how they made their dolls. My 12-yr-old wanted her Ruthie to have short curls.

8. Draw on the face with fine-tip permanent markers. You may want to sketch it first with pencil.



Literature Activity: Discussion

Hand sewing takes awhile, and keeps your hands busy, but your mind and mouths free. So the perfect time to discuss the book is while you’re making your dolls.

Discussion Topics:

  • What was it like for Mama and Ruthie with Papa gone to war?
  • Why was Mama willing to cut up her wedding dress and stay up all night sewing?
  • What does it mean to sacrifice?
  • What sacrifices did Ruthie make? Papa?
  • Why was Mama so determined to provide the church’s Christmas tree?



Literature Activity: Geography

Papa, Mama and Ruthie live in a small village in the Appalachian Mountains. Find and label the Appalachian Mountains on this free, printable blackline map of the United State.

The Appalachian Mountains stretch from Newfoundland, Canada, 1,500 miles all along the eastern part of North America, to Alabama in the United States. Different parts of the mountain range have different names. In New Hampshire, they are called the White Mountains; in New York, the Catskills; and in Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Mountains. These are just a few examples of the many parts of the Appalachian Mountains.

You can learn more about the history and culture of the Appalachian Mountains.



Literature Snack: Perfect Christmas Tree Lollipops

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

This is such a 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.


The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree



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Thank you for joining us today as we read ‘The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree’! I hope you enjoyed our storytime. Check out my other fun storytime selections, each with educational activities and yummy snacks.


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  1. I hope to homeschool my daughter when she is older. I enjoyed learning how you created so many different enriching activities out of one book. I love reading and hope to pass that love onto my daughter.

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Since you love reading, she probably will, too! That’s just how it works!

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Thanks, Amylou!

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