Posts Tagged ‘Christmas tree’

Clever Christmas Decorating Ideas On A Budget

April 27, 2016

This month we have a special treat.  Guest author Renee Hopkins gives us some inexpensive Christmas decorating projects that we can start working on even now for this coming Christmas.  They also will not take a lot of room if you are decorating a small apartment.  Thank you, Renee, for these wonderful ideas.


Christmas is a festive holiday filled with family, friends and celebration. Part of making this holiday so special is decorating your home in a way that makes your home feel welcoming, festive and fun. While you can certainly spend a fortune trying to achieve the right holiday look in your home, you don’t have to. With some simple tips, you can create a beautiful and inviting Christmas décor that you’re certain to feel proud of.

  1. The Christmas Treeladder tree

The traditional pine Christmas tree is always a classic look, but today, creative and chic ideas are in and quickly taking its place. Create your own unique Christmas tree with a fold out ladder, a few boards (cut at different lengths) a small pot of green paint and green, red and white household items.

Simply paint your boards green, and arrange them along the steps of the ladder (after the paint has dried). This will provide you with the triangular shape of a Christmas tree. Place your red, green and white household items on the shelves, and you have a uniquely decorated tree at little to no cost.

  1. The Christmas Cracker

Tired of the less appealing little novelty items you get inside your Christmas crackers every year? Why not make your own?

You willChristmas Stocking And Presents need wrapping paper (the type of wrapping paper you use will determine how elegant or creative your Christmas crackers will be), cracker snaps, cardboard toilet paper inserts, small gifts, stickers and some ribbon.

Cut the wrapping paper into a rectangle measuring about 30cm in length and 20 cm in width. Glue one cracker snap onto the paper, lengthwise, and place one toilet paper insert in the middle with the gift inside. You can also add a hand written joke. Place another two toilet paper inserts on each side of the middle one and roll the paper around all three.

Join the two ends of the paper with a sticker. Twist the paper where the inserts meet, and remove the two outside toilet paper inserts. Tie ribbons around the twist to add flair and hold the twist in place.

  1. The Christmas WreathMaking Of Christmas Wreath

In the same way new and novel ideas are replacing the traditional Christmas tree, wreaths are taking on whole new look too.

Take a piece of sturdy cardboard, and cut it into a ring in the desired size. Collect items from around the home or garden that can be glued to the ring to entirely cover the cardboard. Anything from bottle corks, to beads, buttons, seashells, seeds, burlap, gift bows, ribbon, fabric or traditional pine cones can be used to create a unique and stylish wreath.

  1. Outdoor Christmas Characters

Christmas Milk Jug DecorationsStart saving up those plastic milk containers, making sure to wash them out carefully. Use different color paints and cardboard cutouts to create a snowman, reindeer or even Santa Claus. Dangle a small handheld torch from a string tied to a piece of wood, and place it into the opening of the bottle so that the stick holds it in place. You now have a creative outdoor decoration that lights up from the inside.

To truly have a chic and elegant Christmas this year, think outside the box, and get creative. Your friends and family will simply love how innovative you are and appreciate the effort you put into making this memorable holiday a spectacular one.

About The Author
Renee Hopkins runs an innovative and affordable home décor site. Visit to find everything you need to make your rooms beautiful, comfortable and chic.

Count your blessings this Christmas

December 14, 2014

It recently came to my attention how blessed my family and I are.  I do not know why I did not particularly notice it before.  I mean God has blessed us and is blessing us daily, but this year it finally hit me how blessed we are.

Two years ago at this time I was out of a job.  God blessed me with a job for Christmas.  I had an hour and twenty minute commute.  God blessed us with a house only fifteen minutes away from my job.

Now the house we are staying in is being sold.  God blessed us with another house more affordable than the last.  What a blessing!

We are a large family, my wife and I and our seven children.  It takes a lot to feed everyone.  We were blessed to have several organizations offer to bring food stuffs.  One of them even brought presents for the family.  What another blessing!  God is so good to us.

This year we are counting our blessings.  Why not count your blessings this year.  Whether you have a lot of presents under your Christmas tree or just a few, a lot of food on your table or just enough for those around it, count your blessings.  You may find that you are blessed beyond your wildest dreams.

Merry Christmas!

