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The Last Day of Christmas


January 6 is Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, Old Christmas, or my personal favorite - Woman's Christmas. The time between Christmas Day (December 25) - celebrated by many as the day of Jesus' birth, and Epiphany (January 6) is believed to represent the time that it took the Three Wise Men (or the Three Kings or the Three Magi) to travel to Baby Jesus. Some faiths celebrate January 6 as the day on which Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. In Ireland, January 6 is still celebrated as Woman's Christmas - a day when men take over the housework and women celebrate the close of the Christmas season by either going out together, or staying in and being served by the men. There's a tradition that needs to make its way to the US!

In cultures that celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany, January 6 marks the end of the Christmas Season. Believe it or not, there are some cultures where the Christmas celebration lasts until February 2 - this celebration is called Candlemas.

Epiphany is another gift-giving day, and king cakes are eaten to celebrate the close of the Christmas season. Other cultures' celebrations of Epiphany center around water - involving baptismal rights and house blessings.

While the last day of Christmas is kind of sad, it is also a good time to think about the coming spring. Days are getting longer, and more sunlight means that trees and plants will be coming out of their dormant states soon and blooming again once the weather gets warmer. In many ways today is the end, but also the beginning of a whole new cycle.


Hosting a Twelfth Night Party


New Year's Eve is typically a big party night. Last year we had a couple close friends over and just ate a bunch of good food, went in our hot-tub and drank some champagne. It was really nice to not have to deal with crowds and to be able to enjoy the evening together. And to gorge ourselves. I am not condoning gorging yourselves, but we have been planning tonight's dinner for a while. It's worth it.

But New Year's Eve does not have to be the last big hurrah of the holiday season. January 6, which is just around the corner, is the Twelfth Day of Christmas (also known as Epiphany). So Sunday January 5 is Twelfth Night.

In medieval times, Twelfth Night was celebrated with grand balls and village parties, complete with Twelfth Night cakes with a bean or trinket hidden inside to choose the "king" to preside over the night's revelries.

In Elizabethan times, a temporary Lord of Misrule presided over the season's revelries while the nobility acted as servants - a world deliberately turned upside down for a night. You could try crowning a Lord of Misrule at your Twelfth Night Party, or you could just have a nice afternoon or evening where you open your house up to friends and family to come together one last time for the holidays.

If you do want to try hosting a Twelfth Night party, I have included here a couple of traditional recipes you might want to serve your guests.

In old English and French Twelfth Night celebrations, a cake would be baked to celebrate Epiphany. In both English and French traditions, an bean and a pea would be baked in to the cake, and whoever got the piece with the pea and the bean, would be the king and queen of the night. To read more about twelfth-cake (also called King's Cake) see Wikipedia.

The French Twelfth Night Cake (Gateau des Rois - King's Cake) is more like a rich bread, due to the high number of eggs, and the relatively low amount of sugar. It goes great with a cup of coffee for breakfast, too! The recipe, which you can find here is not complicated, but it does take just about all day to make the cake - with hours of downtime.

The English version of Twelfth Cake is very different from the French version. This cake is more cake-like and contains some lovely rum-soaked fruit. You can find the English Twelfth Cake recipe here.

Another traditional thing to serve at a Twelfth Night party is Wassail.

Wassailing was an old country tradition that took place on Twelfth Night or "Old Christmas Eve," especially in areas where cider apples were grown. Right before dark the wassail (spiced ale or hard cider topped with roasted apples) would be prepared and ladled into the special wassail bowl (similar to a punch bowl with handles). The village would gather at the orchard after dark with the wassail on hand and proceed to bang pots, shoot off guns, and make a racket to frighten away any evil spirits that could still be lurking about on this last night of Christmas. This commotion would also help to begin to "wake up" the trees from their winter hibernation. The trees were blessed with thanks and urged with rhyming chants to produce an even better crop in the new year. The oldest, most venerable tree's health would be "toasted" with a piece of wassail-soaked bread or cake placed in its branches. 

If wassail was left over after regaling the trees, then the ceremonies would conclude with the villagers quenching their own thirst before returning home. In some areas, the young people would go from house to house in the village, singing wassail songs and receiving small gifts or treats in return.

Wassail is an old Middle English contraction of waes hael, meaning "be health" or "be whole," that was derived from the old Norse ves heill "to be healthy." The reply to waes hael was drinc hael, or "drink and be healthy." The modern expression "hale and hearty" shares the same roots.

You can find a lovely recipe for wassail here.

 




Let's Start a New Tradition


Today, December 26th, is the First Day of the Twelve Days of Christmas. These days December 26th means Christmas is over to most people, but in the Middle Ages there was still almost two weeks of Christmas left!

Churches circulated donation boxes amongst the congregation during Advent, and those boxes and their contents were distributed amongst the poor on the First Day of Christmas, otherwise known as Boxing Day.

Several countries still celebrate Boxing Day - including Scotland, Ireland, Australia and Canada. In some Canadian provinces Boxing Day is a statutory holiday when all workers are given a mandatory day off with full pay. In the countries that still celebrate Boxing Day, it is much like the day after Thanksgiving in the United States - a huge shopping day. Which is really ironic given the historical bases for the holiday.

I would like to see a tradition start where instead of running out to hit the after Christmas sales, or running out to return and exchange gifts, Boxing Day made a real come back. This year I plan to take a good inventory of our home and donate items that we no longer need or use to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Why not have Boxing Day be the day that you give each member of your household a box and ask them to fill it with things to donate to charity? You could spend Boxing Day volunteering at a soup kitchen. Or donate some money to a charitable organization? It is easy to get wrapped up in the season, but this time of year should really be a time to realize how lucky we are to have warm families and warm homes, and to think of and do something for those who are not as fortunate.

 


Christmas Food Traditions from Around the World


Many countries and cultures have foods that serve as symbols. Wine and bread, for example, play key roles in many christian ceremonies. Beans are considered lucky on New Year's Day in the South, the Caribbean and parts of the Middle East. In ancient Rome grain symbolized good fortune and plenty. Many of these food based symbols come up during the Christmas season and have roots dating back to times when these short, cold days were spent inside with family looking forward to longer days and the spring to come.

 

The pretzel shape has a special significance - it is derived from a pagan calendar symbol to mark the winter solstice. The pagan marking consisted of a circle, which represented the sun's course and the dot in the center of the circle to represent the earth. When this shape is made from one piece of rolled dough, the dot in the center becomes a cross, thus making the pretzel shape we are all familiar with. Countries such as Denmark and Finland still have traditional pretzels to celebrate this time of year.

 

 

 

The yule log, or buche de noel is a jelly-roll cake that is frosted and decorated to look like a log - a yule log. This type of cake is popular in France (buche de noel), Italy (ceppo de natale), Lithuania (berzo saka - filled with prune jam, chocolate and walnuts), England (yule log - filed with apricot jam and almonds and covered with red currant jelly and almond paste icing) and Norway (julestamme - filled with strawberry or raspberry jam and covered with whipped cream or almond paste icing).

 

Shortbread, a classic Scottish treat, is a traditional Christmas and New Year's treat that descended from the oatmeal bannock that was served at pagan Yule celebrations. The bannock was a round cake with a circle in the center and ridges around the rim to symbolize the sun and its rays. It is considered unlucky to cut shortbread with a knife - it should be broken into pieces to avoid bad luck.


A Couple of My Favorite Silly Christmas Carols


It would be really hard for me to pick one single song as my favorite Christmas carol - as I really do enjoy a lot of them. Obviously The Twelve Days of Christmas would top my list, but I also have a soft spot for some more obnoxious and less classic carols, like All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth sung by the Chipmunks and eleven-year-old Gayla Peevey's I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. 

Anyway, I think the 1940s through the 1960s has to be the golden age of Christmas carols. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the older carols too, but there is just something so festive about the songs written in and around the 1950s. Here are some of my favorites:

All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth 

Written in 1944 by Donal Yetter Gardner and first recorded in 1947. According to Wikipedia, Gardner, a children's music teacher, got the idea for the song when he noticed that most of his young students were missing at least one front tooth. He asked his students what they wanted for Christmas, and most replied with a whistle due to the missing teeth. It is rumored that he wrote the song in only thirty minutes!

 

 

 

 

 

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas 

This song was a hit in 1953, written by John Rox and sung by eleven year old Gayla Peevey on the Ed Sullivan Show. While her request for Christmas is a little less realistic than having adult teeth grow in, I still think its a fun song. I don't hear it as often as others on the radio, but when I do it always gets stuck in my head!

The song was a hit on the Billboard charts and reached number 24. It was so popular that rumors were created around the young singer and the song. Rumor had it that the song was released as a fundraiser to help Peevey's hometown zoo raise the funds the acquire a hippo. In 2007, however, the grown up singer clarified that a radio station from her home town (Oklahoma City) had used the popularity of the song to launch a campaign to present young Peevey with an actual hippopotamus on Christmas - and the campaign was successful! After her dream came true, Peevey donated her hippo (named Matilda) to the local zoo where the hippo lived a long life. You can see a video of the grown up Peevey singing at the Oklahoma City Zoo here.

 

 

 

 


Alternative Gift Giving


We all know about the stereotypical Christmas morning - a big glittering tree with presents pouring out from underneath. That is what I could not wait to see every Christmas morning when I was a kid. But as I have gotten older I have enjoyed the act of giving, and the time with family more than the presents. For some people, though, it just does not feel like Christmas without some kind of gift exchange. Which brings me to the topic of alternative gift giving ideas. 

 

Secret Santa

You are probably more than familiar with this concept. A bunch of names go in a hat then everyone who wants to participate picks a name and then gets a gift (usually of a specified dollar amount) for that person. I worked in an office that did this for Christmas (although it was called "Secret Salmon" to make it non-denominational). A way to make the typical secret santa exchange a bit more fun is to really keep it a secret - don't let the recipient know who the gift giver was. Keeping the santas secret can help alleviate some of the stress that might come from giving a gift to someone you don't know very well.

 

 

 

 

White Elephant

In the white elephant gift exchanges I have been to, I have been asked to bring a white elephant present that cost no more than a certain dollar amount. When the exchange begins one person opens a random gift. Then the next person gets to go, and that person can, depending on the rules in use, either "steal" the gift that is already open, or open a new gift. If a gift is "stolen" then the person who was stolen from gets to open a new gift. Some people put limits on the number of times any particular item can be stolen. In my experience it is best to pick names from a hat, or something like that, to determine the order of opening the gifts. But I have seen this kind of game go a little awry - feelings can get hurt.

