Christmas galore - The ninth door

About 20 years ago we visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber. A friend from California stayed with us at the time, a collector of Steiff like us, but also of so much more.
He had asked us if we could go to Rothenburg not only for the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village, a store where it's Christmas all year round, but also for carved figures because a friend told him to look out for vintage ones from the Ore Mountains if he got the chance.
Rothenburg is known for his well-preserved medieval old town which makes you think you have stepped into a fairy tale. No wonder it's a tourist magnet.
I'm not fond of crowds, but we were rather lucky. I think it was September and I remember that it was rather cold which might have helped a little with the Christmas feeling out of season.

We had "Schneeballen", a traditional local shortcrust pastry, and then were ready for Christmas, so we went to the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village first.
I'll be honest, despite having lifelong experiences with Christmas markets and department stores, I was blown away. If Rothenburg looked like the location for a fairy tale, this was like stepping into Santa Claus' workshop, department Christmas decorations.
Ornaments for the tree made from everything from glass (yes, also the infamous Christmas pickle) over felt to wood, figurines, pyramids, stars, wreaths, advent calendars, nutcrackers, trees ... and if you broke a blade on your pyramid, fear not, you can find a new one here. I can't for the life of me remember if I got something myself or if I was just completely overwhelmed.
This is not an ornament from the shop, but it gives you a small idea.

Walking around, we found the entrance to the Christmas Museum quite accidentally, we hadn't even known there was one, and as a matter of fact it was still rather new.
Now I was really in my element. The museum is small, but I loved it, anyway. The permanent exhibition focuses on objects between 1870 and 1950. Vintage ornaments, trees, lights, cards ... what's not to love? Have you ever heard of tragacanth or Leonic wire before, for example? I'd love to have a tree with vintage ornaments, but never dared to add even one because of the cats.
While I understand why it's not permitted, I still wish I could have taken some photos.

Our next stop were shops where they sold carved figures, everything from whole nativity scenes to single angels, saints, farmers, and one of them also had fairy tale figures.
It may not be very Christmassy, but we fell in love with two of them right away. One of them is this wonderfully detailed witch, with two bonus cats. The carver tried to convince us that she would look better together with Hansel and Gretel, but we just wanted the witch. She would look great with a big Christmas gingerbread house, don't you think?

All in all definitely a trip that was worth it. I'd love to go again, crowds or not.


Puffy stars - The eighth door

The things I'm doing for this advent calendar!
For years and years I have been resisting the beaded puffy stars, however pretty they may be, for several reasons.
While I have slowly begun to dip my toe into the waters of off-loom beading more and more (mostly because I still don't trust a certain tabby cat around my loom), I still consider myself to be quite the beginner and creating structural pieces is completely new to me.

Another reason is my lack of patience for video tutorials that are longer than five minutes (which says a lot more about me than about the tutorials!), but also knowing I wouldn't be able to make the stars without one.
Last but definitely not least these stars are made of five components. You know how much I struggle with even making a pair of identical earrings. FIVE identical components??
I know. I could make this much more interesting by going for a more complicated pattern. Excuse me while I am once again laughing madly.

For the sake of finding enough topics for this advent calendar, however, I jumped into the very cold water of puffy peyote stars after all, with two different randomly chosen tutorials, this one by Bronzepony Beaded Jewelry and this one by Off The Beaded Path.
My first attempt came out a little more squishy than intended, but is still pretty.

Then I almost lost my mind over my incredibly simple "pattern" of the first star I did in all-Delicas. I very quickly abandoned the idea of making these as Christmas gifts for our vet practice. Maybe for next year if I make one a month? ;-)

All in all, I'm happy that I tackled this personal challenge and got it out of my system for now.
It's crystal clear to me, however, that I will never make a star with a more complicated pattern or a much bigger star even if in a simple pattern. There are projects that are much more interesting to me.

Nevertheless, I could muster the patience for more than just two stars even if the only reason for that was a phase during which I seriously lacked the motivation to do much else. Stars to the rescue, who would have thought? I only played with colors and small sizes, however, not with patterns. Again, that will not ever happen.
So here's my little collection now. Some became gifts, some went into my decoration after I had taken the pictures for the first day of this calendar.

What became painfully obvious to me again, though, was that I obviously have no natural geometrical understanding at all! I guess my math teachers never stood a chance.


Christmas crackers - The seventh door


"This year Tom Smith celebrates the 175th anniversary of the invention of the Christmas cracker.", so I'm told by the website of Tom Smith.
Congratulations, Tom!
But who was Tom and what are Christmas crackers?
Crackers are not part of our German Christmas, here you mostly see them on New Year's Eve. I only know Christmas crackers and paper hats worn during Christmas dinner from British TV shows, but until today I never took the time to find out how this began.

Picture from Wikipedia

It began in 1847 (as you could already tell from the anniversary), but the inspiration came a few years earlier.
On a business trip to Paris in 1840, young confectioner Tom Smith discovered the "bon bon", a sugared almond wrapped in tissue. Tom took the idea home, but found that the "bon bon" mostly sold around the Christmas time. He kept working on the idea to make the most of the short season.
First, the sweets were replaced with little toys and trinkets.
Then the crackle of a log that Tom threw on his fire gave him the idea to turn "bon bons" into crackers and change the name.
They became bigger to make space for the cracking mechanism which developed from the pop to the snap.

Picture from Wikipedia

Christmas designs were developed and the mottoes in the crackers turned from the Victorian love verses to puzzles and finally into the corny jokes of today.
Eventually Tom's three sons took over, and one of them, Walter, introduced the paper hats looking like crowns which are worn during Christmas dinner.
Designs were made for special occasions or as special orders and still are today.