Celebrating Advent

November 25, 2014

On November 30 our family will begin our celebration of Advent.  Advent for us is not just a countdown to Christmas.  It is a time for us to prepare for the celebration of and to remember the birthday of Jesus. Bartholomew's Passage

This year we are using a book written by Arnold Ytreeide called Bartholomew’s Passage.  It is about a young Jewish boy and his adventures just prior to the birth of Jesus.  This book is one of three interrelated books for Advent written by Mr. Ytreeide: Bartholomew’s Passage, Jotham’s Journey, and Tabitha’s Travels.  Every night we read a portion of the story until, on Christmas morning, the story ends with the main character of the story arriving at the manger where the baby Jesus lays.

This is an excellent way for the entire family to get into the Advent season.  Even our youngest child sits quietly to find out what will happen to Bartholomew tonight.

If you haven’t yet begun celebrating the Advent season or if you are looking for something new for Advent, why don’t you look for one of these books.  You won’t regret it.



The Cinnamon Bear Advent CalendarCountdown to Christmas with’s Cinnamon Bear Advent Calendar.  Taken from The Cinnamon Bear radio program the advent calendar follows the adventures of Paddy O’Cinnamon as he helps Jimmy and Judy find the silver star, stolen by Crazy Quilt Dragon, that belongs on top of their Christmas tree.  The 26-segment story, each segment 12 – 15 minutes long, begins on Saturday, November 29, and continues through Christmas Eve.  Join us and the Cinnamon Bear this Christmas season as we count down to Christmas.






1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 pound milk chocolate

In a large mixing bowl, stir together powdered sugar, peanut butter, and butter until well combined.  Shape into about 30 1-inch balls.  Place balls on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Let stand for about 25 minutes or until dry.  Place water in the bottom of a double boiler to within ½ inch of upper pan.  Make sure the upper pan does not touch the water.  While balls are cooling and the water is heating, finely chop the chocolate so it will melt quickly.  Bring the water to a boil.  Remove from heat and place about ¼ of the chocolate in the top of the double boiler.  Stir until melted.  Add about ½ cup more, stir, and repeat until all chocolate is melted.  Stir until chocolate has reached 120 degrees; reheat if necessary to reach this temperature.  After the chocolate has reached 120 degrees, refill bottom of double boiler with cool water to within ½ inch of upper pan.  Stir frequently until chocolate cools to 83 degrees.  This should take about 30 minutes.  Using a toothpick, dip balls in chocolate, working quickly and stirring chocolate frequently to keep it evenly heated.  Place balls on cookie sheet.  (Chocolate will stay close to 83 degrees for about 30 minutes.  If temperature falls below 80 degrees, chocolate must be remelted.)  Store tightly covered in a cool, dry place.

Christmas Customs From Denmark

September 25, 2014

Cut and Paste Day: Usually in mid-December family and friends gather for “Cut and Paste Day,” a day to make new handmade ornaments.  Hearts, woven heart baskets, Danish flags, paper cones (to be filled with candies and nuts), three-dimensional stars, nisse (made with yarn) pine cone ornaments, little drums, and wooden figures are among the favorite handmade ornaments made on “Cut and Paste Day.”  Most, if not all of these ornaments, will be red and/or white in color just like the Danish flag.

Advent Calendars and Candles:

Like children everywhere Danish children get excited with the anticipation of the Christmas celebration. So, when December 1 rolls around, out comes the advent candle and one or more advent calendars.  Advent candles have marks on them one for each day of December leading up to Christmas.  At some point each day, a family member lights the candle.  The candle is allowed to burn to the next mark but no further until the candle is allowed to burn down to the final mark Christmas morning.

Advent calendars may be homemade or store-bought, simple or elaborate. Some may have only windows to open revealing a verse or saying about Christmas.  Others may include cookies, toys, small gifts, candles, candy, or gum for the child fortunate enough to expose the day’s goodies.  A couple Danish television stations produce a special advent calendar in the form of a Christmas show that is divided into twenty-four episodes.  These shows are like The Cinnamon Bear, Jonathon Thomas And His Christmas On The Moon, and Jump-Jump And The Ice Queen radio shows produced in the United States during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Christmas Seals: The purchasing of Christmas seals to raise money to treat children with tuberculosis began in Denmark.  In 1903, Danish Postal clerk Einar Holboell looked at all the Christmas cards and mail going through the post office and thought what if people could purchase a Christmas “stamp” to place on their packages.  He designed the first Christmas seal, had them printed, and sold them raising much money for the fight against tuberculosis thus beginning the beloved custom of purchasing Christmas seals.  Norway and Sweden were the first countries to adopt this custom followed by the United States in 1907.

