Kids Fun File © Paul & Wendy Potton 1995.
Saturday 1 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 2 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 page 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 on our Activities page.
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.
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 on the Activities page).
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!), on our Activities page 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