Boxing Day - The twenty-sixth door

Here in Germany we just call it the 1st and 2nd Christmas Day, but in some countries of the Commonwealth the 26th is called Boxing Day.
I had heard the name long before the Internet existed, but never bothered to look it up. I have to admit, however, that I never thought of "boxes" although that would have been logical around Christmas. I always had boxing on my mind which may not be that wrong anymore today because I read that nowadays it's a big shopping holiday with price reductions in those countries, and we know how people are with big sales! ;-)

Originally, Boxing Day seems to have been about boxes although - as I have mentioned before - sometimes the exact origin is somewhere hidden in the past. The term was first used in Victorian times.

Image by user15245033 on Freepik

It may be about the alms boxes put up in churches for donations which were opened on this day to distribute the money among the poor.
It may be about servants who didn't get the 25th off as they had to wait on their employers celebrating Christmas, but who got gifts on the 26th and had the day off to celebrate their own Christmas with the family.
And it was an occasion to give a bonus to service people or tradesmen as a thank for good work throughout the year. Nowadays, donations are usually collected during the days leading up to Christmas and bonuses are given before Christmas as well.

The 26th is also Saint Stephen's Day. Saint Stephen, remembered as the first Christian martyr, is also the patron saint of horses (and more), so Boxing Day has also become a day of sporting events like horse races, foxhunting (nothing sporting about that in my opinion), and rugby.


This is the last day of the advent calendar and I will probably not back here before the New Year.
Thank you if you have been following me through these 26 days, I hope you had a little fun.
Now let me wish you that the days after Christmas will be peaceful ones for you, too. Take care and behave yourselves! ;-)


Merry Christmas - The twenty-fifth door

Merry Christmas!

As usual on the 25th, I'm taking a break, but don't want to miss to wish you a wonderful day, no matter if you celebrate Christmas or not, if you are alone or celebrate with your family, wherever you are in the world.

For the first advent calendar on this blog, I had "packed" a virtual box into which I put everything I thought was really important. Looking at it now, these things become more and more important to me as fewer and fewer people have them. I'll also add some that had been missing then.
Health, love, peace, friendship, hope, understanding and good communication, enough food and water, a safe roof above the head, laughter, creativity, and a planet surviving despite the things we have done and are still doing to it.

There's more, no doubt, so you are welcome to pack your own good wishes into that box.
Even if we can't have it delivered by a parcel service, we ourselves can help to deliver some of it in real in our daily lives.

P.S. The advent calendar has one more door tomorrow.


Christingle - The twenty-fourth door

As you know, here in Germany we start celebrating in the evening on Christmas Eve which is a big relief for the children as it means that they also get their gifts then.
In the advent calendars I have done before I usually took a break on this day (and gave you one ;-)), but today I want to tell you about a tradition that has started in 1747 in Germany where it is not commonly known while it gained popularity in the UK in 1968 - the Christingle. No worries, I'll explain what I mean.

Opinions differ about where the word has come from, but the history is quite clear. In 1747, a minister of the Moravian Church, Johannes de Watteville, gave each child a beeswax candle with a red ribbon at the Christmas service to make them think about Jesus as the light of the world. The tradition of the candle, for example with a red ruff or green embellishment, lives on in the church, not just given to the children anymore, but also the grownups. Outside of the church, the tradition is not known in this way in Germany, as far as I know.

In Britain, however, the tradition changed with the first Church of England Christingle service in Lincoln Cathedral in 1968 where Christingles in a new form were used to raise funds for The Children's Society. By now, thousands of Christingle services are held in mostly British churches each year (in Germany for example as German-British services).

This is how the Christingle looks there - a cross is cut into the top of an orange symbolizing the world, the red ribbon around the orange is for the blood of Jesus, a candle representing Jesus as the light of the world is stuck inside (often with some tin foil to hold it better and to catch the wax), the cocktail sticks on four sides stand for the four seasons or the four corners of the world, the sweets for God's creations.

