Getting Carried Away with Christmas Cards

Bells CardChristmas does seem to have passed The Landing by this year, but as we are still within the Twelve days of Christmas I am going to try to squeeze in a couple of seasonal related posts. I have been busy over Christmas and if you want to check out Curiously, Creatively you can see what The Bookworm and I have been doing in the way of seasonal activities.

Earlier this month I was musing a little on the writing of Christmas cards. We made our own this year for a change using some of the sketches that I drew for the Advent blog posts in 2012. Christmas card writing is either a chore or a pleasure depending on your point of view (and on how many or how few you need to send). I enjoy writing cards, though ideally I do like to set a comfortable scene before I set to inscribing my Christmas missives. Suitable music is required as well as a little something to keep up my strength. I would settle for tea and mince pies, but probably wine and chocolate would be my ideal stamina enforcers. Then it’s down to the writing…once I have decided which pen I want to use (not that I’m obsessive about pens you understand).

The tricky part about writing Christmas cards is overcoming my temptation to squeeze a whole year’s worth (or six months at a pinch) of updates onto one side of the card. I usually only intend to jot down a couple of quick pieces of news, but the pen in my hand seems to develop a mind of its own. Before I know it, I have reached the bottom edge of one side of the card and I am trying to finish a sentence by sneaking over the bottom edge of the opposite page. Words snake around the available blank space in smaller and smaller letters. I have the same problem with post cards. Either the cards are too small or I try to write too much, I’m not sure which. Moreover, before anyone mentions the dreaded phrase ‘Round Robin’, I will just say that I can’t bring myself to do one. In some respects, I can see the sense in it if you are playing catch-up with many correspondents, but it seems so regimented an approach to take that it’s not for me.Merry Christmas Card

But if there is not to be a photocopied rundown of the year’s family events (neatly folded and inserted) then how shall I tackle each card? Perhaps I should work out a series of bullet points detailing the year’s events before I start so that I can condense all of the salient facts into bite-sized pieces (carefully adapted for each recipient so that I don’t slip into an RR mode). Then I am sure that I could manage to stick to one side of the Christmas card (well, depending upon the size of the card I suppose). I could ruthlessly edit the number of bullet points to encompass only the highlights of the past twelve months. Simple really, an ideal plan. No improvising, no postscripts, no addendums (and certainly no asides or parentheses), just clean, simple bullet points neatly written.

I must just remember to finish with a ‘Merry Christmas’ though….



First Day of Advent

This time last year I was just embarking on my Advent Calendar challenge for the Landing Book Shelves but this year’s December won’t be as bustling. I hope to do some seasonal posts but I’m continuing with the challenge of reading War and Peace too; my aim is to finish the book by Christmas.

As this is the first day of Advent the ritual of putting up the Advent Calendar has taken place in our house (the calendar having first been retrieved from the mysterious depths of the loft by He Who Put The Shelves Up). There is usually more than this one calendar in the house thanks to various friends and relations but they are mere bit part players. The perpetual Advent Calendar is the star of the show.

Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar

The calendar is a hard backed book that opens out into a 3 D scene of a living room with a fireplace, down the chimney of which Father Christmas will pop on Christmas Eve. The calendar is by writer and illustrator Atsuko Morozumi and published in 2006 by Mathew Price Ltd. I can’t remember when we first had the calendar but it has certainly been doing its duty for the last few years. A few creases have appeared but it is wearing well.

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is coming closer again, I really must get geared up for making mince pies and other seasonal goodies. The first door on the Advent Calendar is always a wake-up call to get planning and list-making. I’ve also had my first Christmas card.

Advent Calendar Interior

Interior of the Advent scene

If you have a favourite Advent Calendar at home do drop me a line in the comment box. By the way, does anyone else remember the Blue Peter team making an Advent decoration with wire coat hangers and tinsel?

Post-Challenge Bonus Book: Andersen

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas (with plenty of new books to read) and that you are enjoying the peaceful hiatus between one set of festivities and the next. You may have even begun to ponder the dreaded New Year’s Resolution question.

But as Christmas is not yet over (there are Twelve days of Christmas after all) I am taking the opportunity to squeeze in one more tinselly title before normal service is resumed on the Landing Book Shelves. As I think I have mentioned during the course of the Advent Calendar Challenge, I try to add a Christmas book to our shelves every year.

The Fir Tree

The Fir Tree

This year’s choice fell upon The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen in a new edition illustrated by Finnish designer Sanna Annukka (Hutchinson, 2012). Annukka’s beautiful geometric style illustrations give the book a contemporary feel without detracting from the magic of this classic fable. The volume is produced as a cloth bound hard backed book with Annuka’s designs decorating the end papers.

