Christmas Archives - Eva Varga

December 23, 20162

I wanted another little something to put in my kiddos stockings this year. Then I remembered the fun coupon book I had made for my parents when I was a teen and my creative juices got flowing.

teencoupons2I opened my digital scrapbooking folder and was quickly underway. It only took a few minutes to put these together once I had a workable template.


To download a PDF copy of each page for yourself, simply click on the image. It should open a new window whereby you can download and print. teencoupons1

Please leave a little note of gratitude in the comments. 🙂

December 9, 2015

Many studies have shown that material possessions do not equal happiness and that experiences are much more intrinsically fulfilling that things. Giving an experience, or even one’s time, as a holiday gift, in the place of things that people may not really want, is becoming more and more popular.

The anticipation leading up to a trip, event, or experience even has the potential to provide happiness itself, making it the gift that truly keeps on giving! Happiness in the anticipation, happiness during the experience and happiness in the memories.

Give the Gift of Experiences: Gift Ideas for Teens

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Experiences are also a uniting factor. You are more likely to bond with someone who enjoys the same hobby/activity or has traveled to the same places that you have than with someone who has a similar possession.

Gift Experiences

Giving an experience means that your recipient won’t have something else to clutter their home, and it means that they get to do something that is fun and meaningful for them. Today I share ideas for giving experiences instead of gifts.

Field Trips

So many kids crave their parents’ time and attention, so knowing that you set aside the stuff that they usually see you doing in order to be with them means a lot. Even if you can’t afford to go anywhere exciting, your kids will enjoy spending the day with you one-on-one.

If your kids are in school, give a day off “field trip” somewhere exciting. Take them to a museum, an amusement park, or go for a hike. Top it off with a meal at a favorite restaurant.

Give an annual pass to something they’ll enjoy returning to, like the zoo, the aquarium, or a hands-on science museum. If you plan to visit these places multiple times in a year anyway, these passes usually pay for themselves in 2-4 visits.

Give the Gift of Experiences: Gift Ideas for Teens @EvaVarga.netPassion is something that is cultivated. Consider tickets to a concert for kids who are taking lessons. Last year, we gifted each of the kids with a concert for their birthday – The Piano Guys and Lindsey Stirling. For Christmas, Geneva extended the memory of this experience by giving her brother an autographed copy of The Piano Guys’ new cd.

If your children have never seen a live stage production, this could be the year for it. Some of the best shows from Broadway, such as “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” hit the road each year for shows around the United States. Visit your local performing arts center to see what they have planned for 2015, or check out such sites as Broadway Across America to see what might be coming to a town near you.

If you have a sports fan in your life give them tickets to a professional or semi-professional sporting event in your area. Better yet, get tickets for all of you and enjoy the day together.

If you know someone on your list who is planning a trip, see if you can’t buy a special experience for them while they’re there. Vayable is a website that specializes in offering unique experiences to travelers by connecting them with locals who offer tours or lessons that might be hard to find otherwise. You can also contact the local travel bureau in your recipient’s destination and see what they suggest.

Classes & Curriculum

Give the gift of learning and pick up a new skill as family. Sign up the whole group for cooking or art classes or horseback riding lessons. If you live close to water, look into scuba or sailing lessons for the group. Maybe your kids are budding photographers and would love a class in photography.

My daughter has been marveling at a variety of art glass we have seen at local craft sales and festivals. In her stocking this year she will find a gift certificate for a glass blowing class at Oregon Coast Glassworks.

Another option are online classes. These are great because the lessons are taught via video recording and access never expires. Here are few that we have used in the past and have thoroughly enjoyed:


Winter Wonderland Mixed Media Workshop


Pay for Their Hobby

If they love camping, gift them a campsite rental. If they love running, pay for their entry into a local race. The possibilities are endless on this one.


Truly a gift that keeps on giving. If possible with your kids ages, volunteer at a local food pantry or charity and give your kids (and yourself) the gift of helping others! Here are a variety of Volunteer Ideas for Kids.

Give to Charity

We designate a percentage of our income each year to a charity of choice and expect our children to do the same. Two years ago, my son raised nearly $100 that he donated to the Nystagmus Network.

Subscription Gifts

Subscription gifts are fun because an educational experience is delivered each month to your door. What I love about these is the variety – you’ll surely find a service that is suited for everyone on your list, whether they enjoy arts and crafts, cooking, science, or learning about other cultures. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

50% off

The 4-Gift Rule

It can be easy to lose sight of your budget – especially when considering experience gifts. Whether you’re on a budget or just trying to discourage materialism in your family this holiday season, you might want to consider the four gift rule this Christmas.