Picture by Andy / Andrew Fogg on Flickr

To me it's a rather unusual tradition (especially the sweets), but it's also quite fascinating to see how a tradition can come to life and change over time.
And it's still changing. Some people add cloves for the scent which of course reminds of orange pomanders. Also for safety reasons, some churches use glowsticks now or it has been suggested to use battery-operated candles, just like for the Lucia crown.
What's your first impression of the Christingle?

For further reading:
Clare Spencer: Christingle: The tradition that only got going in the 1960s (BBC Magazine Monitor)
What is Christingle? (on Twinkl)
James Cooper: The history of Christingles (on the site Why Christmas)


Heiliwog - The twenty-third door

Let's go and get some water, shall we? Not just any water, however. Holy water or how it is called in the town of Endingen in Germany's Black Forest "heiliwog".

I heard the tale goes like this.
A girl's mother was very sick. At night the girl had a dream and a voice told her to go to one of the town's fountains at midnight on Christmas Eve and fill her jug with the running water, but only during the twelve chimes of the church clock because then the water would turn into holy water.
The girl did what had been told her and when her mother drank the water, she regained her health.

This custom is still alive today, people gather at the fountains on Christmas Eve after church to fetch their "heiliwog" during the twelve chimes.
The first sip is taken right away, wishes for a merry Christmas are exchanged, the rest of the water is taken home.
At home, this blessing is spoken in dialect "Heiliwog, Gottes Gob, Glick ins Hüs, Unglick nüss!" which means "Heiliwog, God's gift, luck into the house, misfortune out!"

I couldn't find out how old exactly this custom is, but it says very, very old and you can imagine it is. Isn't it lovely how these customs keep on living?

SWR documentary "Weihnachten auf dem Land - Erinnerungen aus dem Südwesten" (Christmas in the countryside - Memories from the Southwest)
Schwarzwald aktuell - "G'schichtle 111: Endingen: An Heiligabend wird's Wasser heilig
" (Little story 111: Endingen: On Christmas Eve, the water becomes holy)


We are waiting for the Christ Child - The twenty-second door

Today let me tell you about a figure that is quite well known in Germany, the Christ Child.
When I was a child, it was a tradition that the younger children in my family visited my grandmother on Christmas Eve after the tree had been decorated. Of course the reason was that we had to be out of the way of preparations for the evening, from cleaning to cooking. My grandmother had to deal with our impatience growing by the minute and the excitement when the phone call came that we could come home now. A popular TV program called "We are waiting for the Christ Child" helped with keeping us entertained, but I also remember board games that couldn't really catch my attention, though.

Who is the Christ Child?
Martin Luther and other reformers rejected the idea of venerating saints, so in the 16th century Luther introduced the Christ Child as a gift bringer instead of Saint Nicholas. Interestingly, the tradition lives on in the more Catholic regions of South Germany while in the North that is more Protestant the Christ Child isn't necessarily known at all. The gift bringer there is the "Weihnachtsmann" which literally translates to "Christmas Man", the German name for Santa Claus.

I doubt that I was the only child wondering how baby Jesus was able to carry all the gifts, but over time the connection of the Christ Child and Jesus became more and more unclear, anyway.
I don't remember if someone had told me it was baby Jesus or if that was my own idea. For others the Christ Child is actually an angel like figure that is usually portrayed with a halo, wings, and golden locks.
As a matter of fact, my sister still remembers how we were allowed into the living room and the window was still open because "the Christ Child had just flown away", and how she went to the window first hoping she'd still catch a glimpse of it! She was convinced it was an angel.
My younger brother, on the other hand, remembers the window being closed loudly in order to confirm the Christ Child had just left before we got let into the room. He, too, believed in an angel.

I guess no one told me that because when I visited the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt many years ago, I was completely surprised by the Christ Child being a young lady!
Had I even been celebrating with the family? ;-)

Christ Child in the 1st edition of the "Struwwelpeter" (1845)


Antique and vintage Christmas ornaments - The twenty-first door

There is no end to what you can hang or put on a Christmas tree.
My oldest ornaments are two tiny baubles that I gave to my grandmother for Christmas as a child, more than 50 years ago. She had a small artificial tree with colored lights on her TV (the good old time of huge TV sets ;-)). One of the baubles has lost its hanger a long time ago, but because of the cats they don't go on my tree, anyway.
I also have some Snoopy Christmas baubles left from the set we got for the first Christmas in our own flat. That was more than 30 years ago, so they are vintage as well.

