Holiday Traditions

One week into December and our holiday traditions are underway.  Despite not being Christians, we celebrate a secular version of Christmas as both Mr Pict and I were brought up with Christmas and wanted to keep those traditions going when we had kids of our own.  Of course, some of the traditions we had back in Britain have had to be mothballed since we emigrated to America.  Pantomimes, for instance, do happen here but are far too expensive for us to attend so no more pantomimes for us for the time being.  We have, however, started new traditions since moving here.  It seems those are already ingrained since the kids were determined that we were going to do the exact same things this year that we have done before.

First among these was the Holiday Light Show at Shady Brook Farm.  We first went in 2013 for our first American Christmas and then again last year.  I offered a suggestion that we do something different this year, another light show even, but the kids shot my suggestions down.  They want repetition and tradition.  So off to Shady Brook Farm we went.  I think the kids like that we drive through all the illuminations, cosy in the car, not having to wander around in the chill night.  They had fun seeing old favourites among the lights and spotting some new additions.  Then we parked up and got out to see the tree and buy some kettle corn and visit the farm shop.  The place was jam packed with people, however, so we didn’t stay too long.









December also means the return of advent traditions to help the kids count down to Christmas Day.  We have a small wooden chest full of drawers that gets open every day plus a Playmobil advent calendar, both traditions we have had since the kids were tiny wee, but now we also have Noel, our Elf on the Shelf.  Now there is a tradition I regret starting.  We don’t do the whole “magical” bit.  The kids know fine well it is me who moves the Elf each night and they know that the Elf is not reporting back to Santa.  For them, finding Noel each morning is just a fun wee treasure hunt.  They look forward to seeing what Elf s up to, either some kind of antics or else a message for them regarding a festive activity.  All harmless fun except that I have to remember to move the ruddy Elf every evening.  Already, a mere week in, I have had to get back out of bed in order to go and move him somewhere, having been jolted out of the land of Nod by the sudden remembrance that Noel is exactly where he was the 24 hours before.  I am also struggling to be very creative with him.  Some people do these amazingly elaborate set ups with their Elves.  Not me.  I just hide Noel somewhere.  If I do a set up, it’s usually something that makes the kids chuckle rather than create magic.  Noel pooped chocolate into a jar the other day.  On the first day, he was found under the Christmas tree with a bottle of liqueur.  That was just as well since I failed to move him that night and I had the excuse of an Elf hangover for why he hadn’t moved.

2015-12-01 21.35.35


One day, Noel the Elf was found with a gingerbread house ready to be decorated.  I once baked a gingerbread house from scratch but I had a conniption trying to get the walls to stick together with icing and it ended up looking like a total hovel.  I discovered prefabricated gingerbread houses when we emigrated and, therefore, they can become part of our family’s holiday traditions without me losing the plot.  The three younger boys had a lot of sticky fun decorating the house and eating the surplus construction supplies.


We decorated the house for Christmas right after Thanksgiving.  Mr Pict would rather wait until later into December but all the hassle involved in decorating makes me want to have it last for a good few weeks, more return for my investment.  I don’t go overboard.  We don’t decorate the exterior of the house.  Yet.  Mr Pict wants to get stuff for outside but I don’t know that I could deal with the additional hassle.  Bah humbug.  Sorting out the twinkly lights for the Christmas tree was quite enough stress, thanks very much.  It was worth it though: the formal living room has a lovely glow to it now.



The sweetest thing, however, is that my 6 and 8 year old boys made their own advent calendar.  Playing outside in the garden one evening, they gathered up 12 rocks and decorated them with a sharpie in order to depict the Twelve Days of Christmas.  They then brought it indoors and arranged it on the kitchen floor as a surprise.  Which it was.  A delightful surprise.  I do love it when my kids are creative, experience a spark of inspiration.  We now have the rocks arranged on the windowsill.  Just to add to the cuteness, my youngest keeps singing that the third day is “three henchmen”.  I am now changing the lyrics in our household.  That’s another new holiday tradition.

Advent Stones



Advent Twinchies

It’s that Most Wonderful Time of the Year where life gets hectic and there are more tasks to fit into every day, albeit many of the additional tasks are fun.  Between all the preparations for the festive season, volunteering at school and putting our living rooms back together after they were decorated on top of all the regular, everyday chores, “me time” has been squeezed.  This means my To Do list of art projects is growing ever longer while conversely my time in which to accomplish anything grows slimmer.  Therefore, when I read about an creative Advent project on Mary Tanana’s Groovity Blog, I thought that might be manageable.

I decided to work on the project using “twinchies”, two inch squares, as I thought the scale would be something I could more easily fit into my schedule while also presenting me with a challenge and an opportunity to practice a variety of techniques.  My intention had been to do complete one twinchie per day, in the spirit of Advent, but even that became impossible to work into my schedule so I actually ended up producing them all across two days.  I decided to work in a cool colour scheme to create harmony across all the individual pieces and because I wanted to flout the traditional festive colour scheme of bold, rich, warm hues.

Advent Twinchies 1-3

#1 was a Santa hat.  I used a page from a clothing catalogue to collage the hat shape and then I added the fluff detail with pen.
#2 was a Christmas Tree.  I used a card one of my sons was sent which had a nice zig zag pattern on it for the Christmas Tree shape adhered to a square I had coloured with metallic gelato and topped with a star-shaped sequin.

