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December Traditions: Pagan Nativity

Afoot our Yule tree stand different characters from your usual nativity scene. Ours represent the rebirth of the Sun God, who’s noted absence brought us self-reflections and slowed schedule. We are thankful for It’s return. We appreciate the lessons that if you want light, there must be darkness. And as we know for sure the Sun will rise on the morning, we are also confident that after this time of darkness, the days will grow longer, the weather warmer and our heart, lighter.

I wanted to make sure the scene would be playable for my young family…And what’s more playable then toys?

Here you see the Sun God on a bed of cedar. I actually cheated to show you the whole pictures; like some does with baby Jesus, we don’t place our baby Sun until the our of the Solstice is passed (it changes every year, this year it’s on December 21st, at 11:12).  After the pictures I carefully place Him in our kitchen cauldron to reside until It borns again. The cauldron symbolize the Pregnant Goddess.

Surounding the Sun God are the woodland animals, creatures and people that came to witness Its birth. I use our regular wooden figures and playscape accessories; Accorn people, felted animals. wooden ones and felt everygreen.

There are tree importants figures that specially came to watch over the Reborn Sun. The Maiden (white) is all that is new and begining. The Mother (red) is what is fullfilled and comited. The Crone (black) is the wisedom gained by living and everything that is ending. They are the Goddess in her Trinity form, and are very dear to me. Their symbol is that everything goes in cycle, that ends are always new beginnings.

There are a lot of people on this picture. Now I only left the animals and the Trinity. Everyone will come back on the Rebirth Day. We will then have cookies and hot cocoa to share together in expectation of opening our stocking!

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Chalica – A Unitarian Universalist Holiday Celebration

This sweet post was sent in by Anne from harvestmoonbyhand on Etsy. I hope you all enjoy her lovely post and photos.


During December our family celebrates a variety of holidays or special days. Sometimes, we honor these days in their entirety (e.g., Advent, St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, Winter Solstice, Christmas).

St. Nicholas Visit - Olivia with her Shoe
Olivia with her shoe filled with treats from St. Nicholas.

Other times we acknowledge the first day of the holiday (e.g., Hanukkah, Las Posadas) by having a special meal, reading books about the holiday, talking about its meaning, and doing an activity.

Las Posadas Meal
Sophia and Olivia eating a meal to celebrate Las Posadas.

This is something that I began doing once my daughters were adopted and they were old enough to actively participate and enjoy different holidays (about 2-5 years old). I did not introduce all these special days at one time. Rather, they were introduced gradually and incorporated into our holiday plans.

This year we are starting a new tradition: Chalica. As a Unitarian Universalist, I was happy to discover a relatively new holiday that was started a couple of years ago. It is seven days long and begins on the first Monday in December.

Each day represents a different Unitarian Universalist Principle. A chalice is lit each day; and actions, gifts, or volunteering that expresses the day’s Principle may be given and received. One can have seven different chalices or one common chalice.

Nature Table Candles Lit
One candle or seven candles can be lit for Chalica.

The days and Principles are:

Monday: We light our chalice for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Tuesday: We light our chalice for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.

Wednesday: We light our chalice for acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth.

Thursday: We light our chalice for a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Friday: We light our chalice for the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in society at large.

Saturday: We light our chalice for the goal of world peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Sunday: We light our chalice for respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

As with the other holidays that we celebrate, we have adapted Chalica to fit our schedule and what is realistically possible to do during December.

So, I decided to adapt Chalica so that we focus on the first Principle during December and do four activities related to it:

=> Send a letter and pictures that my daughters colored to environmental activist Tim DeChristopher who is serving a two-year sentence for nonviolent civil disobedience. He served one year in prison and now is living in a half-way house until his sentence is complete.

Tim disrupted a government auction of public lands in Utah in 2001. As a result, thousands of acres of land adjacent to a national park are still preserved. More information about Tim can be read on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s website or Peaceful Uprising’s website.

