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Christmas

Christmas card 2012 blogIt has been such a pleasure to ‘meet’ new bloggers and connect with other mums through my blog. I have enjoyed writing a mini theme about Christmas and I hope it has been helpful and inspiring. May you and your families have a blessed Christmas. Most years I write a Christmas letter to accompany my card whether it is emailed or posted but I thought this year my family would share ‘Two stars and a wish’ – two happy memories of the past year and one desire for next year.

Zeb: Our cycle ride as a family to Padstow and a mushroom foraging course with Tessa. My wish next year is to make sandcastles on a beach in Cornwall.

Tessa: We had a magical holiday with my parents in Dartmouth to celebrate their ruby anniversary especially with the Red Arrow planes flying overhead. I am very excited that Zeb and I have started running a parenting course as it is something that is close to our hearts. And my wish… looking forward to finding a new home as the one we had planned to buy fell through.

James (age 9): My birthday this year in Legoland and I loved going to watch ‘Skyfall’ with daddy. I am looking forward to going to Singapore if we go.

Sophie (age 6): My best things were making a decoupage box and making boats from junk on the beach. My wish is to see Zoe who lives in Africa.

Ella (age 4): I made a snow globe and a bug hotel because it is nice for the bugs and they can hide in it and hibernate in it. I am going to Cornwall in April and I am very happy about that.This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

Paper Snowflakes

These paper snowflakes (photo above) appear very complex and I was most impressed when the 7 and 8 year-olds at school had made them. But actually one creates eight simple petals using a square of paper per petal and then staples them together to create a very beautiful paper snowflake which can be the centrepiece of a window. I have also used these as a ‘party game’ with adults where each person makes one section and then we join them all together. Go to this link for step by step instructions and photos on how to make your own winter wonderland snowflakes.

Christmas Crackers

The beauty of homemade crackers is that you can personalise the gift but they are quite fiddly and best made by an older child from about the age of eight or nine.

You need:
Gift wrap cut into rectangles 35cm x 17cm
Tissue paper
Narrow gift ribbon
Double sided tape or glue
Scissors / craft knife
3 loo roll inners
Firecracker
Fillers: a small gift, a balloon, a chocolate, a quotation or forfeit, a streamer or sparkler. Top tip: Take a loo roll inner when shopping to ensure the gifts fit inside!

Instructions:
Put the cracker fillers into the loo roll inner and wrap it tightly with tissue paper.
Attach the firecracker to the outside of the roll with tape.
Position the two loo roll inners on either end of the filled one and thread the firecracker through the inners.
Decorate the gift wrap by gluing narrow ribbon on the short ends.
Position the gift wrap upside down and place glue or double-sided tape along the long edge of the gift wrap.
Place the three loo roll inners along the end of the gift wrap and roll them up in it towards the glued side of the gift wrap. Ensure you roll in a straight line and ensure the paper is firmly wrapped around the loo roll inners.
Gently ease out the two end loo roll inners a little and tie a ribbon between them as in the diagrams below. Give the cracker a little twist to make the edges between the loo roll inners crisp.
The two end roll inners can now be removed but are useful to keep in place to retain the cracker’s shape if it is to be stored for a period of time.
Label the cracker with the recipient’s name and decorate with sequins, tinsel or tulle as desired.

Father Christmas Napkins

Fold a red napkin as in the diagram below. Using the template below scale and trace the bearded shape onto white paper and cut it out. The long edge of the beard should be about 16.5cm long. Fold the paper around the napkin to make a festive Father Christmas!

Snow Globe

Find a jam jar and a little character to go inside your jar. Stick the character to the lid of the jar and allow it to dry completely. It is best to use a glue gun but you can also use a generous quantity of UHU glue. Place into the jam jar 2 teaspoons of glycerin, ½ teaspoon of washing up liquid and 3 teaspoons of glitter. Glycerin is not essential but helps the glitter not to form clumps. Fill the jar right up to the top with water over a basin or the sink. Screw the lid on very tightly and if you wish, seal around the top with a clear silicone sealant. Placing glue in the rim of the lid before screwing it on also helps to keep it secure.

Write a letter to Father Christmas

Father Christmas can be reached by care of the Royal Mail and below is his address. He even writes back!