 

Favorite Things Exchange

I have never been to a party like this, but I have heard of them, and I think it sounds like fun. Its kind of like a white elephant exchange in that a lot of money does not have to be spent, and that you are not buying a gift for any specific person. The way this type of exchange works is that you ask each guest to bring multiples of their favorite thing - usually a dollar cap is used. So you might be asked to bring five of your favorite thing under $5. Then everyone else at the party will bring five of their favorite things under $5. And then you get to kind of shop around and leave the party with 5 fun new things (think chapstick, magazines, makeup, candy, food, even wine!). You could also set a lower dollar cap and ask your guests to bring one of their favorite things for every guest (for example if you have 10 people coming to a party, you might ask your guests to bring 10 of their favorite things under $2 or $3, then everyone gets to try 10 new things). Anyway, I bet you can tell that I think this is a fun twist on traditional gift giving. The focus is more social and less on the cost of the things.

Something You Want, Need, Wear, Read

This is another type of gifting that I have seen circulating the internet. For family members, to limit the gluttony of gifting, you can decide to give people four things:

Something they want,

Something they need,

Something to wear, and 

Something to read.

 

I think this is a really nice way to cut down on spending and re-focus on spending time with family and enjoying the Christmas season.


10 Great Gift Ideas for Women


I think women are a lot easier to shop for, but that probably stems from the fact that I am a woman. Also, as I mentioned in the men's gift ideas post, I think the fact that women will buy pretty things for themselves makes it easier for friends and family to get a sense of what they like, and therefore what to gift them.

 

Anyway, here is a selection of gifts that I think would make thoughtful, creative presents for any women in your life.

Breakfast in Bed

Who does not like breakfast in bed? If I can have bacon and coffee brought to me in bed, I know its going to be a good day. So why not give a coupon redeemable for breakfast in bed? I think going to bed and knowing that I will get to eat breakfast in bed the next morning would be a great present!

Ice Cream Maker Gift Set

For $99 you can give this great Ice Cream Maker Gift Set from Williams-Sonoma, that comes with everything you need to make some great, homemade ice cream. It sounds like even the culinarily challenged could make ice cream with this maker - and maybe if you are lucky you will get invited over for some!

 

Magnolia Tree

If you know someone who loves the great outdoors, then this ready-to-plant magnolia tree might make a great gift. For $49 you can get this living magnolia tree, complete with care and planting instructions. Magnolia blossoms smell great, so why not give the gift that keeps on giving? Available from Gumps.

 

 

Colorful Alpaca Scarf

This beautiful scarf is made from Alpaca wool, and is hand-made in La Paz Bolivia. A beautiful scarf can be both a fashionable and practical. For $39 from National Geographic, this scarf is really a steal.

 

 

Cashmere Tech Gloves

These gloves bring together the best of both worlds - pampering and function! I have yet to meet a woman who does not love cashmere - and what better place to wear such a soft fabric than on your hands? And these gloves don't need to be taken off to use a smartphone or touch-screen. Perfect! All for only $49 from Frontgate.com.

 

Snuggly Nap Throw Blanket with Foot Pocket

Christmastime is a great time to cuddle up on the couch. Pretty much every time I get on the couch this time of year I reach for one of a couple of blankets that are close by. What makes this blanket so special, other than its softness, is the built in foot-pocket! How genius is that? I hate having cold feet, and love having my feet tucked in - its like this blanket read my mind! Its only $49.99 from Brookstone.

 

Monogrammed Zipper Pouch

These little monogrammed zipper pouches from Pottery Barn are cute, personalized, and are inexpensive enough at $16 that you might even consider putting another little something (jewelry?) inside.

Craft Class

If you have a lady in your life that likes to craft or bake, then you might consider looking into craft classes offered at local craft stores. The big craft stores around here, like Michael's and Jo-Ann Fabrics offer classes in everything from faux-floral arrangement to cake decorating to basic sewing. Smaller mom-and-pop craft and fabric stores sometimes offer classes too, so why not give the gift of crafting?

 

Laquer Jewelry Boxes

These fun, bright jewelry boxes from West Elm would make a bright addition to any woman's closet. And at only $24, you might consider putting a little something sparkly inside to add to the surprise!

 

 

Chrysanthemum Vase

This vase from Anthropologie is beautiful all on its own - complete with its own flower! I think the colors - aqua and coral - are a nice twist on the standard Christmas colors, and will look great year-round. Since the vase is only $28, maybe you can get a nice bouquet of flowers to go in it?

 

 

 

I hope these gift ideas got your brain going - Christmas is only two weeks away!


10 Great Gift Ideas for Men


Men can be really hard to shop for. I think the difficulty arises from the fact that most men don't shop for themselves for fun, so its hard to know what they might like. To help you out, I have put together a list of 10 fun gift ideas that I think men might like this year. I tried to make a varied list, so there should be something here for everyone:

 

Cards Against Humanity

Cards Against Humanity is a card game that has been popular for a few years now, but is still a fun party game. The game is played like Apples to Apples, but is intended for adults. Its a really, really fun game. You can download a PDF and print the cards for free (free!) or you can buy a pre-printed boxed set of cards for $25. If you know someone who already has a set, they also sell expansion packs now, too.

A Sweet Pair of Headphones

Earbud-style headphones are still popular, but if you know someone who spends a lot of time listening to music, a nice pair of over-ear headphones might make a great gift. There are tons of headphones on the market now. I would check out Amazon.com and BestBuy.com to see which ones get good reviews and are on sale. This pair looks nice, gets good reviews, and is almost 50% off on Amazon.com:

 

Customized Converse Sneakers

Do you have a man in your life that loves his Converse sneakers? I know I do. Converse now offers the ability to customize a pair of sneakers online. You could try your hand at custom-designing a pair for your man, or you can get him a gift certificate so he can make his own dream pair of sneakers. All for about $75!

 

Home Brew Kit

For $40 you can get one of these home brew kits that contains everything your guy would need (ok, other than a stove and water) to make his own brew! The Brooklyn Brew Shop offers a great variety of kits - everything from "Warrior Double IPA" to "Grapefruit Honey Ale". Check them out!

 

Homemade Favorite Meal Coupon

Let's not forget that not everything that you give this year has to come from a store. A fun idea for a free gift is a coupon allowing the redeemer to have his favorite meal made for him.  There is so much eating and rich foods during the holidays, so why not spread the love from the kitchen into the new year?

Customized Stainless-Steel Steak Knife Set with Box

Know a man who loves meat? Why not get him this set of stainless steel steak knives, and have his initials put on the box? The knives are $80, and personalizations is another $7.

 

Customized Steak Brand and Carving Board

Here is another great gift for the meat-eater in your life - especially if he loves to grill. For $70 you can get a customized, hand-forged iron steak brand and a matching carving board. What guy would not love to put his initials on his steak? And if you know a guy who seems to have everything, well, I doubt he has this!

Manly Slipper Socks

Even the manliest feet get cold, so why not warm them up with a pair of these wool and leather slipper socks? For travel or at home, I think these slipper socks would make a great gift for a man or a woman! Only $45.

 

Vintage-Style Thermos

Whether he is commuting to work or going on a camping trip, a vintage-style thermos like one of these Stanley Thermoses from West Elm would make a great gift to keep your man warm all day long. From coffee to soup, a thermos like this will keep his stomach nice and warm, and will cost you only $32.

 

Shaving Stuff

New Year's Eve is right around the corner from Christmas, so do your part to make sure your man is nice and kissable by buying him some fancy shaving stuff! Maybe if he likes his shaving cream and equipment, he will shave more often? Its worth a shot! West Elm is selling a cigar box full of Portland General Store shaving goodies for $45. For another $22 you can make sure he has a fancy wooden shaving brush, too.

 

I hope these ideas get you well on your way to finding special, thoughtful gifts for all the guys on your shopping list this year! Stay tuned for some great gift ideas for the ladies later in the week.


More Twelve Days Gift Ideas - on the Feminine Side


On Monday I posted some of the gifts that the men in our family have received in their Twelve Days boxes over the past couple of years.  Today I will be sharing with you some of the gifts that us women have received and enjoyed. 

  • Small figurines - if someone on your list has a penchant for a certain animal, say horses, you can look at a couple thrift shops, antique stores, or online (ebay and etsy) to see if you can find a tiny version of their beloved animal, like this one:

 

  • Puzzles - girls and women like puzzles too! Its all about the subject matter. I have given some cute small magnetic puzzles in the past that easily fit in a Twelve Days Box.
  • Small stained glass - when we were in the UK a couple of years ago it seemed like every gift shop had these adorable, tiny stained glass pieces that were designed to hang in a window - and they fit in Twelve Days Boxes perfectly!

  • Tea lights and holders - there are no shortage of cute tea light holders on the market today. A cute little tea light holder and a tea light candle make a great Twelve Days gift!

  • Magnets - I have given these beatiful Tiffany-inspired magnets, as well as some fun faux-jewel magnets in the past. There are also sets of Scrabble pieces that are magnetized, or fridge-poetry sets that can make a great gift for the more literary/game minded person.

  • Hand cremes - I always find myself reaching for more hand creme this time of year, so I think a nice little tube or pot of hand creme makes a great Twelve Days gift. 

  • Small scented candles - another idea for a candle lover in your life is a small scented candle. You can even buy a little set of different scents and put one in a couple boxes. The mini-tins at illume candles fit in a Twelve Days Box perfectly, and come in a lot of great fragrances.
  • Jewelry - there are no shortage of pretty little things like earrings, necklaces, rings and brooches that will fit in a Twelve Days Box. People always say "the best things come in small boxes"!
  • Candy - just like for the men, women love candy too! Anything from hard candies to truffles will fit in a Twelve Days Box!
  • Coin purse - lots of little boutiques sell cute coin purses. If you are feeling extra-gifty you could even put a little note or gift card in the coin purse!

  • Pill box - I like to have a little box in my purse with a couple of aspirin, and maybe an allergy pill or two, just in case. So why not have those pills in a cute little pill box? It may sound old fashioned, but being a woman who is prepared is never a bad idea. Especially if the pill box is blinged out like these:

  • Small books - if you look in antique stores and book stores you can find "TIny Tomes" and other miniature versions of popular books. One of the best Twelve Days gifts I think I ever gave was a tiny version of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" - how appropriate!
  • Bath bombs/bath salts - we all know the holidays can be stressful, so why not encourage a little relaxation with a little package of bath salts or dissolving bath bombs?
  • Paper weight - A nice paperweight is a welcome addition to any organized desk. 