=> Visit a person from church who is recovering from being hospitalized and/or someone who is in a nursing home who would welcome a visit. My oldest daughter will bring her harp and play a few pieces on it during the visit.

Sophia Playing the Harp
Sophia playing the harp for her grandmother in April 2012.
Her grandmother was on a short home-visit from the nursing home
when she was recovering from a broken ankle.

=> Make and donate two sensory/activity lap quilts to a nursing home where my Dad was a resident from October 3, 2011-January 5, 2012. The quilts will be designed to be used by seniors who have Alzheimer’s Disease (like my father had) who need to keep their fingers occupied to help reduce stress and anxiety.

Sensory and Memory Quilt
This is the sensory and photo quilt that I made for my father
shortly after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
It provided comfort to him and gave his hands something to touch
(there are many different textures and types of fabric used).

The remaining six Principles we will work on from January-June. In this way, we are able to put some time and thought into Chalica; and put our faith into action. Beginning Chalica on December 3rd and doing a variety of activities will make our holiday much more meaningful and memorable this year.

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December Traditions: Pagan Yule part I

I grew up with an atheist mother. There was very little celebration around our year, apart from our birthdays and Christmas… a christless Christmas. But a family gathering. The biggest happening of the year. I remember looking forward to that time. We would decorate the tree and place the little village underneath it, carefully placing the empty Christmas ornament boxes to make hills and ponds underneath the glittery white felt drape. And there would be the food. Oh the food! Little picky me would delight of all my favorite meals at the same time! The big bowl of olives for me to pick as much as I wanted, the little cubed cheese, and the bowls of chips to put in our plate while eating the main dish, a cipailles (I’ll give you the recipe!).

I definitely want to recreate this hype with my children! The exitement in the middle of frozen days, the waiting, and the willing to create gifts for those I love.



But I also wanted to give everything a meaning other then “gift giving and recieving and over-eating”. The first time I talked about this holiday with my partner, he confessed that he didn’t really care for Christmas, that it was totally meaningless to him! How painful to hear!

So I explained him what all that fuss what meaning to me. To me it means that the Sun is coming back. I told him that I actually prefer the Solstice day as the celebrating date, to which he totally agreed. I explained him that people would feast for the days would get longer, and that is was a reminder that warmer weather was indeed ahead. When you would have poor housing and little food supplies, the rationing of food was a big deal, and so was the one blessed day you could eat the best beef and bake sweets. It does not apply to today’s bountifullness, but as a son of farmer, he could relate to the changing of the seasons.


We are a new family; so “traditions” are new…We are in the process of building them. They are what we want them to be!

I couldn’t relate to the Christ nativity scene. We had a plastic one under our tree, but no one ever bothered explaining who all those people were, what they were doing there (camels in the snow!) and why they were there. My mom eventually stopped taking out the set when I got too old to play with it…But I remember loving to play with the characters, so I decided to pursue that traditions, only with my little twist. I want to do a full post on how to make your own pagan nativity, but I can roughly explain the characters above: The woodland animals and creatures are looking at the Sun God who just had reborn. Nearby is the Goddess in it’s trinity form; The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone, carefully watching over Him. The Moon hangs above them; another protecting sign.

What I instored that I didn’t have in my childhood are the stockings. Instead of having a billion of gift, I’ve made a rule that most gift should fit the stocking, and 2-3 non-fitting wrapped in silk. They are to be fill the eve of the solstice (children are too curious!) and should be open after the meal. Beads, stickers,  but mostly things I made myself and handmade by the wonderfull artists on etsy.

(to be continued…)

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Celebrating Saint Nicholas: December Traditions

There are many ways of making the Advent season meaningful.  In our society where the holiday season for children often means a big case of the “gimmies”, how can we celebrate in a way that brings meaning to the season? Or rather uncovers the meaning already present.

In the coming weeks we will be writing a series of posts called December traditions.  Here is the second in the series, this time about celebrating Saint Nicholas.

