Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Celebrating Epiphany

Our girls are excited. Epiphany comes this Sunday and with it comes the multitude of traditions and customs that are part of any family celebration. For us it's a time to get out the crowns, start baking, and begin the fun.

Titania and Tinkerbell make each member of the family a crown out of either foam or card board. With some of the larger members of the family this is no mean feat. Each crown is carefully cut out and covered in ‘jewels.’ These consist of anything from patty pans and paper shapes to sequins and glitter. These carefully made crowns will grace our heads at dinner.

Etcetera and I make the crown cake. This is usually an ordinary cake baked in the shape of a crown. When our cake is baked it’s time to decorate it. This is our favourite part because there are almost always some decorations left over. We use jelly sweets, freckles or any other sweets that will pass for jewels, and cover the cake liberally with these delicious treats.

Some people add a bean or a button to the cake. The person who receives the bean or button is the ‘king’ for the day and can decide what games are going to be played or what the family is going to do together.

Juliet sees to the gold gifts. Each person will receive a golden gift at dinner time. These will range from a chocolate in gold foil, to nuts in gold packaging, to some small treat wrapped in gold cellophane. These gifts sit by our plates until after dinner. Some years we save some Christmas crackers or bonbons and pull them on Epiphany. Really, it's almost like having Christmas all over again.

Finally, the three kings reach their destination after weeks of travelling round that house, hiding in the most unlikely of places. Now they give their unforgettable gifts to the baby Jesus.

For Epiphany Etcetera and I have made some Three Kings paper dolls to add to the nativity scene. They, like the original kings, bring their gifts to the infant king: Gold, Myrrh, and Frankincense. They come with their camel to adore the infant king.

Epiphany is only one of the many feast days in the Christmas season. Christmas doesn’t officially finish until the Baptism of our Lord on the 9th of January. It is important to us to remember that Christmas is not just one day, but many. Each day of the Christmas season should be celebrated as much as Christmas Day. So don’t take down the decorations just yet. We’ve still got over a week of Christmas to go.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Nativity Scene for Christmas

Walking through a shopping center last year, I rounded a corner and suddenly found myself face to face with a surprising Christmas decoration. Hidden away among all the tinsel and the Christmas trees and twinkly lights I found a Nativity scene. I was so surprised that a shopping center of all places would have one of these. Most public places seem to be trying to take the "Christ out of Christmas." Some 'Christmas shops are full of lights and baubles and wrapping paper, but not a single nativity scene.

But way back, even to the 10 century, people were making nativity scenes to remind themselves of Christ's role in Christmas. These nativity scenes were much like the ones we have today, except that people then covered the humble stable scene with gold and jewels. Jesus's humble act of being born in a stable was lost among the precious materials used to make the nativity scenes. It wasn't until St Francis of Assisi took a hand that the people were finally put right.

St Francis of Assisi had seen the nativity scenes of the day and knew that they were wrong. To show the people that what they were making was wrong, he decided to make his own nativity scene. On Christmas day he showed people his living nativity scene. Everyone could come and look at St Francis's nativity scene and see for themselves what the first Christmas was really like.

It was through St Francis that the nativity scene was really popularized. Nowadays you can find nativity scenes in the homes of all good Catholics and even in those unexpected places such as the shopping center where I had my surprise.

Many nativity scenes are made of china and cost quite a lot. But you don't need an expensive nativity scene at all. We have a couple of nativity scenes, but our main one is a simple scene that we created out of Cornflake boxes and felt. We have had it for around fifteen years and still looks as good as new. Plus the fact that our three wise men aren't breakable makes them perfect for 'hunt the wise men.'

Because the nativity scene is so important to us as Catholic, Etcetera and I decided that there was nothing better that we could make than a nativity scene of our own. Our nativity scene includes a Manger for baby Jesus and a stable. Normal nativity scenes have the three wise men also, but we've decided not to release them until Epiphany, the feast of the Three Kings.

