Reasons I’m Undecided About Santa Claus

It kind of surprised us this year that we’d have to think about Santa Claus. We’d given it very little thought and pretty much expected it to be something that was at least another year away. Of course, it just didn’t work out that way. My two and a half year old saw him everywhere and wanted to know who he was. I started off telling her that he was someone who liked Christmas a lot.

Then she one day told me that he was bringing her presents. I was amused that she’d understood this having overheard it or been told it somewhere and decided to go with it. She’ll see him at Westonbirt Arboretum later this week and her stocking presents will be from him (the best gifts – or what we think are the best, anyway – will be from us). The question, though, is about how far to go with it. That’s no doubt something we’ll fine tune in years to come but, for now, we’re just a bit cautious for a few reasons.

1. The Fear Factor

One of the biggest things that puts me off about Old St Nick is that he’s used throughout the month of December as a way of trying to get children to behave. It’s unmissable in the songs about him that he’s watching you so you better behave if you want him to come by this year. Actions and consequences make sense to me but I have to say that I really don’t get the whole threat/bribe thing. It strikes me as a bit weird. For one thing, I can’t understand how it really works with children under the age of five to have such a long term goal to “be good” and control their impulses for.

Even if it does work, I’m not so hot on the idea of motivating them with a reward. Do this and you will get presents. And I’ve seen children get unbelievably worked up out of fear that they haven’t been good enough this year. I guess, for me, I’m also put off by the fact that this is the picture of God a lot of people have – he’s, at best, a benign old man who’s nice to believe in and who’s love is conditional. That image doesn’t make sense to me either.

2. The Imagination Argument

But what about the imagination? Isn’t it healthy for children to exercise their imaginations. Isn’t believing in Santa Claus just a part of that? I think there are levels of belief. I “believed” in Santa Claus growing up but I also had no epiphany where I stopped believing. Part of me always knew that it was a game and that believing was a part of how we played. Perhaps this was because my parents never made a big deal of Santa and were always so obviously half-serious in talking with us about him. I do think it’s a bit of fun and that that’s an important part of childhood but I’m just cautious about the line between imagination and faith. I’m wary of making too strong a case for Santa I know isn’t real if it later causes her to wonder whether I’ve lied about something really important.

3. The Almost Inevitable Distraction

I know this isn’t an issue for everyone but for us, Christmas has a very specific focus. It’s when we remember how God broke into our reality and touched mankind in a mind-blowing way through Jesus, and when we look forward to the fulfilment of His life-changing promises, both those for now and the future. So, Father Christmas does seem a wee bit of an unnecessary distraction from something that’s already exciting. Not that I think he has to be at all. I think you can have a little fun with the whole Santa thing and still stay focused on what Christmas is about. In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Father Christmas celebrates Aslan’s return to Narnia. In a similar way, he can be part of our celebration without becoming central to it.

I guess the worry is that there is just SO much of him everywhere that if you’re not really into it, it can feel a bit overwhelming. It sends children the message that he is the focus of the excitement. I understand that if you’re not a Christian, that might not be as much of an issue but as I am, it makes me think about how much reminding I need to do in order to balance that message.

What to do about Santa

4. The Commercialism

I’ve heard people say that the idea of Santa Claus is one to be preserved because it reminds children of how important giving is. I kind of wonder how true this is, though, when so much about Santa is about what you’re getting. The wish lists detailing everything you want, the stockings laid out with care, the excitement about him coming so that you get presents… The “gimme” feel of it all really scares me, as much as I revel in watching my child enjoy opening presents.

We’ve been buying and wrapping lots of presents for other people this month and Talitha’s found it so exciting. Still, even now, she keeps asking when she’s going to get her presents. And all the ads we see around us are encouraging her to do just that. They tell us that Christmas is primarily about having a good time ourselves. Again, it doesn’t have to be so but it does take some thinking and a touch of caution to prevent it from going that way.

5. Our Own Histories

For us, the biggest thing is that we don’t have a strong connection to Santa Claus from our childhood memories. We both remember feeling that Christmas was a magical time but not particularly that it was all about St Nick. In fact, it had a lot more to do with our own families and with our parents in particular. So, we simply lack to drive to make a big thing of that jolly old elf. This may change over time – who knows? – but perhaps it’s more natural to us, personally, then, to find other creative ways to make Christmas special for our children.

I’m fully aware that every parent is going to tackle the Santa thing their own way and I’m not suggesting that there is any one way to do that. I may even feel differently about some or all of this in another year’s time. For now, this is where we’re at – giving him a half-nod but slightly leaning toward disinterest.