The 4 gift rule has been circling the Internet the past few years. The idea is that you buy your children no more than four gifts for Christmas, and they fall under these categories:

Something they want, Something they need, Something to wear, Something to read

Give the Gift of Experiences: Gift Ideas for Teens @EvaVarga.netThe “Want”: Despite my preference for experiences, we do get one gift for each child that is strictly something they want. Often these end up being educational gifts like fischertechnik, a Rubix Cube, or craft supplies.

The “Need”: Since family experiences are so important for us, we consider these gifts a need so we prioritize and budget for them. Often these revolve around our family vacations.

The “Wear”: For holidays we give each of the kids one clothing item they need like a new coat or hiking boots. This may also be something fun, like dress up clothes, if they don’t need any new clothing.

The “Read”: I have a weakness for books. We go to the library every week and love used book sales. There is something to be said about owning copies of your favorite titles, however. For Christmas, I always gift them with a book – perhaps the next book in the Percy Jackson series (my daughter LOVES them) or a hardback edition of a book they had checked out from the library and just loved. I also try to purchase books that encourage their passions.

Have you tried to give experiences instead of gifts in the past? What other suggestions would you add to this list?

November 17, 20156

Each day this week, I will be sharing one of our favorite Scandinavian recipes for the holiday season or høytiden. Yesterday, I shared our favorite cookie recipe, Nordic Almond Bars. Today, we try something a little more complicated.

For many Norwegian-American families, the biggest Christmas treat isn’t foil-wrapped chocolate or sugar-dusted cookies. It’s lefse, a simple flatbread. It is made with potatoes, flour, butter, and milk or cream. It is cooked on a griddle.

Lefse are sort of like soft tortillas, made mostly out of mashed potatoes (with a little fat and flour mixed in to form a tender dough). They’re usually spread with butter and sugar, or rolled up with a bit of lingonberry jam.

When we make them, we make them by the dozens. They freeze well and are the perfect way to eat up leftovers at Thanksgiving and Christmas – we simply roll em up.

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5 Favorite Christmas Recipes: Lefse @EvaVarga.netLefse

The following recipe comes from the Sons of Norway website; lodges across North America utilize a variation of this basic recipe each year for their annual lefse and bake sales.


10 Lbs. Russet Potatoes, peeled
1 Lb. Unsalted Sweetcream Butter (room temperature)
2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour

Materials Suggested

Electric Lefse Griddle by Bethany Housewares
Pastry Board and Cloth Set
Corrugated Wood Rolling Pin and 3-4 Rolling Pin Covers
Lefse Stick
Potato Ricer


Step 1

Bring a large stock pot full of water to a boil. Cut your peeled potatoes 2-3 pieces depending on size and cook until they are tender. You may need to do multiple batches if you are using a smaller pot.

Step 2

Rice the cooked potatoes into a large bowl with your potato ricer. Once you have riced all of the potatoes cover and let them cool overnight in your refrigerator.

5 Favorite Christmas Recipes: Lefse @EvaVarga.netStep 3

Remove your potatoes from the refrigerator and let them warm slightly. Move approximately half of the riced potatoes to a smaller bowl. Add the flour in 1/4 cup increments, along with 1/2 stick of butter in chunks and 1 Tsp. salt. Knead the mixture until everything is well mixed. Test the consistency of your dough, you are looking for a texture similar to light pie dough. It should form into a ball without sicking to your hands and hold its shape without cracking if you press the dough ball lightly with your thumb.

If the dough feels too sticky add a little more flour, if it is too dry or is cracking when pressed add another couple pats of butter. Taste the Lefse dough as you go, it should taste like potatoes not flour. The dough should be slightly salty and buttery, but be careful not to over-do-it on the salt.

Warm your griddle to 400°F/200°C. If you are using a traditional lefse griddle remember to place it on a surface that will not be damaged by the high level of ambient heat. The heat from your lefse griddle could cause your stone counter top to crack or your laminate counter tops to delaminate. It is recommended that you use something to cover your countertop to help dissipate the heat.

