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All the rest have 31…

Anyone else here a big fan of December?

Now chances are you are either cheering or staring at the screen in frank incredulity. December! Christmas! Preparing for Christmas! Woohoo! Or alternatively: December? Time of frantic Christmas shopping and big Christmas and New Year get-togethers where someone is sure to end up in St Mungo’s with a satsuma or walnut up his or her nose? Stress on earth and ill will to all men!

Be that as it may, I love it.

I love the fairy lights on the houses. They make up for the dark mornings and evenings. People here don’t go in for the different colours so much, just the starry white ones. Beautiful.

I love the anticipation of the first snowfall on our balcony, as we watch the snowline moving further and further down our mountain.

I love preparing for Christmas. I even love planning how we’re going to prepare for Christmas (which admittedly happens in November but never mind).

I love doing Bible readings and lighting candles and having special baking or craft activities with the children all through Advent. Some that we loved last year, and some new ones. If you read on here regularly, you already knew that, because I’ve posted photos and links for the last two winters.

I love December food. When I was little we always had hot-chocolate-with-candy-canes as one of our special Advent treats. Now one day we have hot chocolate with marshmallows with our little ones, and another day mincepies because they’re hard to come by here, and another day a cream tea with strawberry jam and freshly baked scones. I know that’s traditionally summer fare in the UK, but December is perfect for baking in a way that summer really isn’t here. And of course I love cranberry sauce, stuffing, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding too.

I also love that every year our month-long schedule looks a little different – one bonus of being an expat and the daughter of expats is that we have to travel to two different countries to visit both sets of parents. Which means we can’t possibly be expected to do that every year. Which means we can be on a three-year rota – one year here, one in the UK, one in Belgium – and no one will think to complain. (Actually, probably neither his parents nor mine would complain anyway. We’re very blessed in that respect). I love that we get to fully take part in three different sets of family traditions because of only being with one (extended) family for the whole Christmas week.

And I love that as a result there’s very little, if any, arguing or insertion of satsumas into noses, because we want to make the most of seeing each other while we can. Which in turn means I can look forward to the family reunion without apprehension, and enjoy the whole month of December.

I also like May. But that’s another story.

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Christmas fake-Danish-hearts

This post has been linked to learning cooperative ABC&123 – check them out!

This is a close-up of our Advent calendar. These are “real” Danish hearts. You can find a tutorial for making them here or by Googling “Danish heart baskets”. They’re fun to do if you’re old enough, but no good for our five-year old. Also they’re much easier with paper than with felt – I know because we tried felt last year. But here’s what I’m talking about today:

This is our Advent “wreath”. Cute, and much easier! We got ours from Ikea, full of tea-lights. Now the tea-lights are hidden it looks much better.

Here’s what you need. Well some of what you need. Old wrapping paper or craft paper in various colours – we used both. Scissors, pencil, ruler, template…

You can use the template for making real Danish hearts too – click on the picture if you want a better look. To make the template, we used the bottom of a wine glass and then extended the sides till they were the same length as the diameter of the wineglass (you can see I’ve marked the identical lengths “A”). To make our decoration we needed to cut out four hearts from plain paper (any colour would do) because I wasn’t sure about Froglet gluing stuff directly onto the backdrop. And for some reason I started drawing six. Never mind eh.

Don’t worry about that little mark on the template where it says “plus a bit”- that’s not relevant here. It just shows to make the cuts a bit longer so it’s easier to weave the strips together on a real heart basket.

Here I’m cutting out the template from the coloured paper that we’re using to decorate our hearts. Whatever colours you like – we always used red-and-green when I was little.
Cut out the semi-circle and then divide the square into equal parts – I think sixteen would be more traditional but we chose the easy option and did nine. Froglet only cut the little squares out because I don’t really trust him with curvy lines yet for something that’s actually going to be in the middle of the table for a month! Yes I know. One day I may be less of a perfectionist.

