Telling the Nativity Story with Lolly Stick Puppets

Talitha was ill and grumpy most of the day yesterday. Ill and grumpy in a way only a two-and-a-half-year-old can be. She spent quite a lot of it sitting on the couch and admonishing the cat not to look at her. Still, she lit up when I suggested we make something. “Make something”, “paint something”, “bake something” – I can count on these for a brightening of just about any mood.

I’d picked up some lolly sticks over the weekend so I thought – puppets? It made sense to do the Nativity since we’re having lots of chats about Christmas and I’m trying to dissuade her from thinking that it is, in fact, her birthday. So we got her children’s Bible out and started deciding what characters we’d make and with what. She mainly decided what colours we were going to use and insisted they all needed googly eyes.

Telling the Nativity Story with Lolly Stick Puppets

I was surprised by how much she got into it, particularly considering how out of sorts she was. I’d say, “Let’s make the donkey” and she’d go flipping through the pages to find the donkey. We had a minor falling out over how many angels to make. I’ve promised her we’ll make more later. She wanted to make hundreds like in the picture. We finally agreed on one when I suggested we could also make the star.

Lolly stick Mary and Jesus

They’re not the fanciest things you’ve ever seen but we’ve had such a good time making them and just grabbing bits and bobs from our craft and recycling cupboards to figure what could make the angel’s wings (white pipe cleaners from my days of dabbling in pipe smoking) or what would do for Mary’s hair (green yarn, of course). She got to be really hands on and do most of the sticking herself too, which made her even prouder of the finished product.

Lolly stick nativity puppets

It was a little tricky explaining to Talitha that we can’t make a puppet for God because He’s invisible. She flipped through the Bible and was convinced that anyone with a beard was God. I could see her point. God gets talked about in the story so where was he?

Lolly stick shepherd and angel

The best bit was reading the story and acting it out with the puppets together. When Laurence got home, she wanted to show him which puppet was which. I’m not entirely sure he would have figured it out on his own but to her it was all very obvious. Of course the pipe cleaner twisted around Jesus was his blanket. After all, the story says he was wrapped in swaddling clothes.

We had such fun with these it made me realise that we really need to do more with puppets. They add another dimension to our storytelling and are a much richer tool for comprehension than simply asking questions at the end, which she sometimes finds frustrating.

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Make an Advent Calendar from Toilet Rolls

I got all excited about making an Advent Calendar when I read this post by Along Came Cherry. I was totally going to follow her idea except I realised that I didn’t have any tissue paper. This meant I wouldn’t be able to place the rolls horizontally and forward facing so Talitha could burst the fronts. Wanting to use only what I already had, I ended up with something quite different – pockets! I’m really happy with the result.

Make an Advent Calendar with toilet rolls  Circus Queen

Here’s what I used:

13 toilet roll tubes
green gift wrap (to cover the tubes)
gold gift wrap (for the numbers)
red patterned gift wrap (for the backdrop)
red card
a star shaped cookie cutter
a big old box
a black marker
purple pom poms
a printer

What I wish I’d had:

a glue gun
gold number stickers

What I did

First I gathered materials. I didn’t use all these rolls in the end. The rest will come in handy for a star craft we’re going to do soon.

Toilet rolls for making an Advent Calendar

I had little hands to help me so, as you can imagine, it was slow work!

Gathering toilet rolls for Advent Calendar

Then, because I didn’t want the calendar to be huge, I cut the rolls in half and stapled one end to make them into pockets.

Pockets for toilet roll Advent Calendar

We covered the pockets with green gift wrap paper, making a couple of cuts into the loose end to fold the paper inside.

Covering pockets for toilet roll advent calendar

For the frame, I used an old box we had lying around. I laid out the shape first then worked out how big the tree needed to be before cutting. I covered the tree in red patterned gift wrap just in case any spaces between the pockets became visible. Then I taped the lot on. They’re secure but, to be honest, this would have been SO much easier with a glue gun.

Frame for toilet roll advent calendar

We used a cookie cutter to stencil stars on to the red card (left over from my wedding!) and wrote all our Advent activities them. We’re doing activities instead of chocolate. I slipped the red stars into the pockets. They kind of look like Christmas tree decorations!

