Paper Snowflakes

As part of our Solstice calendar, the kids and I spent an afternoon cutting out paper snowflakes. I think perhaps I enjoyed making them more now than when I was a kid. Here are a few of our creations:

Our children don’t expect holiday fun to cost money. They only want to spend time with us.

Honoring Belief and Authenticity during the Holidays

Photo by Scott Vuocolo

Before my husband and I had children, we discussed how we planned to handle various aspects of holidays. We aren’t Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, so it only seemed natural to me that we wouldn’t bring the commercial aspect of Santa Claus into our home for the Solstice.

It wasn’t something I would miss. Not only was there the overly commercial aspect and the blatant lying, but I didn’t have fond memories of the jolly old man. I have the obligatory pictures of me sitting on Santa’s lap, tears streaming down my face at having been forced to sit on a strange man’s lap. At the age of four, I informed my mother that I didn’t believe in Santa Claus. I knew she left the gifts, and I wanted to appreciate her effort and thought rather than some mythical stranger.

However, my husband did have fond memories. He enjoyed the magical aspect as a kid and actually pretended to believe in  Santa Claus long past when he actually quit believing in order to receive an extra gift.

There were discussions. In the end, we compromised. We would discuss the spirit of giving with our future children and Father Time, a representation of that spirit, would leave gifts. I was a bit unsettled by this but recognized the need to honor my husband’s wishes, too. And then we had children…

Gazing into that tiny face, so trusting of us, we knew we couldn’t lie to him. We had no desire to break the special trust held between parent and child. So, life went on. We celebrated our solstice traditions and thought nothing more of Santa Claus or Father Time for five happy years.

The year our oldest turned five years old, he brought up the topic. We had read books about what other people believed and what other holidays people celebrated. We were surrounded by the commercialism of Santa Claus every time we went out.

One fateful day the question came. “Mommy, does Santa Claus exist?” There was an internal cringe, I’m sure. I explained that some people believed he did. Others didn’t. Some people believed in other forms of a spirit of giving. And then I asked him what he believed. He told me that he thought Father Time would leave presents for him and his siblings.

The morning after the longest night of the year, as we got up to open gifts, there were three unwrapped presents sitting on the sofa. My husband and I said nothing about them. We neither claimed to have given them nor that they were from Father Time. While we wouldn’t lie to our children, we also didn’t wish to squash any magic from what they wanted to believe.

The next year, at the age of six, he asked is Father Time was really real? I told him that I could answer his question and that the answer would be one of two – either yes or no. If it was yes, life would go on as it had and he would still believe. However, if it was no, would he be happy no longer believing? I asked him a hard question. Which was more important to him: knowing for certain what the answer was or believing regardless? He chose to continue believing, knowing that at any time he could ask me and I would answer truthfully, whatever that may be. His four year old sister piped up that she didn’t believe and that she thought that when I filled everyone’s stockings, I also left the gifts on the couch. I replied that different people believe different things.

We now have four children, ages 8, 6, 3, and 7 months. Listening to their conversations about the subject is interesting. I still stick to my need to be authentic and refuse to lie. I also will not force my beliefs on someone else and tell them they are wrong. Honoring honesty and authenticity doesn’t have to conflict with honoring the magic of childhood.

Edited to add: After that first year, the gifts have all been digital media for our library - either movies or music cds. Its a tradition we plan to continue, regardless of what our children believe and one which we can feel honest about.

Solstice Calendar

My husband grew up with an Advent Calendar. Every day his mother would dole out butterscotch candies that were pinned to it. A few years ago, he mentioned it to me, saying that it was a tradition he enjoyed and missed. We don’t celebrate Christmas, so we needed to come up with something that would work with our beliefs and holidays.

We ended up with a Solstice calendar. I’m not certain why I felt it necessary to hand stitch all of the tiny pieces of felt on, but it does look nice. The same ribbons that we use to hang it tie the calendar when it is rolled up. It’s also quilted, so it’s rather sturdy.

It happens that the Winter Solstice is not always on the same calendar day, so the last row of pockets has snaps so that we can change numbers or pictures. Rather than have the calendar be about receiving a treat, we made it about the gift of giving, with the idea that after receiving something nice yourself, you would pass it on by doing a kindness for someone else. The little face showing in the first pocket is a simple shape gnome. I realized after I finished the calendar that we needed a visual representation to move each day, so I grabbed one of our handmade toys. The little gnome has lived in the calendar ever since.

