Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

(Sort of) Counting down the days till Christmas

Posted on | November 16, 2011 | 14 Comments

I’ll start today with an admission.

We don’t really “do” Christmas in our home.

It’s not that we go out of our way to avoid it, but it’s not a celebration we wait all year for. M’s birthday is just before the 25th, we’re not a religious family, and we don’t want to be sucked in to a big cycle of (over) consumption, so all in all, Christmas is a quiet time for us. We don’t do stockings, we don’t have faith, but (of course) we can’t entirely do without books.

Findus at Christmas by Sven Nordqvist is one of the few Christmassy books that we have already enjoyed and will no doubt read ever more frequently in the coming weeks. We’re huge fans of eccentric old farmer Pettson and his cheeky cat Findus (for my reviews of earlier Pettson and Findus books click here), and in this story there’s everything we could hope for.

It’s December 23rd and after days of terribly wintry weather, finally Pettson and Findus can set about getting everything ready for Christmas Day. They’ve got so much to do; shopping, baking, felling the Christmas tree and preparing the house. But disaster strikes when out in the forest they have a sledging accident and Pettson badly hurts his foot.

Having limped back home it becomes clear that Christmas isn’t going to happen as they’d planned. They’ve almost no food in the larder and the house is bare of decoration. “Silently they sat and watched their reflection in the window against the darkness outside. It can get this quiet when things don’t turn out the way you expect.

Christmas morning arrives and a neighbour pops his head round the door to check everything is ok. When he sees the state of Pettson’s foot, and hears Findus’ wailing he steps into the breach and brings in some firewood and promises to return later with milk.

As word spreads of Pettson’s predicament, one by one neighbours rally round, each bringing a basket of delicious food. Pettson and Findus have managed to make a Christmas tree laden with imaginative decorations out of a bits and bobs they have lying around and unexpectedly the house is full of ““Merry Christmas!” and talk and laughter” as neighbours and their families stay and share good will and good cheer. Christmas turns out to be better then the farmer and his cat could have possibly hoped for.

This story is my sort of Christmas story: what really matters about this season, is not the tree, is not the rushing around like crazy trying to do too many things, but rather simply generosity, kindness and community.

The “message” shines through in a gentle but powerful way because the book is packed with humour, both verbal and pictorial. The capers Pettson and Findus get up to, from surfing over the wet floor of the kitchen, to choosing unusual Christmas presents for each other will get you giggling, whilst the affection that is so strong between the farmer and his feline friend will make you feel like hugging those near and dear to you. A pretty good way to start Christmas, don’t you think?

Pettson's shed (this image is actually taken from Findus and the Fox)

In every Pettson and Findus book there’s a special mention of Pettson’s shed, with his bench and tools spread about like treasures suggesting so many possible adventures. So we decided we’d use Findus at Christmas as our excuse to try to make something in our own tool shed.

We came up with the idea of a (sort of) advent calendar (we’ll actually use it to count down the days to M’s birthday, and next year we’ll re-use is for other family birthdays), in the form of a bookcase full of books.

First M drew up the plans.

Then we set to sawing…

…sanding

…hammering

and painting.

Next up we had to make our books. We used these wooden trinket boxes and decorated them to look like books, by drawing pages around three sides and giving them front and back covers.

These books (a little like mini versions of these hidden book boxes we made a while back) will work perfectly as places to hide hidden treats, and the birthday child will get to open one book a day in the run up to their special day.

Finally we varnished everything and then looked back to admire our bookmaking and woodwork skills!

I fear M, J and I don’t have the carpentry skills that generations of our family have had, but we certainly stayed true to the spirit of Pettson and Findus with all our botching and finding solutions to problems of our own creating! And in the end we’ve created something we’ll enjoy and re-use, remembering a good time in our tool shed, and a great book.

Whilst we made our advent/birthday-countdown bookcase we listened to:

  • Take This Hammer by Lead Belly
  • Toolbox by Recess Monkey
  • Little Wooden Tool Shed In The Garden by George Formby
  • Sawdust Saloon by The Low Anthem


  • Other activities which would go well with Findus at Christmas include:

  • Making your own Christmas tree. There are lots of ideas here (I particularly like the bookshelf one and the ladder one), here (made out of rolled up newspaper) and here (made from books). You could do a google image search for “homemade christmas tree” to find many more ideas.
  • Baking Swedish gingerbread biscuits
  • Trying Swedish Christmas porridge (somewhat like rice pudding) – here‘s a recipe.


  • Have you made an advent calendar for this year? Have you got any woodworking skills?

    Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review, however, reflect my own and honest opinion.

