Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. I love the music, the food, the decorations, the dark nights lit with candles and twinkle lights, the stories of angels and kings and all those animals and mysterious stars in the night, and last but not least, I love singing carols. So, to that end, I tend to collect cookbooks, records, CDs, carol books, and ornaments throughout the year, at garage sales, second hand stores, and our local Sally Ann. I'm picky though: I don't like most kitsch and I genuinely might die if someone ever gave me a country and western Christmas CD. I like weird and old. And no, that is not kitsch; it's weird and old.
I have my mother's very old handpainted Made in Japan nativity set ("Made of paper mache composition"), that she bought at Sears in 1960, complete with the Red Rose Tea turtle and the hand-crocheted goat we added later. When I was 10, and beginning to think of such things, I thought this was wittily sacriligeous of us. Now I see it as equal opportunity. And when I was sitting in a darkened movie theatre with Richard (all those years ago in San Diego) watching Love Actually, I had a moment of delighted recognition when I heard Emma Thompson say "There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?" "Yes, Emma!" I wanted to shout, "there was also a turtle and a goat!"
But I digress.
I have my Nanna's odd little snowmen carolers and gnome-like Santa, which you can see in the picture here.
I also buy Martha's Holiday magazine every year, despite the palpitations the price gives me ($8 for a magazine?), because they contain some of the best recipe collections you'll ever see. Her 2001 Holiday: Cookies issue is still, hands down, the best cookie recipe book I own. And the other one, Holiday Handmade Gifts (2006), encouraged me to loftier heights in my Must Make More Truffles frenzy.
But with all this Christmas celebration comes the itch for new rituals, particularly as the kids get older and look for different ways of believing. We've brought in St Nicolas, on December 6th, for the Dutch side of the family. St Nicolas, or Sinterklaas, travels with his sidekick Zwarte Piet, riding his big white horse. How can you not love a character named Zwarte Piet, who goes around with a big stick, smacking naughty children? When Richard first told me about him (Black Peter) I laughed, incredulous at the bizarreness of it all. But now the kids leave their shoes on the front porch, stuffed with hay and carrots for the horse, hoping that Sinterklaas will leave some giant speckulaas or gold coins in return.
On December 13th FDPG dons a golden garland of candles and brings us sweet rolls and coffee in bed, for St Lucia.
And this year, I've found something new for our observations of Advent. I saw it in All Year Round, a very charming Waldorf book. They called it Mary's Star Path. I think they had a younger audience in mind, but I like the idea of Advent unfolding, creating a mood for Christmas, "allowing expectation to grow gently day by day," so I made one for my kids.
This is not, alas, the best of photographs, but it shows the thing in its entirety: blue felt sky, green felt backdrop, navy felt ground, little trees on either side, tiny nativity set, gold paper stars. The idea is that you have a star for each day in Advent: little ones for weekdays; big ones for the four Sundays. You arrange them on the cloth in a curving pattern, wending their way towards the stable. Mary stands on each star as that day comes up, and when the day is done and she moves on to the next, you stick that day's star on the sky behind (with a little tape, how, err Waldorfy of me). As her journey continues, you can add to the nature table aspect of this tableau, with stones, moss, twigs, shells, or crystals, acknowledging the four kingdoms of nature.
Here is a little closeup of the stable area. I used a little wooden nativity set from Michaels, clipped the strings off their heads, touched up the paint a little, then glued some pine cone bits around the roof and sides of the stable and stuck it on a bit of birch bark. And you can't see them, but we strung some coloured fairy lights up behind it for added effect.
It's all so tiny and the stars are so bright and golden, and the kids are so enchanted, that I can't help but feel glad.
And what's not to like about a little delayed gratification?