Stars for toilet roll advent calendar

Then I printed off numbers and used them to cut our days out of the gold gift paper to glue them on. Believe you me, if I was doing this again, I would so just go get a pack of gold stickers from one of Hobbycraft‘s Advent calendar sets instead. This was UNBELIEVABLY fiddly! But I was determined to only use what I had. I happened to have some purple pom poms around so glued them on for nice a “Christmas decorations” touch.

Homemade Advent Calendar with toilet rolls

And le voila! Our 25-day Advent Calendar!

The activities are in but I’ve not yet put in the Scripture references and Children’s Bible references. I’ll slip those in later. I decided to forgo the raisins in the end as I think there’s enough going on in the calendar. If you’d like to see what activities we have planned, take a look at my 25 Advent Activities for Children post.

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PPS: I’ve added this post to Thinly Spread’s Festive Friday linky.

25 Advent Activities for Children

I didn’t bother with an Advent calendar last year as Advent isn’t something I grew up with and I didn’t think Talitha would get much out of it at eighteen months. This year at two-and-a-half, though – oh my, it’s guaranteed to be great fun.

I considered getting her the usual chocolate calendar but decided against it for a few reasons: 1. We’re going to lots of Christmas things – there’ll be ample opportunity for her to get a fix there, 2. It’ll be more fun to focus on doing and giving than on simply getting, 3. She’s at an age now where we need some activities, otherwise the days feel too long, and 4. There’s enough telling her that this is just a winter festival, when for us, Christmas is much more. And Advent is much more. We expectantly wait to celebrate Jesus’ first coming and we long for the time when He will come again.

So, I’m making an Advent calendar but it’s not done yet so the making will come in another post [Edit: It’s done!]. Based on the above thoughts, I’ve decided to fill it with little packages of dried fruit (that’s as exciting as chocolate to Talitha at this stage), a printed Bible reference (we’ll read it from Scripture and follow it with its counterpart in her children’s Bible) and an inexpensive activity for each day. Here’s what we have planned:

Day 1: Put up the Christmas tree and the Nativity set
Normally, I’d leave the tree until much, much later but it really sets the scene for the season, as does the Nativity set (we called it a “crèche” growing up), so I’m taking advantage of the fact that December 1st is a Sunday this year, which means we’ll have Laurence around to drive. We’ll probably just do the lights and a few decorations as most of our decorations are a bit rubbish and we’ll be making a few anyway.

Day 2: Open a bedtime treat
Talitha is at the childminder’s from early until late that day so we need something that doesn’t require much time or effort. She will be unwrapping a copy of Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr.

Day 3: Make a Christmas display for the window
I’d really love to go all out and light up the house but Laurence isn’t keen (he thinks it’s tacky) and we’re really watching the pennies this year so I’m contenting myself with a display in the window. We’ll probably be making it with construction paper with a lantern or some lights behind it to illuminate. Laurence suggested a Nativity scene but I’m thinking angels and stars might be less complicated and more obvious to passers-by. We’ll see.

Day 4: Make a paper chain for the diningroom
We go to our breastfeeding group in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, which often wipes us both out, so this is a nice quiet activity to slow down to when we get home again.

Day 5: Bake Christmas cake
It’ll be about a month since we soaked the fruits for our Trinidad black cake so it’s the perfect time to mix in the other ingredients and get it in the oven.

Day 6: Go to a Christmas market
I can’t believe we’ve lived in Bristol this long and still not made it over to Bath Christmas market! Still, I’m not getting my hopes up. Any Christmas market will do. Talitha’s not too picky, I’m sure.

25 Advent Activities for children

Day 7: Make Christmas cards
I have a huge stock of Christmas cards bought here and there over the years, which we’ll be giving to friends but I’d like us to do some extra special ones for family with a Talitha touch. Perhaps with a bit of printing.

Day 8: Wrap presents and write cards
Last minute shopping always leaves us stressed and overdrawn and I refuse to do it with a small child in tow, so I’ve been sorting presents early this year and apart from anything else, having this in her calendar will force me to have a deadline. She loves wrapping and “writing” cards though!

Day 9: Make white clay Christmas ornaments
These white clay ornaments from The Imagination Tree are too lovely not to try! I figure we’ll do little trees, stars and horses.

Day 10: Make a snow globe
We’re going to try making it from a jar. It’ll either go oh so wrong or be fabulous.

Day 11: Put up the Christmas card display
This is where it becomes a brilliant thing that I don’t throw anything away! Last year, we made a Christmas tree with the cards. I’m still mulling over what to do this year.

