Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas Memories -Tag Tuesday

Rather late arriving at the Tag Tuesday's Christmas party, but here I am with some Christmas Memories tags.  The first one is a simple watercolour and pen drawing, with a Christmas embellishment. The others are made with torn paper. I made a quite a few of these this year, using stamps from Christmases past - so I think they qualify for the "Christmas Memories" theme.

Here is a three minute video  I made for Timeless Textiles Gallery . It is a shortened version of how to use the torn paper collage idea for cards... just press the arrow to begin.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Firsts #25 : Merry Christmas

And so ends this year's Advent blog series of Christmas Firsts - a first Christmas 'selfie' for us and with it, very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Firsts #24 : Twas the Night Before...

Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...

It’s Christmas Eve…. And you just have to read out aloud, to your family, to your friends, to your pet or to yourself, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ …. This classic poem was FIRST called ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ and published anonymously in 1823. It was later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore in 1837. I have discovered this last month whenever claiming a Christmas FIRST, there is always a but… but now some literary historians now think that the author might have been Henry Livingston Junior.  While most of the evidence  has  favoured Moore, most recent studies might suggest otherwise ... 
MacDonald P. Jackson, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Auckland, New Zealand has spent his entire academic career analyzing authorship attribution. He has written a book titled Who Wrote "the Night Before Christmas"?: Analyzing the Clement Clarke Moore Vs. Henry Livingston Question,  published in 2016, in which he evaluates the opposing arguments and, for the first time, uses the author-attribution techniques of modern computational stylistics to examine the long-standing controversy. Jackson  ... concludes that Livingston is the true author of the classic work.

Whoever wrote it and when is not important to most of us as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ remains one of the  oldest and most popular literary contributions to Christmas. I have included here both a video of a Perry Como rendition and the words, just in case you do want to read this tonight.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

Sources :

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Firsts #23 : Christmas Tree

Christmas Trees 2017 , Civic Park, Newcastle NSW - Photo by Naomi Trute 
So close to Christmas  I  must include the ‘tree’ in this list of Christmas firsts. There may be some debate over the exact location  and date of the FIRST Christmas tree but I think it has been narrowed down to northern Europe ( Estonia/Latvia) in the 15th to 16th century.   Legend suggests that the first tree decorated with paper flowers was burnt after a ceremony celebrating a mixture of pagan and Christian customs  in 1510  in Riga , Latvia. 
 Other early appearances of indoor Christmas trees have been recorded In Germany…

Martin Luther, the religious reformer, invented the Christmas tree. One winter’s night in 1536, so the story goes, Luther was walking through a pine forest near his home in Wittenberg when he suddenly looked up and saw thousands of stars glinting jewel-like among the branches of the trees. This wondrous sight inspired him to set up a candle-lit fir tree in his house that Christmas to remind his children of the starry heavens from whence their Saviour came.

In other parts of Germany, it became a custom to favour a yew branch instead of a fir tree brought into the house and decorated at Christmas . It was this custom that Queen Charlotte brought to England when she married  King George III in 1800.
Yew branch 
Here is a description of Queen Charlotte's tree as written by her biographer... 'from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged; the whole illuminated by small wax candles’. He adds that ‘after the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted’.

Most know that Prince Albert has been credited with making the Christmas tree popular and certainly from 1840, England’s newspapers were beginning to describe in great detail the decorations on the royal Christmas tree. An illustration of the Prince and Queen Victoria and their children gathered around a Christmas tree in 1846 sealed the place of the decorated tree in Christmas tradition at least for upper and middle class families of the time. 

London Illustrtaed News - Queen Victoria , Prince Albert and family. 
In USA,   a similar story of  the Christmas tree's popularity began in 1889 with President  and First Lady's Harrison's  White House tree decorated  with candles and toys for grandchildren.   Another first  indoor Christmas tree has also been claimed by President Franklin Pierce, but the Harrisons like Albert's and Victoria's popularised the tradition.  

 And the rest is history…. from modestly decorated branches to large conifers, sparkling with candles and special treats to nowadays  with  contemporary LED light trees  and faux  trees.