Father Christmas
Santa’s Grotto
Reindeerland
SAN TA1

According to the Royal Mail website, Santa will respond to as many letters as possible, in between getting the sleigh ready for the long journey on Christmas Eve. To receive your card back from Santa, please make sure you write to him using the correct address on a stamped envelope. Don’t forget Santa needs to know your full name and address to reply. Santa is happy to receive your cards and letters but because of a very busy Xmas ahead could you please write to him by no later than Friday 14th December. www.royalmail.com/letters-to-santa

This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

Whether it is a drinks party, a Christmas coffee morning or a gift for a school teacher, it is always special to give something handmade.

Fill a Kilner jar with the layered cookie mix ingredients then attach a festive-shaped biscuit cutter and a card with the recipe for gingerbread cookies written out in your best handwriting.

Makes 25-30 cookies
For the cookie mix in a 1 litre Kilner jar
500g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
185g soft light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground allspice

Combine two-thirds of the flour with the baking powder, then tip this mixture into the jar. Shake gently to level out. Spoon in the brown sugar and roughly level out. Blend together the remaining amount of flour with the spices and carefully pour this on top of the layer of sugar.
Seal the jar securely and attach the cutter and the recipe card with brightly coloured twine or ribbon.

Write out the recipe below on a card to attach to the jar
Gingerbread Cookies
100g butter
115g golden syrup
1 large egg, beaten
Cookie mix
Icing sugar
•    Melt the butter in a large pan with the syrup.
•    Add the egg, then stir in the cookie mix to form a stiff dough.
•    Divide into two, flatten into discs and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for 20 minutes.
•    Heat oven to 180°C.
•    Roll out dough to 3mm thick, stamp out shapes and put on greased baking sheets.
•    Make holes in the top to thread with cotton later.
•    Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until golden.
•    Cool on a wire rack; dust with icing sugar.

Recipe originally from Country Living Magazine December 2010.

This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

Decorative biscuits

Nothing beats the evocative smell of ginger biscuits. The recipe below is Swedish and makes the best biscuits I have come across. After baking and allowing them to cool, we have a family decorating session with plenty of icing and silver balls while Christmas carols are belted out. Later I use a needle to thread a loop on them and we hang them on the Christmas tree as they keep for weeks – that is if the children (mice?) don’t nibble them!

Swedish Ginger Biscuits Recipe
300g butter
450 castor sugar
6 tbsps. golden syrup
2 tbsps. cinnamon
1 tbsp. ground cloves
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsps. cardamom
200ml water
900g plain flour

Cream the butter, sugar and syrup and beat in the flavouring – cinnamon, ground cloves, ginger, cardamom and bicarbonate of soda. Add the water and work in the flour, kneading well on a lightly floured surface. Place the dough into the fridge and allow it to rest for 24 hours. Roll out the dough and cut out shapes using biscuit cutters and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 200°C – 225°C for 4 – 5 minutes.
(I tend to halve the ingredients as it make a lot of dough. If too sticky, add extra flour.)

Christingle Oranges and Tealight Apples

Christingle oranges are rich in symbolism and also look very beautiful. You can refer to this link for more information about their symbolism. Push a small candle into an orange and tie a red bow around the middle. Place a few soft sweets onto four toothpicks and position them around the candle. In the photograph, we didn’t add sweets but decorated the orange with cloves. Tealight apples smell superb as the cloves warm up from the candle when lit. Press a tealight into the top of the fruit to measure the circumference then use a spoon to remove some of the flesh so that the tealight will fit into the apple. Press cloves into the space between the tealight and the apple and continue to decorate the apple with cloves until time or patience runs out. Top tips: It may be necessary to remove a thin slice off the apple and orange to form a flat base. If you struggle to push cloves into the fruit, use a toothpick to first pierce a hole.

Homemade Christmas cards

Two ideas that work well with young children are a robin Christmas card and an angel card. For the robin card, paint your child’s hand brown then add touches of gold and a bright red spot on the palm of his hand. Press his hand on to paper to make a print then add eyes and a beak. To create an angel, paint his hand in blues and purples and make one handprint with fingers closed. Then paint the hand in a bright yellow or gold and make two handprints with the fingers splayed to create wings. Add facial details and a halo. Both these ideas can be scanned and reduced in size and printed to create a number of cards. With an older child you can brainstorm about Christmas imagery and then give him a good quality black pen and let him design a card using the inspirations you discussed together.This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

Homemade gifts made by children for parents or grandparents are very special items and here are some ideas and instructions of what we have made in the past.

