Kids Fun File © Paul & Wendy Potton 1995.
HAND PRINT WREATH
Even tiny kids can make their own wreath out of hand prints.
Simply take a paper plate and draw around a saucer placed in the middle. Cut out the circle and you'll have a wreath shape. Then find some green paper and get the kids to draw around their hands as many times as you can.
Cut out all the little hand shapes and glue them all around the paper plate ring (arrange them at different angles so that they stick out nicely just like a real wreath.)
Then help the kids to decorate the wreath. You could cut out little circles of coloured paper to stick onto it, or add bits of tinsel or glitter. Last of all you can add a lovely red ribbon tied in a bow.
If you keep the wreath safe and bring it out every year, one day you'll be surprised by how tiny your children’s hands once were.
HOME MADE ADVENT CALENDARS
I’ve found some really cute little Christmas gift tags at activityvillage.co.uk that you can print for free. As there are 24, you could use these to make an advent calendar.
Cut out each of the circles and keep them in a box.
Now get a big piece of green card (or white card to colour in) and draw the basic outline of a Christmas tree onto it. Something like this:
ST NICHOLAS’ DAY
Children can write down the good deeds they do each day and will have proof of their goodness to leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve.
For those who need prompting about what to do, download this useful little chart from Northpole.com
You never know, the habit of trying to do something good each day may even last into the New Year! If so, you can download a new chart for each month from the same site.
If you're feeling very ambitious and have an afternoon free, you can build your own Advent village.
It's quite straightforward because all the templates and instructions can be printed out from Santaspostbag.co.uk
straight onto card for cutting and gluing.
There is a house for each day of Advent up to the 24th, which is the village church.
Once you have made all the buildings, a little treat can be hidden inside, to be found on the appropriate day.
It could be a nice project for the whole of December, as you could build up the village as the month progresses - you would only need to be a few houses ahead at a time.
The dreidel is a traditional toy at Hanukkah and it’s a bit like a spinning top, with Hebrew letters marked on each of the four sides.
The letters are Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin.
They are the first letters of the Hebrew words for “Great Miracle Happened Here”. But they are also the first letters of the Yiddish words for ‘nothing, ‘good’, ‘half’ and ‘put’, so Jewish children use them to play a game.
A number of real or chocolate coins are divided up among the players. Each player puts a coin in the pot , then they take turns to spin the dreidel. If the dreidel lands on ‘nothing’ then nothing happens, if it lands on ‘good’ he takes all the coins in the pot, if it’s ‘half’ he takes half and if it’s ‘put’ he has to put a coin into the pot.
Whenever the pot is emptied everyone puts another coin in. The winner is the one who ends up with all the coins, but he should always share them with his friends at the end.
If you’d like to play this game, you can download a template of a dreidel to make yourself from BBC schools.
Older kids (and parents!) who’re interested in learning about Hanukkah, but are too old for Sesame Street, will enjoy this video by a band called the Maccabeats. It’s a fun “Horrible Histories” style dramatisation, performed to the music from “Dynamite” by Taoi Cruz.
R.E. was never such fun when I was at school!
MAKE A WHOLE ADVENT VILLAGE!
Cut out your tree and pin it to the wall. Then every morning the children can attach one of the circles to the tree as if it were a bauble. It should look very festive.
If you like, you could also cut and colour a big star shape that could be stuck at the top of the tree on Christmas Day.
The emblems of the winter solstice are wassailing and the burning of the Yule log.
“Wassail” is a word just like “cheers!” Meaning, “be healthy”. A wassail cup was a very simple hot drink made out of mulled cider (or apple juice for kids), sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, so you could easily make this to your own personal taste.
A Yule log, in olden times, was a good sized log that was burned in the hearth on this cold winter’s night. To resurrect this tradition, you could go for a nice family walk in the woods, find a suitable (dry!) log and bring it home. You’ll also need to try and pick up some pine cones, holly and some ivy with which to decorate the log. The easiest way is to get a good length of red ribbon, wind it crossing around the log and secure your decorations under the ribbon. The log can then be lit either in your hearth, if you have a fireplace, or out in the garden.
Whilst the log lights up the dark, you can all enjoy it’s warmth, whilst drinking your wassail and sharing stories about all the good things you’ve enjoyed this year. You can also make wishes for the year to come.
NEW YEAR’S EVE /HOGMANAY
There are so many Christmassy things you can do, I’ve just rounded up a few of the best examples below, with links to sites that will get you started.
You can visit Santa’s Secret Village (with it’s animated pages) at the excellent northpole.com There are enough activities for parents and kids, plus crafts, stories and printables, to keep everyone busy for a month!