Glue your cut-out paper onto the plain paper heart, making sure your child knows to alternate the colours like a chess-board. Then stick your heart onto whatever you’re using it for, if you didn’t do that directly. I glued ours on a piece of gold wrapping paper cut to more-or-less fit around the inside of the Ikea candle vase…

Turns out I didn’t measure that carefully enough and the vase is wider at the top than the bottom so it doesn’t sit quite flat. But at least my semi-circles are well-cut-out. πŸ™‚
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Advent activities – Week Three

The last week of school was a busy time
Baking and cake decorating
Sewing, knitting and crocheting
Ironing new patches on very old jeans
Reading Christmas books
Playing with friends
Building with Lego
Sledging in the wonderful foot-deep snow on the hill outside
And wondering whether Christmas will actually be spent where we intended…

Christmas cake shared with dear friends…

…who brought us this lovely gift

First gift from Froglet opened
Second gift adorning the shelf
in a beautiful bag he decorated himself at school

“We three kings of Orient are
With our psychedelic camels we travel afar…

…Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Foll’wing a felted star!”
Didn’t Froglet do a lovely job on those camels?
Wooden shapes from the DIY store which he coloured with felt-tip pens and glitter glue.
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Advent activities – Week Two

Froglet’s wrapping paper made at school…
“Mummy, it has to go on the wall, Miss said so!”

Scones, strawberry and rhubarb jam…
with our advent “wreath” behind them…

We give thanks to Ikea for the flat-packed gingerbread house…
and to God for the fun we had decorating it…

A reindeer with handprint antlers to adorn the front door…
although he seems to prefer the floor…

Toilet roll snowflakes, painted pearl and white, strung together for a garland…
much prettier than our blinds outside…

Waldorf-style shepherds…
with misshapen sheep…

And we still have time to hide in boxes too!

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Advent activities – Week One

Advent calendar finished and hung up…
Tree decorated with unbreakable baubles, to the great delight of one small girl…

Some Christmas cards made…

New Jesse tree acquired (last year’s died) and Holy Family settled beneath it…

Great concentration is required for making jingle bell necklaces…

Pipe-cleaner, beads and bells for a lovely jingle bell bracelet/tree ornament!

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Stocking fillers

Here’s what’s going in our little ones’ stockings this year:

A home-made Waldorf baby doll and carrier sling each, if I get them finished in time…
A balloon each
A banana, satsuma, piece of pear-and-rye bread each
Chocolate coins – one bag between the four of us
A piece of Haba pretend food each, probably a muffin or berry of some sort
A matchbox car each – Nutmeg likes cars just as much as Froglet does!
A bracelet for Nutmeg, which Froglet will help me choose.
An umbrella for Froglet, for walking to kindergarten with
A mini-archaeology kit (semi-precious stones to dig out of a block of plaster)
A spoon with a coloured handle each. We’re always short of spoons.
A blank mini-sketchbook of some sort each, so we can start having family drawing time as suggested in this post from The Green Parent.

This year our stockings are also our main presents, because we know we’ll get lots of things from the grandparents.

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Advent activities list

Did you know Orthodox Advent has already started? For the Eastern churches (including Byzantine Catholics and perhaps others I don’t know of), Advent is a time of fasting similar to Lent. A bit different to what we’re used to here, and Priest’s Wife over at Fear Not Little Flock has a rather lovely post about how she intends to celebrate it, following the Proverbs 31 model. Check it out! πŸ™‚

Here in the more Western tradition, I have finally organised my advent activities list. Not quite the same as last year’s, and I think it’s a slightly different set of Bible verses each day too, as there seem to be different variants of the Jesse Tree. (You can see the set we used last year here) The verses are not related to the activities in the slightest this year however!

Update: I’ve linked each week to the post showing (some of) those activities now that we’ve done them. This post is also linked to ABC&123’s Show&Tell series – for lots of other great Advent/Christmas/general activities, check out their site!

First week of Advent
Sunday 28/11: Put up Christmas tree (no reading)
29/11: Make Christmas cards (no reading)
30/11: Get out Jesse tree, Christmas bookshelf and red postbox*; read a Christmas story (no reading)
1/12: Make Xmas cake (Creation: Gen 1:1-31; 2:1-4)
2/12: Learn Jingle bells (Adam and Eve: Gen 2: 7-9, 18-24)
3/12: Make jingle bell bracelets (Adam and Eve cont.: Gen 3:1-7, 23-34)
Saturday 4/12: Make stable and Waldorf-style Holy family (Noah: bits of Gen 6 and 7)

Second week of Advent
Sunday 5/12: Bake scones, have cream tea (Abraham: Gen 12:1-3)
6/12: New Christmas book about St Nicholas (Isaac: Gen 22:1-14)
7/12: Candlelight dinner (Jacob: Gen 25:1-34, 28:10-15)
8/12: Public holiday – Make gingerbread house (Joseph: Gen 37:23-28, 45:3-15)
9/12: Learn Away in a manger; Reindeer paper plate craft (Moses: Ex 2:1-10)
10/12: Make toilet roll snowflakes (Samuel; 1 Sam 3:1-18)
Saturday 11/12: Make Waldorf shepherds, sheep and angel (Jesse: 1 Sam 16:1-13)