  • Keychains - a fun personalized keychain can make a great Twelve Days gift.
  • Reusable grocery/tote bag - these bags are really popular now, and they do squish down small enough to fit in a Twelve Days Box, so why not put a bag in a box? They come in lots of cute designs now, too!

  • Tea/tea ball - for the tea drinker in your life, why not put a few nice tea bags in a box, or a small packet of loose-leaf tea and a nice tea ball? 
  • Small picture frame - a tiny picture frame (with a tiny personalized picture or message in it) is a great Twelve Days gift!

 

Just like the ideas for the guys, a lot of these ideas would be great for anyone! Once you get your creative juices flowing you can think of lots of great, thoughtful gifts that easily fit in a Twelve Days Box.  Happy gifting!


It's That Time of Year Again!


The Turkey has been cooked, and the leftovers enjoyed (or, if your house is anything like mine, the leftovers are still being enjoyed), and now it is time to unabashedly start getting ready for Christmas. It's time to pull out the ladder, get the lights down from the attic and up on the house. And while I have been trying to chip away at my Christmas list slowly for a while now, its time to kick it into high gear!

 

Celebrating The Twelve Days of Christmas is an important part of my family's holiday season. That means picking out fun little trinkets and goodies throughout the year to fill the boxes for our family members to open from December 26 through January 6. To give you a jump-start on shopping for The Twelve Days of Christmas this week I am going to share with you some of the toys and trinkets that we have given to our family (and received ourselves) over the past couple of years. Today I will share with you some of the goodies that have been found inside the male family member's boxes. Later this week I will share some of the goodies that the ladies have gotten. None of the things on this list are very masculine, so most of these ideas could go for either gender and any age.

  • Wall Walker

These are fun little toys. They are a bit sticky, but harmless. You throw them against a wall or window and they walk their way down. Fun for adults and kids.

  • Cube Robot

These are fun toys to position and play with. They start out as a cube and then transform into a robot. We have two - the smallest one which will fit in a Twelve Days box, and the next size up. Both robots like to hang out in various places around our house. One is hanging out on our wine rack right now.

  • Pencil sharpener/eraser - for the artist or doodler in your life, a fun pencil sharpener and eraser combo makes a good Twelve Days gift. There are lots of cute shapes out there now.
  • Puzzles - these are a yearly occurence in our Twelve Days box. From small jig-saw puzzles to brain-teaser puzzles, they are always a crowd pleaser.
  • Robot pinball

I put one of these in one of my husband's boxes last year. They are a bit hard to play with adult sized fingers, but still fun. And cheap.

  • Chapstick - my father-in-law loves chapstick, as do I. There are so many varieties out there today - from your standard Chapstick brand to Burts Bees to all kinds of other brands with a wide variet of flavors from sweet to minty.
  • Cork animal

 

These are fun little gifts - especially if you know someone who enjoys wine. Most of us have a couple corks lurking around in a drawer somewhere, so why not dress them up? These "Corkers" come in lots of different sets.

  • Metal bookmark - the kind you can clip on the top or side of a page
  • mini 8-ball - you remember the Magic 8-Ball, right? Well in some party stores and toy stores they sell miniature versions for party-favor bags.
  • geode - I loved geodes when I was a kid. In some toy stores you can find geodes now where you can crack your own. It just looks like a rock from the outside, but if you split it open with a hammer you might find a beautiful geode inside!
  • nose flute

 

These are fun for kids of all ages. You stick it in your nose and hum, and somewhat like a kazoo it makes noise.

  • chocolate elves - lots of candy stores sell fun little chocolates in all sorts of shapes this time of year. Cost Plus World Market is a good place to look.
  • movie ticket gift cards - we don't go to the movies very often, but at Costco you can usually get movie ticket gift cards that cut the cost down by a couple dollars per ticket, so they make a nice gift for a night out after the holidays are over.
  • Fishing IOU - my husband made a little gift-certificate for his dad that was an I.O.U. for a fishing trip. There are lots of fun things you can make an I.O.U. for - a massage, homemade dinner, free babysitting, etc.
  • Finger monsters

I remember these from when I was a kid, maybe you do too?

  • Light keychain - I like to have a little light on my keychain, for when it is dark and I need to see something (whether it be the keyhole on the front door or to find something in my purse). A little light keychain makes a great Twelve Days gift.
  • Wine aerator - there are quite a few wine-related things that will fit in a Twelve Days Box.
  • Gift cards 
  • Gift subscriptions - you can make your own little coupon to put in a Twelve Days box for any kind of non-tangible gift.
  • Small toys - yo-yos, silly putty, etc.
  • Ornaments
  • Keychains

The list goes on and on. Get creative!

 

 


St. Distaff's Day or Plough Monday


As I discussed in this blog post the Twelve Days of Christmas represented a time of rest and relaxation for workers. The down-side to the prohibition on work was that everything had to be done before Christmas Day, but the upside was that for twelve wonderful days, families got to spend time together and focus on resting and staying warm by the fire.

Sadly, now that the Twelve Days of Christmas are over, it is time to get back to normal. So on this St. Distaff's Day (or Plough Monday, as it would be called for the men) it is time to take down the ornaments and lights off the tree, wrap up the nativity figures and take the lights off the house so they can all be stored away in the attic again to come out later this year. Sometimes it feels good to get things back to "normal," but I for one always miss all the twinkling lights and sentimental decorations. Let the countdown beging to December 25, 2013!


Epiphany or Woman's Christmas


January 6 is Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, Old Christmas, or my personal favorite - Woman's Christmas. The time between Christmas Day (December 25) - celebrated by many as the day of Jesus' birth, and Epiphany (January 6) is believed to represent the time that it took the Three Wise Men (or the Three Kings or the Three Magi) to travel to Baby Jesus. Some faiths celebrate January 6 as the day on which Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. In Ireland, Januar 6 is still celebrated as Woman's Christmas - a day when men take over the housework and women celebrate the close of the Christmas season by either going out together, or staying in and being served by the men.

In cultures that celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas and Epiphany, January 6 marks the end of the Christmas Season. Believe it or not, there are some cultures where the Christmas celebration lasts until February 2 - this celebration is called Candlemas.

Epiphany is another gift-giving day, and king cakes are eaten to celebrate the close of the Christmas season. Other cultures' celebrations of Epiphany center around water - involving baptismal rights and house blessings.

However you celebrate on January 6, I hope you savor this last day of Christmas, before going back to a normal routine and taking down your Christmas tree and decorations and lovingly storing them away for next year!

Adoration of the Magi, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 17th Century


Twelfth Night


If you have been celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas, then you probably know that tomorrow, January 6, is the Twelfth Day of Christmas (also known as Epiphany). That makes tonight Twelfth Night (or Eve of Epiphany, also known as Old Christmas Eve). If you are familiar with the Twelve Days of Christmas carol, and can remember all of the gift bestowed upon the singer, you might get the idea that by the Twelfth Day of Christmas the singer's house is overrun with birds, musicians and household help. Well, that would make sense if you celebrated Twelfth Night - the culmination of the Christmas season's festivities. 

In medieval times, Twelfth Night was celebrated with grand balls and village parties, complete with Twelfth Night cakes (whether it be a French version, or an English one), with a bean or trinket hidden inside to choose the "king" to preside over the night's revelries.

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or What You Will is believed to have premiered on January 6, 1601. In Elizabethan times, a temporary Lord of Misrule presided over the season's revelries while the nobility acted as servants - a world deliberately turned upside down for a short time. Social conventions were often broken at Twelfth Night parties where it was "anything goes" or, in other words, "What You Will." The title alludes to the festival atmosphere of the play and the plot involving illusions, mistaken identity, masquerades, jealousy, and of course, love.

Whatever the Twelfth Night of Christmas holds for you, I hope that it is warm and joyful, and helps you look forward to the next Christmas Season!



Twelfth-Night (The King Drinks), 1634-40, by David Teniers the Younger


Happy New Year to You!


January 1 represents many things: the first day of the new year, the Seventh Day of Christmas (just past the halfway mark for the Twelve Days of Christmas), St. Basil's Day and the Feast of Fools. Whatever January 1 means to you and your family, I hope you have a great day, and a very happy 2013!

St. Basil's Day

In some other countries, including Greece, New Years Day is a day of gift giving. Greece also celebrates St. Basil's Day on New Years Day, and some families even bake a special cake (St. Basil's Bread) and practice traditions designed to ensure good luck in the coming year. To learn more about St. Basil, and how he is celebrated, please go here.






St. Basil

Feast of Fools

In the Middle Ages in parts of Europe, the Feast of Fools was held on or around January 1. The basic idea was to turn regular order on its head - a fake bishop or pope would be elected amongst the feast attendees to act as "Lord of Misrule", and the attendees with low and high positions switched places. Many believe that the Feast of Fools was a Christian adaptation of Pagan Saturnalia festivities. The event was somewhat of a social revolution, if only for a night.

The Feast of Fools, Bruegel


The First Day of Christmas


In different parts of the world, the First Day of Christmas, December 26, is known as St. Stephen's Day, the Day of the Wren, or Boxing Day.

St. Stephen's Day or the Day of the Wren

December 26th is a day devoted to remembrance of the Christian martyr, St. Stephen. In countries where St. Stephen is still celebrated, people devote the day to spending time with friends and family.

St. Stephen is believed by many to be the first Christian martyr - he was stoned to death sometime around 33 CE.

St. Stephen's Day has been a holiday in Ireland for hundreds of years, where it is known as The Day of the Wren, and is still a public holiday today. The wren is related to St. Stephan because of stories that a wren betrayed St. Stephen's presence while he was hiding from his enemies.



Boxing Day

As was discussed in this blog post, in the Middle Ages the First Day of Christmas was a day when earthenware boxes full of coins were distributed to servants. Churches also circulated donation boxes amonts the congregation during Advent, and those boxes and their contents were distributed amongst the poor on the day after Christmas.

Several countries still celebrate Boxing Day - including Scotland, Ireland, Australia and Canada. In some Canadian provinces Boxing Day is a statutory holiday when all workers are given a mandatory day off with full pay. In the countries that still celebrate Boxing Day, it is much like the day after Thanksgiving in the United States - a huge shopping day. Which is really kind of ironic given the historical bases for the holiday.