Collectible Christmas plates: In 1895, the porcelain company Bing and Grondahl decided to make a special Christmas plate.  It was to be colored blue and white, involving one of the more complicated processes in plate-making.  On Christmas Eve the company made that plate a true collectible by destroying the mold.  Every Christmas since then Bing and Grondahl has created limited edition Christmas plates breaking the molds for the plates on Christmas Eve.  In 1908 Denmark’s oldest porcelain maker, Royal Copenhagen, started making its own Christmas plates following the same processes used by Bing and Grondahl.  And like Bing and Grondahl, Royal Copenhagen breaks their molds on Christmas Eve.  These plates have become the most sought after plates by plate collectors worldwide.

Learn more about Denmark’s Customs of Christmas here.

Here’s a Christmas cookie from Denmark.

Brune Kager (Brown Christmas cookies)

1 cup butter or lard
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 tsp cardamom
1 tbsp grated orange peel
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
½ tsp salt
½ tsp allspice
4 ½ cups flour
¼ cup finely chopped almonds

At a low heat, melt the butter (lard), sugar, and syrup. Add the other ingredients and mix well.  Form the dough into rolls as if making refrigerator cookies.  Store the rolled dough in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.  Aging greatly improves the flavor.  Cut the rolls into very thin cookies and decorate each with half of a blanched almond.  Bake at 375 degrees F until the cookies are crisp (approximately 5 to 7 minutes).  After cookies have cooled, store in a covered jar or tin.

Christmas in France

July 25, 2014


Christmas market in front of the Eiffel Tower

The Christmas season in France begins on December 6 with St. Nicholas Day and continues through January 6 or Epiphany. In eastern France children receive gifts of candy, fruit, and small toys from the good saint. Some of these children hit the jackpot receiving gifts on both St. Nicholas Day and Christmas day. For the religious people in France the Christmas season begins on the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas.

Houses are given a thorough cleaning. Floors are swept. Furniture is dusted and waxed. The silver is polished to a bright sheen, and the finest china is brought out to grace the Christmas board. After that the house is filled with the glorious sounds and aromas of Christmas cooking and baking.

In nearly every house a manger scene is lovingly brought out of storage and given a place of prominence in the living room. The manger scene first appeared in Avignon between 1316 and 1334 B.C. but did not become popular until the 16th century. Legend says that ancestors of St. Francis of Assisi brought the tradition with them to France. Many families have figures that have been handed down from generation to generation and may be a hundred years old or more. These scenes may be simple scenes with just the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and a few animals; or they may be very elaborate forming a complete village with many figures called santons, little saints, representing Bible characters and villagers seen in everyday life, such as a mayor, priest, policeman, butcher, and baker. Many families purchase new santons to add to their nativity scene every year at a local store or outdoor Christmas market. Even children get involved gathering moss, stones, and twigs to be included in the scenery.

At midnight Christmas Eve adults and older children attend midnight masses at beautifully decorated churches and cathedrals where joyful choirs and peeling bells welcome Christmas Day. Younger children, instead of attending mass, are sleeping dreaming of the presents they will receive in the morning.

After midnight mass families return home or visit a restaurant to enjoy a feast known as le reveillon. The foods served for le reveillon vary according to the region. Served in many courses, the meal may include such meats as roast beef, leg of lamb, goose, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, quail, grouse, and baked ham. Wild boar and venison are considered delicacies for this Christmas meal. The fish course may include all kinds of fresh water fish, oysters, snails, sea urchins, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster. One region of France makes buckwheat cakes served with sour cream a must-have dish for their reveillon. Salads and fruit such as oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, tangerines, and plums are enjoyed by celebrants as well as all kinds of bread. Cheeses of all shapes and sizes and an assortment of pates made with goose, duck, or rabbit liver which may be mixed with minced ham or pork are integrated into this extensive meal. Wait! The meal is not finished yet. There is still dessert. Boxes of chocolates, hard candies, candied fruit, and other pastries like tartes, pies, tartlets, petit fours, napoleons, éclairs grace the table accompanying the piece de resistance, the buche de Noel or Yule Log cake. This sponge cake is rolled with a chocolate butter cream filling and frosted with a brown icing. It is often marked with lines to make it look like a log. It may also be decorated with confectioners’ sugar, nuts, images of Pere Noel, roses, sugar or real, elves, or sprigs of fresh holly. Wine and/or champaign also accompanies the meal.

