With the magical season of Christmas upon us, our home is bursting with creativity. There is no room for pandemic blues as we craft them away to the sound of crackling paper and the smell of freshly baked Lebkuchen.
This year we create simple but elegant projects, making the pandemic holidays a pleasure and social distancing a breeze. Our little elves are fully involved and their touch on the fine decorations is priceless. Through incorporating their art, they become very much part of the preparations and capture the little people they currently are. I love every item we made together and certainly look forward to the official count-down to Christmas. The excitement is palpable!
The advent wreath is a Christian tradition that originated among German Lutherans in the 16th century and symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent. The wreath is made from evergreen foliage. One candle is lit on each subsequent Sunday during Advent, as Christmas approaches.
The circle is said to symbolize God’s infinite love or eternity, and the evergreen branches represent the hope of eternal life brought by Jesus Christ. Generally, the wreath contains four candles, which represent hope, peace, joy and love respectively.
The more modern advent wreath was invented by Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881), who was a protestant pastor and involved in mission work among the poor. When the children at the mission school Rauhes Haus in Hamburg would ask daily if Christmas had arrived, he built them a large wooden ring from an old wagon wheel with candles to count down the days until Christmas.
Growing up in South Africa, we used conifer branches in oasis to arrange our advent wreath. Our cats were often a little too intrigued with them, but with our evergreen IKEA advent wreath this year, our cat has shown little interest so far. But Christmas is still far off. 😊
I don’t remember ever using any colour besides red for our advent candles - red is traditionally used in Christmas decorations. In many catholic and protestant churches the most popular colours for the advent candles are violet and rose, corresponding to the liturgical vestments for the Sundays of Advent. The third candle, joy, is often a rose colour. This year I am using white candles - just because I like them.
Pinecones go hand-in-hand with Christmas decorations and I love the look of these gold-plated ones which can be created in record time.
You will need:
1. Pine cones, collected while hiking (which is another great activity with the kids)
2. Paint, gold (I used chalk paint)
3. Paint brush
4. 30cm string (optional)
Coat the top third of the pinecone with a layer of the golden paint. Once dry, tie the string to the stalk in order to hang it from your tree; alternatively use it as gorgeous table decoration.
Every child I know gets really excited about Christmas, and counting the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas brings back very fond memories for most of us. Our boys are so excited about starting the count-down on their advent calendar, I think we may need to have a count-down until the count-down 😊.
Although a myriad of chocolate-filled advent calendar designs is on the market, advent calendars were first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries. We elected to make a timeless advent calendar in which the content can be varied each year. This year the small boxes are filled with daily quizzes on the story of the Nativity of Jesus, and of course sweets. I have included a few ideas on quiz questions when you scroll to the bottom.
You will need:
1. Canvas or any mounting board (I used a canvas of 60 x 84cm), painted in desired colour
2. 24 small recycled boxes (match boxes, pharmaceutical/cosmetic boxes and small grocery boxes are handy)
3. Old sheet music or old book pages
4. Numbers 1 – 24 from an old daily devotional, or printed
7. Ribbon and buttons etc to decorate
a. Arrange the boxes on the canvas to form the shape of a Christmas tree.
b. Carefully open the small boxes and separate the glued edges carefully
c. Apply glue to the outside of the opened flat boxes and stick them to the sheet music.
d. Cut out the boxes from the sheet music and fold them back together.
e. Apply glue to the edge that had been glued previously and hold for a few seconds.
f. Cut out numbers 1 - 24 and stick them onto the boxes. Decorate with ribbons, buttons etc.
g. Glue the boxes onto the canvas.
h. Once dry, hang and fill with treats, nativity quizzes, or both.
These stars are perfect for hanging on your Christmas tree, or can be used as gift tags. They are extremely personal and are easy to make once the paper is folded, even for the little ones. Because they virtually do not cost anything, there is no reason why your Christmas tree should be bare this year!
The Christmas star represents the bright star of Bethlehem that shone on the night Jesus was born. It guided the wise men to the baby Jesus. It also symbolizes that Christ is the light of the world and is a shining hope to all of mankind.
