Season’s Greetings!

From my household to yours, we wish you Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and best wishes of the festive season to all. I hope you all have a wonderful time and have the opportunity to eat, drink, and make merry spending quality time with the special people in your lives.

I did not send holiday cards this year for a variety of reasons. Instead, I donated what I would have spent on cards and postage to the DNA Doe Project. I did, however, take the traditional “look how much they’ve grown” photo of our sons and the cats to share with family and friends near and far.

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2020 was rough; 2021 was worse. We are very glad to be bidding farewell to 2021 but – I am sure like many folk – are trepidatious about the New Year. Maybe 2022 will undersell and overdeliver – in a good way – but only time can tell.

I will sign off with an outtake from our photoshoot.

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Frosty Tree

Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “trees”.  The obvious subject would have been a Christmas tree but I really was not in the mood to draw or paint one.  I, therefore, chose to depict a frosty tree but in a slightly abstracted way.  I worked on this page gradually over the week before Christmas and got it finished thanks to having two days off work while my kids were still in school.  It is a bit sloppy and imperfect thanks to being worked on inconsistently and in a bit of a rush each time but it’s only an art journal page so that’s quite OK.

51 - Frosty Tree - Art Journal Page

Next year, I am not signed up for any courses and I have no art based commitments or obligations.  I am just going to do my own thing and will try to be disciplined about eking out some art time each week without having a prompt to do so.

A friendly festive Elf

I participate in a Secret Santa holiday gift exchange with a group of friends.  I gathered together a collection of gifts for my assigned friend with ease, as she is very easy to shop for, but I realised that I did not have an appropriate greetings card to send.  A couple of years ago, we decided to stop sending holiday cards.  We wanted to reduce our carbon footprint and more meaningfully invest the money that would have been spent on cards and postage (and international postage is expensive).  We, therefore, donate the money to a charity every year instead.  I wanted to send some kind of card or letter to my gift recipient, however, so I decided I would deploy my art skills to create a card.  The time between being assigned a friend’s name and having to send the parcel was very tight so I decided to keep things simple with a quick mixed media painting.  I have been transforming my preschool students into Elves so that gave me my inspiration: I decided to create a portrait of my friend as a festive Elf.  Her favourite colours are red and hot pink and her eyes are green so that gave me a (coincidentally festive) colour palette to work with.  I am not a portraitist but I actually managed to create a good likeness of my friend.  She should be able to recognise herself.  I hope it makes her giggle when she opens the parcel and finds this personalised greeting inside.

Leigh Elf 2

Leigh Elf 1

Flu, Fever, and Festive Words

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed that it has been quiet for a while.  You may also have noted that – other than finishing off my extended Inktober challenge – I have not produced any art in weeks.  The reason for both is that I was laid low by some mysterious nasty viral thing.  It probably all started on Thanksgiving Day when I spent a large chunk of the day at Urgent Care.  That illness then segued into what I thought was a sinus infection.  I get sinus infections a couple of times every winter so I am used to just treating the symptoms and pushing through.  But then I started to feel really cruddy.  Seriously awful.  What I assumed was a series of separate cruddy illnesses was, it appeared, probably all part of a bigger illness.  A nurse friend diagnosed me with ‘flu from a distance but who really knows.  I just know it was completely debilitating and was the most ill I have felt since I had ‘flu when my 8 year old was a newborn.  During my entire working life, I have had seven sick days off work; three of them were this month.  I had fevers, chills, aches, zero appetite, and a pounding headache that stretched from the backs of my eyes all the way down my neck.  Thankfully my kids are all now old enough to largely fend for themselves and get themselves to and from school because I really was not functioning as a human being let alone as a parent.  Since recovering, I have been very tired – perhaps with some sort of post-viral fatigue – so I have had almost zero free time because staying on top of regular work, chores, family life, and festive planning is taking me longer than usual.  Still, worse things happen at sea and I am thankful to have my health generally.  That, however, is why I have been absent from blogging and why I have not spent any time at my art table.

Still, I was desperate to do something arty because I don’t feel fully like myself unless I am doing something creative.  I, therefore, picked up my Art Journal because it does not matter a jot if I complete the page or not or make a mess in my art journal.  I looked at last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt which was to  use a quotation.  I am not one of those people who has inspirational quotations to hand so I was pondering what to write while overhearing my kids, who were decorating a gingerbread house in an adjacent room.  They were listening to Christmas music so that gave me my inspiration.  I have been thinking about practicing some brush lettering for a while so I thought that writing down some festive words using a brush dipped in watercolour paint would be an easy, fuss-free way to fill a journal page.  My brush lettering still needs a great deal of work, especially since I have a tendency to be inconsistent and to lapse into just using my own handwriting, but it was fun to practice and it was therapeutic to sit down at my art table again and splash around in some paint.

