Seasonal Myth-Busting - What *Not* to Do with the Kids

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By Jodi Bartle

The Christmas season was, once again, foisted upon us since late October, with the supermarkets dedicating entire expensive shelf space to mince pies and ever-more odd Blumenthal concoctions. 

At some point, you have to either get on board with it all or move to another country.

Anyone with eyes or ears or noses won’t be spared the Christmas telly advert wars or the Regent Street lights or the God-awful Starbucks offerings - and now we have access to social-media-enabled Competitive Christmas, where you can’t help but scroll through Pinterest set-ups so cosily staged that you feel your own Christmas will be a bit crap in comparison, not least of which because you don't yet have a theme for this year’s tree.

There is a terrible smugness-element to some of this stuff. The idea that Christmas should be about excellent quality family time, with families making good use of dark winter evenings reengaging with seasonal activities like baking and home made crafts to give away as presents, making memories and traditions, etc etc; well, yes! That is all quite wonderful. But it is also a lot to live up to.

Over the course of twelve long years as a parent, I’ve given quite a few of these things a go, swayed by the shops and the magazine supplements and the Instagram triumphs of others less crap with a glue gun than I - and there have been tears, missed deadlines, broken shards of gingerbread, burnt fingers (and self-belief).

Let me take you through five seasonal activities that I’ve tried and failed at - the kind of Christmassy larks that just might be better off left to patient, kind people who have capacity for managing disappointment and housing endless crafting supplies.

1. Decorations Made with Upside Down Old Glass Jars

You know the ones - there’s a YouTube video always doing the rounds. You save all of your jam jars, go buy some tiny bauble/reindeer/elf, glue gun it to the lid upside down, fill the jar with water and then also something difficult that you need to go to a pharmacy for - maybe glycerine?  Add some glitter, put the lid on, turn it upside down and you have the most MAGICAL jam-jarrish snow globe ever!

So last year I saved my jam jars up, put them in the cupboard out of the way where the potatoes and onions live, and slowly, over the course of the year, lost the lids. When I finally looked into the dark recesses of the cupboard, I just saw useless empty jars and a forgotten onion that had grown a kind of worrying rooty tree.

Verdict: Not worth it - you’ll never remember to buy the glycerine. Just recycle those jam jars like ordinary people (and clear out your cupboards more frequently).

2. Gingerbread Houses

Years ago, my excellent pastry-chef friend Neradah came over to my place and baked proper  gingerbread with my small toddlers with all the patience of someone who didn't have kids yet. She got them to help her mix the dough, to roll it, shape it, and eat the little extra pieces. Then they waited until it was cool, and decorated them, and they looked and smelt amazing, proudly displayed on the mantlepiece like we were a proper Christmassy family.

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I have never been able to match this baking wizardry, and so for years I have just bought the gingerbread kits from IKEA or Flying Tiger. I go for these because they are quite cheap - but cheap means thin, and thin means they are probably a bit broken by the time you open up the packages. One year we spent Christmas in a cottage in Devon, and by the time we had driven there, the gingerbread kits were more like gingerbread demolition sites.

I made up some egg white glue icing and they tried to stick the biggest broken bits together to make festive Rio De Janeiro slum-houses, but the thinness of the biscuits meant that they kept breaking into smaller and smaller bits. We just ate them and felt sad.

Verdict: Just get Neradah around again.

3. Homemade Cards

In the interest of not wasting stuff, I used to keep my old Christmas cards and put them into a big box with the idea that one cold wintery December weekend we could cut them all up and fashion new cards from the old ones into cool mosaics featuring fragments of a cutout baby Jesus, fat Santa and wintry glittered landscapes.

Each year as the old cards piled up I have forgotten about making the home made cards and have instead regularly panic-bought multipacks from Waitrose. The homemade card-making sessions have never, ever happened, and if I am brutally honest with myself, they never will, especially now that the kids keep stealing my glue sticks to melt down and make slime with.

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Verdict: This is a lovely idea, but best left for people whose ideas stretch to timely action. Also, if you are the sort of person who would only actually send homemade cards off in time for a delivery in mid-Jan, then really, what’s the point?

4. Family Photo Calendars

These, as far as I can see, require careful curation of the year’s best photographs, ideally seasonally themed (you know, a pumpkin-related photo of the family for November, something Easter-ish for March) and sent to a calendar-producing company in time for it to be made, printed and sent back to you in time for you to sent it to your loved ones (who probably have about seven of these calendars already from family members both better at the curation and the timing that you are).

Are you really *that* good at thinking ahead? No one needs ten unsent family 2018 calendars sitting around in a cupboard reminding you of your time-tabling shortcomings, do they?

Verdict: Leave the Family Photo Calendars to people who manage their time better. Console yourself with the fact that many people like to choose their own calendar, perhaps a vintage-car-themed calendar for those who like vintage cars, or a inspirational quotes calendar for those who like a bit of deep contemplation each month. Think of your Family Photo Calendar failings as really a blessing in disguise.

5. Nativity Scene

About five years ago I bought the Playmobil Nativity Set because it was a cute and kid-friendly  take on the Bethlehem biz. It was ordered online and set up on a shelf low enough for the little ones to see it but high enough to stop them fiddling and losing the pieces.

But I underestimated how much the little ones (and the big ones) would want to fiddle with it, and so the baby Jesus is missing (now replaced with a Lego lady) the donkey and sheep have been replaced by a dinosaur and two lions, the Three Wise Men are now reduced to One Young Playmobil Guy, and the dove has long since been vacuumed up the Hoover.

I have tried to keep the set in its original box with all the instructions, especially since the camel has a complicated arrangement of luggage and saddle, but there’s only half of them to be found, and someone trampled over the box and it doesn't do up properly. I did a bit of research into replacing individual bits via eBay but it was prohibitively expensive and I knew, I JUST KNEW, that those replacements would also vanish into the dusty, mysterious ‘Upside Down’ of the kid’s beds.

Verdict: Go to church to view the massive Nativity Scenes which will be more impressive than any plastic set at home could ever be. And give up on the idea of unbroken, untouched things that stay in a ‘set’ until the kids leave home.

What's your 'favourite' Christmas activity with the kids disaster?