5 Favorite Christmas Recipes: Lefse @EvaVarga.netStep 4

Form the finished potato mixture into balls about the size of a golf ball. Flour a pastry board covered with a pastry cloth and rub the flour into the cloth. You want enough flour so that your lefse will not stick, but not so much that your lefse is completely covered in flour. Roll out your lefse on your pastry board until it is 1/8 inch thick. Using your lefse stick transfer the lefse to your griddle. Cook on the griddle until bubbles form and each side has browned. Place the lefse on a damp towel to cool slightly and then cover with a damp towel until ready to serve.

If you are storing the lefse, after it has cooled fold it in quarters and place 8-10 sheets into a 1 gallon freezer bag. Store in your freezer for upto 3 months. To thaw – remove from freezer, place on a plate covered with paper towels and allow to come to room temperature.


Making lefse takes practice. It may be helpful to watch a video tutorial or two. I have also written a Hub Page describing the process, How to Make Lefse. Better yet – contact your local Sons of Norway lodge. They may offer classes. 🙂

~ ~ ~

Join me tomorrow when I share our annual tradition of making Norwegian Heart-Shaped Waffles!

Looking for more inspiration for a Nordic høytiden … read my earlier posts here and here.

5 Favorite Nordic Christmas Recipes

It’s a holiday hopscotch! Join the iHomeschool Network bloggers for more Christmas themed posts all week!

November 16, 2015

My kids presently are working on earning their first Cultural Skills pin in cooking from Sons of Norway. They have opted to begin with Level 2: Baked Goods & Desserts and as the holiday season is upon us, I thought it the perfect Christmas Hopscotch.

Each day this week, I will be sharing one of our favorite Scandinavian recipes for the holiday season or høytiden. Try one and I guarantee you will want to make them all!

Christmas cookies are a must-have for any Christmas celebration and baking them at home is a great way to bring the family together. There are many wonderful cookie recipes in Norway some of the more popular cookies are:

  • pepperkaker or gingerbread,
  • krumkaker (waffle cookie curved in a cone shape),
  • sandkake or sand cakes that are simple short cake baked in molds and filled with jelly, and
  • fattigmann (poor man), a recipe that dates backs to over 100 years ago.

5 Favorite Christmas Recipes: Nordic Almond Bars @EvaVarga.netMy daughter’s favorite Nordic inspired cookies are Nordic Almond Bars and thus we begin …

Nordic Almond Bars


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup sliced almonds, coarsely chopped
Almond Icing

Materials Suggested

Rolling Pin
Mixing Bowl
Pastry Brush
Electric Mixer
Cookie Sheet

5 Favorite Christmas Recipes: Nordic Almond Bars @EvaVarga.netRecipe

Step 1

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Stir together flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; set aside. Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until combined. Beat in egg and almond extract. Add flour mixture; beat until combined.

Step 2

Divide dough into four equal portions. Form each portion into a 12-inch long roll. Place two rolls 4 to 5 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Using your hands, flatten each roll until it is 3 inches wide. Repeat with the remaining rolls on another cookie sheet. Brush flattened rolls with milk and sprinkle with almonds. Bake one sheet at a time in a preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. While still warm, slice diagonally into 1-inch wide pieces. Transfer to wire racks; cool. Drizzle with Almond Icing. Makes 48.

5 Favorite Christmas Recipes: Nordic Almond Bars @EvaVarga.netAlmond Icing

In a small mixing bowl stir together 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, and enough milk (3 – 4 teaspoons) to make an icing of drizzling consistency.

Place in layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze undecorated cookies for up to 3 months. Thaw cookies, then drizzle.

~ ~ ~

Join me tomorrow when I share our annual tradition of making Lefse! What will I share later in the week? You’ll have to come back to see! ?

Looking for more inspiration for a Nordic høytiden … read my earlier posts here and here.

5 Favorite Nordic Christmas Recipes

It’s a holiday hopscotch! Join the iHomeschool Network bloggers for more Christmas themed posts all week!

December 2, 20131

Jan Brett is one of my favorite children’s authors.  I love not only her amazing illustrations and the intricate and intriguing borders she is so well known for, but I also love her stories.  She is an amazing story teller – both in print and in person.  We had the wonderful opportunity to hear her speak earlier this year while she was on a book tour to promote Mossy (you can read about our experience in my post, Meeting Jan Brett).

Jan Brett is a best-selling American author/illustrator of children’s books. Her books are known for colorful, detailed depictions of a wide variety of animals and human cultures ranging from Scandinavia to Asia. Today, I share with you a number of her books that share the spirit of Christmas in the north woods.