We hope you'll love our cute nativity scene. It comes coloured or uncoloured, if your children are the sort who like to colour in their own paper dolls. To make the dolls stand up, simply bend the stands on the dotted line. If the dolls are a bit unsteady a bit of blue-tack stuck on the stands should help. We recommend that you either printed the set out onto card or cut it out and paste it onto card.

To make up the stable first cut out all the pieces. Then bend the flaps of the triangular front pieces backwards. Stick the roof pieces to the flaps. This should create a triangular roof. Bend the flaps of the walls backwards. Stick the top flap of each piece to the roof. Stick the bottom flap to a pieces of heavy cardboard. Now your stable is ready to receive Jesus on Christmas day.

Please go to our paper dolls page and check out the new nativity scene. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Annie Belle Paper Doll for Christmas

Well, finally Etcetera and I have finished the new Annie Belle doll. This is a special two page edition. Annie Belle comes complete with her very own Christmas tree and presents to put under it, although you're welcome to make her more.

Christmas is always better if you share with someone, so we've given Annie Belle a companion to share her Christmas fun. Meet Rosa, Annie Belle's cousin. The two girls each have two pretty dresses and these can be interchanged between the dolls.

Our suggestion with the tree is that you either print it off on card, or cut it out and paste it onto a piece of card to make it more stable. You might also like to print off two copies of the tree and stick the pieces back to back to get a lovely tree from whichever way you look at it.

To make up the tree, simply colour it in, cut it out, cut down the dotted lines and slide the two cut pieces up one another until they lock together. Then colour in the presents, cut them out, and place them under the tree.

In the next few days we hope to finish and load up our nativity scene dolls. This set will include a stable for you to put up for Mary, Joseph and Jesus to stay in. And for Epiphany we'll be giving you the Three Wise Men and their gifts to the infant Jesus.

Monday, December 6, 2010

St Nicholas

Today is the feast day of St Nicholas. Our family loves St Nicholas’ day. We look forwards to it through the whole year. We have several customs connected with St Nicholas’ day and in this post I want to share them with you. We have also made a special St Nicholas paper doll for you to colour in.

St Nicholas was born in the 4th century in Turkey. He was a very generous person and after his parents died he gave everything he owned to charity. He became a bishop, which is why our paper doll wears a bishop’s mitre. One of the most famous stories about him is this one:

There was a man who had three daughters. He was poor and could not afford a dowry for them to get married. St Nicholas found out and he dropped three bags of money down the chimney for the girls. This was their dowry.

This story might be the reason why Santa Claus is supposed to come down the chimney to deliver his presents.

St Nicholas is now the patron saint of many people. He is first and foremost the patron saint of children. He is also the patron saint of sailors and prisoners. Along with St Andrew he is the patron saint of Russia.

Our St Nicholas’ day celebrations start the night before. Each of us places a pair of shoes in some prominent place. Our St Nicholas is a very fussy saint and insists on us having clean shoes. During the night St Nicholas (or Juliet) comes and fills the shoes. In our house we use chocolate coins that you can buy easily at the shops but you can fill the shoes with anything. Some people use other sorts of sweets, or a small gift, or even real money. In the morning there is a rush for the shoes to see what St Nicholas has put in them this year.

Every year Etcetera and I make our special St Nicholas day biscuits, Speculatius. They are spicy biscuits with yummy nuts in them. These biscuits are delicious and very more-ish. I can’t imagine having St Nicholas day without them.

If you would like to make these biscuits too, then here is the recipe:



1-cup butter (approx 250 grams)
1-cup lard (approx 250 grams)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2-cups brown sugar
4 ½ cups sifted flour
½ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ cup chopped nuts (any sort)

Cream the butter, lard and sugar. Add sour cream alternately with sifted dry ingredients. Stir in the nuts. Knead the dough into rolls and refrigerate overnight. Roll the dough very thin and cut into shapes. Bake in moderate oven (180 degrees) for 10-15 minutes.

We hope you enjoy making the biscuits and we also hope that you feel inspired to try making your own St Nicholas day traditions as we have done.