Perhaps this is an apt choice for post-Christmas /pre-New Year since I am sure we could all learn a lesson from the little fir tree who realised too late that he should have been living in the present and making the most of what he had:

“It’s over, it’s over!” said the poor tree. “If only I had enjoyed it while I could. It’s over, it’s over!”

Hmm, I can feel a New Year’s Resolution coming on….

By the way, if anyone is interested in Sanna Annukka’s work the link to her website is here with some fabulous designs. I may well return to Hans Christian Andersen at a future date as there are many lovely editions of his stories available. In the meantime…

Enjoy the rest of the festive season, folks!

Advent Reading Challenge: Nativity

24th December

Jesus’ Christmas Party written and illustrated by Nicholas Allan (taken from The Hutchinson Treasury of Children’s Literature, 1995). This story was first published in 1991 (Hutchinson Children’s Books).

Treasury of Literature

Curl up with a story…

Well, we are finally at Christmas Eve and on the last day of the Landing Advent Calendar. Today’s offering comes from a compendium of stories and poems that I bought many years before I ever became a parent. I was going through a phase of collecting children’s literature at the time and this newly published collection fitted the bill to a tee. It is still in print (though scheduled for a reprint at present) and well worth buying.

This story is a humorous re-telling of The Nativity, from the point of view of a much put upon innkeeper:

There was nothing the innkeeper liked more than a good night’s sleep.
But that night there was a knock at the door.
“No room,” said the innkeeper.
“But we’re tired and have travelled through night and day.”
“There’s only the stable round the back. Here’s two blankets. Sign the register.”
So they signed it: “Mary and Joseph.”

But as I am sure everyone has worked out, there was to be no rest for the innkeeper that night. He became more and more exasperated with all of the comings and goings (including a request for an extra blanket) so that when he heard the noise the Heavenly Host were making….


So he got out of bed, stomped down the stairs, threw open the door, went round the back, stormed into the stable, and was just about to speak when –   

Jesus' Christmas Party

Away in a Manger….

Now, I think you can probably guess how it all ended, but if not, then you will have to read the story for yourself. There is a recent edition of Nicholas Allan’s book available, published in 2011 which would be a nice addition to any Christmas library.

So it only remains for me to wish all of my regular readers (and anyone else who drops by The Landing) a very ‘Merry Christmas’ indeed!

I would love to know which pieces were your favourites – so do drop me a line to let me know..

Advent Reading Challenge: Santa (again)

23rd December

Another Night Before Christmas by Carol Ann Duffy, illustrated by Rob Ryan (Picador, 2010)

The Advent Calendar is now drawing to a close and I hope this trawl though some seasonal children’s literature has been as enjoyable

Another Night Before Christmas

Another Night…

for you as it has for me. Today’s calendar slot features a fairly recent publication by Carol Ann Duffy re-telling ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (see here). I bought this when it was first published as that year’s contribution to the festive library.

In this poem, a small girl decides to stay up late and see if Father Christmas really exists:

On the night before Christmas, a child in a house,
As the whole family slept, behaved just like a mouse…
And crept on soft toes down red-carpeted stairs.
Her hand held the paw of her favourite bear.

It’s a fact that a faraway satellite dish,
Which observes us from space, cannot know what we wish.
Its eye’s empty socket films famine and greed,
But cannot see Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Though she lived in an age where celebrity rules
And when most of the people were easily fooled,
By TV and fashion, by money and cars,
The little girl knew that here was a real STAR!

I like the modern twist here of Santa being compared to the twenty-first celebrity culture and coming out as the only true star on the horizon. Duffy captures the magic of Christmas that we as adults would still like to believe in. The black and white illustrations from Rob Ryan are striking: beautifully detailed and magical in themselves.

Only one more day to go…

Landing Advent Calendar Day Twenty Two

22nd December

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (or: Account of a visit from St Nicholas) illustrated by Matt Tavares (Published by Walker Books, 2010).

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the Night…

This well-known poem first appeared on 23rd December 1823, published anonymously in an American magazine, the Troy Sentinel as ‘Account of a visit from St Nicholas’. Several years later in 1844, authorship of the poem was claimed by Clement C Moore. Opinion continues to be divided on who really wrote the verses.

In the introduction to this edition, Matt Tavares points out that editors have often made changes to the spelling and punctuation of the original text, even changing the names of the reindeer. For this edition, Tavares has returned to the original version. I have quoted two snatches of the verse here to whet your appetite:

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
When all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a mouse;
The stocking were hung
By the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas
Soon would be there;

The magical figure of St Nicholas fills the stockings and disappears into the night, in his sleigh pulled by Dasher, Dancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixen, “Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And way they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim,
Ere he drove out of sight –
Happy Christmas to all,
And to all a good night.