Beggars Receiving Alms at the Door of a House, 1658, by Rembrandt Van Rijn


Twelve Days of Rest


By winter's onset, daylight was short, the harvest was finished, and all winter provisions should have been stocked. During the Twelve Days all work was forbidden, other than necessary care of farm animals and daily meal preparations. The applied equally to "women's work" such as spinning, even though it could be done indoors where it was warmer. This prohibition on work during Yuletide was even set into law by the Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred the Great.

There were other incentives to be sure that all chores were completed on time - any work attempted during the Twelve Days would be undone or spoiled: the "devil" would cut down any flax left on the distaff (a staff to hold unspun fibers); milling would cause all grain within earshot to go rotten; laundry hung out to dry would be carried off by Odin's pack of wild dogs; etc. The reward for meeting the deadline was twelve days off - a generous holiday break even today. January 7 was called "St. Distaff's Day" - a tongue-in-cheek name for the end of women's leisure (there was/is no saint by this name). Men, on the other hand, were off until "Plough Monday" - the first Monday after the Twelfth Day.

I know that while cleaning the house for Christmas Eve dinner I felt like I was earning my twelve days of rest, and am glad it has come! Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us at Twelve Days!


Twelve Days of Fortelling the Future


Many old folk traditions to foretell the future became associated with the Twelve Days of Christmas. For instance, dreams during the Twelve Nights were believed to foreshadow events that would occur in the ensuing year. The weather  (sun, wind, snow, rain) on the Twelve Days of Christmas was thought to predict the weather for each of the corresponding twelve months of the new year. 

It was not just the country folk who believed in the predictive value of the Twelve Days: Tycho Brahe, a pioneering 16th-century astronomer, theorized that the configuration of the heavenly bodies could be used to forecast the weather in the coming months and meticulously recorded his observations during the Twelve Days of Christmas to test his theory. Although predicting weather by the Twelve Days is not a quaint relic in the Old Farmer's Almanac, this is not as far-fetched as it may seem - scientists today still study events in space to analyze their potential effects on our weather.




The Astronomical Observations: The Moon, 1711, by Donato Creti


1 Day Until Christmas - Share Some Family Recipes


Gift idea: Favorite family recipes 

Makes a good gift for: Good last minute gift for someone who likes to cook or bake

I think most people have a secret stash of recipes – whether they be in their head or on paper – that are worth sharing. I am not necessarily talking about the secret family recipe for chocolate chip cookies or meatloaf, but more day-to-day recipes that can work for a weeknight dinner, and maybe a couple more special occasion recipes. Why not type up some recipes, print them out on index cards or card stock and put together a little bundle of recipes or a little family cookbook? If you want to do a little more, you could head to the grocery store and pick up any of the more rare ingredients (like special spices or herbs), a couple cute dish-towels, an apron or cooking utensils and make a little gift-basket.

2 Days Until Christmas - A Cozy Christmas Light Tour!


Gift idea: a cozy tour of Christmas lights in your neighborhood

Makes a good gift for: Anyone!


If you are like me, then you LOVE Christmas lights. I love every evening when the lights switch on (ours are on a timer) and seeing them shimmer and flash through the windows. I love bundling up and taking the dog out for a walk and oohing and aahing at the great lights in our neighborhood.

A fun last-minute and very low-cost gift would be to take a Christmas-light lover like me on a cozy tour of the best lights in the area. You should scope out a couple neighborhoods a few nights before and take notes as to where the best places are. Then arrange (or surprise) your guest of honor with a tour - complete with a travel mug of hot cocoa or hot cider, and of course some Christmas music! You could wrap up the evening by stopping somewhere to get a slice of pie, or maybe a milkshake. Sounds like a fun night to me!


3 Days Until Christmas - Homemade Craft Projects


Gift idea: DIY Crafts 

Makes a good gift for: Good last minute gift for family members

Every Christmas when I was a kid, my mom would get me some kind of craft to do during Christmas break. There were a few years where it was decorating ornaments that were then given away to family members as Christmas gifts. As I got older, I enjoyed helping my grandmother decorate her Christmas tree and seeing the ornaments I had made as a kid go up on her tree, year after year.

Below are a couple of fun crafts that you should have all the necessary ingredients for either on-hand already, or be able to easily acquire at the grocery store. I think all of these would make a great last-minute gift, and some of them would also be a great holiday-time craft to do with any little ones that might be hanging around!

Make your own salt dough ornaments – another fun activity to do with kids and makes a great gift for all the family members! 


Ingredients needed: 
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1.5 cups warm water
Paint and decorations for the ornaments 

For instructions, see thehappyhousewife.com










Make your own gardener’s hand scrub – great gift for a gardener or mechanic, or just someone who needs a little pampering. 

Ingredients needed: 
Sugar 
Dawn dish soap with Olay Beauty Hand Renewal (this is what the blogger used, but I bet this would work with any kind of dish soap) 
Jars to put the hand scrub in 

For instructions, see onegoodthingbyjilee.com









Make your own play dough – a fun gift to make for kids, and a fun activity to do with kids. 

Ingredients needed: 
Flour 
Salt 
Water 
Vegetable oil 
Cream of tarter 
Food coloring 
Containers to store/give the play dough in 

For instructions, see anartnest.squarespace.com


















Homemade finger paints – another fun gift to make for little ones – and totally non-toxic! 

Ingredients needed: 
Sugar 
Salt 
Corn starch 
Water 
Food coloring 
Jars for storing/giving the paint in 

For instructions, see theberry.com




The First Day of Winter - Moving Towards Longer Days


Today, December 21, is the Winter Solstice. That mean's a couple of things: today is the shortest day of the year, tonight is the longest night of the year, and today is the first day of Winter. Lots of different cultures celebrate this time of year with some kind of fire ritual.

Midwinter Fire Rituals in Ancient Europe

The great solstice fire festivals of ancient Europe lived on during the Twelve Days: Yule Logs, bonfires, torches, and ceremonial candles were all still burned to secure good fortune, fertility for livestock, and bountiful crops in the new year. The smaller household Yule log was usually burned during the Twelve Nights, or for at least a minimum of twelve hours. The wood of the Yule log itself was steeped in special powers: the prior year's ashes were strewn over the fallow fiels during the Twelve Days to ensure the vigor of next year's crops; the number of sparks when the log was stoked predicted the number of  calves, piglets, chicks, etc. in the spring; a piece of the log's charred remnants was saved to protect the house from lightning during thunderstorms - to name just a few beliefs! The charred remnant was finally used to kindle the new log at the beginning of the next Twelve Days.

In some places, a massive candle was burned instead - its light must not go out on its own or the luck of the family would be "blown away." In other areas, bonfires were lit on Twelfth Night and, in simulation of the life-giving power of the sun, villagers ran with blazing torches throughout the fields and orchards to promote a good harvest.

The Yule Log was also important to protect households from Odin's entourage of unearthly creatures, who were feared to roam the earth during the Twelve Nights. It was also a bad omen if the Yule Log burned out before the end of the Twelve Days.

The Yule Log is one of the most deep-rooted and widespread customs still enjoyed today - from the more traditional Yule Logs still burned in families' fireplaces to the buche de noel cake decorated to look just like a log ready for the fire, to the televised burning Yule log broadcast on Christmas for those without a fireplace of their own.

Twelve Days Solstice Festivals in the Ancient Near East

The Mesopotamians held an annual festival for the twelve days surrounding the winter solstice to cheer on their sun god as he battled to conquer the monsters of darkness and chaos. The ordinary social distinctions were suspended for the duration of the victory celebrations, and parades and masquerades were held where everyone mingled together. The ancient Persians held a similar solstice celebration with bonfires burning all night to help their god of light and day defeat the evil god of darkness and night.


Ancient Slavic Midwinter Rituals

In the lands of the ancient Slavic tribes, both sun gods and sun goddesses were revered. Their winter solstice festivals lasted ten to twelve days and were a time when Slavs honored their departed ancestors with fires to keep them warm and feasts to keep them fed, hoping to elicit their assistance in defeating the dark forces that were overpowering the old sun. Young men dressed in animal costumes (bears and horned animals such as goats and stags) and went about singing and shouting to chase away the evil spirits of winter.


4 More Days Until Christmas - Gift Cards and Then Some


Some last minute Christmas Gift/DIY Gift Ideas will be coming your way from now until Christmas.

Gift idea: Gift cards, and then some

Makes a good gift for: Anyone – good last minute gift

Christmas is fast approaching, and as time runs out sometimes we remember that we totally forgot to get someone something. That feeling has to be one of the worst. And as Christmas gets closer, it can get harder to find certain items, and also just more hectic to go out in to the masses of last minute shoppers.

These ideas don’t have to be just for last-minute gifts, though. A well-planned gift card or other type of gift certificate can go over very well. All of these ideas will also fit in a Twelve Days of Christmas Box, and can be a great way to pack a punch into a little box!


Gift Cards: as I said above, these don’t have to be a last minute thing you pick up at the checkout counter at the grocery store. It seems like pretty much every store has gift cards these days, and so do movie theaters, restaurants and amazon.com.









Magazine subscriptions: Every year I get Jonathon a gift subscription to Harpers Magazine. Its only $10, and it lasts all year! Lots of magazines have deals these days where if you buy one subscription you can get a second free, or very cheap – so you could always do magazine subscriptions for multiple people, or treat yourself!





Lottery tickets/scratchers: Just swing by a 7-11 or other corner-store to pick up some fun chances at winning. And just imagine how excited the recipient will be if they win!








Event tickets: Do you know someone who loves a certain sports team, comedian, artist or play? Search the web to see if they are playing nearby and buy a couple tickets. Giving the gift of an experience like this can be a lot of fun.








Homemade I.O.U.: Maybe someone on your list really likes your homemade lasagna or loves the way you grill a steak – why not write up an I.O.U. for that special homemade dinner or treat for the recipient to redeem whenever they want? You could also do a more elaborate gift and have a whole weekend itinerary planned, or maybe have a certificate redeemable for a full house cleaning?


Creatures of the Twelve Nights


Tomorrow, December 21, is the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, or, if you are a glass half-full kind of person, the longest night of the year. It marks a turning point - towards longer days and moving towards spring. These long-nights, especially those between Christmas and Epiphany were a time of much superstition in olden times.