These baubles may be of emotional value, but they are just simple baubles.
What did people put on their trees in the past? Let's look at a few things, and no, the Christmas pickle won't be one of them.

In the old days, Christmas trees were often decorated with edible things, like apples, sugar treats, walnuts painted in gold, but over time other ornaments were added.

Have you ever heard of Dresden cardboard ornaments?
Since the 70s of the 19th century these embossed cardboard ornaments were made in the Dresden region by cottage workers in a variety of shapes, from stars or cars to exotic animals.
The cardboard was dampened, then embossed, covered with metal foil and sometimes painted with gelatine. There were one-sided pieces, but also pieces put together from two embossed parts, some of them shaped to be even three-dimensional.
While you can still get Dresden cardboard today, antique ornaments are very much sought after and not easy to find.

Steamer from Dresdner Pappe around 1880 (Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin, CC-BY SA 3.0)

Another material that was used for different ornaments was cotton. The little cotton mushrooms are still popular today and you can even make them yourself, but of course there were also snowmen, Santas, fruit, animals, and more, from pressed or spun cotton, more or less elaborate.

I have also mentioned Leonic wires in a previous post. Leonic wires are thin copper wires, gold or silver plated and twisted into a spiral shape. They were used in different ways, for example in decorative ribbons, but also Christmas ornaments. The name "Leonic" possibly comes from the city of Lyon.
The craft of using Leonic wires in Christmas ornaments has been become less and less popular, but hasn't died out completely yet. Here you can find a German video showing a lady from Bavaria making golden stars at home.

Famous are of course the Gablonz ornaments. In the mid-19th century glassmakers in Jablonec began making hollow glass beads. The industry kept developing new ideas and techinques like lining the glass with silver on the inside which makes colors on the outside shine even more. Small hollow glass beads in different shapes were strung with wire and combined with other glass decorations for the most amazing creations.
On Flickr, I found this picture with pieces from an Austrian Christmas exhibition. Just look at that lobster!

Picture by Taurabus on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I could keep going and going, but it's so easy to get lost in pictures and texts, and still you have to come to an end eventually.
Let me finish this with a video about a lady who has been collecting Christmas ornaments for more than 40 years and shows them in a Christmas museum in Austria (Weihnachtsmuseum Harrachstal). Even if you don't understand German, I think you will enjoy this little glimpse into her collection.

More information:
Dresden at The Ornament
Tinseltown at The Vintage Christmas Company
Antique bohemian beaded Christmas decorations ~ 1870 - 1940. Area of Jablonec nad Nisou / Gablonz at the Gablonz Collection


Pantomime - The twentieth door

I remember the first time hearing about the British pantomime or panto as it is called informally. Here in Germany, we call a mime "Pantomime", so it was a little confusing to me what this panto was all about.
Panto is usually performed during the time of Christmas and New Year in the UK and other English speaking countries, by professional actors and amateurs alike, in theaters or village halls - even by Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at Windsor (Aladdin, 1943)!

It is based on children's stories and fairy tales and includes cross-dressing actors, dancing, slapstick, singing, and jokes. It's good versus evil, love, a lot of fun, and a happy ending.

There is The Dame, played by a man. The Principal Boy is the male romantic lead and was traditionally played by a young woman although that has changed in the more recent past. Of course there has to be The Villain. There can be ghosts, mermaids, and many more.
And then there's the audience of course.
Audience participation is an important part of panto. You can sing along, you boo when the villain enters the stage to warn the other actors, just join in on the fun.

Pantomime has its early roots in ancient Rome, the word "pantomimus" being used for a dancer who acted out a story through gestures and actions (which is why we still say "Pantomime" for a mime in German).
In the 15th century the Italian Commedia dell'arte, a form of travelling theater based on a basic plot, with improvised dialogue, began to evolve and eventually gain popularity in Europe. Commedia has a stock of characters, with Harlequin probably being the best-known.