We will be reading this poem again at Christmas (I may even get a little further in trying to learn it off by heart) and appreciating the lovely illustrations in this edition.

I will also be searching out the Christmas stockings ready for our seasonal visitor. Not long to wait now…

Advent Reading Challenge: Nativity Play

21st December

Read Me and Laugh

Funny poems galore


‘Just Doing my Job’ a poem by Clare Bevan (taken from Read me and Laugh, edited by Gaby Morgan, mentioned in a previous post). This poem was originally published in We Three Kings (ed. Brian Moses, Macmillan, 1998).

I love this poem, conjuring up as it does long forgotten memories of participating in the school Nativity Play. Not that I ever had a starring role, I hasten to add, my only ever role being as the inn keeper’s wife which only had one short line. Hardly a distinguished theatrical career.

The poem features several small boys in the role of ‘Herod’s Henchmen’, which no doubt required lots of parental assistance in the form of cardboard and tinfoil accessories. All of that charging around the school hall sounds great fun (not that fun was exactly the point of it all I suppose). But it probably burnt off excess end of term excitement in the process.

I have extracted three verses to give you a flavour of the activity:

King Herod

King Herod by James Tissot


1, I’m one of Herod’s Henchmen.
    We don’t have much to say,
   We charge through the audience
    In a Henchman sort of way.

3, Our swords are made of cardboard
    So blood will not be spilled
    If we trip and stab a parent
    When the hall’s completely filled.

6, Yet when the play is over
    And Miss is out of breath
    We’ll charge like Henchmen through the hall
    And scare our Mums to death.

Of course, the sting behind the title of the poem is that a whole multitude of sins may be glossed over by employing the excuse of ‘just doing my job’. A lesson for children to learn while they enjoy reading the poem.

The striking painting of Herod the Great dates from 1886-1894 and is in the Brooklyn Museum (image courtesy of Wikipedia).

Advent Reading Challenge: More Pudding

20th December

Conscience Pudding a story taken  from New Treasure Seekers written by E. Nesbit and illustrated by C. Walter Hodges (Ernest Benn Ltd, 1904, 1948)

line drawing of making the Christmas pudding

Making the Conscience pudding

I have always loved Edith Nesbit’s stories, particularly the three books about the enterprising Bastable children, Oswald, Dora, Noël, Alice, Dicky and H.O. who find imaginative ways of restoring the family fortunes when their father’s business fails.

This book is one of a bundle I picked up in a second-hand shop in Birmingham sometime in the early 1990s. It looked as though one family had been having a clear out as several volumes were inscribed with the name of ‘Arrowsmith’. It is not in brilliant condition, but certainly worth the few pennies I paid.

In this episode of the children’s adventures, the young entrepreneurs decide to make a Christmas pudding for themselves rather than suffer the ‘plain pudding’ that their father has instructed the cook to make. However, they have no money to buy ingredients and two of the younger children come up with an enterprising solution:

“It’s no good. You know we’ve got no tin.
“Ah,” said Alice, “but Noël and I went out, and we called at some of the houses in Granville Park and Dartmouth Hill – and we got a lot of sixpences and shillings, besides pennies, and one old gentleman gave us half a crown. He was so nice. Quite bald, with a knitted red-and blue-waistcoat. We’ve got eight-and –sevenpence.”

So after acquiring these riches, Alice and Dora sally forth to buy the ingredients from the grocer (who is kind enough to tell them that a cupful of ginger would be too much) and the children begin secretly to make the pudding:

“…we barricaded the nursery door and set to work. We were very careful to be quite clean. We washed our hands as well as the currants. I have sometimes thought we did not get all the soap off the currants. The pudding smelt like a washing-day when the time came to cut it open. And we washed a corner of the table to chop the suet on. Chopping suet looks easy till you try.” (see picture!)

Not exactly Jamie or Delia then! But where does the ‘conscience’ bit come in, I hear you ask. This is because the younger children collecting the money had asked for money to make a pudding for ‘poor children’. When the older children found out, they declared that the pudding had to be given away to some truly poor children, as it was dishonest to keep it.

This results in comical efforts to give the pudding way, ending in a trip to the workhouse in a desperate quest to salvage the family’s honour. This is not exactly a workhouse as depicted in Dickens, as the matron puts on Christmas entertainment for the older residents.