 

This year, we have added a small piece of paper to each pocket with a special thing to do. Some of the items are fun things and some are of a more giving nature.

  1. Put together Holiday Helper gift
  2. Make wreath for front door
  3. Ornament Swap
  4. Buy  2010 Solstice Ornaments
  5. Hang outside lights
  6. Paper snowflakes
  7. Mail holiday cards
  8. Make gingerbread house
  9. Make fudge
  10. Surprise Daddy’s coworkers with fudge and food
  11. Make cut out cookies
  12. Buy a holiday treat
  13. Drop off food at fire station
  14. Torch lit hike
  15. Leave cookies for mailman
  16. Surprise someone with baked goods
  17. Deliver Goodies to Neighbors
  18. Hot chocolate and games
  19. Drive around to look at holiday lights
  20. Celebrate the Solstice Party
  21. Make Yule log
  22. Open Gifts

Helping children make gifts

We’ve been helping our children make gifts for their siblings this year, and I have to admit that I am extremely pleased with the results – not necessarily the physical results of their hard work, which admittedly are lovely, but the results of the experience.

The first step for each was to come up with a gift idea they could make. I admit that there was quite a bit of parental involvement in this. Children often have grand ideas full of thoughtfulness which aren’t necessarily attainable by their inexperienced little hands. I helped my children to narrow down their ideas to age- and skill-appropriate ones. However, the process was wrought with creative thinking and a focus on others.

Photo by mmloek

Once we had the idea, we made special trips to gather the supplies we would need. It was special time with a parent (and nursing baby sister in tow). The actual process of making the gift also gave opportunity for one on one time between parent and child.

 
The end result for each child was a thoughtful gift for their siblings, an emphasis on giving, an exercise in creative thinking and planning, and quality time with a parent. The joy on their faces has told me that we definitely hit the mark this year.

Halcyon

As we gather nearer to the Winter Solstice, the darkness presses in closer, leaving us with an ever decreasing amount of daylight as we go about our lives. This period of darkness is when our family celebrates Halcyon.

The word halcyon is used to depict a time of peace and quiet reflection, stemming from the mythical halcyon bird which was thought to bring calming winds to turbulent seas. It was used to describe times of peace between warring peoples.

Photo by Lel4nd

Beginning on Thanksgiving and culminating with the Winter Solstice, our family embraces and celebrates Halcyon. We light a Halcyon candle each night to remind us that the light will once again return, just as it always has. The flame serves to focus our reflection of where we are in our lives and where we want to be, of how we want to improve upon our selves, and how we resolve to live our lives more peacefully and fully. We use this time of quiet darkness to focus ourselves and prepare for the things to come in the new year, after the return of the light.

roll-up kitchen playmat…

When our oldest child was 2 years old, I designed a wooden play kitchen. My husband and I built it and the kids loved it. Unfortunately, it did take up quite a bit of space, and we eventually sold it. Lately I have been thinking about it, as my younger two children are growing. Our space is even more limited now that we have four children, though.

When I saw the kitchen playmat tutorial at Balancing Everything, I knew I wanted to make one. I didn’t have enough felt to make one, so I just substituted fabrics I already had on hand. I also seemed to have forgotten that there were actual PDF patterns available for download by the time I sat down to make it. My trusty scissors and I just cut into the fabric. I did use my first set as a pattern to make two more for some little nephews and nieces, as the kitchen playmat seemed to go quite nicely with the play food I already had made for them.

There are ribbon ties on one side. When my children are finished, they can roll it up and stick it in the bin of handmade playfood. Fantastic! I toyed with the idea of making placemats with plates, silverware, a napkin, and place for a glass on them. I decided it might be overkill, until my six year old came downstairs and suggested the same thing. Sometimes she is eerily like me.

foaming soap…

Photo by Hygeine Matters

With six people in our family, one of whom has some obsessive compulsive tendencies with regard to possible germs, we wash hands a lot. We used to go through quite a bit of soap. Afterall, it’s fun to play with soap and water.

In an effort to conserve some money, I began making our own foaming soap. Making might be a little misleading. I still buy liquid soap. However, I now thin it down so that I can refill our foaming soap dispensers.

I use 3 tablespoons of liquid soap for every 1 cup of water abd mix well. This is actually a great job for the kids. I usually ask who wants to make potions and have several volunteers on my hands.