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    Comments

    14 Responses to “(Sort of) Counting down the days till Christmas”

    1. Karen in PA
      November 16th, 2011 @ 1:22 am

      How timely you are. My daughter and I were just discussing Christmas and not being religious but still wanting children to have the magic and spirit of the season. I’m forwarding her your post. Thanks.

    2. Zoe
      November 16th, 2011 @ 7:06 am

      Thanks Karen! I was a little nervous about being so upfront about our situation – I know Christmas is so important for many people. And like your daughter, of course I still want my kids to have the magic and the spirit (and to know why other people find Christmas so important) so we have to find new traditions.

    3. Donna McKinnon
      November 16th, 2011 @ 7:26 am

      Woo hoo! I’m in Sweden (Gothenburg) right now so I’ll have to find Findus. The books here are interesting….a lot of Moomin, and Pija Lindenbaum. Love Lindenbaum, and I will pick up a few of her books. Thanks for the suggestion. Great post.
      Donna

    4. Zoe
      November 16th, 2011 @ 7:35 am

      Aah! Donna! Why didn’t you pack me in your suitcase! Yes yes yes you MUST find findus! I look forward to hearing more about your discoveries.

    5. sophie
      November 16th, 2011 @ 10:04 am

      Hello Zoe,

      We are beginning to think about Xmas here to. To me, the advent calendar is one of the greatest thing of December and most of the time, commercial ones are not that nice (except some like this one http://www.amazon.fr/24-Pingouins-avant-No%C3%ABl-livre-calendrier/dp/2350211398/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1321437048&sr=8-12). So last year, I made one with origami paper (my “péché mignon”, as you know) and the idea was from crafty crow. This year again, I found “my” advent calendar on crafty crow. It will be like this: http://daisyjanie.typepad.com/daisyjanie/2010/12/how-to-advent-calendar-with-window-punchouts.html

      We have tried this recipe with armel, and we planned to do some more during Xmas holidays:http://www.sucrissime.com/2008/12/merveilleux-speculoos.html
      we used this to make the biscuits http://www.amazon.fr/gp/product/B004S78BF2/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_2?pf_rd_p=471061593&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B00323GCRW&pf_rd_m=A1X6FK5RDHNB96&pf_rd_r=0H49AVGJDDAK9FYVV7BM and we really had fun.

    6. Zoe
      November 16th, 2011 @ 10:17 am

      Sophie :-) Wow, so many lovely things in your comment. Yes to penguins, Yes to your choice of advent calendar – that would have been my choice too from the Crafty Crow round up – very stylish looking, and rather fun for the grownups to make I think. As to Speculaas that is part of our Dutch winter traditions – we always get some from the German market, but now I will try to make some with the recipe you’ve linked to (my French continues to improve!!). As ever, Sophie, you’ve made my day better :-)

    7. Tina
      November 16th, 2011 @ 10:55 am

      Amazing!

    8. Zoe
      November 16th, 2011 @ 11:23 am

      Thanks Tina! We love the bright colours – very cheerful!

    9. Jen
      November 16th, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

      What a great find! I will have a look for this book, as I looove Christmas despite being an atheist. I love angels too. Uh oh.

      Can I just say how happy I am that your kids are using tools? I think that’s such a great thing to pass on to one’s children. My kids love hammering when I’m on a project.

    10. Stacey
      November 16th, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

      Amazingly inspiring as always!! And I have to agree with Jen- how rare to see girls and women using tools…wonderful.

    11. Barbara
      November 16th, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

      Wonderful to see the children so absorbed. Our son, daughter in law and baby have returned to Australia so we will spend a quiet Christmas with my husbands parents. Time to recharge and relax.

    12. Zoe
      November 16th, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

      Hi Jen, Stacey and Barbara,
      Thanks for the positive vibes! The girls love using tools and I’m all for it, though I find it hard to take photos at the same time as making sure they don’t lose any limbs.

    13. Isil
      November 21st, 2011 @ 1:12 pm

      Thanks for this post Zoe.I have also been thinking about Christmas lately. Being from Turkey, we don’t celebrate Christmas at all. We are also atheist so don’t celebrate the festivals of the Muslim culture either. I don’t like the consumerism side of Christmas but as D. gets older (she will be 5 in Jan) I have started thinking although she will be a mixture of these two cultures, she won’t be celebrating anything and will she be missing out.She may understand when she is older, but I would love her to live that magic as a child. I grew up in Germany and as a child I loved the advent calendars without knowing the religious side of it. Reading your post made me feel I am not alone and I like the idea of creating our own traditions.I love the little books your girls created,beautiful :)

    14. Zoe
      November 21st, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

      Thanks for such a generous comment Isil. I definitely want my girls to have some magic and happy memories of shared traditions in their life.

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