During the Twelve Nights, old superstitions persisted that even more frightening otherworldly beings also wandered the earth. It was thought best to be safe inside with the door barred during the Twelve Nights and hope that Odin and his cortege of spectral hunters, wolves, and lost souls would quickly pass overhead. 

In other areas (such as enclaves of the Balkans and Slavic lands), fearsome creatures from the underworld - malevolent werewolfe-like goblins who dwelt underground the rest of the year - roamed above ground during these nights. They attempted to enter houses through the chimney. To keep safe, embers were kept burning on the hearth  all night long. The goblins were driven away for another year by the ceremonial "blessing of the waters" on Epiphany.

Fishermen also believed that the sea was not safe during the Twelve Days, so they stayed in port from Christmas Day until the waters of the sea were also blessed in the ceremonies on Epiphany.




The Ride of the Valkyries, Arthur Rackham



5 Days Until Christmas - A Nice Clean Christmas


Gift idea: Soap 

Makes a good gift for: Anyone – stocking stuffers, Twelve Days of Christmas gifts

Soap might sound like a crappy Christmas present – akin to getting socks from your grandma (although, for the record, I love getting socks and my mom usually gets me some every year). But soap is one of those things that comes in all shapes and scents, and if you look hard enough (I don’t think I need to plug Etsy again, but if I do, then there you go) you can find soap that is somehow personal for almost anyone. And I doubt I am speaking for myself alone when I say that I don’t buy nice soap for myself – just my standard Dove bar soap for the shower.

Below are some nice soaps I found online, but you by no means have to stick to the internet for soap – check out your local drugstore, Target or even the mall for stores like L’Occitaine, The Body Shop, etc.

Small cherry-blossom scented soap:

Fun Christmas coal-shaped soap:
Coal-shaped soap on Etsy - two for $7.50



Twelve Facts about the Twelve Days of Christmas


1.     There’s much more to the Twelve Days of Christmas than the famous carol. The Twelve Days, also known as Christmastide and         Yuletide, are a 12-day season of celebration, gift-giving and relaxing of restrictions that was once as popular as the one-day celebration of Christmas is today.

2.     The Twelve Days come after Christmas Day, not before!  Besides confusing the Twelve Days with a countdown to Christmas, there is also some debate about whether they start on December 25 or 26. The historical evidence best supports December 26 as the First Day of Christmas, and January 6 - Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day - as the Twelfth Day.

3.     In times past, Twelfth Night was the grand finale of the Yuletide season filled with dances, feasts and revels. So why was Twelfth Night celebrated on the evening of January 5th, not the 6th?  This is because in days gone by people considered the evening the start of a new day, not midnight as we do today. Likewise, the first night of the Twelve Days of Christmas is the evening of December 25th.

4.     Why 12 days? Many social historians believe that the timing and duration of the Christmas season are inherited from pre-Christian midwinter festivals that coincided with the Winter Solstice. Early peoples also reckoned time by the moon, and over the course of a year, there is roughly a 12-day difference between the solar and lunar calendars. This 12-day difference was set aside as a special "time out of time", filled with supernatural events and folklore.

5.     In some medieval cultures, the Twelve Nights was a time that evil spirits roamed. Some also believed that immoral men could be transformed into werewolves for the duration of the Twelve Days.

6.     Special food and drink traditions abound during the Twelve Days, beginning with Christmas and continuing at New Year. Twelfth Night has its own traditions: toasting with wassail and special cakes variously called Twelfth Night Cakes, Bean Cakes or Kings' Cakes filled with good luck charms.

7.     Burning the Yule Log throughout the Twelve Days was an ancient custom to protect the home and the family gathered there during this period. The Yule Log tradition still lingers – at least for a few hours – in its annual appearance on cable TV, and in cakes shaped like Yule Logs.

8.     Although Santa Claus is the most well-known dispenser of gifts, there are a number of other mystical gift-bringers around the world who arrive and depart during the Twelve Days. Among them: the Befana, the Babushka, Frau Holle, the mischievous Nordic Yule elves and the Three Kings.

9.     The Twelve Days of Christmas is one of the oldest Christmas carols still sung today. Like other aspects of the Twelve Days, its origin is a matter of debate, but there is strong evidence that it dates to at least the 16th century and is likely even older.

10.  All of the gifts mentioned in the carol really add up – 364 gifts in all! The cost of giving all the gifts in the carol – the so-called Christmas Price Index – exceeded $100,000 for the first time in 2011.

11.  The Twelve Days carol was once a popular party game in the 1700-1800s where making a mistake in the lyrics meant you would have to give up a small token, sweet, or perhaps even a kiss!

12.  The often-repeated tale that the lyrics of the Twelve Days carol were a secret code designed to help Catholics living in Protestant England remember religious doctrine is simply a modern day Christmas myth that lives on in the internet despite having been debunked.

 


6 Days Until Christmas - Fun Phone Accesories


Gift idea: iPhone/smart phone Accessories 

Makes a good gift for: Techies/ Stocking Stuffers/ Twelve Days Gifts

It seems like just about everyone these days (kids and myself included) has an iPhone or some kind of smart phone. Chances are if you appreciate the features of a smart phone, you will also appreciate some of these fun accessories:

Keychain light:
Micro Light Smartphone Pack - comes with two microtools and a stand for smartphones - $5.99

Jelly lens for mobile phone camera:
Jelly Lens - Wide Angle - for phone cameras - $7.50

Macro lens-band for mobile phone camera:

Higher end specialty lens for mobile phone camera:

Mini-microphone speaker: 

Joystick for iPhone:







Winter Greenery - What Does it Mean?


One of my favorite parts about the Christmas season is getting to bring a tree in to my living room. I love the smell of an evergreen tree, and having one right next to my couch can't really be beat. I am certainly not alone in my love for greenery. In fact, ancient cultures also used greenery to symbolize good luck and ward off evil-spirits during the darkest days of the year.

The Romans decorated with greenery for the New Year and also gave each other gifts known as strenae, sprigs and green branches gathered from the sacred groves of the woodland goddess of strength and endurance, Strenia. These evergreens were symbols of good luck for the year ahead. Sweet honeyed dates, figs, or small pieces of jewelry sometimes accompanied the strenae. Children were given small gifts, such as clay figurines or bags of nuts that could also be used as game tokens. To this day, gifts during the Christmas season are known as strenna in Italy and New Year's gifts are etrenne in France.






In preparation for the Twelve Days, prickly holly was placed around windows and doors - like evergreen barbed wire - to keep the roaming evil spirits, witches, goblins and trolls from entering the home and to protect the good fairies. Every sprig of evergreen had to be removed by the Twelfth Say or else bad luck would fall upon the home. The admonition to take down evergreens at the end of the Twelve Days was also applied to Christmas trees after they were incorporated into our Christmas customs.




Mistletoe, the only exception to this rule, could be left up until the start of the next Twelve Days since it was thought to protect the home from lightening and fire. Our ancestors held mistletoe in awe because it remained green all year and bore its white berry fruit in winter when the trees on which it grew seemed lifeless. In the days of the Celtic Druids, this magical plant was gathered on special days in accordance with the cycles of the moon and was at its peak of power after the winter solstice.


7 Days Until Christmas - Personalized Keychains


One More Week Until Christmas!

Gift idea: Key chains 

Makes a good gift for: Anyone/ Stocking Stuffers/ Twelve Days Gifts

We all have keys. Kids, adults and everywhere in between. And there is a keychain out there for every interest.

Like puzzles? How about this Rubik’s Cube flashlight keychain:

Or for the photographer in your life, this cute little camera keychain (with working flash and shutter sound-effect) might be perfect:

For the Starwars fan in your life, how about this Lego Yoda flashlight keychain:

Or, for the Lego purist, this simple personalized Lego block might be just the thing:

Last, but not least, for the dog lover, this artist will create a custom dog-keychain that looks like your pooch:







Hanging Gifts ON the Tree


Did you know that Christmas presents used to be hung on the tree, instead of placed under the tree? In the 1800s, Victorian ladies' magazines promoted hanging presents on a Christmas fir tree and illustrated examples of tree trimming activities such as interwoven ribbons to hold gifts like dolls, toy horses, and little wagons on the tree itself.

Some of the earliest ornaments were fruits such as apples, pears and nuts - treats to savor when the tree was taken down at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. As time when on, homemade sweets, such as sturdy gingerbread cookies, also awaited on the tree's branches. While these goodies could be hung on the tree's boughs by strings or cords or carefully balanced in the crook of a branch, they were more secure when tucked into a delicately woven miniature basket or folded paper cone. These presents were more of a surprise and delight when the container's contents were revealed only upon being taken off the tree. Before long, these homemade containers were used to hold small handcrafted gifts or toys for the children.

Popular periodicals published instructions to make containers to hang on the tree, including candy boxes in various shapes and cardboard cornucopias covered in paper (see image at left). Advertisements showed fancy ready-made boxes covered with paper cutouts of Santa or angels, and embellished with velvet, feathers, or fringe. These ornate containers were both elaborate ornamentation for the tree and holders for Christmas presents like nuts, candies, small gifts and toys like marbles or jacks.

Even children's periodicals featured stories of Santa himself hanging little packages and treats one by one on the family's tree, instead of inside their stockings, or under the tree.

The advertisement to the right, dated December 1904, recommends hanging a gift-subscription to Leslie's Magazine on the tree.

Dresdens

Another popular way to hang presents on the tree were Dresdens - three-dimensional hollow containers made of damp cardboard sheets that were molded and embossed into all sorts of fanciful shapes, such as suns, moons, sleighs, and every animal imaginable. They were then painted and lacquered to look as if they were made of gilded metal. While they were beautiful containers in which to hang candy on the Christmas tree, they were not very durable.



Christmas Cornucopia


Dresdens

Barnum's Animal Crackers Boxes

One of the best examples of a box designed to hold treats on a Christmas tree - and still widely available today - is the Barnum's Animal Cracker's box, a favorite childhood memory for over one hundred years. In 1902, the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) launched the circus car box as a Christmas promotion, with the string attached so that the box of Barnum's Animal Crackers could be hung directly on the Christmas tree. The string has remained a part of the package ever since then.
















8 Days Until Christmas - Toys for the Brain


Gift idea: Brain teaser puzzles 

Makes a good gift for: Stocking Stuffers/ Twelve Days Gifts

Recipients of all ages and abilities can enjoy one of these brain teaser puzzles. If the particular puzzle is too easy, it quickly becomes a competition to see who else can do it. If the puzzles is challenging, then the opportunity for team work opens up. Lots of toy stores carry these puzzles, and I bought some last Christmas at an office store. Keep your eyes open and you can find neat stuff in lots of stores!