50 - Festive Words

Christmas in the City

Following our early afternoon jaunt to Washington Crossing, we did something that appealed far more to the boys – we headed into the city to soak up some of the festive atmosphere.  I must confess that I am rather short of seasonal sparkle this year.  I think November arrived quickly and caught me off guard and I have felt like I have been playing catch up ever since.  I have also been very distracted by other things that have required my focus so I have had little time to think about Christmas.  That is all on top of the fact that for me the holiday season brings with it additional chores, tasks and errands to be ploughed through.  I am not feeling all bah humbug about it but nor am I excited and enthused about Christmas yet.  I was hoping, therefore, that a trip into Philadelphia to see the market and the lights would start to sprinkle me with glitter.

Our first port of call was the Christmas Village.  I learned that Philly had a Christmas market by reading a blog article on Phoodie and the Beast but maybe all of my distractions have led me to overlook promotion for it.  Sited in Love Park, it is quite a bit smaller than the European markets it is clearly emulating but the compact nature probably suited us best as there is only so much perusing of wares my kids will tolerate.  Swirling around a central Christmas tree, the little wooden shacks were selling all sorts of things.  There were lots of stalls that would interest if one was seeking handcrafted jewellery.  There were also lots of stalls selling lovely Christmas ornaments.  I rather liked wooden Santas, carved in Russia and Ukraine, but they were very much out of my price range.  We also liked a stall bedecked in blown glass baubles but I resisted temptation as I have found that glass baubles and small boys do not mix.  The boys were captivated by a stall selling puppets.  I think had they had deeper pockets, they could have spent a lot of pocket money at that stall.





It has been a few years since I was last at a Christmas market – the last one being in Glasgow – and I rather liked the experience.  There was enough to see and do without it being a time consuming slog or another episode of “dragging whining kids somewhere against their will”.  The atmosphere was friendly and warm, with plenty of people milling around, lots of glistening lights, and the smells of delicious foods filling the area and making my stomach rumble despite the fact I was still stuffed full from a late lunch / early dinner.  While the compact nature of this Christmas village was helpful to us as parents, it did mean that all the people milling about were like sardines.  I don’t like crowds because I do not like physical contact with random people so that was another reason we did not malinger too long in the market.  We did stay long enough to let the boys pick out two little Germanic houses that emit a charming glow when a candle is placed inside.



After the visit to the Christmas market, a hop, skip and a jump brought us to the Comcast Centre where – at the top of each hour – a “Holiday Spectacular” is broadcast on their gigantic screens in the entrance foyer.  We arrived with ten minutes to spare which was just as well as it fairly filled up after our arrival and the kids would not have gotten such a good view.  The show is broadcast on the vast LED screens in amazing high definition.  I am no technology junkie.  My husband might marvel at developments in TVs and such like but it is all lost on me.  However, as one might anticipate from a telecoms giant, the technology was incredible.  The figures on the screen looked entirely three dimensional.  There were snowy scenes, penguins, the Twelve Days of Christmas, The Nutcracker, giant piano keys, Dickensian London, and aerial scenes of central Philly.  It lasted about 15 minutes and my kids were spellbound throughout.  Nobody moaned about standing or about being hemmed in by other people.  That there is a Christmas miracle.  The whole presentation was very polished and actually quite enchanting.


Darkness had fallen completely while we were in the Comcast Centre but the air was still warm.  We are experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures in PA this December and are apparently on track for a record warm Christmas Day.  T-shirt weather in December!  The kids were loving it so we let them run around outside the building where there were spotlit trees and twinkly lights in branches to entertain them.  I disrupted their play to try and get a festive photo of all four of them together.  That did not go down well.



Next stop was Macy’s where I had heard there was a holiday light show at the top of each hour.  We made it on time by the skin of our teeth but finding a position on the shop floor that afforded us decent views was impossible.  The kids lost interest within minutes.  It was also uncomfortably hot because of the combined body heat of all those people crammed together indoors.  Frankly, the light show was also rather lacklustre compared to the broadcast we had just seen.  We, therefore, left after a few short minutes.  The kids were far more taken with the Macy’s window displays out on the street, a few of which were on a Peanuts theme.



We had not intended another stop off on our trip into Philly.  However, as we strolled past the Municipal Buildings Plaza, my kids were overtaken with a fit of nostalgia.  They had spent a lot of time playing in this plaza during our first ever trip into Philadelphia.  Their rosy glow was ironic given that that particular trip was a horrendous fail.  My husband having to take a lengthy work phone call combined with the kids pitching fits at every opportunity made it an incredibly stressful trip.  Apparently, however, they had fostered fond memories for this place.  The plaza is the location of a collection of sculptures depicting gigantic gaming pieces, dominoes, Monopoly markers.  A group of teenagers were using it as a skateboarding park but they were soon pushed to the edges by my mob who were excitedly running and climbing and leaping all over the place.  It was a fun conclusion to a fun evening.  I might even have felt the first twinkles of festive spirit stirring in my soul.