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Making Christmas Crackers With a Foreign Language Twist

Rosetta Stone sent us a cracker-making pack and we had so much fun putting them together. For Talitha, it’s all new. She keeps noticing all these images of paper crowns and wants to know what it’s all about. I’ve told her you get them in crackers at dinner time on Christmas Day. Of course, she’s thought I meant crackers you eat so it was fun actually putting some together with her so she has another little thing to anticipate.

Crown from our Christmas crackers

Of course they included your standard cracker jokes. But as a twist, the pack included a set of obscure foreign language words which we’re to guess the meaning of, as pictured above.

Your standard cracker joke

For me, it’s been a reminder that I want learning languages to become a part of our family life. It would be more obvious as to how to do this if one of us natively spoke another language but we don’t. I’ve no doubt that some exposure is better than none, though, so I’m looking forward to taking up Spanish again as a first step. I studied it to A-level but really don’t remember much. Rosetta Stone have given me a six-month trial of a Spanish course, which should get us on our way. I always think experiences trump products when it comes to Christmas gifts so this would make a great gift for someone who wanted to do as I’m doing.

Making foreign language crackers with Rosetta Stone


Christmas in a Day: Sainsbury’s remind us of the true meaning of Christmas

In association with Sainsbury’s

It’s barely mid-December and I’ve heard so many talk about feeling overwhelmed by Christmas already. At times, I’ve felt it too. So, it’s with interest that I’ve welcomed this post from Sainsbury’s about taking it all back to values.

It’s easy in the hustle and bustle of the modern world to forget about the true meaning behind important dates in our lives. Nowhere is this truer than at Christmas when the pressures that we face to make everything perfect for the whole family can sometimes obscure what the whole festive season is really about.

Commerce

A popular gripe is that the whole thing has become too commercialised, with business and big companies seeing the festivities as a time when we spend more on virtually everything and therefore they fight for our custom.

Of course, the truth is that we like to treat our friends, family and ourselves at this special time of year. It is the only occasion other than a birthday that we really show our affection for others by giving them presents and the whole point of a ‘feast’ time is that we over indulge a little and push the boat out when it comes to having things that might otherwise normally be seen as surplus to requirements.

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By Crnorizec (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

Adverts

With this in mind, it might seem strange that a modern marker for each new Christmas is season has become the lavishly produced and expensive advertising campaigns which most major retailers put in place.

Each year there seems to be one particular effort that finds a place in people’s hearts and really reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas.

This year there is no doubt that it is Sainsbury’s Christmas in a Day – a full film which sums up the true meaning of Christmas.

Values

Sainsbury’s has spared no expense with a full 45-minute film which will even be getting a cinema release in selected locations around the UK. Directed by Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald, known for his ground breaking film Life In A Day, the project was also produced by Hollywood legend Ridley Scott.

The film is based on 360 hours of crowd-sourced footage which was supplied by members of the public, each of them willing to share those magic moments of how they prepare for and enjoy Christmas. This means that there are fun moments, emotional scenes and thought-provoking vignettes.

‘I was overwhelmed by the creativity and enthusiasm of the people up and down the country, from every walk of life, who filmed their Christmas and shared it with us,’ Macdonald commented.

‘I feel that the finished film stands out for many reasons – it is funny, moving, often beautifully shot and above all truthful. I am immensely thankful to everyone who took part and to Sainsbury’s for making the film possible.’

It isn’t just the source material that works, it is the expert way that it is put together to provide a narrative. For instance, an amateur rendition of the classic Christmas tune ‘Deck The Halls’ shows the light hearted side of how we can get into the festive spirit, whilst footage of an old man eating alone brings into focus the fact that not everyone has the same experience.

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By Tri Nguyen via Flickr

Meaning

It is exactly in this way that the film helps remind us of the true meaning of Christmas – that although it is about sharing it with those closest to us, it is also about a sense of community in a wider sense, which is exactly why Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol‘ hits a nerve with anyone who knows the story.

Ending with a scene that will move anyone, where a family can be seen recording a Christmas message to send to their father who is serving in Afghanistan, and then he unexpectedly arrives home on a surprise return visit, the film manages to capture the spirit of the connection we all have at Christmas.

“The moments that make Christmas special” is the tag for the film and the general summary of the ad campaign, all of which are sure to become stuck in the public imagination when they think back to Christmas 2013. Take a look at the video now and see what everyone’s talking about.