New Year’s Eve is always a problem for parents of young children - how will you ever find a babysitter? One brave solution would be to get together with some really good friends and have a Pyjama Party - kids included!
The mums and dads can then enjoy the evening without worrying about taxis home and the kids can have a great time playing together until it’s time to find a cosy nest on the floor or somewhere else to crash! It obviously needs a lot of preparation and goodwill from everyone involved but it could be a great night.
At the beginning of the evening you need to keep everyone entertained, whether or not you’re having a party.
Everything you need to make a Nativity finger puppet show is at the Cbeebies Christmas site.
Print out lots of free festive stuff, such as this Santa banner, at the Canon printers website.
For more paper based activities, head over to the Origami Club where you’ll find instructions and animations for all kinds of Christmas themed constructions, including the jolly Santa above.
Finally, you won’t do better than the Disney site Spoonful.com where you’ll find games, recipes, crafts and, of course, suggestions for family movies to watch over Christmas.
Last of all, don’t forget to encourage a tall, dark, handsome man to call at your door after midnight (even if you have to send him out only to come in again!) We could all do with a bit of luck in the new year.
One good activity, but also a special family tradition you could start this year, is for everyone to write or draw a My Year summary by printing off and answering the questions to be found at this Kids Fun File page My Year 2012.
I'm sure there will be some surprises, you may even discover things about your children you didn't know. To make future New Year's Eves truly special, keep all the little pages safely in one of your Christmas decorations boxes and bring them out each year as reminders of past events and just how much has changed.
Another fun activity you could try is to give each child a long candle and a pin. Ask them to push the pin into the candle at the point they think the candle will have burned down to when the clock strikes midnight, then light the candle. This is a traditional game and apparently where the phrase “you could hear a pin drop” comes from.
The winner is the one who’s guess was the closest, but you may be able to encourage a few quiet moments by seeing if anyone can hear the pins dropping as the candles burn down. It’s worth a try!
More games you can play are:
Hunt the Clock (just like Hunt the Thimble but with a really loud ticking clock).
End of the Year Charades. Most newspapers print lists of all the year’s interesting events, movies, songs and books at about this time, so these can be a useful source of ideas.
Just in case any of your kids are still awake at midnight, it might be worth preparing ten countdown cards with the numbers one to ten written in big letters on each one. Then each child can hold the appropriate card aloft while everyone counts backwards loudly from ten until the clock strikes midnight.
See if the kids (or any inebriated adults) can hold them up in the right order!
Another nice touch is to fill balloons with homemade confetti (just coloured paper cut out with a hole punch) before blowing up and tying them. (A plastic funnel would come in handy). The kids can then burst these at midnight for a colourful explosion of confetti.
If you want to be really prepared you can go to the Rampant Scotland website and download the words to Auld Lang Syne so you can sing it loudly and confidently this year.
For inspiration and a bit of a practise have a listen to this hauntingly beautiful rendition by The Cast, from their album “The Winnowing". It’s in a whole different league to the way you’ve usually heard Auld Lang Syne sung!
Saturday 7 December
TREE DRESSING WEEKEND
It’s an ancient custom to decorate an outdoor tree with home-made decorations and ribbons.
A kind lady in our street, who has a very large tree in her front garden, invites all her friends and neighbours to add a decoration to her tree at this time each year.
Everyone then has a chat and a hot drink while they admire the now-very-festive tree. This is a wonderful tradition that encourages creativity and community-spirit whilst also cheering up the local environment. It might inspire you to start your own local tree dressing event.
Sunday 1 December
This is traditionally when families start to prepare for Christmas. The word advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning arrival, so it is the time when Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. Now is the time to start writing Christmas cards, decorating the house, singing carols, buying and wrapping presents and setting out your Nativity scene (minus the baby Jesus - he doesn’t arrive until Christmas Day!).
Thursday 6 December
ST NICHOLAS’ DAY
St Nicholas lived in Turkey at the end of the third century AD. When his parents died he became a very wealthy young man and he decided to use his money to help others. He heard about a family that had three daughters, but they were so poor, the daughters were going to have to be sold as slaves. He decided he could help them.
The night before the daughters were to be sold, they washed their stockings and left them by the fire to dry. In the morning when they reached for their stockings they found gold inside, a gift that would save them from slavery and feed their family.
After this, Nicholas continued to help others, especially children, but always in secret. In later life he became a much loved bishop, who continued to look after all the people in his care, and his kindness was celebrated when he was made the patron saint of little children.
