Last night for Advent we read a story I have been meaning to get to for a long while…An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola. We are in the middle of studying early American History so when I spotted this little gem at the library I snapped it up. I meant to do it as a history study but time ran out and it has been sitting there on our shelf while we are busy preparing for Christmas. I finally got it down and decided to read it during our evening meal. After many false starts and warnings about paying attention (there may have been a threat or two about not getting to do the Advent calendar) we got on with the story, and what a story it was!
I have always loved Tomie’s books, especially his own children’s autobiography (which inspired me to go out to buy each child their own box of 64 count real crayola crayons). This one was no exception. His author’s note is at the beginning instead of the end and helps to set the stage for the story of how the colonists might have celebrated this special time of year. The story was simple, the illustrations wonderful, but even better it was filled with tidbits of information we never knew before. Like the bayberry bush.
Now I have heard of bayberry candles…I think I may have even smelled them at one point. I’m sure they smelled spicy with evergreen undertones. But I always assumed it was a candle scented like a bayberry (having no idea what a bayberry was). But did you know that bayberries can make wax?!?! Reading this book immediately sent me on a computer hunt. What is a bayberry? How does it grow? Can I grow it? Can you get real, authentic bayberry candles? Can I make my own? I feel another project bubbling under the skin. I know, I know…trying to slow down. This will have to be a project for next winter. But I feel it will play into my winter reading of garden catalogs! How fun to grow and make your own bayberry candles. What a new and fun concept to add to my growing list of sustainable skills to know!
Towards the end of the book, when Christmas is finally brimming, the kids were intrigued by making your own ornaments out of dough. This made me remember just having seen such a recipe in Susan Branch’s wonderful book Christmas From the Heart of the Home! If you haven’t read this book I would highly recommend it! It will instantly transport you into the Christmas season no matter how much like scrooge you feel.
We set to making dough, which the kids loved doing. The recipe is absolutely simple and the kids loved squishing, mushing, and using all the cookie cutters. My only warning is to anyone with dry winter hands. Wear Gloves!!! The cup of salt the recipe calls for works it’s way into any little nicks on the hand and stings like needles for hours, as Lily and I both came to find out later! Today we spent the afternoon painting them – interesting to say the least (will put pictures up tomorrow). Then tonight we will bake and put a clear sealer on the top. The kids are so excited to be making their own. Lily even said that painting these was better than getting a gift! All in all, I’d say this little Christmas book led to some wonderful rabbit trails for us. May it do the same for you!