Nymphenburg Porcelain at The Met

Going to the theater was one of the favorite pastimes then, and influenced by Commedia, Harlequinades entered the English theater in the 18th century, thanks to a man called John Rich. David Garrick, an actor and theater manager from that time joined the ranks of people who criticized the new form of theater for being not serious enough, but he also wanted to take part in its success. He started bringing pantomime to stage only in the Christmas time.
At the end of the 19th century, panto started changing with the introduction of The Dame in a new form and began to develop into the pantomime of today.

References (with many thanks):
Jennifer Meagher: Commedia dell'arte
Jane Moody: "It's behind you!" - A look into the history of pantomime
Ellen Castelow: Pantomime
National Media Museum UK and The Met for the pictures


In the bleak midwinter - The nineteenth door

A Christmas carol I like a lot is "In the bleak midwinter" by Gustav Holst. For a long time I wasn't aware, however, that this was based on a Christmas poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti published in 1872 as "A Christmas Carol" in an American magazine.
To be honest, the only text line I ever knew was "Snow on snow".
In 1906, Holst composed a setting for it, titled "Cranham". In 1909, Harold Darke composed an anthem regarded to be one of the best Christmas carols ever. I only knew the version by Holst and haven't yet had the chance to find out which one I like better.

Here are the lyrics by Rossetti.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow.

Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot him,
nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign,
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manager full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But his mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give him -
Give my heart.

Here's the Holst carol sung by the King's College Cambridge choir in 2005.


Happy Hanukkah - The eighteenth door

Today we step out from the usual Christmas topics in this advent calender.
I'd like to wish my Jewish friends a very Happy Hanukkah!

I did this here once before when I got the chance to, and in that post you will find a little information on Hanukkah, a little because that's what a friend told me back then (a special hug to you, Sharon!).

I know it is Sunday, but for the life of me, I don't know a Hanukkah movie with a quote that I could use. In fact, there's no Hanukkah movie in my DVD collection. Please forgive me.

Now why don't you read up on the menorah, dreidels, and gelt, and if there's anyone out there making latkes, I would love to have some!! :-D


The Yule log - The seventeenth door

Yule is a winter festival celebrated in Germanic cultures. Its origins are pre-Christian, and like so often, some of the traditions were picked up by Christianity, and those Yule traditions live on as Christmas traditions.
One of them is the Yule log.

Yule Log by Robert Couse-Baker on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Originally the Yule log was an entire tree carefully chosen and brought into the house where its big end was placed in the fireplace. Now different countries have different customs, and I doubt many of them involve an entire tree anymore.
Depending on the country, the wood used is oak, ash, birch, or cherry, and some regions use twigs instead of whole logs. In France, they sprinkle wine on the wood for a lovely scent.
The Yule log is feeding the fire for 12 days, what's left will be used to light the new log in the next year.

ûche de noël is a traditional Christmas cake from France that made its way to other countries as well. It is a sweet roulade from sponge cake and a buttercream that comes in different variations. The outside is iced or decorated with chocolate bark to make it resemble a log and can be embellished with meringue or marzipan mushrooms and Christmas decorations.
I found this amazing picture on Flickr, so appetizing and beautiful.

Coffee-almond bûche de noël with almond truffle pine cones and citron needles by distopiandreamgirl on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I wouldn't be able to trust my cats - especially one - around open fire, but of course it would be a bit difficult to have a Yule log without a fireplace, anyway.
Should someone feel like sending me some
bûche de noël, I may not say no to that, though ...

Further information:
The History of the Yule Log (on Why Christmas)
The Story behind Yule and the Yule log (Almanac)


The Christmas four-part mini series - The sixteenth door

When I was a child, we were always looking forward to the time before Christmas and the legendary "Weihnachtsvierteiler" (Christmas four-parters) or, how they were called officially, "Abenteuervierteiler" (adventure four-parters).
They were 16 mini series produced between 1964 and 1983. German producer Walter Ulbrich had the idea for the ZDF (one of our TV channels at the time) series and also to get French producers on board, so they could tackle classic adventure stories in a more detailed way than movies.