Our family, an interesting patchwork, has three nationalities among it with five different countries of birth.  The children identify with their countries of birth, so the flag of the country is an important symbol in our home.   If had ever wanted to design it like this, it would have never worked.  So nature just threw us this patchwork.

When December comes around, the celebrations of the parents’ cultures seem to take over though.  Our first celebration is that of St. Nicholas, the patron Saint of Children.

Preparations start in the middle of November, when St. Nicholas officially arrives in the Netherlands in preparation for his birthday on December 6.  This event is broadcasted on TV and this year we managed to experience it though the internet.

In the three weeks leading up to December 6, kids are allowed to put our their shoe in the evening with their wish list, drawings and a carrot for St. Nicholas’ horse.  However, since St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas in Dutch, and his helpers ‘de pieten’ are such busy people, we only put the shoes out once a week.  The next morning, the kids are delighted that they were not forgotten in the far-away Kenya, and find a chocolate coin or two in their shoes. On the morning of December 6, there is also a small gift from the good Saint and his helper, who on that day quietly return to Spain to prepare for the next trip to the Netherlands in eleven months!  December 6 is also ‘Nikolaus’ in Germany, so Dutch and German culture meet that morning, although ‘Nikolaus’ does not come from Spain and has only one helper with him, ‘Knecht Ruprecht’.

Now that we live in a city with a larger Dutch expat population, Sinterklaas and some Pieten do pay a personal visit during the day and the children have a chance to meet them up close and personal!  The children are excited that Sinterklaas manages to even come to Kenya with so many children already wanting to see him in the Netherlands and Belgium.   Here are my three with Sint en Piet this Saturday.

Do you celebrate St. Nicholas?  If so, what does your celebration look like?

More about our traditional German advent celebrations will follow soon. . .

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A Meaningful Advent: December Traditions

There are many ways of making the Advent season meaningful.  In our society where the holiday season for children often means a big case of the “gimmies”, how can we celebrate in a way that brings meaning to the season? Or rather uncovers the meaning already present.

In the coming weeks we will be writing a series of posts called December traditions.  Here is the first in the series.


Above is the simplest of Advent traditions.  Mary & Joseph walk around the room on their way to the stable.  Perhaps you already have Mary & Joseph figures you can use.  If not look around the house and see if you have something you can use?  I decided to use plain wooden peg dolls.  Last year I had planned to dress them up but we found that we really like them simple.  We already had this donkey & so they became our wandering couple & donkey.  Each evening (without the children seeing) the figures are moved closer and closer to the stable.  The stable stands empty awaiting the holy family.  Stories can be told every evening of Mary & Joseph on their journey, scripture can be read, whatever works for your family.


The next idea is from a book called, All Year Round.  “Star Ladder” is a beautiful way for children to visualize the days passing from the beginning of Advent to Christmas eve.  This is how we crafted our version of “Star Ladder”.  First we found a blue ribbon and cut 23 yellow felt stars.  Then we glued the stars to it.

I crafted a very simple angel.  She is made with yellow & white roving.  I sewed 3 tiny pearl white beads around her neck and placed a pin with a large yellow head to attach her to the ribbon.  At the start of Advent we place her at the very top of the ladder at the very first star.  Every day she descends the ladder and when she gets to the last star a candle is lit in celebration of Christmas eve.  In this way the light of the heavens is brought to earth.


We made our candle out of rolled beeswax sheets. You can use any special candle you have. In the Waldorf tradition the nature table is decorated with a different element each week.  The first week is stone.  So here we have a crystal and a stone that we melted crayon on to make a simple Mary & child firgure.  Here’s our verse for the first week of Advent.

The first light of Advent is the light of stone.

Stones that live in crystals, seashells & bones.

How do you celebrate Advent in your home?  Keep checking with us in the coming weeks for more December traditions


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Handmade Holidays: Tutorial for Sweater Pants

Pants made out of sweater sleeve is a classic in our house. They are comfortable, cheap and easy to make. I always get compliments on them when my little guy is wearing some. When I explained how easy it is, they all say : What a great idea!

