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Christmas Ideas for Homeschoolers

© Beverley Paine Dec 2003

Recipes ~ Traditions ~ Ideas for Presents ~ Giving Thanks ~ More Ideas

Flower Pot Christmas Cakes
Many years ago we made Christmas cakes in terracotta pots to give away as presents to friends and family. The only difficulty we faced was in not eating the tasty gifts before the wrapping stage! They look nice hanging from the Christmas tree, next to the fresh Gingerbread Men, if the branches can take a little weight.

1 1/2 kg mixed fruit
1/2 cup sherry or brandy
2 tbsp marmalade
1 cup brown sugar
5 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp all spice
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup treacle
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb
1/4 tsp nutmeg
250g butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3 x 200g rolls of marzipan paste (or make your own!)
12 cm terracotta flowerpots

The pots don't have to be treated in any way before baking, foil covers the drainage holes. Chop fruit, combine with sherry, sugar, melted butter, eggs and mix in sifted flours. Line 4 pots with heavy foil. Drop 3/4 cup mixture into each pot, level, roll out quarter of one marzipan roll large enough to cover mixture, repeat with other pots. Divide remaining cake mixture between pots, stand on oven tray, bake in very slow oven for 2 hours. When cold, remove foil, top each cake with half a roll of rolled-out marzipan paste, pinch edge with fingers.

Another recipe I used to love making as a child and which my children enjoyed a great deal too, both in the making and the eating, is White Christmas. Be warned - this is a very sweet treat!

White Christmas
Grease a small swiss roll tin. Mix together - 2 cups of rice bubbles, 1 cup of icing sugar, 1 cup of powdered milk, 1 cup mixed dried fruit, 1/2 cup of coconut, 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts. Melt 8 ounces of copha (don't let it boil!) and pour into dry mixture, mix well. Press into tin, set and cut into little squares Wrap these up in foil or cellophane!

Gingerbread Men
This is an old recipe given to me by my mother from her mother, so please forgive the imperial measurement. My children learned to cook using both imperial and metric, thanks to our electronic scales that measures in either! Cream together 2 ounces of butter or margarine with 3½ ounces of sugar. Gradually add 1 small beaten egg and 1 level tablespoon of golden syrup, then blend together with ½ level teaspoon of bicarb of soda, 4 ounces of self raising flour, and 1 level teaspoon of ginger. My grandmother always put in a pinch of salt, but I left it out. Cover and chill for 3 to 4 hours. Pre-heat oven to 190ºC. Roll out 3/4 inch thick and cut out into gingerbread men shapes and place currants for eyes and nose, strips of crystallised cherry for mouth, sultana's for buttons. Bake 10-12 minutes. Immediately remove and cool. Wrap in coloured or plain cellophane and hang from tree using thin red ribbon or stack loosely in a small basket and gift wrap.

Christmas Traditions
Christmas is a special time of year. For many it is merely a cultural holiday, the deeply religious significance overshadowed by centuries of tradition, now overlayed with an overwhelming commercial influence. It is hard to loose track of the real meaning of Christmas, and this often varies in definition from person to person. However people celebrate this time of year it is a fascinating one, rich in history, with many interesting facts, theories and stories to be told. See our other Christmas article for some I have dug up over the years - hope you find them interesting!

Ideas for Home-made Presents
Home educated kids seem to be so creative so it's no wonder they love to make things to give as presents. Here are some ideas we've done in the past:
  • A fabric painted pillow case or t'shirt is a wonderful personalised gift. Fabric crayons are great, and not to messy, although if you are game you get experiment with screen printing or block printing (borrow a book from the library to help you out with instructions). You can also buy special printing sheets which can transfer a design of the computer (including words as well as pictures) onto fabric!
  • Another great idea includes painting terracotta pots with flowers or any other design, and then varnishing them after. You can pot it up with something nice, or just include a small bag of potting mix, a punnet of annuals, or perhaps some herb seeds
  • Glass jars with cork lids are easy to get hold of. You can decorate the lid with almost anything you like, but gum nuts and things look really good. Fill the jar with your friends favourite yummy food, or make some biscuits or sweets!
  • Or you could make a simple photo frame from stiff cardboard, cover it with beautiful fabric or wrapping paper, decorate it with shells, dried flowers, etc, and pop in a photo or special verse!

