christmas traditions

  • Christmas Traditions in Other Places

    I am sitting at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, waiting to board a flight to Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps, the city of lights. I've been to Vegas a time or two before, every time for something related to work and this time is no different. But, I will never forget the first time I walked down the strip, eyes wide like a kid at Christmas. Everything was just SO big! The hotels are like cities in themselves, the signs for restaurants are as if giants were visiting the land and statues rival Lady Liberty in stature. If you've never been, it is quite an experience!

    This got me thinking about how Christmas might be celebrated, not only in Vegas but in other parts of the world. We've all got stories to tell about interesting or even odd family or cultural traditions, no? Well, stay tuned for the next several posts as we explore traditions that will have you thanking your lucky stars for your own! Or maybe they'll inspire you to go outside the box and create some new and lasting memories!

    First up is Ireland. Christmas there tends to be more of a religious holiday than here in the states. Christmas celebrations last from the 25th of December until January 6 (Epiphany). St. Stephen's Day is on December 26th, a day set aside to commemorate the life of St. Stephen, a Christian martyr. Many people stay at home spending quiet time with famiy. However, if you are planning on visiting Ireland during the holiday seasons, you'll want to be prepared for Wren's Boy Procession. Children go from door to door singing, much in a carolling sort of way, and performing traditional dances.

    That is not so out of the ordinary, but it there is something more.  The children carry a stick that has a holly bush and a wren on the end of it! In times past a real wren was killed and fastened to the stick, but the tradition now allows for a fake one. The children sing and ask for money for the "starving wren". Interesting!

    And as you may have guessed, the money is collected for community, school projects or a favorite charity. This really does make me want to visit Ireland around the holidays!

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Free Activities!

    old fashionedBeginning in April, I started a series of posts around the idea of re-creating an old fashioned Christmas. We decorated vintage style, we spent more time with the ones we love, and we resurrected some very old fashioned Christmas treats.

    This week, I'm wrapping up the series talking about spending less money. I know, not very sexy is it? But, we're learning some really neat stuff about setting a budget and making our own gifts. Those are both becoming very chic these days!

    Today it's all about free activities. Not everything needs to cost money even though sometimes it feels like it just does. And, we accept it often without even questioning, and reason "Well, it's Christmas, not the time to skimp." Let's talk about that for a minute.

    Remember those camping trips you took when the kids were little? Remember the rain? The mud? The close quarters? The fire that wouldn't start? The noises in the night? Haha, me too. And, when we get back home we're so happy for our warm, dry beds, for the hot shower, and all the comforts that home brings. But, I venture to say you still talk about those camping trips just like I do, often with lots of now-hilarious stories and laughter as if it were the best. vacation. ever.  Lotsa stuff went wrong and yet here we are, still talking about it. Funny, huh?

    family

    Truth is, spending time doing the simple things often produces some of our best ever memories. We can pack our Christmas holiday with so much busyness that we end up irritated OR we can back off of the merry-go-round and plan some simple free things to do together.  We have a cupboard full of table games that gets added to every year. We can spends hours and hours together playing the latest and greatest game that just came out or the oldest one in the drawer, doesn't much matter.

    Or, how about puzzles? Jigsaw puzzles are great because you can really talk!

    Snuggle up on the couch and watch a favorite movie, pop some popcorn, or go for a walk.

    The list is as long as all the stuff your family loves to do on ordinary days. Do you like music? How about renting a karaoke machine and hamming it up? Like being on stage? A good ol' game of charades will do the trick.

    What other free things to do around the holidays can you think of?

     

    Photo courtesy:  Holly, Family

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Handcrafted Gifts

    coffee cozieWe are continuing our month-long "Old Fashioned" series, and this week our focus is on how to spend less money. In a culture that wants for more and more of everything, it has become old fashioned to spend less, to simplify. It sounds strange that something as simple as spending less money is considered out of style, but there is change in the wind. A growing movement of people of all ages are talking (and doing) all about how to simplify life and ultimately, to do just that....spend less.

