Our Homemade Swiss Christmas

image I have always wanted a big bunch of mistletoe at Christmas – like in the old drawings in Charles Dicken’s books. And now I do! Hanging strategically in the middle of the hallway through which all must pass! It grows wild in the trees here, so when we were on our way back from a walk, I asked Zeus to stop the car while I got out and cut some. Turns out I wasn’t quite tall enough, so I had to turn back to the car and make pleady puppy eyes, and then Zeus got out and cut it for me. My hero! It seems, actually, that my boys don’t need a whole lot of encouragement for smooches. In fact, they usually try to waylay me – as in this photo. ***** Since we came with what we could fit into twelve suitcases and not exceeding 50 pounds, you may imagine that we didn’t bring a lot of our Christmas decorations. In fact, when talking about it long ago, the girls had said how it would be fun to do new decorations this year, and see what we could make. I did waver a bit sometimes – the stores are full of a lot of the same kind of stuff as at home. All glittery and shiny and not even too expensive. And when you read the label on it no wonder – it’s all made in China! This has always irked me – Christians in China are not free to celebrate Christmas, but somehow they are free to export a lot of Christmas crap.  Hmmph. I did find myself thinking though, Should I just get a bunch of new stuff?? Our budget isn’t as tight right now as we thought it might be. But when I brought it up with The Committee, they resounded with an emphatic “NO!” So we didn’t, but got busy instead with our homemade Christmas. We spray painted some pinecones with gold and glittery spray paint. image We cut out paper snowflakes and made some gingerbread cookies for the tree – anyone recognize the Ikea cookie cutters? image Hermes strung popcorn… image …and worked on his fine motor skills. image  We dried orange slices in Popop’s fruit dryer image and then hung them on with pretty ribbon. image  The boys also got busy and creative and made us some Lego ornaments! image I drew the line at the Lego skeleton Hermes was putting on (‘No skeletons on the Christmas tree!’) but there are some other adventurous Lego guys jumping about in the jungle of branches, including Indiana Jones. I asked Hermes if Indy was seeking the True Treasure of the Ages, and he said vaguely that he was, so I am letting it slide. image And here it is! Our Christmas tree! We did buy some lights, and we’ve since added a star on top and a skirt that is actually a duvet cover in just the right shade of red. There are also a lot of foil wrapped ornaments in fun shapes: mushrooms, angels, bells, and they are all filled with?? Three guesses??? Chocolate! Chocolate!! CHOCOLATE!!! That is a beautiful thing about this country. The rule is to wait until the 25th to start nibbling. It’s not a super glamour tree, and that is just fine. It is happy and homey and very edible! image It makes me feel like this. image

Basel Christmas Market

 Here is a little more Weihnachtsmarkt ~ for all of you and especially for Debi. 

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon after school the kids and I drove to Basel, met up with Zeus after work and went to the Basel Christmas market.

It was very cold but very festive.The Germans and Swiss Germans are the masters of creating charming ambiance with little glowing lights. The market is like its own little mini-city, where for the month of December stands are set up selling all kinds of beautiful arts and crafts and housewares and decorations and clothing and beautifulness.

Somehow cobblestones trap the cold and send it right up into your feet — the same way it did in St. Ursanne. I wanted to stick my toes into my cup of Gluhwein but instead I drank it and gave Artemis little sips (!) and ate snausages and drank hot chocolate.The drinks came in pretty mugs with drawings of the Christmas market that you could return to any other food stand and get a deposit back, or not: and then you could keep your cup as a souvenir. We kept ours! 

This stand sold all kinds of beautiful carved wood ornaments and nativity sets.

This one sold all things made of beeswax.  (Note to Katarina: the girls really like the hat you left here. I don’t know that you’ll be getting it back any time soon. Artemis is wearing right now, as I type.)

It’s funny how some things are so different from Christmas shopping at an American mall — outside in the fresh air, shopping while drinking Gluhwein, trolleys and trams going by dinging their bells; and some things just stay the same: the menfolk of the family were finished  loooong before the ladies and Artemis worried that the photos of her in her warm puffy jacket might make her look fat.

At the entrance to the market there was a festive display from the Doll Museum of little forest critters making their Christmas preparations.  I captured a little video.

A statement from Zeus:  He regrets making monkey noises which are now recorded and saved for posterity. But he made up for it with his cute waving, don’t you think? His idea about adding music is a good one, but beyond my video making skills for the time being. The pictures is still a little jerky — sorry — I am learning. Most of this post was actually written on Stormie — so I am learning about mobile blogging, too —  Ah, the wonders of technology!

The experience was very joyful, except for the moment when we (the girls) realized that there were only 15 minutes left until the market closed (yikes!!). On the way home in the car I kept thinking, “Thank you, Jesus, for sharing your Birthday and your presents with us! What a great party you have every year!”

In a shop window there was an enormous gingerbread house! Wow! It inspired us to come right home and work on a smaller version. Since it’s started snowing again this morning, adding to the 3.5 inches we got yesterday, and we are feeling cozy and holed-up, it may just be a perfect project for today.