Pebble Paper Weight

You will need:
Pebble
Children’s paint
Indelible pen (optional)
Ronseal clear varnish (optional)
Googly eyes (optional)

Buy pebbles from a garden centre and give them a base coat of paint then release your child to create a pebble bug. Ladybirds are always popular. Write the date and name on the base with an indelible pen. Varnish the pebble with a clear varnish and add googly eyes if you wish. James’ pebble (above photo) has been sitting on my desk for seven years now.

Photo Frame

You will need:
A photo frame
Children’s paint
Stickers

Give an unpainted, unvarnished photo frame a base coat in gold or silver paint and then let your child decorate it. It could be with stickers or with paint depending on the age of your child. I bought photo frames from Wilkinson a few years ago and you could also try Hobbycraft. I used children’s readymix paint – nothing special. The final touch is to insert a photo of your child into the frame for the proud granny. A variation would be to buy little boxes or candle holders and decorate them. Baker Ross hold a vast supply to keep you going.

Sloe Gin

You will need:
450g sloes
300g caster sugar
1 litre gin any brand – cheap gin works just as well
A 2 litre Kilner jar
A bottle for decanting

This ruby-red liqueur looks beautifully rich as you can see in the photo above but if you are too late in the season for collecting sloes, remember it for next year! Full instructions are on my earlier post called ‘A sloe autumn stroll’.

Marzipan Fruit

You will need:
Marzipan
Food dyes

You don’t need much marzipan to make these cute little fruits (see above photo). I used coloured dyes and each child kneaded the marzipan with a few drops of dye until it turned the colour of the dye and then divided it up so we all had a variety of colours. We had so much fun making fruit and then branched out into making sausages, mash and peas! We presented the meals on tiny dolls’ plates as gifts for grandparents. This website link gives you more detailed instructions and images of marzipan fruit.

Homemade Chocolates

You will need:
Chocolate
Chocolate moulds (bought at many kitchen stores)
Double boiler (or two different sized pots)
Caramel filling (optional)

It can be little fraught doing the activity with a young child or a few children at the same time because you are dealing with hot chocolate and boiling water so I would recommend this as a one to one activity. Fill the larger pot with water and allow it to boil on the stove at a low heat. Place the second pot into the water and add a few blocks of chocolate at a time, stirring continuously. Using a double boiler, keeping the heat low and stirring continuously should mean the chocolate won’t burn. Once it is melted, remove from the heat and use a teaspoon to fill the chocolate moulds. Once they are filled, give them a gentle tap and place in the fridge to harden. Try experimenting with marbled chocolate of white and dark swirls or filled chocolates. To make filled chocolate create shells in the chocolate mould, harden them, place the filling into the shell then cover with more melted chocolate and return to the fridge. The chocolates can be packaged in cellophane bags or in homemade origami boxes.

Coconut Ice

You will need:
250g condensed milk
250g icing sugar
200g dessicated coconut
Pink edible food colouring

This is a great recipe for younger children as no heat is required and makes lovely gifts when placed in cellophane bags or tins. It is from the BBC GoodFood website.

  1. Using a wooden spoon, mix together the condensed milk and icing sugar in a large bowl. It will get very stiff. Work the coconut into the mix until it’s well combined – use your hands, if you like.
  2. Split the mix into two and knead a very small amount of food colouring into one half. Dust a board with icing sugar, then shape each half into a smooth rectangle and place one on top of the other. Roll with a rolling-pin, re-shaping with your hands every couple of rolls, until you have a rectangle of two-tone coconut ice about 3cm thick.
  3. Transfer to a plate or board and leave uncovered for at least 3 hours or ideally overnight to set. Cut into squares with a sharp knife and pack into bags or boxes. These will keep for up to a month at least, if stored in an airtight container.

This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

Last year I instigated a new family tradition and on Christmas Eve we all shared ‘Two stars and a wish’ – two happy memories of the past year and one desire for the next year. There are many traditions that surround the festive season but what about family traditions? You may choose to incorporate special activities from your childhood or create new ones.