In Germany, we only had three TV channels at the time which didn't broadcast around the clock, so TV was still special (and of course black and white for a long time). The four-parters were a highlight of the year. Can you imagine us kids waiting impatiently for the next part of Robinson Crusoe (the first one), Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (those two are my favorites), The Leatherstocking Tales and more?
The first ones had a narrator which allowed to explain some things further or quote from the original novels, but over time this was seen as old-fashioned. I actually liked it.

Retro is popular and so are the four-parters, some more than others (because, let's be honest, some are better than others), and they are still available on DVD and sometimes for streaming via the ZDF media library.
I still watch Treasure Island regularly, it's definitely part of that childhood Christmas feeling although a tropical island admittedly doesn't seem to be very Christmassy.

Do you have a personal Christmas TV tradition?


Christmas elves - The fifteenth door

Where I work, trainees have to perform something at what is called the "advent coffee". It's coffee and cake, games, talking, it's not one of those infamous office Christmas parties. Being a Grinch, in my many years there, the only time I attended was when I was a trainee and had no other choice.
As none of us five wanted to own up to playing more than the recorder which was regarded to be not advanced enough, we looked for something else to do and ended up with Christmas traditions in different countries. I picked the USA and talked about Santa, his workshop at the North Pole and his elves.

The Workshop of Santa Claus from 1873 GODEY'S LADY'S BOOK

In Germany, we didn't necessarily have Santa as the gift bringer on Christmas depending on the region, so of course we also didn't have Christmas elves. I'm not sure how the Christ Child managed the job, it's hard to imagine a bunch of angels working in the workshop.

Little supernatural beings have been around in different cultures for a long time, but the Christmas elves of the English speaking world seem to have turned up in the 19th century.
The famous poem from 1823, A Visit from St. Nicholas, called Santa himself a jolly old elf. Different sources claim that Lousia May Alcott has written a book called The Christmas Elves in the 1850s, but it was never published, so nothing is known about how she described her elves.
Nowadays, Santa's Elves are usually dressed in green, red (or both), often with striped stockings, a hat, pointy ears and shoes with bent up tips, and often they have bells on their clothing or shoes.
They have many responsibilities from hiding the workshop from human eyes to tending to the reindeer and of course making all the toys in the workshop. Santa can be glad he has them!


Mari Lwyd - The fourteenth door

Yesterday we had music and lights, today we have a tradition revolving around a horse's skull - the Welsh Mari Lwyd.
I first read about the Mari Lwyd ("Grey Mary" to some who connect it with the Virgin Mary, "Grey Mare" to others who connect it with pale horses in Welsh mythology) in the last book of the "The Dark is Rising Sequence" by Susan Cooper, "Silver on the Tree" - a horse skeleton galloping faster than any living horse and without sound, red ribbons dangling from its lower jaw. I remember well how creepy the image was to me.

Back then, I knew nothing of the Welsh wassailing custom that has first been recorded in 1800.
The Mari Lwyd may turn up on your doorstep accompanied by a group of people - and in old days by a Punch & Judy show - demanding to be let in for food and drink, a demand which has to be refused several times before finally letting the group come inside. Similar customs exist in other countries as well for the days between Christmas and New Year's Day.
The special part is that the Mari Lwyd is a horse skull with glass or baubles for eyes, embellished with ribbons and carried on a pole by a person underneath a cloak.
Sure, come on in, dead horse, let's have a drink together!
As if that isn't enough the Mari is a bit menacing in other ways, she chases people and snaps at them.

R. fiend, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Some people think the Mari Lwyd is of pre-Christian pagan origin, but there are no recordings that would confirm this. Nevertheless, Christian clergy in the 19th century criticized the custom which seemed to be dying out, but never went away completely.
Nowadays the tradition has been revived, in fact it has even spread to regions where it hadn't been exercised before, such as the USA, which has led to the question if this isn't cultural appropriation. Is the Mari Lwyd only for Welsh people in Wales?

