What does Christmas mean to your kids?

posted in: Jan Brett | 5

Woo hoo! Since writing my last post it has snowed properly! The kids are thrilled, the sledge is getting daily use and the delight in the snow hasn’t yet worn off 🙂

M and J have also had their first Christmas presents of the season – the evening of December the 5th is traditionally when (“good”) Dutch children get presents from Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) and so the festive season really has begun here. To add to the Christmassy feel we’ve been reading Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett.

Somewhere in snow-covered Scandinavia it’s almost Christmas and Treva and her family are decorating their house – the tree, the mistletoe and ornaments are all in place. But one morning things mysteriously begin to go missing. An even stranger turn of events is taken when the Christmas pudding appears to scuttle across the snow.

Treva ventures out to investigate and ends up (in a scene reminiscent of Lucie stumbling upon Mrs Tiggy Winkle’s home) discovering the home of two naughty trolls who in their eagerness for Christmas to arrive have been stealing Treva’s Christmas ornaments and more.

Photo: quinet

Rather than being cross Treva enters in to the spirit of things and helps them to get ready for Christmas, first encouraging them to tidy their treehouse, then helping them to decorate it.

“Now if you really want Christmas, you must be generous with each other. If you do that, you will have Christmas right here in your troll house.”
The trolls cocked their heads and squinted. They were trying hard to understand. “How?” they pleaded.

Treva teaches by doing rather than telling, and gives the trolls her most treasured possession – an ornament in the shape of a little red horse. But have the trolls really learned what it means to give selflessly? You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out, but I can assure you a happy, generous ending completes this fun, seasonal story.

At the heart of this story there is a very clear moral message and yet it is explored with a lightness of touch and humour, without once feeling preachy – one of the hardest things to do in children’s books I think. The message – of the importance of generosity and kindness and the importance of living out these values – is also one that works well whatever your beliefs around Christmas. Like Night Tree, Christmas Trolls is a great Christmas book if you’re of a faith other than Christianity, or indeed no faith at all, or simply want a great seasonal story that doesn’t focus on Father Christmas and getting stuff.

Jan Brett’s illustrations are utterly gorgeous. Her style, full of intricate detail, works really well when she explores folk motifs – as she does in this book, with the embroidery and knitting, not only on the clothes worn by various characters in the story, but also on the reindeer’s harness. The Christmas tree decorated with ornaments is the stuff of dreams!

The red horse Treva gifts to the trolls is a Swedish Dala horse, and so that’s what we decided to make for ourselves having read the story. (I checked with Jan Brett as most online references to this book suggest that the book has a Norwegian setting, and Jan wrote back saying “The horse is Swedish, I did most of the research for the book in Norway/“)

First we made salt dough using the following recipe:

  • 1 cup salt (any cup size, just use the same cup throughout the recipe)
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 3 cups flour (any type other than self raising)

  • The girls poured the salt into a large bowl and then added the warm water and stirred so that at least some of the salt dissolved. Next they added the flour and stirred some more, eventually kneading the dough to produce a smooth and firm ball after about 5 minutes. This recipe really is easy for kids – it doesn’t’ need to be hugely accurate and the water only needs to be hand warm, so it’s a great one for just letting the kids loose on the kitchen work surface 🙂

    We used the template at the bottom of this post from Lil Blue Boo for our dala horse and, having rolled out our salt dough, we cut around our horse templates.

    We put our shapes on a baking tray in a cool oven (250 F / 120 C) and cooked them for about 1 and a half hours – quite how long it takes depends on how thickly you rolled out your dough.

    Once cooked and cooled the girls painted their horses in traditional red using acrylic paint. You could also varnish them but my girls were too eager to get playing with them…

    I can’t believe this was the first time we’ve ever made salt dough – it was so easy to make and the resulting “clay” so fun to work with and later decorate. We’ll definitely be making another batch of this soon – probably to make Christmas tree decorations just like these!

    Christmas Trolls: ** (2 stars)

    Whilst making and painting our horses we listened to this eclectic bunch:

  • Christmas Smorgasbord by the Swedish Chef from the Muppets
  • It’s Wintertime by The Hipwaders
  • River by Joni Mitchell – not a kid’s song but just a lovely piece of music that’s great to hear at this time of year!

  • Other activities which would be lovely to get up to alongside reading Christmas Trolls include:

  • Visiting Jan Brett’s website as it’s packed with goodies, for example, here’s a colouring in page featuring the Christmas trolls themselves, or you can send an e-card featuring one of Jan Brett’s illustrations.
  • Making some of the tree decorations in the most recent edition of Kids Craft Weekly – I love the instructions for using shortcrust pastry to make decorations!
  • Use up old corks to make magic trolls, with this tutorial from Disney Family Fun

  • 5 Responses

    1. Katie Fries

      Love it! I’m planning a salt dough project this weekend. Did you have issues with air bubbles in the dough as it cooked? We did the last time I made salt dough and the end result was very fragile ornaments (the kids just broke one the other day).

    2. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Katie,

      I haven’t noticed any problems with bubbles in the dough. As well as the horses we made some dinosaurs and the wing has broken off one pterosaur – but I put that down to undue force on a narrow (5mm) piece of baked dough. From what I’ve seen online kneading the dough is the important thing to get rid of bubbles – and as we make a lot of our own bread kneading is second nature for us so perhaps that’s why we didn’t appear to have any problems with bubbles…

    3. Choxbox

      Thats one cute red-jacketed person there!

      Christmas – means loads of fun. My kids are part of a carols group and are performing all the weekends this month. We have Robert Sabuda’s The 12 Days of Christmas (got from a book fair for about 20p!) so they love that one plus the other popular ones. and of course the Christmas tree and loads of cards for everyone they know.

    4. Kristine

      I’m so excited for you having snow. I did wonder about you last week when we heard about your snow on our news. Has it melted by now? I’m crossing my fingers that you will get more lovely snow to play in.

    5. Zoe

      Hi Kristine,

      It’s so lovely to hear from you! I’ve been thinking of you and hoping all is really well with you and the girls. My reader is stuck on “Salad Dressing” and everyday I hope to see something new 🙂 The snow is beginning to melt – today was the first day in a couple of weeks that it has been above freezing. I’m sure, however, there will be more snow before the winter’s out!

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