The Dutch people love St Nicholas and remember him each year on 6 December, which was the day he died. The Dutch call him “Sinter Klaas” and children put out a sock on the night of the sixth in the hope that Sinter Klaas will know they’ve been good children and leave them small gifts. The intention was to encourage children to be kind and generous in secret, with no expectation of reward. But being kids, the early rewards help to establish good habits!
Many Dutch people moved to the United States at the beginning of the seventeenth century and they continued to celebrate the feast of St Nicholas there. This lovely custom was adopted by the Americans and Sinter Klaas was renamed Santa Claus.
The rest, as they say, is history!
Make the most of this chance to encourage good behaviour by visiting our Activities section below and getting the free printable.
This is a page the kids can fill in and leave by the chimney for Santa, telling him all the good and kind things they’ve done recently. You never know the good habits might stick!
A wreath is the traditional symbol for Advent. The circular shape represents God who has no beginning or end. Wreathes are green, which symbolises the new life that we are looking forward to in the Springtime. Not many plants are green in the Winter, so the green wreath makes a house look cheerful. Some people hang their wreath on the front door to welcome their guests. Others lay the wreath flat and place four candles around it.
Christians light the candles one at a time on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. The first candle is for Hope, the second for Peace, the third for Love and the fourth for Joy. These are all things we like to think about at Christmas time. On Christmas morning a final special candle can be lit and placed in the centre of the wreath, this represents the light the baby Jesus brought to the world.
Find out how to make an Advent wreath and an Advent calendar in our Activities section below.
I’ve also found an absolutely adorable video, to share with your family, of four wee American kids acting out the Nativity story. If this doesn’t get you into the Christmas spirit nothing will!
Sunday 9 December
Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights. At this time, Jews celebrate the freedom to practise their own religion by remembering the “Miracle of the Oil”.
The “Miracle of the Oil” took place 2000 years ago. The Jews were then ruled by Antiochus of Syria, who insisted that they worshipped the Greek gods. The Jews could not accept this and fought Antiochus for three long years, before they were finally able to reclaim the Temple Of Solomon in Jerusalem.
After cleaning up the temple, they lit an oil lamp which they intended to burn with an eternal flame, but after all the fighting only enough oil could be found for one night. Miraculously, all through the eight days it took to find more oil for the lamp, the lamp stayed alight.
To celebrate this miracle, it was declared that every year the Jews would have an eight day festival of lights. Families would get together and represent the miracle by placing eight candles in a special candlestick, called a menorah, and lighting one new candle each night. The menorah has since become a symbol of Judaism.
During the week of Hanukkah, families play dreidel games and exchange little gifts. They also traditionally eat lots of foods that are cooked in oil such as latkes (potato fritters), doughnuts and pancakes.
You’ll find the rules to dreidel games and a template for making your own dreidels in our Activities section.
There’s a funny video of the story of the “Miracle of the Oil” in an episode of Sesame Street. You can watch it here. (There’s one for older kids and parents in the Activities section below).
Monday 31 December
NEW YEAR’S EVE /HOGMANAY
Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated in Scotland until the 1950s (it was mostly considered a religious occasion) so New Year’s Eve is a really important time.
The house is thoroughly cleaned to begin the new year with a fresh start. Families and friends gather together to eat and drink until it’s time to welcome in the New Year.
Straight after midnight everyone joins hands in a circle to sing “Auld Lang Syne”, remembering times past and old friends.
Ideally the tradition of first footing should be followed. The first person over the threshold in the new year should be a tall, dark man carrying shortbread, whisky or a piece of coal (if you can find one!) To signify lots of good food, drink and warmth in the months ahead.
You can find the words to “Auld Lang Syne”, (so you can sing it properly this year!), in our Activities section below along with ideas for a family celebration.
This is the shortest day of the year, with the longest night. During the day, the sun is always very low in the sky.
The good news however, is that the days will get longer from now on and we can start to enjoy the sunshine for longer.
In olden times, a Yule log was decorated with holly and ivy because they were the few plants still alive and colourful in the winter. Candles were the placed on the log and lit to dispel the darkness of the long night.
This was also a time to make a wassail drink, which was warm like mulled wine, and people would go out carol singing to entertain their neighbours on the long dark nights.
We have our own local tradition in Sussex, called Burning the Clocks. This takes place on Brighton seafront on the night of the Winter Solstice. There is a costume parade, with home-made willow and paper lanterns, down to the seafront where the lanterns are burned in a huge bonfire, in celebration of the lengthening of the days. All the costumes include a clock to represent the passing of time.
Friday 21 December