For more about Christmas in France and other Christmas customs please visit my website,

Christmas Classics to Start Enjoying Now

November 26, 2013

This month I have a special treat for you. Kevin Fischer, freelance writer and contributor for, is sharing his love for movies, Christmas movies in particular. If you are like me you probably have dozens of Christmas movies that you own or watch on TV every year. If you have never watched these classics before, or not in a long time, do it now.

Christmas Classics to Start Enjoying Now

The holiday season is now upon us! Time to pull out all your favorite decorations, make plans for Christmas, start shopping, and of course, start indulging in your favorite holiday classics. You don’t have to wait until it is closer to Christmas to start watching all your favorite movies though. Once Thanksgiving time rolls around, it’s time to pull out some classics movies and enjoy them while you can.
Here are five movies to begin this holiday movie season.

The Polar Express (2004)

A classic Christmas story turned movie, The Polar Express is one of the best movies to start the season off with. The story takes key pieces from the book and turns them into fun scenes throughout the movie. From the very beginning when the massive steam engine pulls up in front of the boy to the end at the North Pole, you can tell the movie and Christmas are about more than presents. Lessons like fun, cheer, humility, leadership and confidence are strewn throughout. This is a great Christmas movie the whole family will love.

Elf (2003)

Although this movie is only 10 years old, it has become a staple on many Christmas movie lists. Elf is the story of an orphaned baby raised by elves at the North Pole, only to grow up and not fit in, literally. Elf is full of laugh-out-loud moments the whole family will enjoy, including buddy, the main character, building a winter wonderland in a toy store. Put this movie on if you’re in the mood for some good laughs.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

It’s a classic Christmas movie the whole family can enjoy. While the 1966 version is more of a short than a full-length feature film, it’s a great piece to watch this holiday season. The short is narrated and follows the beloved Dr. Seuss book of the same title throughout, with amazing imagery along the way. The movie is definitely ideal for those who aren’t in the mood for a long movie, or for those with young children more interested in shorter cartoons. But really, the whole family will love this movie.

White Christmas (1954)

The dancing, the singing, the happy ending. White Christmas is one of those must-watch movies of the season, and it’s not too early to pull it out, either. The movie follows the paths of showmen and showgirls as they work together to help give an honored general the recognition and success he deserves. Your children will love the singing, and you will too! White Christmas is arguably the best “trimming the tree” movie to watch with the family and where a classic Christmas carol finds its home.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947 & 1994)

Both versions of this holiday classic are sure to be enjoyed by your whole family. The movie starts at Thanksgiving during an event like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A jolly man named Kris Kringle steps in to replace the intoxicated parade Santa. He’s so lovely, he becomes a regular member of the department store Christmas area. Slowly but surely throughout the movie shows that seeing doesn’t necessarily mean believing. Your family will love this holiday classic.

Kevin Fischer is a freelance writer and contributor for With a passion for TV, technology, sports, movies and music, Kevin is best considered as entertainment-enthusiast. In addition to keeping up with his favorite programs, teams, gadgets, and celebrities, Kevin enjoys going to concerts and exploring his musical talents. Check out his Examiner page or Tweet him @KevinTFischer

How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted – part 8

October 26, 2013

A Simple Christmas

Think about your dream Christmas, your ideal Christmas celebration. Don’t worry about lack of money or lack of talent. Just imagine what you would do, where you would go, how you would celebrate your perfect Christmas. Most people’s ideal Christmas has four characteristics. It is simple, not elaborate. It is not expensive. Everyone gets along with each other; and the celebration is relaxing, not stressful.

Why don’t we have our fantasy Christmas every year? There’s two reasons. One, most fantasies involve a little magic. We don’t have an unlimited amount of money to spend on decorations or gifts or entertainment. We also don’t have an unlimited about of talent to create the all around perfect Christmas. Two, life’s unpleasant realities are filtered out of our fantasies. The teenagers aren’t so cooperative and interactive. Uncle George doesn’t lay of the alcohol. Mom spends all her time in the kitchen preparing the meal and cleaning up after everyone with little if any help.

Those aren’t the only deterrents to the simple Christmas. Look at all the television ads, the women’s magazines, and television shows aimed at homemakers. They persuade people to make their Christmas as elaborate, as expensive, and as busy as possible. Another deterrent is people’s aversion to change. They want to have the same Christmas they had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. They have traditions and rituals that they want to keep even though the traditions make Christmas more complicated. Also Christmas makes people nostalgic. They want to enjoy the same activities they participated in as children and share those activities with their children. Family obligations are a third deterrent to a simple Christmas. It can be hard to plan around a bed-ridden family member who relies on you for all their needs.