    Last time I talked about budgeting and how sticking to one doesn't mean you have to live a sparse life. If you missed that post, you can find it here. Today I want to tell you {again!} about one of my favorite topics, and that is handcrafted gifts!

    It has been said that a homemade gift is a gift from the heart. It is often a sacrifice of time, and one of the things I love most about making gifts is that while I'm doing it I spend lots of time reminiscing about the person and our history together.

    I absolutely adore the whole idea of  simple, hand made Christmas gifts, decorations and of course food. Such gifts of time are considered to be uncommonly good in today's consumer culture, and maybe that's part of what is bringing this old fashioned practice back to life.

    In fact, the best sellers on our website come from the lovely Bucilla line of kits that provide all the materials to make stockings, decorations, tree skirts and more! Best of all, many of them have that traditional, old fashioned feel to them. And from what our customers tell us, these items are often treasured for years and years, creating those wonderful fuzzy feelings and some really great memories.

    This blog has been filled with tons of ideas and instructions for some of the most unique and simple gifts around. I encourage you to take a peek back and see! Shopping at the store will always have its place, and I don't think we should ever feel guilty about opting for a store-bought gift. But, including a few handcrafted gifts each season is such a touching thing to do. I know that some of the most meaning gifts I have ever received have been hand-made!

     

    Photo courtesy

  • The Elf on the Shelf

    Elf-LogoGreat things can happen over a cup of tea. I'm really more of a coffee girl myself, but I will give tea its due because there's just too much proof to discount its overwhelmingly mysterious way of inspiring really great stories.

    This is exactly where The Elf on the Shelf was born. Have you heard of this latest phenomenon storming the world with all its charm and savvy? Well, here's how it all got started.

    Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell were sipping their tea and talking about Christmas memories, and more specifically a game they played with a little toy elf. Every year around Thanksgiving, the elf would appear on a corner shelf, hidden so as not to be obvious. The tradition stated that each night after everyone had gone off to bed, the elf would fly back to the North Pole to report on what had happened and who had been naughty or nice. Then, before everyone in the house woke up in the morning, the elf would fly back and occupy a different place in the house. The game ends on Christmas morning when the elf flies back to the North Pole and stays until the next year.

    As they sat there, mother and daughter, reminiscing over all the fun times and wonderful memories made from practicing this Christmas tradition, Chanda had a brainstorm. She suggested to her mother that they co-author a book so that other families could share in the fun too. And, the story was born.

    Sounds kinda sweet, a perpetual game of hide and seek between a little toy elf and each member of the family! Merry Stockings wanted in on the fun, so we've decided to carry the 2014 newly released Elf on the Shelf Christmas craft products, made by Bucilla. This new line includes two felt Christmas stocking kits, an ornament kit featuring 4 pieces, an advent calendar kit and a felt wreath. And, they'll all be available for order beginning in May!

    Start your own Elf on the Shelf tradition and get started today on these coordinating craft products by Bucilla.

     

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Gingerbread House and Fudge

    gingerbread houseIs there anything more fun for kids of any age than constructing a gingerbread house around the holidays?! I don't know how many people actually eat their creation, but even if you are staying away from the sugar these creative little things are so much fun to make and look adorable. They are really conversation starters, too!

    This particular gingerbread house is one of the easiest for the kids, and if you don't want to buy the gingerbread house kits from the store, graham crackers will even work for this A-frame. Copy the candy used in the photo, or get creative and come up with some of your own ideas. I'm sort of partial to snowcaps for the roof, those round chocolate candies that have the white sprinkles on them.

    While the "kids" are making the gingerbread house, they may need your assistance to get started, but once the decoration is in full swing they may want you to back off, lol. And, the perfect thing to do if you really want to stay nearby is to make some fudge.

    fudgeThere are as many fudge recipes are there are grandmothers I think...everyone seems to have their favorite. I happen to love the peanut butter/chocolate combo (who doesn't?), so this recipe is one of my all-time favorites. Package small pieces of this up as pictured for gifts OR put small pieces in a festive candy dish when guests are coming over.