Third week of Advent
Sunday 12/12: Make felted star, eat gingerbread house (David: 1 Sam 17:12-51)
13/12: Buy gift from World Vision (Solomon: 1 Kings 3:5-14, 16-28)
14/12: Learn the Holly and the Ivy (Joseph: Matt 1:18-25)
15/12: Paint a Christmas tree or possibly some holly (Mary: Luke 1:26-38)
16/12: Open red postbox, hang up cards; make ironing-bead ornaments (John the Baptist: Mark 1:1-8)
17/12: Take Christmas card to school, eat mince pies (Jesus is Wisdom: Ecclesiasticus 24:2, Wisdom 8:1)
Saturday 18/12: Make Waldorf wise men, centurion, star, camels (Jesus is Lord: Ex 3:2, 20:1)

Fourth week of Advent
Sunday 19/12: Toast crumpets, play Christmas tree game (Jesus is Key of David: Isaiah 22:22)
20/12 Make felt crowns, hang stockings** (Jesus is King of the Gentiles: Psalm 2:7-8, Eph 2:14-20)
21/12: Play out nativity story with Waldorf figures, celebrate Christmas (Jesus is Emmanuel: Isaiah 7:14, 33:22)

* the Red Postbox, constructed out of an old nappy (diaper) box, red paint and some cotton-wool “snow”, is where we keep Christmas cards that arrive so we can open lots and hang them all up on the same day. It’s a tradition I carried over from my own childhood. I don’t expect to get very many this year because we are absolutely rubbish at sending any out ourselves!
** A few days early, yes, but we will be away visiting relatives over the actual Christmas period so we are having our own celebration at home and with friends first using our own traditions.

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Christmas planning

I know Christmas is still a long way off, but we’re not American so no Thanksgiving – the Swiss have been having small harvest celebrations for several weeks now, they seem to stagger them so everyone can go to everyone else’s village celebrations – and Switzerland doesn’t really do Halloween as such (they save the dressing-up for Carnival time in February) and so Advent and Christmas are the Next Big Thing.

For Froglet’s Advent bags this year I’ve bought some of those little cylindrical plastic beads that you make a picture with and then iron together, and I will do some designs for small baubles to make with them, probably while Nutmeg sleeps after lunch.

I have also got a 10-week preparation list from Planning with Kids, where there is going to be more about it each week so do click through!

  • 10 Weeks To Go – Review Christmas budget
  • 9 Weeks To Go – Start making the family Christmas cards
  • 8 Weeks To Go – Make food packs to donate
  • 7 Weeks To Go – Christmas present ideas (ones that are easy to pack)
  • 6 Weeks To Go – Help my kids organise a mini fundraiser
  • 5 Weeks To Go – Finish Christmas tags and handmade gifts
  • 4 Weeks To Go – Handmade Christmas decorations
  • 3 Weeks To Go – Cooking Christmas treats
  • 2 Weeks To Go – Make arrangements for the house
  • 1 Week To Go – Christmas celebration with family before we go

I have to say I am very intrigued to find out what some of them will be (a mini-fundraiser for what?), and intend to use the list as a basis for making my own plans. I’m cutting out the fundraiser as my eldest is currently 5, but it’s an interesting thought for future years. And we wouldn’t know who to give food packets to so unless we manage to find out before Christmas, that’s getting replaced with Christmas parcels to send to Eastern Europe.

Here (for my own benefit more than anyone else’s) are the posts I made concerning Advent and preparing for Christmas last year:

http://notreallyhomeschooling.blogspot.com/2009/11/planning-advent.html (this one has links in it to the Jesse Tree stuff)
http://notreallyhomeschooling.blogspot.com/2009/12/advent-week-1.html
http://notreallyhomeschooling.blogspot.com/2009/12/second-week-of-advent.html

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Advent week 3

December 13th: Today’s activity is meant to be a visit to the Christmas market in our village, but due to the pox we probably shouldn’t be going out. This morning we caught up on Jesse Tree ornaments, and after lunch we will hang them all up and read the appropriate passages again as we do so. No church today, again due to the chickenpox.

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