*Above: The Vatican unveiled its annual Nativity scene on Dec. 9, 2023, paying special tribute to the origins of the beloved tradition on its 800-year anniversary. | Photo Credit: Daniel Ibañez/EWTN
The nativity scene is a Christmas tradition for many Christians. The oldest known crib is in the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. The marble figures are still embedded in the floor and wall. (attached)
Fort Worth, TX — It’s rare to find a holiday book like A Bellwether Christmas: it tells a story that can entertain every member of the family regardless of age, it reveals history about a beloved Christmas tradition, and it features charming animal characters.
Laurel Guillen’s work of fiction was inspired by a life-changing trip to Italy and years of caring for some remarkable farm animals.
“Many years ago,” Guillen said, “I visited central Italy and came away with a burning desire to write a novel set in the time of Francis of Assisi and the early Franciscans. I did extensive research, but nothing ever came of it. In the meantime, I raised a son who adopted farm animals, including a horse, two sheep and two donkeys. One Christmas season a few years ago, the plot for this novel suddenly downloaded into my brain in a few minutes.”
She added that she suddenly realized “I was being given the chance to write a novel that combined my knowledge of 13th-century history as well as farm animals. I knew it was supposed to be a children’s novel, but one that adults would love also.”
A Bellwether Christmas depicts medieval rural life from its songs to work, food to customs, and each chapter begins with a beautifully drawn illustration that evokes the style of medieval woodcut art. Guillen also includes “afterwords” to help readers understand St. Francis’s life and his importance to the Church, and to introduce readers to the real-life farm animals her characters are based upon.
Bart is a curious, impetuous lamb who lives in a tiny village in medieval Italy. He is always getting into trouble and feels like he doesn’t belong. In chance encounters with a hare, a lark and then a terrifying wolf, he learns about the poor man from Assisi who loves all creatures and talks to them about love, honor and belonging. Bart is convinced that this man, and the new kind of celebration he is planning for Christmas Eve, holds the key to understanding his own destiny. But when Christmas Day dawns, he faces his biggest challenge yet: a dangerous mission to bring the gift of love to a friend. Will he be brave enough and finally find the place where he belongs?
The winner of multiple awards, including a First Place Christian Indie Award and Finalist in the 2022 Readers’ Choice Book Awards, A Bellwether Christmas is full of historical details to entertain kids and adults alike and offers a perfect opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about the meaning of Christmas.
Laurel Guillen is a Cornell University graduate and former radio, newspaper, and television journalist who has always loved medieval tales. She helped her husband, Michael Guillen, PhD, produce the award-winning family movie Little Red Wagon and now writes the blog God and Gardening on Facebook.