This is a very easy and quick project that the even the I-barely-ever-touched-a-sewing-machine beginner can do.

You’ll need:

  • Sweaters
  • Thin or wide elastic for the waist.
  • The recipiant children’s pair of pants for a guide.

Cut out the sleeves of your sweater. The older the child, the bigger sweater you’d like to use.

Fold guide pants in half and place over sleeve. Cut.

Turn once sleeve inside out. Put the right side out sleeve into the inside out one.

Sew along.

For the waist, Method 1:

Serge the waist or double fold it. Sew along leaving a place to insert the elastic.

The elastic should be the circumference of the waist. Insert, sew both ends of the elastic and close the whole.

Method 2 : this one is less pretty, but it’s useful when you know there won’t be enough room for the butt if you fold at the waist. Some might want to use a coordonating color one. You can easily dye elastics. Ultimately it doesn’t show when there’s a shirt over it.

Take a wider elastic and sew ends together. Place wrong side facing elastic over right side facing pants and sew or serge around.

Now you know what to make of that pile of sweater people always give you ( I know I’m not alone! Someone even gave me only the sleeves…) I always make a pair of those for the Winter Solstice morning and they are always a hit.

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Martinmas ~ Hosting a Lantern Walk

Coming right up in November is Martinmas.

In the Waldorf Traditon Martinmas celebrates kindness among friends and family. Martinmas asks us to share our inner light with eachother as we fall forward into the shorter and darker days of autumn and soon to be winter.

The Lantern Walk is a literal symbol of our inner light, the walk is done each of us with our own lantern and usually we sing a quite song. At our playschool this week we are busy making Lanterns for such a walk. We decided on the type of  lantern made from tissue paper and glue with a bit of finger knitting for a handle.

Here is a quick list of what you will need to create your own lanterns for a walk with friends and family or just to light in your window as the days grow darker.



1. Tissue paper ~ Orange and Red are traditional, but this year at playschool we used a light blue

Tear them into pieces about 4 by 3 inches

2. Ferns of Fall leaves, pressed overnight

3. White Glue (Elmer’s or something similar)

4. A few brushes that you don’t mind getting yucky!

5. Ballons

6. Finger knitting about 20 inces long

7. Hole Punch

8. Long stick

9. Tea Light

waiting to be lanterns…


You start by blowing up the balloon and then carefully build your layers of tissue by placing the tissue on the balloon and painting over it with the glue all around the bottom and up towards the knot of the balloon being careful to leave about 2 to 3 inches at the top with no tissue.

Once you have put on at least 4 layers of tissue you can choose what leaves or ferns you want to go on your lantern. Place them and then put 1 more layer of tissue over the whole work.

Hang to dry over night.

hanging balloons to dry

In the morning once your project is dry, pop your balloon!

You can use a whole punch to punch 2 holes at each side of the lantern and lace your length finger knitting through to create a handle.

We love to find neat long sticks with the children to go through the handle, this makes it a little more safe for little hands and in the German tradition of Lantern making.

When you are ready to go just light your lantern’s tea light and off you go!

painting ferns on with glue


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Creating Magic: The Marrow Gnome Home

This week is my daughter’s first half term.  Kindergarten has proven to be some serious play and we are all worn down around here. Noses are running, chests are rattling, tempers are short.  It is the perfect time to bring a little more magic into our lives.  My daughter brought home a gnome home from school. It is a half a marrow with windows and a door cut out. The insides have been scooped out and in the roof a piece of a branch has been inserted with some wool stuffing glued to the top to look like a chimney and smoke.

The marrow gnome home has been sitting on our table. Each day when we go out for a walk we bring home a little more. Conkers, acorns, and many beautiful colored leaves. We were hoping to make the marrow home comfortable for a gnome to come visit.  Last night Narina had the perfect idea of putting some of the crab apples off of our front lawn inside the home.


