Holidays Archives - Page 2 of 2 - Eva Varga

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 15, 20134

We have had a great week .. so many memories were built this week. Our usual lessons proceeded and the days surrounding each were filled with a variety of extra-curricular endeavors.

Sweetie @ AGO swim meetWe took part in a swim meet – our last for 2013.

Both kids did very well – improving on most all of their swims.

Buddy @ AGO swim meet

We took part in our third homeschool art show (which I happen to coordinate). Buddy’s Lego Minecraft entry was voted the 2nd place favorite amongst the youngers.

Homeschool Art Show

We created poppy themed art in honor of Veteran’s Day. We shared this craft with the kids at the art show and everyone made a small thank you card for the Veteran’s home which we delivered later that day.

At Barnesklubb, we learned how to create the traditional Finnish handcraft called Himmeli.

Veteran's Day Poppy Art Activity

We brought home a new friend … a Bearded Dragon (my second).  I just loved his colors – amber, light green, and variegated browns.  We named him Dué (meaning too or also in Italian).

Bearded Dragon - our new pet

At the lodge meeting, we gave a multimedia presentation on our recent holiday in China.  It was our turn to bring the refreshments so we brought snacks common in China (e.g. sesame cookies, rice cakes, lychee fruit, and moon cakes).

The kids attended a Minecraft MakerBot 3D Printing class.  I will share more about this fabulous class soon.


Homegrown Learners



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.

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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. 

March 29, 20131

I love Pinterest.  I never fail to find fun, creative new ideas for art projects, recipes, and lesson plans.  Recently, I came upon a pin linking to a blog post that described DIY Kool-Aid Easter Eggs and I knew we had to give this a try. 

After dying our eggs this way, I know we will never go back to using vinegar and those silly packaged kits.  As Chelsea said,It’s rad because all you need is Kool-Aid and water — no vinegar, no icky chemicals, blah blah blah. And it smells delicious, like a candy factory. So grab a bunch of different packets, some cups, and you’re good to go.” 


December 10, 2011

Each year in early December, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and Old Shasta State Historic Park team up to offer numerous holiday activities for families. Ever intrigued by living history opportunities, we were eager to take part.

 Our first stop was at the historic Camden Tower House, built in 1852, the Camden House is the oldest house in Shasta county.  Here, the kids cooperated together to create a Christmas wreath of evergreens. We then toured the inside of the house (though it is furnished minimally in only two rooms).  It was fun to imagine living here in the late 1800s and looking out upon the orchards.  Upstairs, we enjoyed listening to a Christmas story read aloud by a volunteer in modern clothing.

Returning outdoors, the kids selected a old-style picture postcard and used a feather quill and ink to write a seasonal greeting to a family.  We had tried to make our own feather quills some time ago … the directions had stated to bury the feather in an aluminum pan of hot sand.  We did so … but apparently the sand was too hot and the feathers blistered, warped, and burned.  The kiddos were thereby very excited to give this a go.

We then made our way to Old Shasta where we were able to walk along the row of old, nearly-ruined brick buildings.  Once the “Queen City” of California’s northern mining district, these ruins and some of the nearby roads, cottages, and cemeteries are all silent today.  Volunteers dressed in period attire introduced the kids to numerous children’s games – Hoop & Stick, Game of Graces, and Jacob’s Ladder.  Sweetie asked if perhaps we could volunteer here, “I miss dressing up and pretending I lived in 1880.”  I promised I would inquire, but sadly the park is one of several state parks slated to close in May.

We then walked down to the Blacksmith shop where kids could try their hand at forging a piece of iron into a wall hook.  Sadly, we arrived late in the day and the last visitor they would have time to tutor was just getting started.  Buddy was fascinated … as I’m sure any young boy would be … and he begged to come back another day.

We were able to dip candles, however.  As there weren’t many children at this late hour, they were even able to get back in line a second time.  Each of the kiddos brought home two hand-dipped candles.

Everyone had a great time and it was a fun way to kick off the holidays.  We hope that funding or alternatives can be found to keep the museum accessible.   

February 14, 20084

Although we had finished our unit study of China, Sweetie wanted to have a Chinese New Year Party to commemorate her studies. We thereby left all her ‘China’ projects out for display and hung paper lanterns for decorations. We invited the neighborhood kids to join us in the celebration. Unfortunately, most came down with a bug and were unable to come to the party. It was therefore a small but very relaxed atmosphere.

newyear2009When the party guests arrived, Sweetie greeted them at the door with “Ni hao”, dressed in her Mulan costume from Halloween ’06. The kids then got started on a couple of craft projects: a paper kite (the Chinese were the first to fly kites) and paper lanterns just like those that hung from the ceiling. I was very pleased that everyone enjoyed the activities and worked well together. Buddy was the only one who wasn’t interested in crafting, instead he took a few photographs and wandered about visiting with his friends.

When the kids finished their projects, they gathered in the living room and watched an episode of Sagwa that I had recorded the day before. My kids love Sagwa! I had tried to get the book from the library (I had checked it out previously) but when we checked on Monday, not a single book about China or the Chinese New Year was available.

While they were engaged in the story, I finished preparing our afternoon snack: pot stickers, egg rolls, and BBQ pork. I encouraged everyone to at least try everything but ensured them that they didn’t have to eat it if they didn’t like it. The BBQ pork was a big hit – the egg rolls, less so.

Following our meal, we ventured to the front yard and enjoyed a dozen or so fireworks that I had left over from the 4th of July (we didn’t get the opportunity to use them in the summer – too dry). This was by far the highlight of the afternoon.

When the kids departed, I gave each a Chinese to-go container with shredded metallic red paper, a fortune cookie, a small firework, chopsticks, a pencil and a Valentine chocolate heart (I had them handy!). The treat boxes were adorable and the kids loved them! Another party success!