As it seems, people have different traditions around Christmas crackers. Some people decorate the house with them. Some give each one at dinner their own cracker, but obviously you get the best sound if two people pull, one at each end. In that case the person who gets the longer part of the cracker also gets to keep the contents.

I have to admit that I can't remember any occasion when I have pulled or even seen a cracker in person.
What's funny is that the German word for them, "Knallbonbon", "Knall" meaning pop or crack, still has the "bonbon" part. Actually we mostly use that word not for chocolate bonbons, but hard candy.
Back to the crackers, maybe I should try one out for Christmas myself this year?

History of the Christmas cracker (archived web article from the old Tom Smith website)
Tom Smith Crackers website - Brand


Rybovka - The sixth door

Over the years I have written about Christmas carols more than once. I love the old traditional Christmas carols and Christmas oldies. They make me get all mushy. In fact I'm sitting here now, at the end of September - I had to start early to make sure I'd get the advent calendar finished in time - and listening to a "Vintage Christmas" playlist on YouTube, very softly, I don't want the neighbors to break down my door, but it helps me getting in the mood.

Today, however, my topic is a special piece of Christmas music that I hadn't been aware of before last Christmas when I happened to see a TV program on Christmas in Prague - Rybovka.

Jakub Jan Ryba's Czech Christmas Mass - "
Česká mše vánočni" in Czech
- also called "Hej Mistře, vstaň bystře!" or simply Rybovka, written in 1796, is his most popular work and still performed in churches around the country every Christmas.
Special about it is that Ryba, a very educated (but rather unfortunate) man and productive composer of mostly religious work, also wrote the texts - in Czech instead of the then common Latin because he believed it would provide a better and easier access for the people.

Within the frames of a traditional Latin mass, the Rybovka tells the Nativity story in a Bohemian setting. The music is lovely, and after listening to it first and then browsing some pages, I was happy to read that the music reminds of "Mozart's or Haydn's Vienna style" because that had been my impression, too.

Are you curious now? Why don't you listen to it yourself then?

Ruth Fra
Česká mše vánoční - the most popular piece of Czech Christmas music
Peter Quantrill: Bohemian Christmas music: Beyond King Wenceslas


The Christmas Cat - The fifth door

Mine got a little nervous when they saw this topic because they thought that once was quite enough, thank you very much.
Gundel said she would move in with my sister and der Dekan just showed me his fangs.
I could calm them down
quickly, though. I'm talking about Iceland's Yule Cat or Jólakötturinn.

Jólakötturinn - picture by Atli TýrÆgisson on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Iceland has many Christmas traditions and stories. There's the tradition of giving books for Christmas, special food, visiting the graves of their loved ones, a Christmas tree and lights, but there are also Grýla, a troll woman, her husband, her thirteen sons, the Yule Lads, who are mischievous pranksters and visit children on the days leading up to Christmas, one after another ... and there is their cat Jólakötturinn.

Jólakötturinn is a giant cat that roams the land after Christmas. He looks into the windows to see if the children have got new clothes for Christmas. If not, he punishes them by eating their food, some say, but the more common story is that he eats the children themselves or how Haukur S. Magnússon puts in The Reykjavík Grapevine: "This is the kind of message Icelanders like to send out in their folklore: if you do not have the money or means of acquiring new items of clothing before the festival of lights, you will be eaten by a gigantic cat."

Oldest written records are from the 19th century, but the story itself probably dates back to the Dark Ages and has a background. If people were too lazy to process the wool before winter, they would have to suffer in winter. If children didn't help with the household chores, including preparing the wool for making clothes, well, tough break.
I guess we all know the story of the grashopper and the ant which teaches us the same lesson. Get things done in time and don't be lazy or terrible things will happen.
And in Iceland that's being eaten by a terrifying cat.

Now der Dekan says he wants to be
Jólakötturinn when he grows up!

Let's finish this with a song by Björk (you can find the lyrics translated into English here).


Christmas quote of the week - The fourth door

I revived the quotes of the week especially for the advent calendar and today's quote is perfect following yesterday's post.
Imagine a small English village and its Women's Guild putting on a Cinderella panto at the village hall.
It starts with the auditions, one actor has to be lured in under some pretext as he really doesn't want to participate, there are talented people and not so talented people who present anything from dance to song.

My favorite audition is that of the young girl singing "Morning has broken" only to be chosen for a lizard footman.
I really wish they had shown the costume, it sounds fascinating! ;-)

It's also quite fascinating that there will be skeletons, mermaids, and Hawaiian dancers in the ballroom scene ....

Jam and Jerusalem, Special "Christmas Panto", UK, 2006


Move over, Santa Claus! - The third door

Sorry, Santa, but there are two new kids in town.

First we have Santa Gundel. She's fine with the job, but didn't like the outfit much. Finally she granted me a minute to get it over with and take pictures.

Then there's der Santa Dekan. He didn't mind the hat, but the mere idea of having to travel the whole world and go down chimneys and back up was very exhausting.
It definitely called for a (not so) little nap beforehand.
Children, if I were you, I'd count on Santa Gundel to bring you gifts, I don't think der Santa Dekan is up to the task!

P.S. I'm not a fan of clothes for my cats, but I couldn't resist trying this after finding that the hat of my Steiff Santa Claus replica wasn't attached to his head (anymore?). The size was so perfect.
Gundel removed the hat a few times with a flick of her head, but then gave in because sometimes that's easier than being annoyed by forever.
Der Dekan made it more difficult. I had to lure him onto the bed for a nap, and when he was awake again, he was still too tired to bother about a stupid hat.