 My Rotary Club has organised for about 30 years a Tree of Joy in our community - a tree where people may leave gifts for the underprivileged, homeless and for anyone for whom Christmas might not be a happy time. I think this has been a great variation of a shared  community Christmas tree and perhaps a little sadly, the number of gifts requested by community organisations has increased  a lot since that first Tree of Joy decades ago 
 Chrsitmas trees  started 6 centuries ago, so let's continue to celebrate the symbolism of the evergreen Christmas tree - hope and renewal of life. 
Steven Dohanos - Chrsismas Tree in Town Square 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Firsts #22: Tinsel

 Who doesn’t love a bit of sparkle for Christmas? It should be no surprise that Germany, the country which thought of decorating trees for Christmas, invented tinsel. The FIRST tinsel made in Nuremberg around 1610 was real silver.  At first, tinsel was used to drape over statues, and not Christmas trees. 
Like many of the Christmas firsts uncovered this season, there are other claims…. Some say that the first “public” appearance of tinsel was sen in 1846 when Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family were seen gathered around a Christmas tree decorated with tinsel….. 

Tinsel dates back to the Renaissance, the word itself coming from the French estincelle ("spark"). The Oxford English Dictionary dates the usage of "tinsel" as "very thin strips of shiny metal" back to the 1590s. It's unknown which genius thought to drape some on a fir tree. Some other historical accounts only trace Xmas tinsel back to the 1840s.

I think it is really interesting the way tinsel has changed throughout the ages. , With the use of silver and gold, it seemed only the trees in wealthy households were decorated with tinsel. However, when candles were used to decorate trees, the silver would tarnish and turn black so silver tinsel I was replaced by other extruded metals like brass, and sliver plated copper In the 20th century, tinsel then was manufactured from aluminium and lead. Aluminium was was pretty but, flammable. 

Lead-based tinsel was a hit. “It was beautiful,” says Susan Waggoner, author of “Handcrafted Christmas” and other books about the holiday’s history. “You had to put it on the tree one strand at a time,” she recalls. “It didn’t tarnish and it would hang down heavy, and you’d have that dripping, glittering icicle effect.”

Surprisingly lead tinsel was manufactured and sold until 1972 - by the 1960’s there were concerns about the risks of lead poisoning to children and legislation about lead based products removed lead tinsel from the market. Today, tinsel is made from plastic or mylar with a metallic finish, supposedly much safer, but many say not as beautiful as in the ‘old days”. 

It might be considered a little tacky, but I love tinsel and  I am just about to hang it in the trees in my garden.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Firsts #21 : Pavlova

Nothing quite as Aussie as a ‘pav’ at Christmas ? Continuing from yesterday’s Christmas first, today’s post stays with another favourite Christmas food. The pavlova is a much loved Aussie dessert, and is often served at a Christmas celebration in a wreath shape. Before I researched the FIRST pavlova for Christmas I was prepared to enter the controversy about ownership of the ‘pav” - Australia or New Zealand?

The pavlova is named after the famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured Australia and New Zealand in 1926. As the New Zealand story goes, the chef of a Wellington hotel at the time created the billowy dessert in her honor, claiming inspiration from her tutu. Australians, on the other hand, believe the pavlova was invented at a hotel in Perth, and named after the ballerina when one diner declared it to be “light as Pavlova.” (From food52 blog)

What I didn't know was that it would appear now that neither Australia nor New Zealand can lay claim to the first pavlova dessert. Besides there being many other gourmet dishes named after the famous ballerina long before her ‘down under’ tour of 1926, recent research by Dr. Andrew Paul Wood and Annabelle Utrecht (a New Zealander and an Australian, respectively), maintains that something very much like a pavlova was popular with the Austrian Habsburgs of the 18th century. They also found similar meringue, fruit and cream torte recipes among those brought to America by the German immigrants who settled in the Midwest. These researchers also claim that the 1911recipe  Strawberries Pavlova is the dessert we have come to love… 
Just to complicate things further, I think the FIRST time I ever saw a Christmas wreath pavlova was the one made by Mary Berry, from the Great British Bake Off show. I can’t say that Mary Berry was the first person to make a Christmas wreath pavlova but she must be amongst the more famous chefs. However, I note that there are you tube how to videos for Christmas pavlovas by Curtis Stone, Donna Hay amongst many others … and here is one chosen at random.

 Whatever the recipe or the variation, when you’re enjoying your Christmas pavlova, you might remember the controversy its origins have caused in the culinary world

Sources :

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Firsts #20 : Mince Pies

One of my favourite Christmas foods is mince pies. I am not sure I would have enjoyed as much the FIRST Christmas mince pies, filled with spiced meat and suet. The origin of the mince pie dates back to 13th century when Crusaders brought back to England Middle Eastern spices and methods of cooking meat with various fruit and spices.