Day 12: Make a handprint tree decoration
I only wish I’d thought of starting this two years ago on Talitha’s first Christmas. I’m hoping we can make this a tradition we carry on each year. We’ll probably do something like this but spray paint the whole thing gold.

Day 13: Meet Father Christmas
I’m not sure where the “real” Santa is this year but a friend put it in my head to try Westonbirt Arboretum, which sounds like a great plan. He wears green too. That may not work out but, either way, we’ll be meeting him somewhere that day!

Day 14: Make mulled apple juice
I have no idea whether she’ll like this or not but we’ll give it a go since neither she nor I will be hitting the mulled wine this year.

Day 15: Go to a carol service
I’m singing with our church choir this year for a few carol services – two on this particular day, so I doubt we’d have time/energy for much else! Carol services are such a lovely marker of Advent, though. I love it all – the candles, the orchestra, the big hall filled with people singing really old songs… I think it’ll hold a lot of magic for her too.

Day 16: Make pastelles
These are savoury parcels of spiced meat enclosed in cornmeal. They’re traditional of a Trini Christmas and are usually wrapped in banana leaves. We do ours in foil. I’m not sure how exactly this will work with Talitha “helping”. It may be an all-day event!

Day 17: Make chac chacs for parang
We’ll be making chac chacs or maracas and playing along to some parang for a bit of Trini flavour in our Christmas plans. Talitha’s not too keen on parang music, truth be told, but she does love a good shake of a maraca!

Day 18: Bake gingerbread men
We’ll be doing these first thing in the morning so we can take them to our breastfeeding group later that day. I haven’t decided yet whether to make them wheat and dairy free. Laurence has to avoid both wheat and dairy but I may just make enough for the group and make him another batch. I’ve also not found a wheat and dairy free recipe I like so if anyone has suggestions, they’re welcome!

Day 19: Make festive play dough
If Talitha had a choice, we’d make play dough every day. Such is her passion for the stuff. I’m liking the orange and clove playdough recipe from Nurture Store.

25 Advent Activities for two-year-olds

Day 20: Watch the Snow Man
The Friday before Christmas, this is destined to be a busy day, so the Raymond Briggs classic on DVD
will be just the thing.

Day 21: Thread popcorn for the tree
This may sound weird but anyone remember Microsoft Bob? When we were children, my dad had this program on Microsoft Bob where you could transform the desktop into any kind of scene you wanted, make it into a banquet hall and decorate it for Christmas, even. Anyway, I remember one of the option being to string popcorn around it and I’ve been itching to try it ever since. I’ll either get a special needle for Talitha or we’ll figure something out. Might even let her have a go with a real one under close supervision. We’ll see.

Day 22: Give Christmas cards to local friends
Depending on what the weather is like, we’ll see how local is local!

Day 23: Make a Christmas wreath for the front door
If I’m really organised, we’ll have collected lots of natural materials for this. Otherwise we’ll be making one with handprints, like this.

Day 24: Open your Christmas Eve pyjamas!
An American family we knew when I was a teenager had this tradition of giving each other pyjamas for Christmas and I always thought it was such a lovely thing to do. It has a bit more context in a cold country than it did in Trinidad though! Useful too because we have a habit of never buying anything new until what we own is absolutely threadbare. I’m sure Talitha and I will have such fun choosing pyjamas for Laurence and I can’t wait to choose something really cute for her.

Day 25: Make Christmas shaped pancakes
My mother has always had a strong tradition of laying on an enormous Christmas breakfast. I look forward to doing something similar. I’m thinking wheat and dairy free pancakes in the shape of stars, with an elf or reindeer for Talitha. We’ll also have lots of fruit, some turkey bacon (we’re a pork free household too, alas) and a lovely syrup or jam from a Christmas market.

What do you have planned?

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It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas…already

The Christmas thing seems to be happening for us so much earlier this year. Usually I’d blame it on commercialism and certainly it was weird walking into The Co-operative today and seeing all the merry banners. However, other markers are ushering us into the season sooner than I expected.

In an attempt to make this the year I don’t get ulcers stressing over last minute Christmas presents and the state of our bank account, I’ve been shopping gradually and putting things aside. Talitha’s presents are all done now, except for the stocking fillers, which we’re saying are from Santa.