All’s well that ends well, when matron listens to the sorry tale and relieves the children of their ‘conscience pudding’ both literally and figuratively. An apt Christmas story in more ways than one…

Advent Reading Challenge: Little Grey Rabbit

19th December

Squirrel Goes Skating written by Alison Uttley and illustrated by Margaret Tempest (William Collins 1986, 1988). This is an abridged edition of the original story published in 1934.

Squirrel Goes Skating

Skating Fun…

Again, during this reading challenge, I am indulging in an old family favourite, revisiting Little Grey Rabbit, Squirrel, Hare, and their countryside friends. In this snowy story, the animals gather to go skating on the pond at Tom Tiddler’s Way. The entire neighbourhood takes skates and food and sets off to have a day of fun on the ice:

Everything was frozen. Even the brook, which ran past little Grey Rabbit’s house on the edge of the wood, was thick with ice. Each blade of grass had a white fringe, and the black, leafless trees were patterned with shining crystals.
On every window of the house were Jack Frost’s pictures – trees and ferns and flowers in silver.

At last they reached the pond, which lay in the centre of a small field. Already many animals were on the ice, and the air was filled with merry cries. The newcomers sat down and put on their skates. Grey Rabbit placed her basket of food in the care of Mrs Hedgehog, who sat on a log, watching her son, Fuzzypeg.
Soon they were laughing and shouting with the others, as they skimmed over the ice.
Hare tried to do the outside edge, and got mixed up with the skates of a white duck. He fell down with a thump and bruised his forehead.

After Grey Rabbit, Squirrel and Hare had enjoyed a picnic with their friends Water-rat, Moldy Warp, Mrs Hedgehog and Fuzzypeg:

They all returned to the ice and skated until the red sun set behind the hills. Dark shadows spread across the fields as the animals removed their skates and set off home.
“It has been a jolly day,” said Grey Rabbit to Water-rat and Moldy warp. “Good-bye. Perhaps we will come again tomorrow.”
“Goodnight. Goodnight,” resounded round the pond.

I cannot claim this to be a Christmas piece exactly but it fulfils our nostalgic longing for those snowy winters where we can play for a while and then go and snuggle at home afterwards. We can enjoy the thought of snow without actually getting our feet wet and cold! Alison Uttley used her own country childhood experiences in her stories so I am sure that she once went skating on her local pond (though possibly not with hares and ducks).

Until tomorrow…

Advent Reading Challenge: Seven Stars

18th December

‘Christmas Shopping’ taken from Mary Poppins written by P.L. Travers and illustrated by Mary Shepard (Collins 1958, 1998). First published by Peter Davies Ltd 1934.

Mary Poppins

Practically Perfect…

As we head into the last full week before Christmas I am conscious of just how many festive poems and stories that I will not have room to put up on the Landing Advent Calendar. Nevertheless I am pleased that I have managed to include so many of our old family favourites along the way. Perhaps I will have to do it all again next year.

Today is the turn of everyone’s favourite nanny, Mary Poppins who was at various times the mainstay of the Banks’ household. In the Christmas shopping episode Mary Poppins has taken Michael and Jane into town. There they have a magical encounter with one of the Seven Sisters who has come to earth in human form to do a spot of seasonal shopping:

“Now you recognise me, don’t you? I’m the second of the Pleiades. Electra – she’s the eldest – couldn’t come because she’s minding Merope. Merope’s the baby, and the other five of us come in between – all girls. Our Mother was very disappointed at first not to have a boy, but now she doesn’t mind.”

“But what are you doing here?” demanded Michael, still very surprised.
Maia laughed. “Ask Mary Poppins. I am sure she knows.”
“Tell us, Mary Poppins,” said Jane.
“Well,” said Mary Poppins snappily, “I suppose you two aren’t the only ones in the world that want to go shopping at Christmas-“
“That’s it,” squealed Maia delightedly. “She’s quite right. I’ve come down to buy toys for them all. We can’t get away very often, you know, because we’re so busy making and storing up the Spring Rains…”

Maia has a lovely time choosing gifts for her sisters: A stove with silver saucepans for Electra; a skipping rope for Taygete; Alcyone gets The Swiss Family Robinson; Celaeno has a hoop; there is a spinning top for Sterope and a rubber duck for Merope.

If you want to know how an astral body pays for her shopping, or indeed what she receives for Christmas then look out for this Mary Poppins story. As is usual in any adventure with their mysterious nanny, the children are not sure whether they really saw what they thought they saw, or simply had a wonderful dream. And as Mary Poppins’ readers will know, she never tells anybody anything…

(The image of the Pleiades was sourced from Wikipedia)

The Pleiades

The Pleiades