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I had envisioned a Christmas Eve with folks singing Christmas carols, while I played the organ. Hah! That didn’t happen. The idea of singing was apparently offensive to some people. I can’t sing, and I discovered that the book that I was using was only useful if a person plays the organ two-handed. Yes, I know that keyboards are best played with two hands. However, the violin was my instrument of choice, and I only played the notes on the treble clef. Now, I found to my surprise that the music just did not sound right in sections unless one played the notes associated with the bass clef. So much for that idea. I did discover that playing one handed was more than sufficient for playing the many Winter-themed songs in the Wynstones Press Winter book. That will be useful when we return to homeschooling proper and need music for puppet shows and other seasonal activities.

Breaking Out the Organ

Breaking Out the Organ

HABA is one of my all time favorite toy producers. Both HABA and my other favorite producer Ravensburger make some of the best toys for children that can be had. To set the proper mood for Christmas Eve, I broke out HABA’s Sternsammler board game. “Sternsammler” means “Star Collector,” and the game is based on the folktale of the Starkind. Starkind tells the tale of a poor, orphaned girl who goes out into the world on a cold winter’s night with nothing but a bit of bread and the layers of clothing on her back. For whatever reason, she heads into the woods and gradually gives away the bread and all her layers of clothes to various beggars that she meets. Finally, she finds herself in the middle of nowhere with nothing left at all. The stars then shine down on her and shower her with gold coins as a repayment for her exemplary altruism. She emerges from the woods with untold wealth and a new gown made of starbeams or some such gauzy and magical material. Possibly due to lack of name recognition, this game was renamed “Pennies from Heaven” for English speaking audiences. It is a fairly basic game, but it comes with the Starkind story and I read the tale before gameplay to ensure that the Starkind’s lesson informs the gameplay.

Star Collector Box

Star Collector Box

Star Collector Game

Star Collector Game

This year, I wanted to make an effort of incorporating Advent into our holiday schedule. I had already made the “Advent box,” which my son took to calling the “Mystery box.” I had vainly attempted to needle felt an advent spiral mat, and I had contemplated getting the four candles. However, Advent didn’t come to fruition in the way that I had imagined. Instead, this little book fell into my lap. Actually, it didn’t fall upon me in any, real serendipitous or mysterious way. I actually bought it in a Waldorf/Anthroposophical bookstore. Still, I certainly hadn’t intended to buy it, and I didn’t really know what I was purchasing. I liked the cover, and I assumed it was a collection of unrelated Christmas stories with gnomes and fairies and talking mice. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was a collection of stories that followed Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. True to Waldorf form, there were four blocks of stories that each related to Mary and Joseph’s interaction with the mineral, plant, animal and human kingdoms. If one is not into Waldorf, per se, this may not be a familiar concept. Suffice it to say, this is not the typical journey to Bethlehem that one might first envision. Instead, the tale starts off on a road–any road, in a non-descript place–and that road is fraught with perils. The first perils are mostly rocks to big to bypass or gravel to sharp for the travelers and donkey to walk on. The stories tend to resolve with events such as boulders rolling away of their own accord in deference to the holy couple or shards of useless stones turning to crystals or jewels. The second block of stories pertains to vegetation that makes itself available as food or ornamentation to the couple, despite the vegetation’s being out of season. The blocks of stories continue on in this manner until they reach their destination and their child arrives.

Finally, the stories themselves are generally very spare and brief. As stories, they may be too brief and straightforward to really involve a child’s imagination. However, I believe there would be much value in the book, if it were paired with a miniature Advent spiral. Here, I mean a spiral shape made out of wood, fabric, clay or some other material. It would likely have some type of figures that would move along it to mark the passing of the four weeks until advent. I’ve seen many such spirals and they often have rocks, plants, animal figures and human figurines decorating their edges. Pairing the themed stories in the book with the stories in the book would be be a great way to slowly build up the Advent spiral and the general excitation surrounding Christmas.

The Light in the Lantern

The Light in the Lantern

I have been looking for the quintessential Christmas movie or program that I could share with my son. We don’t watch broadcast or cable television, so we aren’t bothered with such trifling things as a “Go, Diego Go! Christmas.” God forbid such a program exists! Instead, we try as much as we can to limit our viewing to quality program that will both educate and entertain my son all the while contributing something of cultural value. After much thought, I chose Hansel and Gretel. It interests me in part, because it is based on traditional, German folktale. However, it is not the sort of thing that I would associate with Christmas. I only established that association after my trip to the Waldorf school. That trip got me to thinking about a stage performance that I had seen on television. It had either been an opera or a ballet and it was every bit as lush as a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Nutcracker. I actually found that program on Amazon. It was an old opera staged with live singers. This was not the version that I settled on, though. Instead, I found a wonderful, stop-motion animation piece that was also based on the real Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1892 opera. My son took to this production immediately, even though the sound quality was somewhat muddled and song lyrics were difficult to understand. Nevertheless, the characters were very engaging, and my son strained to watch the entire show, though each of our attempts to watch it started out quite late in the evening. Without fail, my son fell asleep on three separate occasions right after the lovable sandman comes and sprinkles sand in the children’s eyes. We may revisit the movie for a fourth time on New Year’s Eve, if we find that we have nothing else to do.