Mini Bamboo Puzzles - set of six for $23.94

Mind Twisters - $7.98/set


9 Days Until Christmas - Sweets for the Sweeties


Gift idea: Candy 

Makes a good gift for: Anyone/ Stocking Stuffers/ Twelve Days Gifts

I certainly don’t have to tell you that everyone loves candy. And if I am wrong, well, you can get that person some carrots or something. I also don’t have to tell you where to shop for candy. You can go to the grocery store, the drug store, Target, See’s, or a local candy shop. Another great place to shop for candy, especially Christmas candy from around the world, is Cost Plus.

Here is just a small selection of the goodies you can expect to find at your local Cost Plus:



Chocolate Coins - $2.99 per bag

Chocolate Reindeer - four for $2.99

Chocolate Santas - ten for $2.99


Chocolate Snowmen - five for $3.99

Hard Candies - $3.99 per bag


http://www.worldmarket.com/product/lindt+mini+snowman%2C+5-pack.do?page=8&from=fn


10 Days Until Christmas - Candles to Light the Long Nights


Gift idea: Small Candles 

Makes a good gift for: Adults, Teens, Stocking Stuffers 

I love candles, especially well-scented candles (candles that don’t make you gag, but have a nice scent). Candles can make a nice gift on their own, or as part of a self-care package with some bubble bath and nice lotion. All of these little candles have the added bonus of being small enough to fit in a Twelve Days of Christmas Gift Box!

How cute are these small beeswax pinecone candles:
On Etsy - $3.00 each

These small votive candles would be perfect for someone who loves flowers or gardening:
On Etsy - set of eight for $12.00

These mirrored votive candles would look great on a dining-table or a mantel-piece:
National Geographic Store - set of four for $26.00

Big Dipper Wax Works has some of the best beeswax candles, and some of the best scented candles I have found, and this collection of their different scents would make a great gift:
Big Dipper Wax Works - set of nine for $40.00


English Twelfth Cake


This twelfth cake (also known as Three Kings' Cake or King's Cake) is very different from the French twelfth cake. Instead of a yeasty-bread type cake, this cake is much denser, and contains rum-soaked fruit, currants and raisins. It is a much shorter recipe, although it does cook slowly at a low temperature. This recipe also calls for a dry bean and a dry pea - whoever finds the pea and the bean in their pieces are the king and queen of the evening's revelries. As the recipe says - the bean determines the king and the pea determines the queen.



Cake ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup white rum
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 1/2 cup candied fruit pieces (I used a fruit-cake mix)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 dried pea
  • 1 dried bean
Pan: 9-inch round cake pan or loaf pan (I used a 9-inch spring-form pan because that is what I had handy).

Instruction for the cake:

1.    Combine the rum withe raisins, currants and candied fruit pieces and allow to soak for 1 hour.

2.    While waiting for the fruit to soak, butter your cake pan.
3.    Drain and reserve both fruit and rum.
4.    Begin preheating the oven to 275 degrees while you get the batter together.
5.    Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. I used my stand-mixer for this step.

6.    Beat in the milk, reserved rum and almond extract.
7.    Dredge fruits lightly with flour and shake off extra flour.

8.    Sift flour and spices into batter and beat into batter.
9.    Add fruits, nuts, lemon zest, the pea and the bean and fold until well incorporated.

10.     Turn batter into buttered cake pan.

9.    Bake in a preheated 275 degree oven for about 2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean.

10.  Turn on to rack and cool completely before icing the cake.

Golden Almond Icing Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup white rum
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 or 2 drops almond extract

Instructions for the icing:

1.    Combine all ingredients and beat vigorously until mixture is a creamy yellow color.
2.    Pour over cooled cake and spread with a knife. The icing will be a bit runny at first, but it will firm up eventually (several hours or overnight).

I put my cake in a foil tray - I folded up the sides to make a bit of a lip so the icing would not run all over the place. I also used some of the overflow icing to ice the sides of the cake.

Here is what it looked like once dry:


And here is a cross-section - you can see the candied fruits, currants and raisins:


Recipe adapted from Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton.

11 Days Until Christmas - Mini Classic Toys


This Week's Gift Theme: Stocking Stuffers

Gift Idea: Classic Toys and Miniature Classic Toys

Makes a good gift for: Anyone/ Stocking Stuffers/ Twelve Days Gifts

Kids and kids at heart alike can appreciate find a fun little toy or two (or three or four) in their christmas stocking or in their Twelve Days Boxes. The idea here is to spend just a couple bucks on toys that still require some good old fashioned imagination. Most chain toy stores still carry some of these toys – think silly putty, bouncy balls, wind-up toys. And a small mom-and-pop type toy store would probably have an even better selection of classic toys and other small goodies.

You can also find a good selection online:

Silly Putty

From Amazon - $3.99

Parachute men
From Amazon - $9.03

Wind-up toys
From Amazon - $1.99 each

Chinese jump rope
From Amazon - $5.49

Jacks
From Amazon - $7.79




Wassailing the Apple Trees


Wassailing was an old country tradition that took place on Twelfth Night or "Old Christmas Eve," especially in areas where cider apples were grown. Right before dark that wassail (spiced ale or hard cider topped with roasted apples) would be prepared and ladled into the special wassail bowl (similar to a punch bowl with handles). The village would gather at the orchard after dark with the wassail on hand and proceed to bang pots, shoot off guns, and make a racket to frighten away any evil spirits that could still be lurking about on this last night of Christmas. This commotion would also help to begin to "wake up" the trees from their winter hibernation. The trees were blessed with thanks and urged with rhyming chants to produce an even better crop in the new year. The oldest, most venerable tree's health would be "toasted" with a piece of wassail-soaked bread or cake placed in its branches. 

If wassail was left over after regaling the trees, then the ceremonies would conclude with the villagers quenching their own thirst before returning home. In some areas, the young people would go from house to house in the village, singing wassail songs and receiving small gifts or treats in return.

Wassail is an old Middle English contraction of waes hael, meaning "be health" or "be whole," that was derived from the old Norse ves heill "to be healthy." The reply to waes hael was drinc hael, or "drink and be healthy." The modern expression "hale and hearty" shares the same roots.

Recipes:

A Swinging Wassail

  • 1 quart ale
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 or 6 pieces cracked ginger or 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 2 cups sherry wine
  • Juice and thinly pared rind of 1 lemon
  • Sugar, to taste
  • 2 slices toasted bread (if desired)
  • 6 or 8 baked crab apples or 2 or 3 baked large apples
* This recipe can be made non-alcoholic by replacing the ale and sherry with apple cider. Another way to do wassail is to have the             punch-mixture be alcohol free and have whisky or champagne available on the side for people to add as they please.

** English Farmer's Wassail - substitute hard cider for ale and 1 cup dark rum for sherry.

Heat ale in saucepan until just about to boil. Stir in spices, sherry, lemon juice, slivered rind and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves then cover and simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Do not boil at any time. Remove from heat and either pour into punch bowl or individual cups and add toast (if desired) and apples. 

Recipe adapted from Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton, 1981

Image: Wassailing the Apple Trees With Hot Cider in Devonshire on Twelfth Eve, artist unknown







12 Days Until Christmas - Special Goodies for Christmas Eve


Gift idea: Christmas Eve goodies 

Makes a good gift for: Families with toddlers or young kids

Here at Twelve Days we are hoping to share our family tradition with the world. Another time for traditions is Christmas Eve – the night before Christmas. There is no shortage of children’s books illustrating the beloved story The Night Before Christmas or any other Christmas story. Below I have found a couple of fun pieces that could become part of any family’s Christmas Eve tradition for years to come.

Night Before Christmas Tea Towel - for when you are baking Santa's cookies, perhaps? 
Night Before Christmas Dish Towel -Smithsonian Store - $14.99 

Night Before Christmas Pillow - for reading a couple great Christmas stories before bedtime:
Night Before Christmas Pillow - Smithsonian Store - $165.00 

Cookies for Santa Plate
Cookies for Santa Plate Smithsonian Store - $24.99 

The Greatest Gift – the book that It’s A Wonderful Life was based on 
The Greatest Gift - Smithsonian Store - $55.00

The Significance of the Number Twelve Throughout the Ages


On 12-12-12, I thought a post about the significance of the number 12 would be nothing but appropriate, so here you go:

The Role of the Moon 

A lunar month, from new moon to new moon, averages 29 ½ days. Twelve lunar months, of a lunar, is about 354 days – short of the 365 ¼ days in the solar year. As a result, additional days – roughly twelve – are needed to keep lunar timekeeping in step with the seasons. For our forebears, these twelve “extra” days were a mystical season out of ordinary time, suspended in the twelve-day gap between cosmic cycles of the moon and sun. These “extra” days are one in the same as The Twelve Days of Christmas. 





Ancient Egyptians

The ancient Egyptians were one of the first people to develop a twelve-month calendar that was based only on the sun instead of the moon. They also divided the day and the night in to twelve hours each. 





Mesopotamians and Ancient Persians 

The Mesopotamians held an annual fire festival for twelve days surrounding the winter solstice (the twelve shortest days of the year) to cheer on their sun god as he battled to conquer the monsters of darkness and chaos. The ancient Persians held a similar solstice celebration with bonfires burning all night to help their god of light and day defeat the evil god of darkness and night. 



Ancient Slavic Rituals 

In the lands of the ancient Slavic tribes, both sun gods and sun goddesses were revered during their winter solstice festivals, which lasted ten to twelve days and were a time when Slavs honored their departed ancestors with fires to keep them warm and feasts to keep them fed, hoping to elicit their assistance in defeating the dark forces that were overpowering the old sun.


13 Days Until Christmas - A Different Kind of Christmas Sweets


Gift idea: Fire pit and/or s’mores kit 

Makes a good gift for: Families, someone with a sweet tooth

For a lot of people, s’mores around a fire outdoors is a camping memory. But s’mores do not have to be limited to the wilderness. Anyone can make s’mores at home – in the microwave, as I have been known to do, or in the backyard. 

I think that an amazing gift for a family of people would be an outdoor fire pit, the ingredients to make s’mores, and if you really want to include the whole shebang – some skewers, wood and matches.

