So, the magical month of the year is just around the corner. Apart from magical, December is also the month that most of us suffer from excessive stress caused by dinner planing, family gatherings, kids having no school and the weather being too cold to lock them in the garden the whole day. For those of us having kids, there is an extra dose of fun involved, as the kids are usually stuffed with sugar these days, hence acting even more crazy than usual and having sugar crashes that translate into tantrums too.
If you live in the Netherlands, like we do, the “fun” starts as early as 11th November. That’s when we celebrated Sint Maarten this year. The kids go door to door singing complete nonsense and people hand them out candy. If your kids are young you can throw most of it out but by the time they are 4, Dutch kids are already really good at counting candy. So your best bet is to try and enforce rules like “one candy per day from the Sint Maarten basket. Only after dinner”. Then, around 17-18th November the holy man of choice for the Dutch, Sinterklaas, arrives on a steamboat from Spain together with his
black slaves shoot-stained helpers, who start leaving small gifts in the children’s shoes every few days, till the big gift-giving occasion, the Sint’s birthday, on the 5th of December. The kids need to leave food for Amerigo (the Sint’s horse) and a drawing in their shoes to get the stuff (small toys) and the staff (sugar in all forms, from chocolate letters to small cinnamon-flavored cookies and chocolate coins). And then of course it’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve and that means tons of dinners with friends and/or family and brunches with the friends that couldn’t fit in your house during the dinner and so on and so forth.
We are trying to keep things more sane this year in our household, so we do significantly less sweets, not reminding Loulou Maya to put her shoe (though she knows there is no Sinterklaas, she loves the tradition). We also have hidden the Sint Maarten basket in the pantry and it is “out of sight out of mind”. In this whole spirit of keeping consumerism out of the holidays as much as possible, we are skipping advent calendar and made our own December calendar instead.
You will need:
- 1 cup flour. We used chickpea flour ’cause that’s what we had at hand, but any flour works.
- 2/3 cups salt.
- Warm water.
- Paint (we used acrylic, not sure how other paints work on this flour dough).
- A day marker or 31 of them. You could either move the marker along the dates or put a marker in a spot each day. We are using acorns, stones from our summer holidays in Greece and small crystals.
- In a bowl mix the flour with the salt.
- Slowly add water and start kneading till you have a clay-like dough that doesn’t stick on your hands.
- Make a thick snake and roll it into a spiral.
- Use your thumb to make 31 dents.
- Bake at 80-100 C until dry.
- Paint however you like.
A note on painting: I love green so I started the spiral out with green, making it darker as we approach the 21st of December, the shortest day and longest night of the year here in the Netherlands. Then I started using lighter shades, as we very slowly start getting out of the darkest spot of winter and moved onto yellow and red, the colors of fire and lights and celebration. I marked special dates like the 5th of December, the 21st and Christmas with small dots. That will help the kids have a visual guide of “how many days till…”.
As I mentioned, you can use just one marker and move it every day but my idea is to just add markers and offer a variety to the kids (and us, adults) to choose from, based on how that specific day went. So on a very happy day we could put a sparkly semi-precious stone and on a boring or dull or challenging day we could put a darker stone or a dark seed. That way at the end of the month we will also have a visual representation of how the month went and we can reflect on it. My idea is to put a candle in the center of the spiral and shortly light it in the evening, as we put the marker in place but with Vera Jo being the crazy, self-destructive toddler that she is, we might have to skip that for this year.
What are you doing to keep track of time this crazy time of the year?