I'm in Germany, so I doubt I'll see a real Mari Lwyd anytime soon, but I still think it's a fascinating tradition!

By, the way, have you been wondering how to pronounce Mari Lwyd? Here you go. You're welcome.

Jude Rogers: The midwinter majesty of the Mari Lwyd
David R. Howell: It's Mari Lwyd season - but who owns the tradition?
Sympathy for the Moon (blog by David K. Thorpe): On the trail of the Mari Lwyd


Lucia - The thirteenth door

A procession of girls carrying candles and dressed in white gowns, one girl wearing a red sash with her white gown (sometimes all of them do) and a light crown on her head - exactly, today is Saint Lucy's Day.
I don't know about you, but I wasn't aware where this tradition has come from, and to be honest, I always thought this was an exclusively Swedish feast because whenever I have read or heard about it, it always took place in Sweden.
Although other countries have their own traditions on this day, like Italy where Lucia came from, but also Germany, Croatia, and more, the Swedish tradition is probably most widely known. Actually it is celebrated in other Scandinavian countries as well. Lucy is called Lucia there.

Who was Saint Lucy?
Lucia of Syracuse (Sicily) was a Christian martyr in the late 3rd century. The (shortened) story goes that she dedicated her life to Christ, but her mother who was sick didn't know that and arranged a marriage for her. After a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Agatha, the mother recovered and accepted her daughter's wish. They distributed Lucia's inheritance among the poor and her betrothed promptly denounced her to the Governor who ordered to have her taken to a brothel.

"St. Lucia in front of the judges" from the St. Lucy Altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto

Not even a team of oxen and 1,000 men could move her, however, and neither the torture with hot oil nor the attempt to burn her were successful. She finally died through a sword that was thrust into her throat, but only after a priest gave her sacramental bread.
One story about Lucia is that she wore a wreath with candles on her head, so she could hold the food she brought to other early Christians hiding in the catacombs - which brings us back to her feast.
In fact the name Lucia comes from the Latin word "lux" which means light.


Von Claudia Gründer - Claudia Gründer, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The custom of celebrating Saint Lucy's Day was first recorded in West Sweden in the 18th century, but only at the end of the 19th century, thanks to a Stockholm museum, it started spreading, and it became really popular after a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucy in 1927.
It also spreaded to other Scandinavian countries where there were Swedish people and was then adopted by the other inhabitants as well.
By the way, there are not only girls involved in the celebration. Boys can be star boys in white robes with pointy star-embellished hats, gingerbread men, or even Christmas elves.

I read that nowadays no real candles are used anymore for reasons of safety, but in a documentary I've seen the Lucia wear real candles. Underneath her crown she wore a cloth over her hair and both the cloth and hair had to be wet. The candles were "
Kanalljus", special candles manufactured with four channels into which the excess stearin can flow which also helps to make the candle burn more calmly and regularly, made for the use in drafty churches to prevent wax stains and more. In case you are curious, it didn't work perfectly for her, she still got stearin drops in her hair.

Another big part of the fest is food of course, for example "lussekatter" meaning Lucia cats (check the link for a recipe on "Visit Sweden"). These are saffron buns shaped into the letter S which reminds of a curled up cat.
If I could bake, I would have tried to make them for you, but yeast and I get along as badly as glue and I.

Send me some if you make them! :-D


Christmas bells - The twelfth door

When I think of Christmas bells, my first thought goes to the Zimbelstern or cymbal star on the organ in our oldest church in town. The star has little bells which make a tinkling sound when the star rotates. For me that had always been a highlight of the Christmas service when I was a child.

Did you know, however, that there is a flower called Tasmanian Christmas bell (Blandfordia punicea)? It's one of those plants that blooms around Christmas. I hadn't heard about it before, but of course I'm not really a plant expert, anyway.
It's really pretty with the yellow shining out of the red and the long bell-like blossoms.

Blandfordia punicea - Tasmanian Christmas bells by Bill Higham on Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

What I know more about is beading, so, after my little success with the puffy stars, I looked for a tutorial for beaded bells for this post that I could try with the beads I had on hand.
Luck was on my side and I found the Christmas bell by Sidonia's handmade jewelry on YouTube. So pretty and sparkly with the crystals!