After she went to sleep I made a simple gnome and sat it beside the marrow.  I bit off half the apple and put it in his hand.  Then I cut a heart out and placed it in a tuft of wool batting and put it on her place setting this morning at breakfast. When my daughter saw this in the morning she was so happy.  We did it.  We made a gnome come and he left us the little doll to let us know what he looks like.


These little magical moments of imagination and play fill everyone’s heart heart up.  How do you create magical moments in your family?



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A witch’s Halloween

I once had a sort of argument with another mother on a parenting forum. She posted about how much she disliked Halloween and all the dead things that go with it. That celebrating death was a total nonsense. Somehow it hurted my feeling.

As someone that is celebrating the Cycle of the Year and try to teach it to my children, Samhain, the witch’s Halloween, is very dear to me.  It’s a time to turn inward and think about the year that have passed. For us it’s the last day of the year. In celebrating Death, we celebrate something that first was alive. In Fall, we celebrate our mother earth that gave us her bunty and now takes a well deserved rest. We celebrate the shortening of daylight because it was once delightly sunny all day. Like in the Winter Solstice, we celebrate the shortest day of the year for it can only go up from that point, Samhain is the deadest point of the Year and while the land will freeze and the animals will hide, everything is still alive, just waiting.

Celebrating Death dosen’t take anything out of Life…Death is not the opposite of Life, it is it’s rightful companion. Most of religions and spiritual paths consist of finding one’s balance. People wants and need to be scared a little, they need to listen to sad songs even when they are happy. Ignoring all the skeletons, vampires and zombies is ignoring a part of ourselves.

Samhain is also a wonderfull time to look back to where we come from.Take some times to teach about your ancesters. Talk about your parents, grand-parents, great-grand-parents if you were lucky enough to know them or if someone told you about them. Create a family tree to display if you don’t already have one. Find pictures of them, younger ones are especially special to kids, frame them and display them along with your Halloween decorations.

This is the opportunity to slow down and rest. Enjoy what you already have at home, and the people that are in it.


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As days grow short

hearts grow bright.

Saint Michael with his sword

shines out against the night…

Heinz Ritter


The above is an excerpt from a poem in Celebrating Festivals with Children by Freya Jaffke.

For those asking, what is Michaelmas?  It’s a day, at the end of September that marks the time of year when the light & intensity of summer has dwindled.  In the Northern hemisphere the days grow shorter and colder. It’s a time when we look inward and learn from the story of the archangel Michael & the dragon.  The Bible speaks of Michael hurling the dragon (Satan) out of heaven.  The idea of an angel symbolizing all that is light and good, vanquishing evil is something all of us must do in our own inner lives.  Simply put, it is casting out inner dragons.  What are the dragons we cast out?  What thoughts are not filled with light?  Do they serve us?  It’s an inner work that is especially important for those that live in cold and snowy climates.  When days are spent inside keeping warm, inner joy, light and the courage and strength that the archangel Michael symbolizes is so important to see us through.

Children learn about Michaelmas through story & activity.  One of the activities we enjoy in our home is making the Michaelmas candle.  The Michaelmas candle is written about in All Year Round, A Calendar of Celebrations.


You can buy or make your own candle to use for Michaelmas.  We chose to roll candles this year.


My son Michael drew a dragon on paper and then while I cut the beeswax dragon scales & spikes he put it all together.  The thin sheets of beeswax warms with your touch and easily sticks to the candle.


Michael cut out the stars at the top with a wax cutter. On Michaelmas, September 29th, the candle is lit.  Last year I was so impressed to hear my six year old son exclaim, “Mom! The flame is St. Michael’s sword and he’s defeating the dragon!”  The Michaelmas candle is a reminder to hold the light of good inside.

Do you celebrate Michaelmas in your home?   What does Michaelmas mean to you? What are your cherished Michaelmas traditions?