The early mince pie was known by several names, including "mutton pie", "shrid pie" and "Christmas pie". Typically its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Served around Christmas, the savoury Christmas pie (as it became known) was associated with supposed Catholic "idolatry" and during the English Civil War was frowned on by the Puritan authorities. Nevertheless, the tradition of eating Christmas pie in December continued through to the Victorian era, although by then its recipe had become sweeter and its size markedly reduced from the large oblong shape once observed.

A recipe for the pie filling dated 1615 says that the best meat should be cut from a leg of mutton and then add suet, salt and pepper, cloves, mace, currants, raisins, prunes, dates and orange peel. It is then not too far a step to the sweet mince pies we know - filled with dried mixed fruit, sugar, butter, brandy, nutmeg, cinnamon and mixed spice. Of course, there are now many variations of the mince pie recipe with additions of sloe gin, apples, almonds and nuts. 

I know many like to eat mince pies at room temperature, but I love mine heated with ice cream. I will be trying my hardest to keep up the tradition of eating a Christmas mince pie daily for the twelve days of Christmas - it is supposed to bring you luck for the coming year. Other mince pie traditions are not to cut the pies for fear of bad luck, and to make a wish when you eat the first one of the festive season - I think I can manage that. Thanks to those medieval crusaders who inspired the first Christmas mince pies - yum!

Arty Alphabet 17 - 23

#everydaycreativeatoz Days 17-23 Q-W

Q : Quilt, loving stitched  by family members for Jim's 70th Birthday -
R: Reindeer - watercolour and ink drawing  
S: 'Stick dolls' - 193 art dolls created for the exhibition "Stitched Up"
T: Temari - wrapped and stitched balls in the  Japanese temari style 
U: Used, undone and unfolded tea bags - great for various art/craft 
V: Village and vixen ( handpainted wood) 
W: Wise women - three art dolls created for the WOW series, Women of Wisdom) 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas Firsts #19 :Barbie

For many, a childhood memory of Christmas morning will be a Barbie doll gift under the tree. The FIRST Barbie doll was a great success commercially in 1959, with estimates of 300,00 dolls sold that year.

A Barbie doll is easily one of the most recognizable and best-selling toys in history. With over a billion dolls sold, Barbie has staying power that other dolls could only dream of. Considering that the pint-sized princess has been a mainstay in popular culture for over 50 years, it’s safe to say she’ll be around for a long time to come.
From Bestselling Toys in History 
1960's Barbie 
Of course Barbie has changed considerably in 58 years. While she hasn’t aged, the Barbie a child will receive this Christmas will look quite different from the Barbie someone my age would have received in the 1960’s.   From last year, Barbie can have one of three new body types  (tall, petite, and curvy), as well as many variations of skin tones and eye colours 
Barbie 2016 collection 
Perhaps of more interest in this blog series of Christmas FIRSTS is the Barbie Holiday Collection…. 

Holiday Barbie (dressed in festive  evening gowns) FIRST appeared in 1988, as the first collectable Barbie. I suspect that the annual release of Holiday Barbie has appealed more to an adult as a Christmas gift than to children. The dolls in the collection pre-1992 attract very high prices, especially if they are still in the original packaging, reportedly as much as $750+, so they are unlikely to be purchased as gifts for children to play with. 
Regardless of price, Barbie will continue to delight  adult  and children fans  this  Christmas.... The red evening dress hasn't changed a lot, but there is an increased air of confidence and sophistication about 2017 Holiday Barbie 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Firsts #18 : Where in the World?