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jan brett author study

I have written a lot about Scandinavian Christmas traditions here at Academia Celestia.  It is during the Christmas season that the culture and traditions of our ancestors have been most obvious. In addition, we enjoy reading a variety of traditional Christmas stories.  This year, we will be incorporating an author study as well.  I’ve compiled here a number of literature connections and activities that you can also use to experience the spirit of Christmas in the North Woods with your children.

Christmas Trolls

  • Explore the prevalence of trolls in Norwegian literature; consider reading tales by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe.
  • Draw your own trolls and make up your own stories describing their mischief.
  • Compare trolls and nisse – How are they the same?  How are they different?

The Night Before Christmas

  • Watch Jan Brett’s All About The Night Before Christmas movie
  • Create handmade ornaments to decorate your tree. Jan shares a few on her website.
  • Put on a short play to act out this delightful story for your family.

Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve?

  • Make a list of the traditional foods you eat on Christmas
  • Learn how to make one new traditional holiday recipe – consider Seven Sorts: Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies
  • Teach your children how to prepare a favorite family recipe
  • Write about the traditions in your home. Research the cultural significance of one (or more)

The Three Snow Bears

  • Visit a zoo to observe live polar bears
  • Consider doing a nature journal entry on bears
  • Learn How to Draw a Baby Polar Bear
  • Watch a documentary on polar bears
  • Research the arctic tundra biome. What is the average yearly precipitation here? Is this trend changing?

The Wild Christmas Reindeer

  • Research the arctic tundra biome. What other animals live here? What adaptations do they have to survive this cold climate?
  • Enjoy the story The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert – a delightful Nordic tale of a little girl who wants to help Santa’s elves.  From a red bird to a polar bear to a reindeer, a menagerie of winter animals help Anja make her way to Santa
  • Research the Sami culture of Scandinavia and Russia.  What are their customs and beliefs?

Gingerbread Baby

  • Bake and decorate your own gingerbread cookies or a gingerbread house, if you are ambitious
  • Visit (at least virtually) the world’s largest gingerbread city in Bergen, Norway – Pepperkakebyen

Home for Christmas

  • Write a letter to a someone serving in the military who is away from home during the holidays.
  • Learn How to Draw a Moose


This post is iHomeschool Network’s A Book & Big Idea: Winter & Christmas series.

November 6, 201311

A Norwegian Christmas is filled with many celebrations and traditions, old and new. As the snow falls, the white landscape is the first sign of Christmas and Norwegians start to prepare for their long season of juletid (Christmas time), a celebration of traditions and family in Norway. With the fall of winter snow and the wonderful displays of Northern Lights, Norwegians sit around their fire places, dance around the Christmas tree on Christmas eve, enjoy rich food, and share julefryd (Christmas cheer). As this special time of year approaches, I am happy to share our Norwegian Christmas with you.  I hope you will celebrate with us by having a little bit of Norway in your Christmas.

This post may contain affiliate links. 

norwegian christmasGuests in our home during the holidays will not always pick up on the traditions we have come to incorporate into your Christmas holiday.  At first glance, there are many similarities between Scandinavian and American Christmas traditions.  Look closer, however, and you will begin to see the little touches that speak to our ancestry and love of Norway.


Advent is the Christian season marking the preparations for Christmas.  The first Sunday of Advent is the first Sunday of the Church year.  In Norway it is celebrated with Advent Candles.  Usually four candles, purple or white, sit in a candelabra or on a decorative plate.  The first is lit on the first Sunday of Advent – four Sundays before Christmas.  The first and second candle is lit on the second Sunday, and so forth.

A more recent tradition is the Advent Calendar, a tradition borrowed from Germany. Starting on the 1st of December, they are used to count down the days to Christmas. that starts a countdown from the 1st of December to the 24th with little treats and sweets hidden in its pockets.  Wall hangings with doors or pockets are most common, however, there are also many modern varieties such as boxes with drawers, a string of mini stockings, or a hanging clothesline with pegs. In our home, the kids share a calendar of felt pockets we stitched together and they each have a special advent play set of their own (Sweetie is shown with her Playmobil Forest Winter Wonderland Advent Calendar  set below).