Soaking fruits for black cake

Which brings us to a question we’ve not really asked ourselves before. What are we going to say about good ol’ St Nick? Do we pretend he’s real but be visibly half-serious? Do we go all in for it? Do we ignore it altogether? I’d love to know what other families, of any faith or none, do.

Certainly, whenever the subject of Christmas comes up – and it does because of all this flipping point of sale marketing everywhere – I say that Christmas is coming and that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. I tell her that we celebrate Christmas to thank God for Jesus and to remember that He will come again.

I guess that’s the other reason why Christmas feels like it’s entering our lives so early this year. I didn’t grow up with Advent at all. I think maybe it was considered a Roman Catholic and Anglican thing and we weren’t either. Yet I’ve come to really appreciate it in the years I’ve lived in England. It’s a beautiful way of preparing our hearts for Christmas. So, this year I’m making an Advent calendar and preparing little activities that point to Jesus throughout the month because, for us, Christmas is about so much more than warm feelings of togetherness.

Not that those feelings are being neglected either. I really want this to be a special time for our family and for our children to grow up with traditions that they remember, like the tree going up in early December.

Pouring rum over fruits for black cake

So, I’ve already started one tradition I hope to commit to in years to come. Today, Talitha and I soaked the fruits for our Trini Christmas black cake. Dates, currants, raisins, sultanas, mixed peel, cherries and almonds, soaked in Angostura bitters, cherry brandy and dark rum. I felt more than a little odd popping into The Co-op for rum in the middle of the day. I felt even weirder letting my two-year-old pour all the alcohol into the fruit! We’ll let that soak for a month and hopefully let that be our November tradition.

Fruits soaking for black cake

Has Christmas started inching it’s way into your life yet or is it still very firmly ages away?


It’s been a while since I’ve been here.

Christmas is a busy time and my parents were staying with us but that’s not why I went silent.

Like many prone to moods they don’t feel in control of, it’s easy for me to get too self-reflective at the end of the year.

So I drafted five or six posts and hit “delete” instead of “publish”.

Everything I wrote looked pathetic or false on the screen.

In real life, I joked with Laurence about being slightly unhinged.

Quietly, I wondered if I was becoming unwell again.

I wasn’t.

Instead, I’ve been shaken up, in the best way, by a few messages the season threw at me.

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“Did Jesus lie in a manger?”: reflecting on 2 years of blogging

“Did Jesus really lie in a manger?” My friend put the question out there and let it hang for a bit. “Because it’s basically a cot, isn’t it?” she smiled.

Three of us sat with cups of tea and our five children with whom we probably all sleep or have slept with at some point. I suddenly saw my nativity set in a whole new light.

We agreed it seemed unlikely that he wouldn’t have slept beside his mother. I look at the figurines I bought before I had Talitha. They now look strange to me.

This mainly boils down to my own experience. Since my newborn wouldn’t be put down and because I hardly ever put her down, I actually find it strange to see a small baby anywhere but in arms or in sling.

Others may find it odd to see me carrying a toddler everywhere, I suppose.

I look at the nativity scene and want to put the Son of God back into his mother’s arms. He was still a baby, after all.
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Baby’s first overseas holiday

So we’re finally back from our month-long holiday in Trinidad and Tobago. As evidenced by how quiet it’s been on Circus Queen, I got a little distracted.

Talitha is now an airplane flying badass. We flew from Gatwick to Tobago, Tobago to Trinidad, Trinidad to Tobago, Tobago to Trinidad again, Trinidad to Tobago again, then Tobago back to Gatwick. Phew! We actually survived all that. As everyone assured me we would.

To those who made it sound like the flight out there wouldn’t be so difficult, I’m glad I didn’t believe you. At the same time, I wouldn’t go as far as a friend who compared it to giving birth did. For the 17 flippin’ hours it took us to get from door to door, the baby slept for a grand total of 45 minutes – and not even all at once.

Luckily, she’s just not a cranky baby. Even so, flying with any six-month-old is not for the faint of heart. But we got through it. With lots of “Here’s this toy. Now this one. Check out this new toy from Grandmum and Puppa. Ok, the safety instructions are more interesting. Oh yes, that vomit bag’s good for chewing. Let’s play ‘This is the way the lady rides’. Ergobaby carrier time. Look at that little girl. Hi, can I trouble you to help me get my bag down? Do you mind watching her while I pop to the loo?” for nine hours.
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