Where in the world will FIRST  experience Christmas Day? Because of the time zones and daylight saving , the first places will be  Samoa,  Tonga and Kiritimati (Christmas Island) . They  are the first places to welcome Christmas. New Zealand and Australia see in Christmas Day soon after, while American Samoa and Baker Island in the United States of America are among the last. These statistics are more often quoted in relation to New Year's Eve, but I think it seems appropriate that Christmas Island is one of the first to celebrate Christmas in the world. 
Kiritimati,  or Christmas Island, is a Pacific Ocean raised coral atoll in the northern Line Islands. It is part of the Republic of Kiribati. The name "Kiritimati" is a respelling of the English word "Christmas" in the Kiribati language  The island has the greatest land area of any coral atoll in the world.  25 December is of course  during summer in Kiritimati   Christmas is celebrated in much the same way as in other southern hemisphere countries in the heat  with Christmas lights  church services,  carols by candlelight and many end of year parties with guest appearances from Santa.
The other pacific island states of Samoa and Tonga are also in the same time zone and celebrate Christmas in a similar, but perhaps in a  more "laid back" and much less commercial fashion. Christmas in Samoa is all about 'family", getting together and reflecting on the previous year.
 “The Christmas season is all about family. Wherever we may be throughout the year, we all make it a point to be together on Christmas time,” said Finauapai Siatuolo. 
 It would seem that Christmas celebrations in Samoa and Tonga, emphasise the spiritual and contemplative spirit of the festive season. 
“I would describe Christmas in Tonga as very spiritual and singing mostly,” said Tangikimoana Atiga, from Fou”i, Tonga. “All of the churches get together and sing all day and night.”

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas Firsts #17 : Carols by Candlelight

Carols by Candlelight is an Australian Christmas tradition which has spread across the world. It is thought that the FIRST Carols by Candlelight might have been held sometime in the 19th century. However, in 1938, the Melbourne Carols by Candlelight, established and popularised the concept of large crowds gathering in public outdoor places to sing carols by candlelight, led by celebrity live performances and a live band. Today, the largest such event  in Australia is held annually at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne's King's Domain Gardens on Christmas Eve . 

This Victorian event was introduced in 1937 by Norman Banks, a radio announcer.  Whilst walking home from his night-time radio shift on Christmas Eve in 1937, he passed a window and saw inside an elderly woman sitting up in bed, listening to Away in a Manger being played on the radio and singing along, with her face being lit by candlelight. Wondering how many others spent Christmas alone, he had the idea to gather a large group of people to all sing Christmas carols together by candlelight. The first ever such event was held in Alexandra Gardens the following Christmas, 1938, and was attended by around 10,000 people.
Christmas Carols at Cardiff South Public School 

Now of course, candles have in most places been substituted by battery operated lights and glow sticks, but this year, Carols by Candlelight  will not only bring joy on Christmas Eve to a live and TV audience but will raise funds for Vision Australia for the 80th year.  All over the country, smaller versions of Carols by Candlelight will delight as well as raising funds for charity. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Firsts #16 : Simmons Family Christmas

Today, the Simmons family ( my husband's family, and hence my family too) is celebrating Christmas together for the 32nd year. As in all good loving families , there is most likely some disagreement about the actual number , but as far as some of us can remember, the family came together for Christmas for the first time in 1985 and that is, in another  home rather than in their childhood home in Bonnell's Bay.  This was some years after the tragic death of Rose Simmons , my mother-in-law who had previously always welcomed everyone "home" for Christmas and by 1985,  owing to various locational changes for work , most of the family were within reasonable travelling distance from one another. 
Simmons Family Christmas 2008 

And this is how the Simmons family Christmas works - one of the Simmons siblings organises the date and hosts the gathering in his or her home. 
Simmons family siblings 
Everyone in the family is allocated some food to contribute, and in a secret Santa draw, we are also allocated a family member as our gift recipient and depending on the number of children in the family at the time, each individual family also purchases a gift for one of the children - this means that everyone in the family receives a gift. While the presents are excitedly anticipated by the children, for the adults it is usually a day of indulgence - lots of great food! 
Simmons Family Christmas 2013 

Simmons Family Christmas 2016

Over the years, of course the family has grown ( in different ways ....  there are now children, their partners,  grandchildren and some of them have partners  and great-grandchildren . The Christmas gathering is a time when new relationships between generations are made. 
 There are at least half the number of the family who weren't even born in the 1980's and sadly, some of the family have passed away. Over the ensuing years, the Christmas gatherings have witnessed the growing up of many of the family members and the many changes of  places of residence. Christmas gatherings have been in Newcastle, Taree, Bonnell's Bay, Morisset Park, Pretty Beach, Sydney, Lake Macquarie, Tamworth, Cardiff South, Rutherford, Wallsend , Coffs Harbour, Ogunbil .... and more. 
Even after 32 years, the Simmons Family Christmas remains one of the most important days of the festive season and the whole year for us ...  Thanks to whoever thought of this way to celebrate as a family. Merry Christmas from the Simmons family! 
Just a note - the Simmons family in England also have a similar annual gathering on the last weekend in November.