Here are some nice fire pits:


Halo Fire Pit - $87.59

And if you don’t want to just head to the grocery store to put together a couple bars of chocolate, a bag of marshmallows and a box of graham crackers, you could order one of these s’mores kits:

Hershey’s S'mores Kit- $15.95 

Recchiuti Chocolate S'mores Kit - $23.00 




Buche de Noel aka Fancy French Log Cake




I don't know why, but I have always wanted to make a Buche de Noel, or Christmas Log cake. This cake is a traditional French Christmas cake made of rolled spong-cake and chocolate buttercream. Depending on your artistic abilities to sculpt buttercream and marzipan, the cake can be made to look very realistic, or just cute and log-like. 

Ingredients for sponge cake:

  • 1 cup cake flour 
  • Pinch of baking powder
  •  Pinch of salt
  •  4 eggs - separated into whites and yolks
  •  1 cup sugar
  •  1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  1 tablespoon sugar
  •  Rum, for sprinkling
  •  Powdered sugar, for sprinkling 
Pan: 10" x 15" jelly-roll pan, or a double-sheet cake pan - 13" x 17.75", which is what I used because that was all I could find at Target. It just made for a slightly larger, but flatter, spong-cake.


Instructions for sponge cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Sift the flour twice with the baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. 


3. In a separate large bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1 cup of sugar and vanilla extract until very thick and pale yellow - as you keep beating you will see them change color from the rich almost orangey-yellow of egg-yolk to a softer pastel yellow.
 

4. In a separate bowl (or in the bowl of a stand-mixer, or with a hand-mixer) beat egg whites. As the whites begin to stiffen add 1 tablespoon sugar and continue to beat until the whites hold stiff peaks. 


5. Sift the flour-mixture into the yolk-mixture a little at a time, folding after each addition until all dry ingredients are incorporated. 


6. Add the whites and fold gently, but thoroughly, using a rubber spatula. This step was the most awkward for me, as the whites were hard to incorporate - but just be patient and keep folding the batter over the whites and it will eventually incorporate into a fluffy, somewhat lumpy, batter. 


7. Pour the batter into your cake pan that is lined with buttered parchment paper. Spread the batter evenly over the pan. 


8. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cake is golden brown. Keep an eye on it - this cake is thin! 


9. After you remove it from the oven, sprinkle the cake with rum.

10. Remove the cake from the pan by pulling it out on top of the parchment paper, and place the cake on the counter. Sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar, and then place another piece of parchment paper on top of the cake (so the cake is now in the middle of a parchment-paper sandwich). Then take a cooling rack, or cookie sheet and place that on top of the top piece of parchment paper. Now is the tricky part - flipping the cake. We have a pizza peel on hand, and that worked wonderfully to flip the cake over with, but a thin cookie sheet, or just an extra pair of hands would help to flip the whole cake over so you can peel the buttered-parchment paper off.

11. While the cake is still warm, roll the cake, starting with one of the long edges, with the paper still on. 


Ingredients for mocha buttercream:

  • 1/2 cup water 
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  •  5 egg yolks
  •  1.5 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  •  2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled 
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee powder 

Instructions for buttercream:

1. If you have not done so already, melt your chocolate. I use the double-boiler method: place a medium sized bowl over the top of a small sauce pan that has an inch or so of water in it. Bring the water to a boil. Once the bowl gets hot enough, you can place your chopped up chocolate pieces in the bowl and stir constantly until it is melted. Then remove the bowl from the pan and set aside. You can also melt chocolate in the microwave, but I am always afraid of burning it that way.

2. To ensure that the butter incorporated into the frosting well, I melted it in the microwave for about 30 seconds. It did not totally liquify, but it was very very soft.

3. Combine water and sugar in a small pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Boil for several minutes until the mixture reaches 238 degrees, or the mixture forms a soft ball when a drip is dropped into ice water.

4.  While the water and sugar is boiling, beat the egg yolks until pale yellow. I started out doing this by hand, but got tired of all the beating so I switched to using my stand-mixer. A hand-mixer would work well too.

5.  Once the yolks have reached the pale-yellow color, pour the hot syrup into the yolks, beating constantly (again, the stand mixer comes in handy here). Continue beating until mixture has cooled down significantly.

6.  Beat the butter into the mixture, a little at a time, then add the melted chocolate and the coffee powder.


7.  Depending on how warm the buttercream is, you might want to let it firm up a bit in the fridge before you start spreading it.

8.  Once the buttercream is adequately chilled (to a frosting-like consistency) unroll the cake and spread the inside with half of the buttercream. Re-roll the cake as tightly as you can without breaking the cake (and if the cake does break a little, don't worry because it will be covered with frosting). To keep the cake "sealed" shut, I added a little extra buttercream along the top to make sure it did not unroll. If you have the time, cover the cake and let it chill for a couple of hours in the fridge. I only chilled mine for about an hour and it was fine.




9.  Depending on the look you want, you can trim the edges off the cake and use them for decoration (or test-tasting) or you can leave the jagged edges on. Spread the roll with the remaining buttercream - I piled the remaining buttercream along the top of the cake and spread it down from there. Then score any kind of bark-like decorations into the cream you want. I let Jon do the decorating - he used the blunt end of a paint-brush to drag through the cream to make bark-grooves and a knot in the bark.






10.  Depending on how fancy you want to get you can add marzipan leaves, almonds, cherries etc., and some people will cover the ends of the "log" in chopped nuts or colored sugar.


14 Days Until Christmas - Fun Family Craft Kits


Two More Weeks Until Christmas!

Gift Idea: Arts and Crafts Kits

Makes a good gift for: Families, kids

When its raining or cold outside, I always love to do something crafty around the house. Always have, always will. And when the kids are home for Christmas, doing something creative together can be a great way to spend the blustery winter days. Here are some cute craft kits I have found that will bring a smile and some creative entertainment to the kids on your Christmas-list:


Encourage creativity and family unity with an imaginative kit that lets kids create their own wooden family from seven dolls, 3 pieces of fabric, 3 pieces of felt, craft glue, yarn in 4 colors, and 12 colored pencils:


This kit contains everything they need to create their own, one-of-a-kind snow globe. They'll start with brightly colored polymer clay, and with adult supervision bake it into permanent form. Then they'll follow the simple instructions to insert their sculpture into the clear plastic ball, and add water and glitter. As a final personal touch, they can decorate the cardboard base in any way they can imagine.


Set comes with everything needed--from glitter to glue--and easy-to-follow instructions to build your very own kaleidoscope. Includes cardboard tube, plastic mirror pieces, assorted beads and rhinestones, adhesive paper, foil confetti, craft glue and instructions.


This mini wood version can be built in around an hour or two and can shoot a ball over 15 feet! Adjustable pads on the crossbar allow you to change the trajectory angle. The rope, strung through the middle gives great power to the swing arm.

Catapult Kit - $28.00


My first Twelfth Night Cake - French Edition


Twelfth Night Cake
I have known about "Twelfth Night Cakes" for a while, but I had never baked one before this French Twelfth Night Cake (Gateau des Rois - King's Cake). This cake is really more of a rich bread, due to the high number of eggs, and the relatively low amount of sugar. It goes great with a cup of coffee for breakfast, too!

In old English and French Twelfth Night celebrations, a cake would be baked to celebrate Epiphany. In both English and French traditions, an bean and a pea would be baked in to the cake, and whoever got the piece with the pea and the bean, would be the king and queen of the night. To read more about twelfth-cake (also called King's Cake) see Wikipedia.

This cake takes allllllll day to make - but it is not difficult. There are hours and hours of down-time to do other things. From start to finish I think this cake took me about nine hours to make - so start first thing in the morning!

 

Ingredients for the cake:

Twelfth Night Cake
  • 1 envelope dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon lukewarm water
  • 3 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1 tablespoon orange-flower water (a non-alcoholic mixer - available at Bev Mo, or other liquor stores)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pan: well-buttered 8-inch square cake pan



Instructions for the cake:

1.    Dissolve packet of yeast into lukewarm water in a small bowl.


2.    While waiting for the yeast to bubble, beat eggs and additional yolk, add salt, sugar, lemon and orange zest and orange-flower water.

3.    Combine egg-mixture with yeast, flour and butter and mix all ingredients with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended and no butter pieces show.

4.    Chill batter for 4-5 hours in the fridge.
5.    Turn dough into a buttered 8-inch square cake pan, cover loosely and set to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk - about 3/12 to 4 hours (my kitchen is cold, so I put it in a warm oven four about 4 hours - it never quite doubled in bulk, but it still cooked quite well).

6.    After rising, bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes (until golden brown and a tester or toothpick comes out clean).

7.    Cool in pan, then cool on a rack.
8.    Spread with glaze (see below).

Ingredients for the glaze/topping:

  • Candied cherries and fruit peels (I used a fruit-cake mix of candied fruits)
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or almond) extract
  • 1 teaspoon rum (or brandy) (optional)
  • 1/2 to 1 1/4 tablespoons hot water, as needed

Instructions for the glaze:

1.    Combine sugar, cornstarch, extract and liquor (if desired).

2.    Gradually add hot water, one tablespoon at a time, until a smooth, thick paste is achieved.

3.    Spread glaze on cooled cake, spread with knife, sprinkle with candied sugar pieces.

4.    Let glaze dry, or, if you are impatient like me, just dig in and enjoy!


Both recipes adapted from Visions of Sugarplums by Mimi Sheraton, 1981.


15 Days Until Christmas - Brew Your Own Rootbeer


Gift idea: Root Beer Kit 

Makes a good gift for: Families with kids, or kids at heart!

It seems like home-brewing has become a very popular trend. For a more family-friendly tilt to the brew your own trend, a root beer brewing kit would be a great gift that a family could do and enjoy together.

Mr. Rootbeer Root Beer Kit- $26.95 

Brew it Yourself Root Beer - $14.95

16 Days Until Christmas - Puzzles to Keep the Kids Busy


Gift idea: Puzzles

Makes a good gift for: Families, kids

Christmas time means the kids are home from school, and probably need something to do. So why not find a unique puzzle – either in subject or shape, and keep some kids entertained!