My first attempt had a slightly different shape than Sidonia's bell, probably because instead of Superduos I only had Twin Beads which are not as uniform. Instead of getting that nice flaring out shape all the way down, my bell looked as if it had been on a diet and lost some weight around the waist.
I tried a second time using different Twin Beads that were a bit thicker, and this time it was a little better, but I still wasn't completely happy.
So I hope Sidonia will forgive me for modifying the pattern by adding extra beads to the "waist" and the bottom edge. Also, instead of wire headpins I used beads for the loop and the clapper.

Didn't they turn out cute? They also have a great size for pendants and earrings, but would also look nice on a gift, so maybe you want to try this yourself?


Christmas quote of the week - The eleventh door

Almost exactly eight years ago, I told you about the history of the Christmas tree.
Nowadays, with the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree having spread far and wide, it's unusual to think about a time when there were no trees. Not everyone was fond of the tree idea, though.

Inspector Brackenreid: Hey, Jackson! What do you think you're doing?
Constable Jackson: I ... I'm measuring the height of the ceiling, Sir. For the tree.
Inspector Brackenreid: The... There will not be a tree in here.
Constable Jackson: Wha... No tree?
Inspector Brackenreid: Bloody Germans and their idiotic traditions. Jackson, get down!
Detective Murdoch: Sir, a tree wouldn't be a terrible idea.
Inspector Brackenreid: This is a place of work, Murdoch, not a bloody herbarium.

Murdoch Mysteries - A Merry Murdoch Christmas, Canada, 2015

Now, you may know that the tradition of the Christmas tree started in Germany (maybe if you read my old post) which the inspector doesn't like much, but as an Englishman and loyal subject of his monarch Edward VII. (this is the year 1903) who was brought up in this tradition by his mother Queen Victoria and her German husband Albert, you would think he'd be a bit more open to it, wouldn't you?
Victoria and Albert even decorated the tree themselves before they let the children in to see it.

Drawing by Joseph Lionel Williams (via Wikicommons)

Actually we find out later that the inspector isn't fond of Christmas itself ... yet.


Chocolate marzipan cookies - The tenth door

They are rich, yummy, and deadly - filled chocolate marzipan cookies. You can't eat many of them in one go, but that's probably a good thing.
While they are not difficult to make as I'm told, they do take time and a bit of effort. I mentioned before that I missed out on the baker genes that run in the family, so I'm always happy that my sister makes them for Christmas.

Here's the recipe (in grams as I have been told before that odd numbers are too confusing, but I'm sure you will find a unit calculator):

Ingredients for the dough
- 200 g wheat flour
- 75 g corn starch
- 50 g ground almonds
- 100 g sugar
- 1 egg
- 200 g butter (cold)

Ingredients for the filling
- 100 g couverture (bittersweet)
- 100 g marzipan raw mass
- 100 g butter (soft)

Ingredients for decorating
- 200 g couverture (it can be milk or bittersweet, you can also use white additionally, but they are just as good with just one kind)

Mix the flour with the starch, almonds, and sugar. Add the egg and cut in the cold butter. Knead well, then wrap the dough in cling film and put in the fridge for an hour.

Roll the dough to a thickness of about 5 mm on a floured surface and cut out cookies of about 2 inch. Cover the tray with baking paper and bake 8 to 10 minutes in the pre-heated oven at a temperature of 200 °C. Take the cookies off the tray right away and let them dry thoroughly.

For the filling, cut the couverture into small pieces and melt, then let it cool down to room temperature. Grate the marzipan mass finely and cream it with the butter. Add the liquid couverture and mix well. Put some filling on a cookie and then a second on top. Let it dry well.

Melt the couverture for decorating. Dip part of the cookies into the liquid couverture and let dry well.
If you have white couverture as well, you can decorate the cookies additionally.

For those who try this recipe, let me know how you like it!

I also found this recipe on different websites, sometimes with only 175 g butter. The one my sister uses was from an old advertising brochure which went into her personal recipe collection.


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.