The Barn Elf (Fjøsnissen) is a creature from Scandinavian folklore. He was often described as a short man, “no bigger than a horse’s head”, wearing grey clothes, knickerbockers and a red hat similar to what Norwegian farmers would wear. As the name suggests, the Fjøsnisse lived in the barn. Of course, he was so shy that he was hardly ever seen, but he was a good little helper on the farm as long as the farmers treated him well. Especially at Christmas he would expect to get a large bowl of porridge and homebrewed beer, in return for looking after the livestock. Often the farmers would also leave the leftovers from Christmas dinner on the table so the Nisse could help himself. But if farmers failed to keep him fed and happy, the Nisse would create mischief.

Today, Norway also has the tradition of the Julenisse, which is a combined tradition of the fjøsnisse and the American Santa Claus. The Julenisse looks a lot like the Barn Elf  and visits the home on Christmas Eve with presents and the greeting “are there any good children here?”. Often he demands the children sing to him before they get their presents, and so everyone sings På Låven Sitter Nissen (In the Barn Sits the Elf). I have written a little about the Nisse in years past (The Nisse of Norway).


There are many traditional Scandinavian Christmas crafts. In fact, it is tradition in many communities around Norway to have Christmas workshops; a time where family and friends get together for a night (sometimes one night each week leading up to Christmas) to make gift cards, tree ornaments, and table decorations.  Each year, I have tried to incorporate more and more handmade decorations into our traditions and have invited Barnesklubb friends to join us on many occasions.  Christmas Crafts Scandinavian Style is a great resource for ideas and easy to follow instructions for  Christmas crafts with a Norwegian flair.  Other traditional crafts include:

  • Gingerbread Houses ~ These are usually placed on tables or mantels for show.  They are made in early December.
  • Christmas Baskets (julekurver) are a regular feature of a Norwegian Christmas.  They are heart shaped baskets designed to hang around the house and can be filled with goodies.  They can be made of wool or felt but are usually made of colored paper or card stock.

This year, I wanted to make Christmas decorations inspired by the Finnish traditional craft of Himmeli, an ornament made of straw that is hung from the ceiling at Christmas time. I wanted to keep it natural and simple by using straw and wooden beads.  We will be crafting these with Barnesklubb next week and I’ll share with you a quick tutorial then – you won’t want to miss it.  When complete, the small ornaments will hang on our Christmas tree but after Christmas, I imagine we’ll combine them into a larger ornament and hang it somewhere in the house.


Decorating the whole house for Christmas is a big tradition in Norway.  No table is left alone, no window is left undressed and no sofa is left bare.  Christmas is an all-out decorative affair.  The German custom of having Christmas trees became common in Norway around 1900. In Norway most everyone has either a spruce or a pine tree in their living room – decorated with white lights, Norwegian flags, straw ornaments, and other hand-made ornaments for Christmas.

Lighting your own outdoor tree is a great way to put a little Norwegian into your Christmas.  To further celebrate the season, why not get the family together, hold hands and sing your favorite Christmas songs as you circle around the tree.  For an alternative, you might also consider decorating a tree for wildlife as we were inspired to do upon reading Eve Bunting’s book,  Night Tree.

Saint Lucia

Another fond memory of the season is the Saint Lucia parade at the lodge Christmas dinner.  Before dessert is served, the kids line up in the hallway – the girls donning white gowns with a sash and holding a candle (battery operated for the little ones) and the boys wear a cone shaped hat adorned with stars and hold a large glittery star on a pole.  A girl (generally the oldest) is chosen to represent Saint Lucia and wears a wreath of candles around her head (electric lights – for fire safety).  As everyone sings the Saint Lucia hymn, she leads the precession of children through the dining hall handing out treats – special Lussekatter (Lucia sweet bread/boller).

saint lucia

Lefse & Cookies

What is Juletid without Lefse and Norwegian cookies? I know not.  Since the kids were just toddlers, we have been gathering with the Sons of Norway lodge to make lefse together.  It has become a very special part of the season and we look forward to it every year.  In gathering, we also take part in a cookie exchange – baking our favorite recipes and discovering new ones.  I am saddened, however, that the lodge was unable to gather this year.  Illnesses and the loss of members who have passed have begun to take their toll.

I am disheartened and fearful. I don’t know what the future holds for fraternal organizations like Sons of Norway.  Society is indeed changing.  People are increasing busy – or at least they perceive themselves to be.  Regardless, I know that at least in our home, I will continue to incorporate little things that make the holidays special, little reminders of our ancestors and the culture of our heritage.



 This post is part of a Holiday Unit Study Hop hosted by the iHomeschool Network.