Twelve Days of Christmas Puzzle

 

Twelve Days of Christmas Puzzle - $49.99



3-D Globe Puzzle

Puzzle Ball - The Globe - Uncommon Goods - $40.00


17 Days Until Christmas - Warm Up with some Cocoa


Gift idea: Hot Cocoa Set

Makes a good gift for: Families, anyone, foodies

Christmas time is the time for hot drinks, and what hot drink is more classic than hot chocolate? There are a lot gourmet hot chocolates on the market these days, and a lot of fancy marshmallows and peppermint sticks to dip in your hot chocolate. If you have the time and inclination, you could certainly head out to a nice grocery store (I am thinking Whole Foods or something along those lines) and pick up the makings of your own set: fancy hot chocolate mix, fluffy marshmallows, peppermint sticks, maybe some nice cookies or candies, and then of course, a nice mug (perhaps a Christmas-themed mug, or an initial mug, like one of these.

If you don’t have the desire or time to search out all the bits and pieces of a set, you should check these sets out: 

Hot Chocolate Gift Set - $40.00

Or, if you can think of lots of people on your gift-list who might enjoy some hot-sweet cocoa, or you are planning on having a holiday party and need some favors, you should check out this deal on Etsy where you can get 10 hot-cocoa “cones” for $32.50:





Bowls and Boxes of Holiday Presents


The Urn of Fate

Instead of a bowl full of jelly, how about a bowl full of presents? Ancient Romans exchanged gifts for luck in the New Year, and many Italian families still take turns drawing small gifts by chance from a large bowl called the "Urn of Fate" at their Christmas gatherings.

For more information on Italian Christmas traditions, check out this page, and this page.




Boxes of Hope and Goodwill

In the Middle Ages, earthenware boxes with a slit on top for coins became known as Christmas boxes. On the First Day of Christmas, the nobility distributed these boxes to their servants who later broke them open to receive the small sums of money inside. Other boxes were used as a Yuletide tip jar for guild tradesman (the material used for these boxes was called pygg - the predecessor of piggy banks).

During Advent, donations were collected in churches and monasteries in alms boxes also referred to as Christmas boxes. On the day after Christmas, these boxes were opened and the contents were distributed among the poor. Still other boxes were kept aboard sailing ships for donations to the priest who would offer mass - Christ-mass - prayers upon the safe return of the sailors.

Not surprisingly, the First Day of Christmas (December 26th) is still known as Boxing Day in many parts of the world that once formed the British empire.


18 Days Until Christmas - Fun Family Games


This Week's Gift Theme: Gifts for Families

Gift idea: Family Friendly Games 


Makes a good gift for: Families, adults and kids alike 

I like to pass along the gift of games that I enjoy playing. Cranium is a great game for groups of all ages. I have played it with kids and with groups of all adults, and it never fails to result in a good time. 
Cranium - $29.99

Another fun idea is a set of Table Topics cards, which range in topics from kid-friendly, to questions for couples and grandparents: 


For an adults-only gift, Cards Against Humanity is a hilarious game that is great for parties. You can buy the card game for someone online as a gift, or you can print the cards out from the website for free and cut out the cards. This game is similar to Apples to Apples which is another great game that can be educational for kids, and just down right funny for adults to play together. Apples to Apples also has an adult version, but I have never played it. 

I came across this game on one of my favorite shopping sites, uncommongoods.com, and this looks like a really awesome game that kids and adults alike could enjoy: http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/spectrix-game


Twelve Days on TV


KXII, a Dallas-area CBS station, recently did a show on educational Christmas gifts for kids. They featured our Twelve Days Gift Boxes -- and our Twelve Days of Classic Toys gift set, as one of their favorite items.

Watch the segment here:



Santa's Cohorts and Predecessors


Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas 

Santa Claus is not alone in Christmastime activities. In fact, today, December 6, is St. Nicholas Day. St. Nicholas is the patron saint and protector of children and of sailors (or voyagers). December 6 is St. Nicholas' Feast Day, and is the main gift-giving day in some parts of Europe. As was discussed earlier on the blog, St. Nicholas' day is also celebrated on the eve of the day, December 5. St. Nicholas' day is celebrated in various ways - by sharing candies or small gifts, and in the Netherlands, children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping the horse-food will be exchanged for a gift. This practice is quite similar to the American practice of leaving out cookies for Santa Claus, and perhaps some carrots for his reindeer. (Of course the line can be drawn between "Old St. Nick" and our modern day Santa Claus). In our family, we awake on December 6 to the magical present of new socks on the front porch filled with walnuts and small oranges.

Image: St. Nicholas by Susan Seals

If you would like to learn more about St. Nicholas, please go to the St. Nicholas Center website, which is full of great information about the Saint. 

The Ladies of Winter: Frau Holle and Frau Berchta/Perchta

Frau Holle (meaning "kind lady") is a winter time character of Germanic heritage. Frau Holle dresses in glistening white and carries keys that unlock all doors. She makes her journey during the Twelve Nights to carry out her judgments and dispense gifts to the deserving. In days gone by, she was revered as the protector of children and the patron of spinning and other "women's work." The winter weather was equated with her daily activities: it rained on her washing day, thundered as she spun, and soft snow fell when she shook out her featherbed.

All spinning work had to be completed and the house spotlessly cleaned by Christmas Eve so that Frau Holle would not be displeased when she arrived on her rounds during the Twelve Nights. She would tangle the threads of any incomplete work but reward the industrious by filling empty spindles and leaving treats of her favorite apples and nuts for good children. Some might be especially fortunate and find a coin that dropped from her unfurled cape during her visit.


Frau Holle's counterpart in more southern alpine areas was Frau Berchta or Frau Perchta (meaning "bright, shining lady") who also roamed the countryside and entered homes during the Twelve Nights. She generally had the more frightening appearance of a witch and meted our harsher punishments to the lazy, but the old crone still had a soft spot for those who had been good during the year, leaving nuts and sugarplums or placing a small silver coin in the shoes before departing. 

Image: Winter, 1896, by Alphonse Maria Mucha






Elves

In Nordic folklore, mischievous elves arrive before Christmas one by one and depart one by one each day beginning on December 25, with the last elf leaving on January 6. Although the elves may still try to play tricks on people, nowadays their main task is to leave a series of small gifts in children's shoes placed on the windowsill.








Odin

Over the centuries Odin changed from a fearsome war-lord to a charitable Santa Clause-esque fellow. Odin now might leave a loaf of bread at a poor family's home, based on information he gathered by eavesdropping from the shadows at the edge of the Yule fire (again, much like Santa, he knows what you are up to). Children began to look forward to Odin's visits during the Twelve Nights, leaving straw in their shoes for his magic eight-legged horse (perhaps a precursor to Santa's eight reindeer)  in the hopes of finding small gifts and treats as rewards for their good behavior during the past year.

There is more information on Odin available on Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Mythica, and Ancientmythology.com.

For more on Odin's role as a pre-cursor to Santa Claus, check out this Wikipedia page, this article from Examiner.com, and this article on helium.com.

Image: Odin the Wanderer, 1896, by George von Rosen





The Three Kings

The Three Kings
On the night of January 5, the Twelfth Night of Christmas and the eve of Epiphany, the Three Kings astride their camel, horse and elephant, leave presents in the straw-filled shoes of children and adults across Spain, Mexico, Latin America and other parts of the spanish-speaking world. 

Image: The Adoration of the Magi, 1674, by Jan de Bray





La Befana

On the same night that the Three Kings are visiting spanish-speaking children, Italian children are visited by La Befana, a benevolent old woman with magical powers. Legend says she helped the Wise Men during their journey but only belatedly decided to follow them after she finished her sweeping. She flies with a straw broom, enters homes through the chimney, and leaves gifts of candied fruit, sweets, and toys in children's socks even if they are not the one holy child she seeks.



More information on La Befana on Wikipedia and about.com.

Babushka

A similar story is told about the grandmotherly Russian Babushka, who delays accompanying the Three Kings until the tidies her house. She sets off with her gifts but also never catches up, tenderly leaving a gift for each sleeping child she finds, ever hopeful.


Apparently there is an award winning children's book on Babushka (or Baboushka) by Ruth Robbins. Its available on Amazon.

19 Days Until Christmas - Extraordinary RC Toys


Gift idea: Wi-Fi/RC Toys 

Makes a good gift for: Kids and kids at heart, techies

RC cars have come a long way since I was a kid! Two of these fancy toys are controlled by an app on your iphone or ipad! I would be pretty stoked to get any of these toys, and I might even be convinced to share some time behind the wheel with any actual kids who might want to try. Point being, anyone who is not dead inside would have a good time behind the wheel of one of these bad boys:

App-controlled Wi-Fi race car:

RC Helicopter: 
Remote Control Cloud Force Helicopter - $39.99

App-controlled tank:

Twelve Days of Christmas-Themed Gifts


Over here at Twelve Days, we are clearly Twelve Days nerds. That being said, we are also rather picky about Twelve Days of Christmas-Themed gifts. The Twelve Days of Christmas song and its imagery are a beloved part of Christmas, but as with any Christmas motif, it can be overdone. 

One of my favorite things to unpack from the Christmas decoration boxes every year is this Twelve Days of Christmas pop-up book by Robert Sabuda:



here are some images of the pop-ups inside:






The pictures really do not do it justice. I am 29 years old and I love flipping through this book multiple times every Christmas season, and I can only imagine the delight it would bring to kids of all other ages! You can buy it on Amazon for $17.79, but I bet lots of book stores will have it in stock this Christmas too. 

Last year Pottery Barn did this Partridge in a Pear Tree Salt and Pepper Shaker set, which sold out way before Christmas, but its back this year:


Pottery Barn Partridge in a Pear Tree Salt and Pepper Shaker Set - $35.50

In fact, Pottery Barn has a whole set of serving ware based on the song.



Other pieces that I think are particularly cute are these Five Golden Rings Napkin Rings:


Pottery Barn Five Golden Rings Napkin Rings - $24.50 for a set of four

and these Ten Lords a Leaping Place Card Holders:


Pottery Barn Ten Lords a Leaping Place Card Holders -$45.50 for a set of ten

Another great Twelve Days themed gift I came across was this set of hand-carved rubber stamps with all of the characters from the song:


Paperfruithair on Etsy - set of twelve stamps $74.89 (individual stamps range in price from about $7 to $9).

If you keep your eye out I am sure you can find other tastefully dont Twelve Days of Christmas-themed gifts in stores and boutiques near you!

I hope that Saint Nicholas leaves goodies for you in your shoes tonight, as he does for good boys and girls in parts of Europe on the night before Saint Nicholas Day - December 6. For more information on Saint Nicholas and some other less known Christmas time "characters" check back tomorrow!

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