You will need:
1. Paper cut into 5 x 80cm strips (IKEA MÅLA Drawing Paper Roll works well)
2. Old book pages (I used an old daily devotional)
5. 30cm string per star
6. Marker in your colour of choice
Below are the instructions on how to fold an origami paper star; alternatively watch a tutorial on YouTube (https://youtu.be/DvL7kCRTKuE):
a. Tie a knot on the one end of the paper strip, slowly tightening the knot while pressing it flat into a pentagon.
b. Tuck the short end in behind the pentagon.
c. Fold the long end over so the bottom edge aligns with the nearest bottom edge of the pentagon.
d. Flip the pentagon over and fold over again, this time making the top edges align. Repeat until the strip is small.
e. When only a small stub is left, open up a pocket and insert the stub to lock it in place.
f. Tie a knot with the 30cm string to form a loop. Insert it into a pocket and push the string through a corner of the pentagon, placing the knot on the inside. * Omit this step if you wish to use the stars as table decorations only.
g. Stick the pentagon to an old book page, then cut along the edges. Repeat on the reverse side.
h. Have your children draw their Christmas wish list or whatever goes through their little minds on the pentagon. Even if they draw dragons and space rockets… 😉 If you are using the stars as gift tags, write the name at this point.
i. Use a round pencil to rub and press the sides of the pentagon inwards, causing it to inflate. Your first paper star is ready to be hung.
The Cutting out with cookie cutters does not only make children’s eyes grow wide. The smell, the texture and the kneading of real dough nudge you into Christmas spirit. Pair this with good Christmas music, and Christmas magic fills your home.
The tradition of baking biscuits around Christmas time is one of our favourites as a family. Add to that decorating the freshly baked biscuits with icing, and of course munching them afterwards. Biscuits also make great gifts. If you were ever wondering how many biscuits are appropriate to give, I found these quirky guidelines: “Sending two to three cookies per person in the household is polite. It is best to send at least a dozen, even for a lone recipient, so the gift does not look sparse. An assortment is a lovely option”.
Lebkuchen are an old favourite around Christmas time (especially in the German tradition), as are sugar biscuits. Sugar biscuits are the cookie of choice to leave out for Santa Claus with a glass of milk. I love to bake an old German sugar biscuit/Zuckerkringel recipe that I got from my grandmother, which I will translate as well as possible. This recipe stems from the time of wood burning ovens and when the pace of life was a little slower. I love old-fashioned. Especially around Christmas.
Mix 2 cups of white sugar with 1 cup of butter to a frothy mass, gradually add 4 whole eggs and enough flour (with 2 teaspoons of baking powder) so that the donuts or pretzels roll well. Then you press them a little flatter with the palm of your hand on a plate that is filled with sugar and cinnamon. Don't bake them too brown, but as quickly as possible.
24 Nativity Quiz Questions for your Advent Calendar:
1. What is the name of the angel who told the Virgin Mary that she would have a child?
2. What name did the angel tell Mary to give to her child?
3. What does Jesus’ other name, Immanuel, mean?
4. What did Joseph, who she was engaged to, do for a living?
5. Where did Mary and Joseph live?
6. Who was the Roman emperor in power at the time that Jesus was born?
7. Why did Mary and Joseph leave to go to Bethlehem?
8. How did they travel to Bethlehem? Did they have trains or cars?
9. Why were Mary and Joseph unable to stay in an inn?
10. In which city was Jesus born?
11. Was Jesus born in a hospital?
12. In what did Mary wrap new-born Jesus?
13. What did Jesus’ bed look like? Did he have a baby cot?
14. To whom did angels come to tell them about Jesus’ birth in the night he was born?
15. How many angels appeared to the shepherds on the field?
16. What did the angels sing when they told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem?
17. How did the wise men know that a king had been born?
18. Which presents did the wise men take along?
19. What guided the wise men to find Jesus?
20. Did the wise men find baby Jesus in a palace?
21. Why did king Herod want to kill baby Jesus and all the children in Bethlehem?
22. How did the wise men know not to go back to king Herod?
23. Where did Mary and Joseph flee to with baby Jesus when they heard that king Herod wanted to kill him?
24. When they returned from Egypt, where did Jesus and his family dwell?