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

Christmas Shopping

This is less a blog entry about the differences between America and Scotland and is more about the differences in experiences between living in a rural town in Scotland and living in the suburbs of a city that has a population as large as the whole of Scotland. Life can be lived quite differently as a result.

This year I did not even start Christmas shopping until late November.  We obviously could not import any new items with us, either in person or in our shipping, which meant my usual habit of starting to buy Christmas gifts in the summer – if not earlier – was not feasible.  Then we had a “bedding in” period during which time I almost forgot that Christmas was just a few weeks away.  It was a trip around Toys R Us – just for browsing purposes – that snapped me back into present buying mode as my kids mentioned a few things they would like to pop on their Santa lists.

Living where I used to, leaving it so late to embark on buying gifts for four children would have had me hyperventilating.  We had a few really lovely gift shops in town but none of them really stocked much in the way of toys, certainly not many for kids above preschool age.  It was, therefore, necessary to travel to the nearest large town – which was over an hour away on boke-inducing roads and still a bit limited – or the nearest city – which was a five hour round trip.  As both excursions required me to take my children with me, it was all a bit stressful, not least because of having to somehow make secretive purchases with them by my side.  In recent years, therefore, I had resorted to using the internet to buy gifts.  However, the internet only really works effectively and efficiently if you know what it is you are buying. If the children had asked Santa for a specific toy or book then the internet worked like a charm for price comparisons and ordering and delivering, all without me having to venture outside the house.  Doing it that way also made it very easy to keep on track of the budget and number of gifts being bought as all the “receipts” filed into my email inbox.  Of course, the downside of all this delivery of packages was that some companies liked to charge additional shipping costs because of our postcode.  Sometimes the premium was pretty steep.  We might have been just over two hours from Scotland’s largest city but those companies would make  it seem as if their parcels were having to go through acts of derring do and explore the hinterland of civilization just to make it to us.  More than once I had to have an argument with someone on the phone who claimed they were going to place an additional charge on our delivery fee because we “lived on an island”.  That was news to me.  Also more than once I would suggest they look at a map, follow the route and tell me when it was they thought the delivery was going to cross a large body of water.  Ridiculousness.  In any case, the internet could indeed work like a charm for Christmas shopping unless the children were not asking for anything specific or had only asked for one thing when more than one gift was required.  The need for search terms to input into the websites means that browsing in search of inspiration can be a long, wasteful and frustrating enterprise.  I estimate that last year I accomplished as much as 90% of my gift shopping online but that was only possible because I started in May.

So this year was very different.  The advantage of not making a start until late November was that it coincided with the Black Friday sales.  My boys happened to be asking for a fair few new and popular toys and, by jings, they turned up thick and fast in the online sales which made life easier and cheaper for me.  Everything I bought them during the sales period was 50% or more reduced.  Kerching!  Once that period was over, I still needed a few odds and ends for them, stocking stuffers and the like.  In previous years, I would have cruised sites like ebay to find some funny wee bargain items.  This year, however, I could mooch around the local malls and find lots of cool bits and bobs for them.  And, what’s more, I could do all of that completely child-free since – living a few minutes away from stores – I could fit it all in while the biggest three boys were in school and the little one was in preschool.

There is a downside to this ability to shop locally, however, and that was that the novelty of it may have got the better of me.  In an effort to make their first Christmas in America really memorable and special, I may just have gone a teensy wee bit overboard on the present buying front.  It was all a very good price so I’ve not burst my budget but my understairs cupboard does look a bit like Aladdin’s cave.  And I had to wrap it all.  I.  Loathe.  Wrapping.  Nothing sucks the Christmas spirit out of me faster than having to sit on the floor for hours cutting patterned paper, getting trapped by unruly sticky tape and trying to figure out the engineering required to neatly wrap all those bizarrely shaped boxes.  Which is one of the reasons I love buying lego for the kids.  Nice rectangular boxes.  It took me several nights and a bottle of wine to get it done, but as of last night all of my gift wrapping is also at an end.

Now I can sit back and let the festive mirth and holiday fun begin.  Except I can’t because my house still looks like a warehouse and I still have a third of the shipping boxes to empty once I can figure out where on earth I am going to place their contents.

At least I don’t have to gift wrap those boxes!

Breakfast with Santa

On Saturday, I took three of my boys to have breakfast with Santa – the 8 year old opted out.  This was a first experience for all of us.  Perhaps they do this in Britain too but I was not aware of it until we moved here.