The following exercise will allow you to examine your fantasy Christmas and help you see what aspects of it you can incorporate into your Christmas celebration.

Exercise: A Christmas Fantasy
The following fantasy exercise will give you a clearer idea of what you are really looking for in Christmas. When you are through reading these
instructions, close you eyes and imagine Christmas two years from now. We have chosen this length of time because it’s far enough away to give you some distance from your current celebration, but not so far away that a lot of your circumstances will have changed.

When you are ready to begin, choose a quiet location where you won’t be interrupted for ten or fifteen minutes. Imagine any kind of Christmas you wish as long as it is deeply satisfying. You can confine your fantasy to Christmas proper, or include the whole season. It may be very much like you present celebration or entirely different. You can magically include your favorite friends and relatives and make them behave any way you wish. You can celebrate in any setting. You don’t have to keep a single traditional Christmas activity, or you can keep them all. This will be Christmas the way you have always wanted it to be.

As you begin to fantasize, there will probably be a jumble of possibilities competing for your attention. If you find yourself with multiple fantasies, keep returning to the ideas that make you feel most satisfied.

Once you have settled on a particular fantasy, stick with it until you have enriched it with lots of details. Imagine the physical setting, the activities, how you are feeling, and how other people are feeling. What kind of food is there? How was it made? Are there any gifts? What are they like?

When you have completed your fantasy, write it down on a separate sheet (or sheets) of paper. Feel free to elaborate as you write. Then answer these questions:

1. Of all the ways your fantasy was different from your usual celebration, which difference was most satisfying to you?
2. Which parts (if any) of your fantasy would be most feasible to actually do next Christmas?

The Christmas Pledge

Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the following:
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends

The material presented here was taken from the book Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli published by William Morrow and Company, Inc.

How to have the Christmas you’ve always wanted – part 2

August 25, 2013

Women – the Christmas logistician

In many homes across America, preparations for the Christmas celebration are
carried out by the women. They decide what decorations go up, where the
decorations go up, and when the decorations go up. And if they don’t have the
decorations they want, they buy them or, better yet, make the decorations
themselves. They plan the Christmas feast. They spend long hours shopping for
just the right gift for everyone on the Christmas list. They clean the house
and prepare the guest room for the Christmas family get together. They help
with the church Christmas program and prepare for the neighborhood Christmas
party. Sound busy yet? When you add all this extra work to the busyness of the
everyday job and housework, it’s no wonder many women feel so stressed out and
tired at Christmas. They feel tired and yet happy too. They love making
Christmas special for their loved ones and gladly make the sacrifice.

What women don’t realize is that this added stress and busyness of the Christmas
season builds up and can burn them out. Christmas becomes a chore, no longer
enjoyable. They dread each Christmas season and can’t wait until it’s over.

Women have a great capacity to love. Into each facet of the Christmas
celebration they add their special touch of love, Many pour so much love and
concern into the celebration and into their families who don’t always show
appreciation for what they do that they figure why bother. Just like
rechargeable batteries need to be recharged when they run down women need their
love batteries recharged, something many women don’t take time to have done.

Some women strive to give their families the perfect Christmas. They scour the
Christmas magazines in store checkout lanes looking for the perfect theme for
decorating their house. Or they remember childhood Christmases and try to
reproduce them. Or they come up with their own ideal Christmas and try to come
as close to that ideal as they possibly can. And each year their anxiety level
climbs as they look around and feel that all their efforts fall short of what
Christmas should be.

Following this are some exercises that each woman should complete to discover
what, if any, changes should be made to make Christmas more enjoyable for the
family and less stressful overall. These exercises are taken from the book
Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli.

Exercise 1: Life-style Inventory
Many women overestimate the time they have available for holiday projects. Take
the following life-style inventory to get a sense of how busy you are before you
add on the responsibilities of Christmas.

1. Check all the following statements that are true for you:
I’m employed full-time.
I’m employed part-time.
I have young children who are not yet in school or daycare.
I have children in school or daycare.
I’m a student.
I’m a single parent.
I have extended-family obligations.
I am primarily responsible for managing the household.
I have the following additional commitments:
Volunteer work (boards, charities, committees, etc.)
Children’s activities

2. As a general rule I can count on _____ hours of free time a day.

3. I usually spend those unscheduled hours in the following ways:

4. To find time to prepare for Christmas I usually take time from:

Exercise 2: Examining the Work of Christmas
This exercise will help you gain a more objective view of all the holiday
responsibilities you may be adding to your everyday schedule.