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel (1954)

My son has a thing for fabulous headgear. He’d been coveting a friend’s Santa hat for some time now, and he came tot he conclusion that he simply had to have his own. I had to buy this hat one particular day just to restore sanity to my life. My son had been alternatively begging and demanding that I get him one, as he was–in so many words–incomplete without it.

Santa Hat

Santa Hat

Who would have thought that the busy, child-eating Krampus would have taken time enough time out of its annual Christmas jaunt in Germany to visit my son in the states? I could never have envisioned such a thing, but my son got lucky this year. Krampusnacht (“Krampus Night”) normally occurs earlier in December, right before St. Nick’s day. However, the Krampus seems to have rescheduled the whole affair for December 23rd. Very late on this evening, my son and I were awoken by the most dreadful sounds. Together, we walked through the dimly-lit hallway and into the kitchen. We were wary about the sounds and proceeded with caution. Then, before our very eyes, we watched as an enormous, man-sized beast covered in black fur rose up from behind our little kitchen island. My son was taken aback by the sight and–without a single word–tried to pull me away from the beast. I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I followed him back to my bedroom. There, we hopped in bed and shut the door. The Krampus then continued to storm about the house shaking furniture, clawing walls, shaking chains and generally making a nuisance of himself. The next morning, my son was not so sure that the Krampus had gone. After all, my son had not ended up in the Krampus basket, and he was sure that the Krampus would not leave unsatisfied. Consequently, he put together a little plan. He said, “No bathroom breaks, no changing breaks, no eating breaks, no TV breaks. We sneak down the stairs and get our shoes. Then, we go out the front door.” Fortunately, there was no need for a contingency plan. When we went into the kitchen, we found only the Krampus’s walking and child whacking sticks–along with lots of Krampus hair–strewn on the floor. Later, my son pointed out that he had seen the Krampus being attacked by the puny cat (LOL), as it had tried to round the kitchen island and make its way toward us. I continue not to like this particular cat, but my son has a new found appreciation for it. He thinks it saved our lives.

My son and I have been slacking off on the homeschooling due to the sheer amount of magic that’s been happening during the month of December. One day prior to Christmas, we tried to get with our usual program and we studied the properties, history and folklore surrounding peppermint and peppermint products. My son tasted, touched and examined mint leaves. He learned that diverse products such as candy canes and toothpaste were either made from peppermint or given a peppermint taste due to the perceived medicinal properties and overall fresh feeling that the plant leaves in the mouth. Similarly, he learned about the storied history of candy canes. I just wished that I had know that a German immigrant named August Imgard was associated with the first appearance of the candy cane in the US. I would have worked that fact in somehow, but I’m sure he would have quickly forgotten it.

Peppermint

Peppermint & Candy Canes

Admittedly, this is **not** the typical Santa picture. LOL. However, there’s quite a story to this picture. Previously in the week, my son and I had made an impromptu stop at a used book store. We were surprised to find that this bookstore had a meet-and-greet Santa center. More surprisingly, no one was around whatsoever to partake of the Santa offering. This made my son the one and only child in the area that Santa could “greet.” Well, Santa went above and beyond his duties. He went so far beyond the parameters of the typical Santa encounter that he nearly ruined our Christmas. How did he do this, one might ask. I shall tell you. When prompted for his Christmas list, my son simply stated that he wanted a truck. Santa wasn’t impressed. He wanted more details. My son blurted out that he wanted a “real” truck. Oh, ho ho! At this point, Santa clicked into gear like a used car salesman. He started asking my son what make and model was preferred. He wanted to know the tire size, the desired options, the transmission type (i.e., manual, automatic), and whether or not satellite radio was optional. Santa then stated quite clearly that he would try and get my son a fully loaded, red GMC truck with black interior and satellite radio. And, he mumbled something about it essentially being illegal, but he would try! My son didn’t pick up on the “try” part, and he went about telling all his family and friends that we were definitely getting a new truck, because Santa had said so.

Now, fast-forward to the following Sunday. I confirmed that Santa would be making his annual Christmas visit to the Sunday school kids. This was not surprising, as it is the tradition. Surprising was the fact that someone I know would be Santa. I pulled the man aside and explained my truck dilemma. He was quite understanding and conspired to tell my son that there was a “shipping disaster” that would–sadly–make a Christmas delivery impossible. LOLOL. In the picture above, he is trying to whisper in my son’s ear that no “real truck” will be forthcoming. The horror!

Santa's Big Secret

Santa's Big Secret

Previously, my son featured as a stationary “moose in the manger” during our annual Christmas Pageant. This was quite last minute, and he was bewildered by all the traditional Christmas carols with their “big” words. He was a sport about the entire thing, but he likely would not have opted to do this of his own free will and accord. This year was quite different. He realized that being in the Christmas pageant was the cool thing to do. He watched friends vie for coveted speaking roles and gladly stay after church or come on off-days just to rehearse. My son wanted in on the action, and he very deliberately decided he was a goat. Not only was he a goat, he was a singing goat that crawled down the main aisle with the big boy shepherds! He was willing to attend all the rehearsals and he is contemplating wanting some simple speaking role in the future.

Holly Jolly Christmas Goat

Holly Jolly Christmas Goat