  • Early in December I buy a classic Christmas story and write the date in it. These books stay in the sitting room for the month and are read to the children and as the years pass by, we are amassing a good collection. My favourites include The Night Before Christmas, Babushka, Jesus’ Christmas Party and The Jolly Christmas Postman.
  • Have an Advent calendar to mark down the days. It could be home-made with little drawers for each day, mini paper bags pegged on a string or a card calendar with windows to open. We have fabric calendars with pockets which I fill with tiny Christmas tree decorations. My mum made the calendars from kits and each child received one for their first Christmas. Each morning they add a new decoration to the children’s Christmas tree. You can buy similar kits on this website link.
  • We have an Advent candle wreath on the table and on each Sunday of Advent we light a candle while the last candle in the centre is lit on Christmas Day. The four candles (traditionally red) stand in the circle and represent hope, peace, love and joy. The fifth candle (traditionally white) represents the birth of Christ. For more information on Advent rings, visit this website.
  • There are also Christmas countdown Advent candles where a segment is burnt each day until Christmas but I tend to forget and then need to do a marathon burning session!
  • The children love the Playmobil nativity set which is brought out annually. We have added hedgehogs which amuse me especially when baby Jesus is cast from his manager and a hedgehog enjoys the bed of straw.
  • Consider ways to help your children think about those less fortunate than themselves. I especially like Operation Christmas Child which is run by Samaritan’s Purse who send gift-filled shoeboxes around the world to underprivileged children. Have a look at  www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk for more information.
  • Although I encourage children to make gifts for grandparents, it is also fun to take them Christmas shopping. Each child receives £2.00 per family member (£8.00 each) and off we go buy gifts. I recce the town to ensure there are plenty of shops with smaller gifts such as stickers, pocket-money toys, toiletries, cooking utensils, balls of string – more than you realise can be bought for £2.00. The children love it and if they spot each other in the same shop the gift is hidden behind a coat as they shuffle past each other.
  • Then of course there is decorating to be done. I love decorating the front door with lights, baubles and whatever else takes my fancy. The children enjoy making paper chains and paper stars but more about this in a future post on Christmas activities.This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

To keep Christmas manageable when everyone seems to jump on the yuletide bandwagon, here are some greeting cards and gift tips:

  • Make a list of Christmas card recipients and then cull the list to keep it realistic. Write your cards early along with addressed envelopes then you can drop them into the post at the beginning of December. However, you don’t have to send cards, if you have just had a baby or a bad year, give yourself a year off. Some years I don’t post cards but design and email a card wishing all a merry Christmas and explaining to family and friends that instead of buying cards, I have bought sheep / fruit trees / chickens on their behalf. Oxfam and World Vision offer great charity ideas.
  • Make a list of everyone you need to buy a gift for and ideas that you have. Grab a few catalogues or browse some good websites for ideas. One of my favourites is Cox & Cox. In the next few weeks as you think of more ideas, add them to your list as you will end up with more interesting items than patrolling through the shops panic buying.
  • Friends and I have agreed not to buy gifts for each other’s children and I tend to only buy gifts for immediate family. My sister-in-law and I set a budget of £10.00 to spend on each cousin. You can be creative with gifts too and the same sister-in-law and I have a budget of £5.00 for each other. It means we have to be original and clever – she once bought a 3-course meal made of tinned food and I bought her lottery tickets. Sadly she didn’t win the jackpot that year.
  • Our children receive one main gift and a stocking of little gifts. The little gifts are thoughtful and cheap – Sophie loves having her own plasters, so one of her gifts will be novelty plasters. If you have a baby, put useful items in his stocking such as milk powder, a spoon, or a first toothbrush which will all come in handy and he won’t care anyway.
  • I have also asked grandparents not to lose control but restrict themselves to one gift for each child as they can become totally overwhelmed. This was more important when they were younger but it certainly helps them not to be spoilt.
  • Buy wrapping paper in advance so it is ready when you are. You can get great paper from Next, John Lewis or Cox & Cox. Some years I have gone for brown paper and raffia with gold tags adding a touch of sparkle. I am a graphic designer, so each year we have a different colour theme which my husband totally ignores. Everything will be dark green and silver but his gifts will be wrapped in bright pink. It makes me smile and keeps me from being too obsessive!
  • Invest in a cellotape dispenser.
  • Once I have bought the gifts, I put on music, pour a glass of wine, start wrapping and enjoy myself. On another day, I will add ribbons and tags because if I try to do it all at the same time, it takes too long and an enjoyable task becomes tedious.
  • In an ideal world all gifts are bought and wrapped by 1 December…  Hmmm!

This post is part of a Christmas theme of how I as a mum approach this season. As with anything, pick and choose the ideas that appeal to you – I don’t do all of them every year! However I have included all the activities, crafts and traditions that I have done over the past few years. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.