#3 was a Tree Decoration.  I kept this one simple with a watercolour painting of a bauble which I then decorated with gel pen.

Advent Twinchies 4-7

#4 was a penguin.  This was my kids’ favourite, especially my oldest who is obsessed with penguins.  The background was watercolour and the penguin was drawn with gel pens.

#5 was a snow creature.  I used watercolour for the background and muzzle of the yeti and then outlined the shape using ink pen.

#6 was Christmas Market.  Drawing a scene on such a small scale was never going to work – well not for someone like me who cannot get too finicky – so I opted instead to create something that represented a Christmas Market for me and that was hot chocolate, something I have bought to warm me up while perusing stalls filled with festive treats.  I used a piece of metallic gift wrap to collage the mug and then used white gel pen to draw the steam.

#7 was Winter Wonderland.  I painted the square with watercolour and then used white pen to draw the tree.  As you can probably see, I am still on a mission to find a white pen that produces strong pigment.

Advent Twinchies 8-11

#8 was Ding Dong.  Ding Dong is actually an accurate description of my mental state in the run up to the festive season, especially when I am wrapping gifts – a task that saps the festive spirit out of me – but I think the idea was it would relate to a bell.  I kept this one simple with a silhouette bell shape collaged out of a piece of gift wrap (ironically) and with outline and words added with pen.

#9 was Nutcracker.  My mother-in-law has a collection of Nutcrackers with which she decorates the house at Christmas.  My children, therefore, wanted a Nutcracker of their own so I got them one from a thrift store.  I used watercolour to paint a portrait of their Nutcracker.  He really does have those creepy teeth by the way.

#10 was Christmas Jumper which I easily accomplished just by cutting out a jumper shape from a catalogue advert for a Christmas jumper and collaging it onto the twinchie.

#11 was Robin Red Breast which presented me with a dilemma: depicting the robin in accurate colours would break from my colour scheme but using blues, purples and pinks would prevent the bird looking like a robin.  As you can see, I plumped for authentic colours, using watercolour to do so.

Advent Twinchies 9

Advent Twinchies 12-17

#12 was Angel and boy oh boy did I make a mess with that.  I used various papers to construct the Angel through collage and got myself in a gluey mess.  Oh dear.

#13 was Pear Tree.  I had to paint the partridge in there too in order to properly reflect the lyrics of the carol.  I outlined the watercolour shapes with black ink.

#14 was Favourite Christmas Colour.  My favourite Christmas colour is actually gold.  My tree decorations are all gold – except for the ones where I have lost control and the Pictlings have put hand-made multicoloured decorations on the tree – and I love the warm bling and twinkle of gold lights and ornaments.  But that would have gone against my colour scheme.  Instead I got to use my actual favourite colour which is purple.  I used watercolour for the twinchie’s background and then used a heart shaped stamp and black ink to add an image.

#15 was Stars.  Again, I used watercolour for the background and then I used a star shaped stamp and silver ink to create the image.

#16 was Gingerbread House.  That would be great fun to draw sometime but would be far too complicated for my fingers on such a small scale so I simplified it and used various bits of scrap gelli prints plus a postage stamp to construct the house, using white gel pen to add little embellishments.

#17 was Frozen which I chose to interpret as a snowflake.  As per my above grumble about white pens, I could not get mine to behave so I actually resorted to using correction fluid to “paint” the snowflake shape.

Advent Twinchies 16

Advent Twinchies 18-21

#18 was Festive Food.  I thought I would plump for something that was very traditional and British so I painted a Christmas pudding using watercolour and then added detail with gel pen.

#19 was Dala horse.  My horse-mad 7 year old had fun helping me look at images of dala horses online and is consequently obsessed with them.  The background is watercolour and the horse was drawn with gel pen.

#20 was Three Kings.  I had thought about trying to represent the Wise Men through their gifts but decided to pare the design back even further and take the words of the prompt more literally and collage three crowns made out of various bits of paper.  My kids could not guess what that twinchie represented so I guess that was a poor decision even though I quite like the design.

#21 was Vintage Toy and since everyone has a treasured teddy bear (don’t they?) that was what I chose.  I painted it using watercolour and then added the outline and detail with black ink.

Advent Twinchies 22-25

#22 was Wreath.  I painted the whole twinchie with a uniform shade of green watercolour and then drew on the leaves and ribbon of the wreath with gel pen.

#23 was free-choice so I decided to construct a stocking out of collaged papers, mostly scraps from the same pieces of paper I had used on other twinchies in the group.

#24 was Santa’s Sack.  I again opted to use collage to create the wrapped gifts and the sack, though I added the ribbons with pen.

#25 was “what Christmas means to me”.  Since I am not a person of faith, Christmas to me is really about those secular elements of family togetherness, the spirit of giving and celebrating with loved ones, and of tradition.  I used tiny letter stamps to create the words “family” and “tradition”, intersecting on the square, and then added a snowflake in the blank space.

I had a lot of fun with this Advent Project and thank Mary Tanana for blogging about it and bringing it to my attention.  I wish I had been able to create one per day but sometimes – often – life gets in the way of hobbies.  I hope to do a similar project again next year.  Maybe even on Inchies!

Advent Twinchies 2014