    Pretty old fashioned, aren't they both? I am always surprised how a childhood gingerbread house has the uncanny ability to light up the eyes of even the aristocrat! It just speaks fun and whimsy. And, fudge? No explanation required there. Both are a labor of love and such a welcome part of the Christmas holiday.

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Visions of Sugar Plums

    The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
    While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads...

    sugarplums

    Most of us could probably quote the poem "Twas the Nite Before Christmas", but if we were to do that and one of our most curious children were to pipe up out of bed and interrupt, asking,  "Mommy, what's a sugar plum?", what would you say?

    While it would have been common in the "olden days" to offer a piece of fruit as a sweet, a sugar plum really has nothing to do with fruit. In fact, sugar plums were one of the most difficult and tedious confections to make, requiring special equipment and real expertise. Just a single batch of sugar plums could literally take days. So, if they aren't actually plums, what are they?

    A sugar plum could best be compared to what we call Jordan almonds, an almond with a hard candy coating over it. Also, think peanut M & M's.  Sounds simple enough these days, but not just anyone could have made these candies, and as such, they were usually only found among royalty or the very wealthy. These were, indeed, quite special treats.

    So when our modern day children lie in bed the night before Christmas, filled with excitement and wonder and can hardly contain it all in their little bodies, what they might be imagining is "sugar plums"....their favorite and rarely enjoyed sweet....or perhaps it's more of a metaphor for the overwhelming sweetness of Christmas mornings past, filled with love and family and all of their favorite things. And, of course, presents. Or maybe it's merely Peanut M & M's. :)

    So if you're up for the task, go ahead and make some sugar plums.  Many of the recipes will include dried fruit for the center, and that will be equally wonderful and sweet. Alton Brown has a great one that you can find here. As you make these treats, you can have a sweet little history lesson also. :)

    Photo courtesy

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Sugar Cookies and Egg Nog

    The humble sugar cookie, surprisingly, has quite an impressive history. Called the "Nazareth Sugar Cookie", historical records date it clear back to the 1700's, and it somehow wiggled it's way all the way to the legislature in House Bill 1982. There it was decided that it'd become the official cookie of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Am I the only one giggling about this?!

    sugar cookiesI'm not much one for politics, but I find it impressive that this baked confection has endured for centuries and still occupies quite the distinguished place in the United States. You might think that it contains some special ingredient, but really, it's just a sugar cookie....sugar, flour, butter and eggs baked and finished only with your lovely and ever creative touch.

    This little confection has long been recognized as, really, the epitome of tradition at Christmas. Even if you don't eat these, baking them is still something you must not skip. And, gathering the kids, the grandkids and friends turns this tradition into quite the family affair. It's definitely old fashioned.

    egg nogHow about making the whole adventure a bit more fun {as if that were necessary or even possible} by adding in a tried and true recipe for Egg Nog? Whether or not you choose to spike it or leave it el naturel, there is just something about that nutmeg-y yummy-ness  that'll warm your heart. I happen to love both the taste and texture of a slightly warm cup of eggnog. I think it just begs to be accompanied by your favorite shaped Christmas sugar cookie.

    I know, I've got the warm fuzzies now too, even in April.

     

    Photo courtesy:  Cookies, Egg Nog

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Christmas Lights

    Is there anything in the world like the rich tradition of an old fashioned Christmas? Every generation makes its contribution to history, and it's kinda weird to think that one day the things we see and do today will be viewed as old fashioned too! Still, I just love the feeling of comfort and familiarity that oozes from old fashioned themes of days gone by.