1. Look at the following list of typical holiday responsibilities and place a
check by the ones that you were primarily responsible for last year.
Making up a gift list Getting the tree
Christmas shopping Decorating the tree
Making gifts Outside decorations
Wrapping gifts Hosting parties
Mailing gifts Preparing company meals
Writing cards Helping with school activities
Making cards Planning family gatherings
Helping out at church Making Christmas dinner
Holiday baking Extra grocery shopping
Home decorations Making travel arrangements
Sewing clothes Packing
Special holiday cleaning Preparing for houseguests
Advent preparations Other

2. Add any tasks that we have overlooked.

3. Spend some time remembering how you felt last Christmas as you were doing
each of the chores that you checked. Put a star by the ones that you actually

4. Take a piece of paper and write down the tasks from the above list that you
did not enjoy doing last year. Beside each one, write down a few words that
describe the reason(s) for your dissatisfaction. Here are some common reasons:
Not enough time
Not enough money
Not enough family support
Not enough help
Don’t enjoy this kind of activity
Don’t value this kind of activity
My performance didn’t measure up to my expectations
Wasn’t creative enough

Completing these exercises should give you a better idea of how much time you
have available for holiday projects, how much you attempt to do each Christmas,
and how you feel about those tasks.

The Christmas Pledge

Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, I commit myself to the
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family
4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends

The material presented here was taken from the book Unplug The Christmas Machine
by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli published by William Morrow and
Company, Inc.

What?! Change Christmas?! . . . Can I?

July 24, 2013

Was Christmas 2012 everything you hoped it would be? Did you do something that once was fun but turned out to be more trouble than it was worth? Has your family situation changed so that the Christmas celebrations that you once knew are no longer practical or even possible?

My family loves Christmas and love celebrating Christmas. If I had my way we would live in a house with a large living room and dining room decorated with lots of Christmas greens and lights. A large Christmas tree would stand near the fireplace. Guess what! We don’t have a large house or even a large living room. A small apartment-size tree makes our cramped living room even smaller. At this time decorating a large tree is not possible for us, but we don’t dwell on what we can’t have. Instead we gather together as a family and together decorate our tree and enjoy what we did all season long.

When my oldest daughter was younger (she’s 18 now) we set aside one Saturday in December to bake cookies. Everyone in the family picked their favorite cookies (there were only 5 of us then), and we baked. Each child helped me make their favorite cookies. By the end of the day we made double batches of at least 6 or 7 different kinds of cookies. As our family grew (there are 9 of us now) that day became a chore instead of fun. I began dreading baking day. Two years ago I decided we needed to change this tradition a little. We put together a list of cookies we wanted for Christmas. We still made 5 or 6 different kinds of cookies, but we changed how we did them. My daughter loves Choco-Mint Snowtops. She made them during the week while I was at work. We also cut down the amount of cookies we made from 2 batches to just 1 batch. One last change we made was to use … oh, horrors … say it ain’t so … refrigerated, store-bought cookie dough. Now the day that became a dreaded tradition is fun again.
About 3 years ago we decided that we wanted to make our Christmas breakfast a special meal to look forward to in addition to our Christmas dinner. We looked at recipes for breakfast casseroles. My wife made sure they didn’t have a bread base. She doesn’t care for them. We found 2 recipes that looked delicious. The first time we made 1 of each. The next year, since we knew which one we preferred, we made just 1 recipe. That’s one of our newest family Christmas traditions.

For us Christmas is more than music, lights, presents, and food. It is remembering the reason for the season, Jesus, whose birthday we celebrate every Christmas. Several years ago we started gathering a number of advent books to read during Advent. 3 of the books are stories of characters, children, who may have played a part in the Christmas story. They are fiction stories, but we enjoy the stories seeing how the events in the lives of the children in the stories intertwine with the characters we all know of the Biblical Christmas story. The fourth book contains inspirational readings, passages of the Bible to read, and songs to sing as we anticipate and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus our Savior. This is another family tradition that our children look forward to each Christmas season.

These are just some of the ways our Christmas celebration has changed over the years. What about your Christmas traditions? I would love to hear about your Christmas traditions that changed over the years. Perhaps you no longer use them in your celebrations. Perhaps you added them to enhance your enjoyment of Christmas. Whatever they are I’d love to hear about them. Perhaps I can add them to our Christmas celebration.

Starting next month I’ll be sharing a series of blogs called How to Have the Christmas You Always Wanted based on the book/seminar series Uplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. You won’t want to miss this series. Invite someone read them with you.

Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole
1 lb ground sausage ( “hot” or “sage” flavored)
¼ cup chopped onions
2 ½ cups frozen cubed hash brown potatoes
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese (2 cups)
1 ¾ cups milk
1 cup baking mix
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1. Cook sausage and onion in large frying pan over medium-high
heat for 5 minutes or until meat crumbles.
2. Stir in hash browns, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until sausage
is no longer pink and hash browns are lightly browned.
3. Drain mixture well on paper towels.
4. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 13×9-inch baking dish.
5. A stoneware baking dish works really well.
6. Stir together the lightly beaten eggs, shredded cheese, milk,
baking mix, salt, and pepper.
7. Pour evenly over sausage/hashbrown mixture.
8. Stir well.
9. Cover and chill for 8 hours.
10. Bake covered with foil at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
11. Uncover and bake 10 to 15 minutes or until a wooden pick
inserted in the middle comes out clean.
12. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
13. You can also keep the casserole warm until you are ready to eat
by covering it with foil and putting it in a 200 degree oven.
14. Optional toppings: sour cream, favorite sauce of your choice
(picante, hot sauce). You can also garnish it with parsley.

Christmas in England

October 25, 2012

Christmastime in England is a merry time, a time of lights, of singing, of feasting, and of storytelling.  The lights brighten up the darkest days of the year.  The singing adds joy to the most joyous time of the year.  The feasting brings family together, and the storytelling ties the past to the present.

The Christmas season comes to England during the time of the winter solstice, the shortest days of the northern hemisphere’s year.  It is no surprise then that lights play a big part of British Christmas decorating.  Homes are decorated inside and out with candles and strings of Christmas lights.  Many towns put up elaborate light displays and turn them on with much pageantry.

Evergreens are a favorite for decorating the house.  Mistletoe, holly, ivy, bay laurel, and yew dress the rooms and mantles of many houses.  But the favorite evergreen decoration is the one that stands in a corner of the family room: the Christmas tree.  Many British Christmas trees are live trees dug up, placed in a pot, decorated, and replaced in the ground once the Christmas season ends.  Artificial trees and live cut trees are used as well.  Decorating Christmas trees in the home became popular after 1848 when Prince Albert brought one into Windsor Castle for his children’s enjoyment.  Before Christmas trees became popular kissing boughs, made of holly, mistletoe, and other greenery with ribbons, apples, and candles attached, were the focal point of Christmas celebrations.

As families receive Christmas cards they hang the cards as decorations.  Many cards are sent every year to friends and family members.  The Royal Mail handles millions of cards every year so there are plenty of cards decorating every house.  The very first Christmas card was produced in England.  John Calcott Horsley designed the first Christmas card in 1843.  About 1,000 copies were sold for a shilling a piece.  Fewer than 15 still exist.

Caroling is one of Britain’s oldest Christmas customs.  Some of the first carolers may have been beggars singing for food, drink, or money.  Later, groups of musicians would walk through town singing and playing musical instruments beneath the windows of townsfolk until citizens started complaining about being awakened rudely by the carolers.  Today carolers meet in homes, street corners, and churches to sing their joyous songs.  The carolers then go from house to house singing Christmas carols.  Sometimes they are invited in and given hot drinks, food, or money.  Some believe that inviting carolers into the home brings the family good luck.

Many organizations present programs of carols often collecting money for charities.  These programs may include one of these carols which are the oldest known British Christmas carols possibly dating back to the Middle Ages: “The Holly and The Ivy”, the wassail song, “The Boar’s Head Carol”, and the “Yule Log Carol”.

Another form of caroling enjoyed by the British people is wassailing.  When people go visiting friends and neighbors and drink from the wassail bowl, they are drinking to their health.  People who go wassailing take a bowl of wassail with them.  When they are invited into a house they sing a special wassail song and drink to the health of the host and his household.  It is considered bad luck to refuse to invite wassailers in.  In rural areas people take wassail to drink to the health of farm animals, crop bearing trees, like apple trees, and farm fields.

For many in England Christmas Eve is the beginning of the Christmas season.  Christmas Eve is still a workday, but many companies close early so their employees can get ready for the big day.  Shops, however, stay open to handle all the last-minute shoppers.  Children who have not done so earlier will write their letters to Father Christmas and throw them into the fireplace.  Tradition says that the smoke from these letters goes to Father Christmas telling him what the children want.  Modern children may mail their letters to Father Christmas if they write them soon enough.  In the afternoon many people will tune in their radios to listen to Carols From Kings, a program of Christmas carols sung by the choirs of Kings College.

