19 December

For you

Here’s my Christmas present to you: yuletide gift-bringer selection tool

And this is what you do with it:

  • Print it out, double-sided. (Flip it on the short-edge if your printer gives you that option.) This should give you a page with doors on one side and green text boxes on the other, and a second page with pictures on one side and nothing on the other.
  • Cut around 3 of the 4 sides of each door, but don’t cut the left sides of the doors. (A Stanley knife[1] is a good tool for this, and a steel ruler will help you get it very straight.)
  • Put glue on the page with the green text boxes, but don’t put any on any of the green parts. Make sure you glue the edges well.
  • Carefully put the picture sheet on top of the green sheet, lining up the edges well, to make a sandwich:
    • The door sheet will be on the bottom, facing down.
    • The green text box sheet will be on the back of that.
    • The pictures will be the start of the next layer, facing down.
    • The top of the sandwich will be the blank page.
  • Now wait for the glue to dry.

Then you will have something that opens like an advent calendar but will explain the difference between the guys in red to your visitors. (You, of course, already know the difference between Sinterklaas and Father Christmas!)


Jeremy was helping me cook dinner when Danni asked, “What are we doing on Sunday?”

“You should know – we’ll be at your parents’ house,” said Jeremy.

“Not on Sunday,” said Danni. “We’re Serbian.”

“You are?” I said. “That’s wonderful!”

“What’s so good about being Serbian?” asked Jeremy, and then he added, “Is it racist to think that all Serbians are good?”

“Serbians celebrate Orthodox Christmas,” I explained, “and that’s on the 7th of January.”

“That’s right,” said Danni, “so what are we doing on Sunday?”

“Hey Mum, we can come to Christmas after all!” said Jeremy when he finally worked it out.

“That’s really, really good news,” I replied. (I felt like a two-tonne hat had just been taken off my head, and my eyes teared up, but I blamed the latter on the onions.)

I’ll have to extend the table after all. “Cosy” just doesn’t feel like Christmas to me. And I can justify making cherry tarts now, which is even better!

Mind you, it does mean I’m heading back to the supermarket tomorrow for mascarpone. And I’ll have to see if there’s any chance my butcher can upgrade me from that size twenty turkey. (We’ll have enough for dinner but there wouldn’t be much left over for tea and that’s not the way we roll in my house!)

[1] Also known as a retractable safety knife, or a box-cutter. (Yes, that’s the tool that brought down planes on 9/11, but it can be used for good as well as for evil.)

4 December

In chains

If you have kids, get them making paper chains because they are fun and festive.

The old-fashioned way is to glue strips of paper into loops, linking them as you go, but it’s easier, faster and less messy to use staples. And it’s easier again to use streamers (the boat kind rather than crepe paper) as links: just tear them off into the appropriate lengths and staple them together and you can churn out metres and metres of chain per hour. (This will be part of the appeal: small children will be thrilled that they’ve made something long and larger children will want to hang chains in every room. I draw the line at the wet areas myself but why not let them go gangbusters everywhere else?[1])

To be green, cut up old glossy magazines for the links and use paste made of sustainable flour as the glue.

Jeremy made these chains from magazines when he was in high school: he targeted pictures with strong colours and got quite a colour scheme going.

I roamed around my back garden this afternoon[2] noting where the best holly was and I’m glad to say that I have some spitefully prickly stuff that looks very Christmassy. In fact, I’m wondering if I should clear it with Health and Safety before we decorate.

[1] My father came home late after an office Christmas party when I was a kid, sneaking in the front door without turning on the light so that he wouldn’t disturb anyone, and a paper chain came adrift from its mooring and tried to strangle him. He fought it off successfully but the surprise attack unnerved him and he wouldn’t let us drape paper chains over anything he counted as a fire exit from that point on.

[2] Or, as I more commonly refer to it, my back jungle.

17 November

The other red hat

You will remember that Julenissen are the gnomes who deliver Christmas presents to children in Norway (see 8 August). They are very fetching in their grey clothes with their white beards and pointy red hats and they are infiltrating the world of craft: if you’re handy with a needle, you can find patterns to make Julenisse from felt, from cloth, from wool and even from pinecones.[1]

So, if you’re sick of decorating with reindeer, consider Norwegian gnomes. (Plague proportions of anything tie in well with the Christmas spirit of abundance.)

The gname of this gnome is Julenisse.

Matthew rang me today.

“Why don’t we invite Auntie Gwen and Susan to Christmas dinner?” he said.

This is such a good idea that I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it myself earlier in the year. So I rang them and they accepted and Auntie Gwen also said that Susan will have finished her chemo well before Christmas and she should be able to enjoy food again. (I must find out what her favourite dishes are.)

So, although I would have been distraught to find myself down to four for Christmas just a week ago, today I am positively delighted that we’ve doubled the guest list overnight! (How many desserts can you justify for four people? Surely at least three.)[2]

[1] This is a waste of pinecones (but so is everything else that involves pinecones and paint).

[2] I’ve been parsimonious with sugar for the whole year: I think I’ve earned three desserts on Christmas Day!