Christmas Markets and St. Nicholas

In French you pronounce St. Nicholas San Nee-ko-LAH. His feast day on December 6th is sort of like opening day for the Christmas season. Zeus grew up with the tradition and I readily adopted it, because I appreciate the fact that it gives an opportunity to talk about the real St. Nicholas who was a real bishop of Myra in the early 300s. He was a faithful Christian man devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are some fun books out there to read to kids about St. Nicholas, like
The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi that tell the real story about the bishop
and how he liked to help people anonymously – perhaps once even throwing money down a chimney – hence some of our traditions associated with Santa Claus. 61FY2M7CW4L._SL160_
At home we put our shoes out on the night of December 5th, and in the morning ! St. Nicholas had filled them with chocolates and peanuts and mandarins and sometimes a little giftie!  This year it was fun for our kids to hear people talking about St. Nicholas and to realize that that is a shared cultural experience. And, St. Nicholas actually came to our house!!
With St. Nicholas is Pere Fouttard, ‘Father Whip’, who leaves switches with your parents if they say you need them. He didn’t leave any with us, but St. Nicholas did read from his golden book and had a little encouragement and exhortation for each of the children.
It was quite amazing, because in his golden book it was written that Hermes should no longer sit on his Papa’s head when he is stretching, which is just what Papa had been saying himself not two hours before! St. Nicholas knows all! Hermes was quite sober at that.
Look! In this photo you can see the holiness glowing right out of the top of St. Nicholas’ head! Oh no, wait, that is just the lamp. Maybe that is why he was wearing the goofy little John Lennon sun glasses? They left us with mandarin oranges, peanuts and chocolate. We still have the peanuts and a couple mandarins, but the chocolate has all since disappeared.


Saturday we visited the Christmas market in St. Ursanne, a charming little medieval town not too far away. It has a beautiful old cloister, and on this particular day the streets were filled with artisans selling their wares, yummy Christmas treats and the local brass band, the fanfare, trumpeting out carols. I captured a little bit on my Stormie phone, which I am still learning my way around. So they are not the smoothest videos – but they are meant to give you a little flavor.

At our house things are getting more and more Christmassy – especially with the coverage of snow that keeps falling every three days or so.
Happy Preparations, Everyone!

A Milestone

This was Athena’s first ballet lesson on pointe shoes last week. It’s a little blurry because I didn’t use the flash, so as not to disturb, but you get the idea. Athena said I was allowed to post the picture. It was an exciting day, and Athena was very excited in her reserved Athena way. First Point Lesson

Blessed Advent

Doesn’t Advent come at just the right time every year? IMG_1221 Just when things were getting too dark and too bleak, it is time to light our candles and look forward. This year we bought an Advent Log at the village Christmas Market – Craft Fair. That and the other candles behind it are creating a ‘corner of flame’ which helps to make up for the lack of a fireplace. IMG_1224 We also purchased a tiny Creche in a gourd. And a pointy hatted pine cone gnome who is standing in for one of the shepherds, I think. In the village I’ve been surprised at how many people put up Christmas lights (I thought it was just a crazy American thing – but it’s apparently catching on – there are lighted reindeer on the neighbor’s front lawn) and also surprised at how cheerful they make me feel. Each little village has some kind of lighted decoration on the lamp posts and they do help chase away the gloom when you drive through on the windy roads after dark. I hope, though, that I could prepare for Christmas in Advent without the help of thousands of little lights. Millions of Christians do around the world. Millions don’t have the liberty to do any kind of public celebrating of the birth of Jesus. Thoughts like that make make lighted snowflake decorations so trivial, but I do think that it is the beautiful irony of God that He came into the world at the darkest time (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) of the year. I think it’s no mistake that He caused Jesus’ birth to be celebrated on a date that was originally a pagan festival of light. It’s like He’s saying with a smile, “Oh my dears, you think that is light. Watch this! I’ll show you Light! Here is my Son.” It hits me harder every year, as I look around with an honest eye at the troubles of the world, the troubles of my own heart, that He came into this. Here. This huge mess of load of crap that we’ve made of His creation. This dark place of desperation and despair. He came to rescue us. He came to be with us. God with us. Emmanuel. A few years ago Zeus and I went to see the film Children of Men. I’m not sure I can recommend it; much more violent and despairing than our usual movie fare. But there was one scene in which the main character is trying desperately to find a quiet place amidst chaos and filth and violence for a pregnant woman to have her baby.  That was probably the most realistic depiction of Joseph and Mary’s journey that I’ve ever seen.  It somehow captured all the futility and anger and death of a world controlled by sin, and then the unbelievable hope brought by the birth of One Child. It was beautiful. When we left the theater, Zeus let me know he thought the film was horrible. “But didn’t you like the beautiful parts?” I asked. “WHAT beautiful parts??!!”  I guess the Nativity metaphor didn’t work for everyone. I lost movie choosing privileges for awhile after that. So every Advent, I find myself thinking about that film and about how much more the real Nativity must have been like that than the sweet peaceful Playmobil Nativity set that is spread all over the table. And I’m grateful and I’m hopeful and I light another candle and I wait another week.