As night falls on the English countryside many families open one small gift before going to bed.  Many times this gift is a pair of pajamas.  Other families get ready to attend Christmas Eve services at midnight at their local churches.  Children hang either a stocking or, if they hope to get more from Father Christmas, a pillow case on the fireplace or on the end of their bed.  They may also leave a mince pie and a drink for Father Christmas and carrots or straw for his reindeer.  Father Christmas will come to fill the stockings or pillow cases when everyone is asleep.

Father Christmas differs from the American Santa Claus in that he is tall and thin, wears a long red coat, and may wear holly on his coat.  Like his American counterpart he has a long white beard and arrives on top of houses in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.  Originally, instead of a hood or hat, Father Christmas wore a wreath of mistletoe or holly on his head and a robe of red, green, white, or brown.

On Christmas morning stockings are emptied first.  After a sumptuous breakfast those who did not attend a Christmas Eve service go to church.  At mid-day Christmas dinner is served.  A traditional Christmas dinner consists of roast turkey or goose, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, tiny sausages wrapped in bacon (pigs in a blanket), and gravy.  This meal is followed by rich desserts: plum pudding, mince pies, and Christmas Cake.

Plum pudding is traditionally made several weeks before Christmas on Stir-Up Sunday.  Every member of the family stirs the pudding in a clock-wise direction and makes a wish.  To do otherwise is bad luck.  Plum pudding is made up of spices, nuts, and fruit.  At one time plums were used but raisins are now used instead.  A coin is also put into the pudding.  The finder of the coin on Christmas day gets good luck in the following year.

Mince pies were once made with shredded meat.  Now, however, they are made with fruit and nuts.  One tradition says that one must eat one mince pie every day during the twelve days of Christmas to have good luck all through the year.

Christmas Cake is a fruity cake covered with marzipan followed by icing and decorated with plastic Christmas figures.

At some point during Christmas dinner everyone, usually with the help of the person sitting next to them, opens the Christmas cracker placed by the dinner plate.  Christmas crackers are named for the sound they make when they are opened.  Everyone, adults included, look forward to seeing the surprises waiting inside: a paper hat to wear, a small toy like a spinning top, and a joke to share.

At about 3:00 pm the family gathers around the radio to hear a special Christmas message delivered by the Queen to her subjects all over the world.  This tradition was started in 1932 by King George V.

At approximately 6:00 pm, families gather, perhaps at the home of a relative or a special friend, for Christmas tea.  Once again the fare is sumptuous.  A variety of cheeses, pigs in a blanket, voulevonts, carrot and celery sticks, a variety of dips, Christmas Cake, mince pies, snowman buns (cupcakes), or a Yule Log Cake may be served at Christmas tea.

December 26th, Boxing Day, is another holiday for the British people.  This is the day churches traditionally opened their donation boxes and distribute the money collected in them to the poor.  People would also give gifts of money, food, or other items in “boxes” to postmen, garbage collectors, and other people who serve them.  Boxing Day is often spent visiting family and friends, attending equestrian events or other sporting events, and just having fun.

During the Christmas season many families attend a Christmas pantomime.  These pantomimes are not like American pantomimes where there is no spoken words and no props, just the mime and the audience’s imagination.  British “pantos” have elaborate costumes and sets.  Actors may not use a script, but they interact with the audience.  Some favorite stories used in these pantomimes are Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, Puss in Boots, and Peter Pan.

Twelfth Night, January 5th, is the last day of England’s Christmas season.  All Christmas decorations must be taken down by the end of Twelfth Night or bad luck will come to the house.

Christmas Pudding

Ready in 2 hours 20 mins

This classic steamed pudding is delicious with brandy butter, cream or custard.


Serves: 6

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons dark brown soft sugar
  • 250ml milk
  • 12 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 100g sultanas
  • 25g dried currants
  • 75g candied mixed fruit peel, chopped
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • pinch salt

Preparation method

Prep: 20 mins |Cook: 2 hours

1. Liberally grease a pudding mould.
2. In a large saucepan combine butter, sugar, milk, dates, sultanas, currants, mixed fruit peel and zest of the orange; bring to the boil. Remove from heat and stir in bicarbonate of soda. Sift in the flour, cinnamon and salt; mix gently until blended. Pour into prepared pudding mould.
3. Cover with a double layer of greased greaseproof paper and steam for 2 hours.
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