Giving Thanks

Through my many email contacts and expatriate American friends I have learned about some wonderful ideas for traditional celebrations. In the USA Christmas is preceded by Thanksgiving. I think it would be a lovely idea to bring the following Thanks-giving celebrations into either Christmas or New Years.

One friend always has an advent tree at her house for Christmas. She makes a banner with a tree drawn on it and twenty four felt circles with different Christian symbols relating to Christmas drawn on them. Every night they ceremoniously get out the circles, read to or tell the children a little story behind that night's symbol, and the children take turns pinning the circle on the tree drawn on the banner. The symbols were a lot of fun to make and helped everyone to focus on the meaning of the holiday season instead of the greedy commercialism.

Encouraged by her children's eager participation and interest in the advent banner and ritual she designed a similar thing for Thanksgiving, pulling the attention away from all the Christmas decorations and toys which flood the stores at this time of year. Instead of a tree she drew a Cornucopia that is filled with felt fruit & veggies. Each piece of felt was cut into a shape, symbolising a different thing to be thankful for... apple- friends, pear - health, pumpkin - family. After placing it on the banner each person is supposed to go around the family and write down all the names or things they are thankful for on a piece of paper. The papers are stored in a basket or box, which becomes the centre-piece for the traditional meal of celebration. After the meal, each person pulls out a piece of paper and reads out what is written.

Another friend retold how she made a "Thanksgiving tree" every November 1. With her children she would go out and look for a many-limbed tree branch, and stick it into a drilled hole in a piece of two-by-four. Then they would cut out paper leaves in autumn colours in the shapes of autumn leaves - oak, maple, ginkgo, etc. Using a hole punch she made a hole at one end, then attached a piece of yarn. Each evening at dinner, one family member would tell one thing they were thankful for and write it on a leaf and attach it to a tree branch. They all took turns putting on leaves, until Thanksgiving Day, when the tree was "done" and served as a decoration or centerpiece.

I think these are lovely ideas, and one that would easily translate into any other occasion of celebration - Christmas, Birthday, Easter - even Anzac or Remembrance Day. Creating rituals and traditions around important occasions are important elements in children's lives. We shouldn't really have to wait for a special occasion to say thank you or be thankful, but having such wonderful and solid traditions binds families together and teaches tolerance and respect.

More Ideas...

One ritual I started a few years back is to put all my photos collected for the year in photo albums on New Year's Day. It's a way of remembering the past and then going on to the new year, which we often discuss in the traditional way (resolutions & wishes). I invite everyone to help or just look over the old photo albums. Sometimes the interest is limited since I have teenagers that like to go their own way. But it's good to have a time to get this job done and eventually they may appreciate it more.

Another idea is to devise an advent calendar of activities. Draw or make your calendar but have activities relating to the meaning of Christmas for each day as you count down to Christmas Day. You could make decorations one day, build a Nativity another day, visit Father Christmas, wrap and take presents to the tree for the less fortunate children, visit sick people in hospital, or a senior citizens hospice, make Christmas treats to donate to Meals on Wheels. There are so many activities you can think of to bring a different meaning to Christmas this year.

Perhaps you could do a good deed or perform an act of service each day to your family. It only takes a little effort, and instead of the usual hustle and bustle of Christmas excitement it would help[ to focus everyone's attention on the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas is traditionally a time of peace and goodwill. It would be great if we could extend that feeling beyond the one day this year!

I once picked this gem up from Lionel Fifield, from The Relaxation Centre, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane and thought it worth revisiting:

Christmas is usually a party-mas, a big eating-mas, a present-mas, a card-mas, a booze-mas, and a stress-mas. When one wishes someone a happy Christmas one is usually hoping the individual copes with such a concentration of masses.

Let's make Christmas Day, and why not the whole year, a time when we listen to those close to us, see the beauty of nature, realise the worthiness of ourselves, see the friendship in others, taste and smell the delights that abound and take time to be still, so that we can feel and sense anew. Christmas is, for most of us, a special time of the year. Let's not waste it in the sameness, but revel in the opportunities it provides, so that we give ourselves the greatest gift of all - a new start. What a joy to start again with such a fund of experiences and wisdom behind us.

Perhaps it is time for us to enjoy a mass of qualities which nurture, embrace, enrich, inspire and facilitate a new level of celebration and a real sense of the essence of Christmas.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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