In association with Sainsbury’s


Gluten-free, Dairy-free Trinidad Christmas Black Cake

In a way, Christmas started a month ago for us when we soaked the fruits for our Trinidad black cake. I’ve looked at lots of recipes for inspiration over the years but needed to use things that were readily available to us and to make it both wheat and dairy-free. I thought I might as well make it gluten-free altogether. The result is a cake that is lighter than your usual Caribbean black cake but I like that. All the flavours come through without feeling it’s too rich to handle.

What we used (Makes three cakes):
400g dates
150g mixed peel
400g currants
400g raisins
200g sultanas
200glace cherries
1 bottle dark rum
1 bottle cherry brandy
3 tbsp Angostura bitters
2 grated lemon peels (lime is more traditional, lemon is what I had)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
400g gluten-free plain flour mix
10 large free range eggs
2 cups olive oil
2 cups dark muscovado sugar
2 cups browning (made with this method)

Mix the fruits together in a large bowl, mix in the liquors, soak overnight or months in advance.

Soak and blend fruits for Trinidad black cake - Christmas cake

When you are ready to make your cake, blend the drenched fruits until the are a chunky paste.

Soaked and blended fruits for Trinidad black cake

I agonised over what to replace the butter with. I considered replacing it with goat’s butter as it’s the one dairy item Laurence can tolerate but, man, it’s expensive and I rather fancied making this cake entirely dairy-free. So, I settled on olive oil, terrified as I submitted the fruits I’d lovingly soaked to an experiment. But – you know what? – it worked! As I said at the start, it makes it a bit lighter and that’s turned out to be quite a nice thing.

Blend the olive oil and muscovado sugar until it’s, well, creamy-ish. Beat in eggs gradually. Add vanilla essence and grated lemon peel. Combine the cinnamon, baking powder and gluten-free plain flour mix and fold gradually into the wet mixture. Thoroughly mix in your blended fruits and browning.

Line your baking tins with baking paper. Pour the boozy goodness into the pans and get them into the oven for a bake at 120C in a pre-heated oven for about 4 hours. Check it at 3 hours, though. A chopstick (or whatever) through the middle should come out clean.

Feed the beast! Pour on the alcohol! Some people chuck a whole bottle of dark rum over this baby in the course of many hours. I admit I was a bit lame this year and settled for a few tablespoons when they had just come out of the oven. I’m not tolerating alcohol well at the moment (some weird pregnancy thing, I guess) and black cakes I’ve made in the past have made people feel a wee bit tipsy. I may well drizzle on a little more before icing it though.

Gluten-free dairy-free Trinidad black cake - Christmas cake recipe

Which brings me to icing. It’s not a Trini tradition to ice Christmas black cake unless it’s being made for a wedding but Laurence loves Christmas cake with icing so we’re making a compromise. I’ve bought some marzipan and ready-made royal icing so will be brave and give those a go. I’ll update this post with the results later. The marzipan goes on tomorrow.

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Making heart ornaments – Crafternoon Tea with Shloer

Did you see that episode of Dragon’s Den where the charming people from The Makery were seeking investment? I fell in love with their craft business and wanted to go visit it in Bath but never got around to it. What a treat, then, to be invited to a crafting session with them at a “crafternoon” tea organised by Shloer yesterday.

The Greenway Hotel and Spa
Can you spot the bloggers’ children? Talitha and Purple Mum‘s Wonder Girl pose without us even asking.

Bloggers and children gathered at The Greenway Hotel and Spa for an afternoon of making, munching and Shloer tasting. I’m pretty pleased simply to have found a festive non-alcoholic drink that won’t make me feel like I’m missing out over the holiday season. The Shloer Celebration White Bubbly is the first cold beverage I’ve had since falling pregnant that’s felt like a grown-up drink. I didn’t grow up in a drinking house so I’m well acquainted with sparkling juice drinks and have generally found them wanting (to put it mildly) but I would honestly, happily, recommend this one.

Schloer Celebrations

When The Makery revealed the materials we’d be working with – quirky patterns, stylish ribbons, cheerful buttons – audible delight lilted through the room. We were going to make heart ornaments.

Fabrics from The Makery

Ribbons from The Makery

First we traced heart shapes onto the fabrics.

Make a heart ornament - trace the shape

Talitha joined in where she could and found other ways of entertaining herself for the grown-up bits.