The event was being held just around the corner from us so we toddled off in the chill wind but were soon indoors in the cosy eating mess which was filled with the aromas of scrummy breakfast treats.  When we paid our money, we were each given a chit of paper that we had to fill out stating which particular elements of cooked breakfast we wanted.  We then handed those in and, while it was all being cooked, we were able to spend some time with Santa.

My kids have not had much in the way of Santa encounters.  In the town we moved from, a Santa would travel around on a motorised sleigh just ahead of Christmas, pulling into each street and handing out chocolates to children.  He usually pulled up our shared driveway and my boys would scamper out in their jammies (because somehow I always forgot Santa was expected), exchange a quick few words through chattering teeth and then scurry back indoors again.  However, they have never visited a store-based Santa or a grotto.  My children are aware, incidentally, that these Santas are all just the real Santa’s helpers because obviously Santa himself is way too busy at this time of year to be patronising various events across the globe.  For that reason, therefore, I was not entirely sure how happy they would be with meeting and greeting Santa.

My four year old was perfectly content.  He launched himself onto Santa’s knee and had a good chinwag with him, explaining to Santa that he had asked him for Disney Infinity for the PS3 just to drive the point home.  I actually didn’t think he would ever get back down from Santa’s knee.  My six year old was a bit more trepidatious.  He was not prepared to sit on Santa’s lap so he stood beside him instead and spoke in a voice only hummingbirds could hear.  My ten year old was, of course, far too mature and cool for any such things so he just high-fived Santa.




We then ate a delicious breakfast.  The boys had pancakes, eggs and sausages with hot chocolate and fruit juice and I had a veggie omelette with a cup of tea.  There were also baked goods available so the boys each had a massive muffin before deciding they were starting to get bellies like Santa’s.

I definitely think we should build breakfasting with Santa into our festive traditions from now on.

The Kindness of Strangers

Following my Narwhal Diarrhoea blog entry – regarding a further delay of our shipping consignment – I was spitting feathers in anger.  After venting my spleen on the phone to the shipping company, all that ranting and raving left me feeling at a low ebb.  The reality was that there was now nothing anyone could do to rectify the situation.  I will ensure lessons are learned and abject apologies made once we have secured our possessions but for now all I can do is try to problem solve how I am going to get through the holiday season with a house that contains none of our own things, while our advent calendar box, Christmas decorations, all the boys’ toys and games, are crossing an ocean and being held in a customs warehouse.  It was all looking pretty bleak.

This week I have been visiting my sons’ classrooms, as part of National Education Week I believe, so yesterday afternoon I was visiting the Second Grade classroom and got chatting to the mom of one of the other kids, a boy my 8 year old has mentioned as a new friend.  She inquired about our shipping and I really did not have the energy to put a positive spin on things so I explained that there had been a further delay and that we would not now have our festive bits and bobs in time for the holiday season so I was hoping to come up with some make-shift traditions and solutions.

Then something amazing happened.

She shared that her mother had died just a few months ago and that she was still storing all of her possessions as she had not felt strong enough to sort through them. Then she offered me all the holiday decorations because knowing they were helping us out would give her the impetus to sort through at least those items.  She also felt it was what her late mother would have wanted. True to her word, she came over early yesterday evening to deliver the first couple of boxes. I was overwhelmed with her kindness. I got quite tearful. Her sons, who are the same ages as my oldest two boys, also loaned the kids some toys to play with. She also got tearful because she had embarked on clearing her mother’s things out. We stood there in the living room, cavernous and empty as it is, a reminder of everything we don’t yet have, and I felt so moved that I too welled up.  There we were, the two of us, glazed cow eyes as we tried to hold back the tears, and we spontaneously hugged. Now I cannot do physical contact with people I don’t know extremely well, it freaks me out, so it was a bit of an out of body experience for me.  I was just so touched by her generosity towards me, a complete stranger.

I have been feeling worn down and dejected with this whole sorry shipping saga.  It’s hard to settle into family life in a new location when you are rattling around a mostly empty house with no familiar things to make it feel like home.  If I allow myself to focus on that, as I have to frequently in order to overcome the obstacles of living with so few things, then a sense of dislocation settles over me.  But the kindness of this stranger, her feeling so moved to help me, knocked me right out of that black cloud.  Now I can focus on what we do have.  We have a new life in a new place with new opportunities and crucially we have each other and really that is what makes a house a home.

So now I am going to make some new festive traditions for the holiday season since we cannot maintain our old ones for this year.  There is no point pretending I can replicate what is stuck on a cargo ship.  I am going to embrace the new.  I will change things up, introduce new Christmas experiments and perhaps the successful ones can be incorporated into our traditions to blend the old and new.