    So, I started a series of posts in April around an old fashioned Christmas. This week we've been talking about simple and time honored ways of spending more time together with the ones we love the most. We learned how to come a-wassailing and what that has meant in the past, and we decided to get a little crazy around the Christmas tree yesterday. Do you see a common thread here? Besides being together, we really are having loads of fun!

    christmas lights

    An old fashioned Christmas long ago probably would not have included the extravagant light displays that we are privileged to witness today. You'd be more likely to see a single strand of those big, fat colored bulbs neatly lining the edge of the roof. You always could tell which families had tons of fun with this because there would be lights around the windows, and maybe even some sort of creative lawn display. They'd be the hit of the neighborhood. Today there are entire companies that thrive just on decorating the outside of people's homes with light displays for Christmas!

    So, I say we go look at their handiwork. Load the kids and the grandkids up in the mini van, bring cups of hot cocoa along, and just enjoy the creativity and beauty that light up the winter Christmas sky. You'll be building memories that last a lifetime! I still remember driving the neighborhood when I was a little girl.

    Photo courtesy

     

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Here We Come A-Wassailing

    We're continuing this week with our theme of an old fashioned Christmas, and I can't believe how much fun it's been to write and plan out the stuff I'm sharing with you! I'm all for chic and modern decor and even incorporating that into Christmas, but there is something so comforting and familiar about simplifying our Christmas celebrations down to how it'd been done years ago.

    awassailingToday we're talking about a-wassailing. What the heck is that, you ask? Good question! We get our practice today of going house to house singing Christmas carols from this old world tradition. But it was much more than dressing warmly and going out singing.

    It was well known that around the Christmas season, the wealthy were significantly more generous. So, often scores of beggars and orphans would dance through the streets of England, and offer to sing songs and tell of future blessings if the householder would give him a drink of wassail . . . hot ale or beer with apples and spices.

    wassail

    It was just alcoholic enough to warm fingers and toes from the cold! Of course, you don't need the alcohol to create the perfect hot beverage for a cold winter evening.

    There are dozens of recipes for wassail, or hot spiced or mulled cider, and most grocery stores will carry a single serving packet of the spices to make it easy. This is one very simple holiday tradition that is just so worth incorporating .... that of putting a kettle of mulled cider on the stove and allowing the aroma to fill the entire house. When folks come to your door, whether they come a-wassailing or bringing a plate of Christmas cookies, invite them in for a hot cup of wassail. It is just so welcoming and special!

    And, if you'd like to sing along with the song "Here We Come A-Wassailing", you can find the video here!

     

    Photo courtesy:  carolers, wassail

     

     

     

     

     

  • Get Your Christmas Stockings Now!

    Anyone who has ever made a stocking from a Bucilla kit knows that it is never too early to start! Merry Stockings knows this, of course, and has decided to put a few of the top 2013 stockings on sale. And, this is a SALE. Nearly 50% off kind of sale. You don't wanna miss this.

    There are a total of three stockings for you to snap up:

    sale stockingsPrincess Bucilla Christmas Stocking ~ What young girl doesn't like to think of herself as a princess?!  Nevermind that she has daddy wrapped around her little finger, she will love this hand crafted beauty handing off the mantle at the castle.


    Santa-and-His-List-Bucilla-Felt-Stocking-KitSanta and His List Christmas Stocking ~ Once the list is made and it's been checked twice, all the kids know what happens next....Santa Claus is coming to town! Boy or girl loves to imagine Santa looking at their list, so imagine their delight to see their name atop this cute reminder!


    Snowman-and-Polar-Bears-Bucilla-Felt-StockingSnowman and Polar Bears Christmas Stocking ~ Playful polar bears in the snow make this stocking a favorite for any boy or girl who just can't get enough of the snow! The imagination of a child is vivid and they will be naming those bears before you know it!

    All three of these stocking kits will help you create an 18" felt applique, custom stocking for your special loved one! The kits come complete with beads, felt, embroidery floss, sequins, needle, and of course the easy to follow instructions.  They make great gifts and will become beloved heirlooms!

    All stockings ship within 24 hours of your order, and as always, your satisfaction is guaranteed at Merry Stockings. You haveabsolutely nothing to lose. So, hop over to the website and see which one fits your little one the best.

    Merry stocking making!

     

     

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