His name is Fred
The children were given these dolls. Hers is called Fred. She insisted that he’s a baby and that he be tucked into bed with her last night.

Having gathered materials and planned the ornament, it was sewing time.

Materials for making a heart ornament

Notches needed to be cut going around the heart to ensure a smoother shape.

Cut notches into hearts

Talitha enjoyed stuffing it. It’s now hanging in our kitchen. I kind of wish I’d made it more festive but she still claims “It’s Christmas!” So who am I to disagree?

Stuffing the heart

We also blind tasted four of the options for next season’s limited edition Shloer flavours. I was pretty awful at guessing what any of them were. Maybe I’m just not a creature of change but I much prefer the flavours I’m already familiar with.

Crafternoon Tea with Schloer

I’m just stoked to have found Shloer Celebrations, particularly the White Bubbly. I was given a bottle to take away so I’ll be sinking that when everyone else is hitting the booze this Christmas. At £2.99 a bottle, I won’t mind buying me some more.


Make a Christmas Kissing Ball with Homemade Pom Poms

Mistletoe doesn’t grow in the Caribbean so it’s curious that it’s part of our Christmas iconography, along with snowflakes and “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly”. In fact, I’d never seen real mistletoe until the first Christmas I spent with Laurence’s family. While we grew up with Mistletoe in our storybooks and cartoons, kissing balls were more appropriate and accessible in reality. I remember the year my mother made one with sweet little rosettes. And now it’s my turn to make one for our home. So I made this festive kissing ball with homemade pom poms. Well, my toddler helped too.

Make a kissing ball with homemade pom poms

First there were reels of yarn she insisted were hippos, though why she’d stand on hippos I never got out of her.

Yarn for our pom poms

Following this technique for making pom poms, I wound the yarn around three fingers 100 times before cutting it.

Making the pom poms

Then I tied the yarn together with another bit of yarn.

Tie round the middle to make pom poms

I snipped all the loops and there we go. Delightfully messy pom poms.

Snip loops to make pom poms

Talitha wanted to have a go too but I had to do it really quickly so she wouldn’t get bored.

Wrap around child's hand to make pom poms

We even mixed the colours. Two bits of yarn at once wrapped for 50 instead of 100.

Mix colours to make pom poms

I crumpled a piece of newspaper and taped it into the shape of a ball and tied a ribbon around it.

Skeleton for kissing ball

And stuck the pom poms around it with a hot glue gun.

Hang the creation and there we go… Christmas Kissing Ball!

toddler beneath a kissing ball


Toddler Style: The Christmas Party Look

My mother joked when Talitha was born that she was like my dolly. Part of me thinks she really is – albeit a dolly that’s increasingly growing more independent and forming her own strong opinions on what she wants to wear.

tesco-christmas-toddler-2b

I get so much more pleasure out of seeing her enjoy getting dressed up. It even supersedes the buzz I get when shopping for myself. So when F&F offered me a voucher to style a beautiful party look for my toddler, I really couldn’t resist.

tesco-christmas-toddler-3b

Looking through their Children’s Party Wear range I was sorely tempted by all the fancy frocks but this F&F Tutu Skirt won in the end. It was so floaty, simple but stylish and I figured she’d get lots of use out of it with all the festivities planned for the month ahead. It also pairs perfectly with this F&F Corsage Long Sleeve T-shirt. When Talitha put them on she smiled and exclaimed to me that she was a fairy!

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For warmth, I added F&F Grey Cable Tights and an F&F Grey Thermal Vest underneath. I love how all the colourways of this outfit fit together. It was a breeze to mix and match.

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The F&F Pearl Effect Rainbow Headband added both warmth and style. Talitha’s not a headband kind of girl generally (she likes holding them rather than wearing them) but she loved the bow on this one so much that she was quite happy to leave it be!

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Laurence says I spent way too much time pouring through the website but it’s easy to get lost inside there, especially in the shoe section. The look was glammed up with these gorgeous F&F Lace Overlay Pumps. Talitha mainly likes that they’re shiny and she can put them on by herself, I think.

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And what’s a Christmas party look without an iconic Christmas jumper? I had to get an F&F Penguin Jumper for my penguin-obsessed child. Sweet little pom pom on its hat and all.

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Throw in a few bangles from Nana, a Santa hat, loads of glitter and a HUGE balloon and we’re ready for the party fun. Let the season begin!

This is our entry for the F&F Children’s Party Wear Challenge. We were given an F&F voucher for the purposes of this post but if you detect the love, that’s because it’s real.