St. Lucia Day

Hello, dear readers! Today is December 13, St. Lucia Day. Many of you are here thanks to the St. Lucia Blog Procession hosted by Heather at Audrey Eclectic. Thanks for stopping by! Silver Shoes & Rabbit Holes is a little blog, mostly about children's books, but also about fun kids and family stuff in general. 

For the last two years, my daughters and I have ventured an hour northwest to Lindsborg, Kansas, "Little Sweden U.S.A.," for their annual Lucia Fest. I was so excited that this year, the festival would actually take place on the actual date! However, plans do change. My oldest daughter (9) is dancing as a mouse in the big local production of The Nutcracker, for the first time. And she is dancing tonight. With morning rehearsal and everything, going to Lindsborg was no longer in the cards. If you would like to see photos and read about our previous trips, though, you may do so here and here.

I should tell you that I'm not Swedish, nor of much Nordic descent, as far as I know. I just love Christmas and adore celebrating all sorts of different customs. To gear up for St. Lucia Day, my little girls and I have been reading holiday books (here and here) that take place in Scandinavia, and playing with new ways to decorate our home

I had other things planned to blog today. I thought I'd manage to buy a Lucia dress and wreath for the vintage Kirsten American Girl doll I found on eBay this year. I had one more beautiful book to blog about, The Christmas Wish, but I lost a day due to Nutcracker performances. (Amelie at Amelie's Bookshelf just wrote a post about it, though!) In the end, I thought I'd share the quiet morning I spent with Big Sis.

We had Lucia buns for breakfast! 

We had to be up extra-early this Saturday morning, so we made our buns last night. I've made them before, and I thought I'd try another recipe. This one was simple, and tasted delicious.

Saffron, milk, and sugar, heating on the stove.

Baking is fun. I keep a jar of yeast in the fridge.

After adding the yeast.

Big Sis thought this looked like a big ball of play-dough.

Brushing on some beaten egg.

This morning, I heated the buns just a bit, then served Big Sis and myself at the table. We both had coffee - strangely enough, we had Gevalia on hand - although Big Sis's was mostly milk.

Then it was off to Nutcracker rehearsal!

Thank you for joining us today! Have a splendid St. Lucia Day, a very God Jul!, or at the very least, a beautiful weekend, whether you're celebrating anything or not.

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Troll Love

I love winter. I love imagining I'm somewhere dark and cold and old, like Sweden or Norway or Denmark.

I also love trolls.

I'll have a final big post up later this St. Lucia Day, but I wanted to share some beautiful picture books with a Scandinavian flair.

There are trolls.

Let's start with Jan Brett, shall we?

I love Jan Brett's winter stories. The cozy colors are so vibrant again her snowy backdrops.

Christmas Trolls is about a little girl named Treva, and what happens when the family's decorations go missing. Turns out, there are a couple of naughty little trolls, who do not understand what Christmas is about. Treva takes the time to teach them about kindness and getting along, as she helps them decorate their own tree.

Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve? by Jan Brett.
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2002.

Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve? is based on an Norwegian folktale. In Brett's book, a boy and his pet polar bear are traveling from Finnmark to Oslo. They stop at a cabin to ask for food and shelter for the night. At a cabin, a girl's father sets out on Christmas Eve, leaving her to prepare the house for the inevitable invasion by trolls. The boy and the bear beat the trolls to the house, and hide as they burst in from the cellar. A troll mistakes the slumbering bear for a kitty, offering it sausage. The bear rears up and roars, frightening the trolls away. The girl's father rushes back. He tells the boy from Finnmark he and his bear are welcome any time. One day, the girl runs into the troll who tried to feed the bear. He asks if she still has her pet cat. She tells him, yes, and she has kittens now, even bigger than she. The troll cowers and says they will never visit her house again.

Home for Christmas by Jan Brett.
G.P. Putnam's Sons for Young Readers, 2011.

In Home for Christmas, a little troll named Rollo doesn't want to do his chores. He runs away, looking for a new family to join. He tries to join several different animal families: owls, bears, otters, moose.  Eventually, though, he realizes he misses his own family, and rushes home in time for Christmas.

Now, here are a couple of books that are not by Jan Brett.

This one, however, has a familiar storyline!

Sister Bear: A Norse Tale by Jane Yolen,
illustrated by Linda Graves.
Two Lions, 2011.

This warm, lushly illustrated book is based on the same folktale as Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?. The twist is that the bear and its companion are both female. Halva found the bear as a cub in the woods, and raised her to adulthood. She has taught the loyal animal to dance, and the family decides she should take the bear to Oslo to dance for the king. Traveling from Finnmark, Halva and the bear stop at a cottage for the night, but the owner tells her everyone is abandoning the building for it is Christmas Eve, and the trolls come every Christmas Eve to eat their fill and trash the place. Halva is not concerned. Everyone leaves. She and the bear eat a bit, then hide when they hear the trolls. Once again, a small, nearsighted troll mistakes the bear for a cat, and again, the bear rears up and roars, frightening away the trolls. Halva tidies things up, and the owner is so pleased the next day, he invites Halva and her family to spend every Christmas with them. When Halva runs into the troll again, she tells them that yes, she and her cat will be back next Christmas, and they will bring the cat's much larger kittens with them, too.

Lucia and the Light by Phyllis Root,
illustrated by Mary GrandPré.
Candlewick, 2006.

This lovely book is a bit different in that it is not a Christmas book, but it is one about winter. This Lucia is not the saint, but a little girl living with her mother and baby brother, high in the mountains. All is well until the sun disappears. The darkness changes their previously happy lives. One night, Lucia cannot stand it any longer. She bids a silent goodbye to her family animals, and sets off to find the sun. She will climb high up the mountains. The cat steals away with her. At one point, she almost falls asleep in the snow, but the cat saves her. As she reaches the top, she finds trolls! They claim they have stolen the sun, so they can be out and about forever. They show her how they've wrapped it up in a ball of rags. As Lucia distracts them with her tinderbox, the cat bats away the rag ball, which unfurls. Suddenly, the sun is blazing in the sky, and the trolls are turned to stone. Lucia and the cat return home, where her mother is waiting. She tells her daughter how scared and sad she was, until the sun came out. That's when she knew Lucia had succeeded in her quest. The illustrations, by Mary GrandPré of Harry Potter fame, are beautiful. Our copy from the library was a handsome one. Sadly, it seems to be out of print.

I'll share our St. Lucia Day morning with you later today!

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The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits

The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits by Ulf Stark, illustrated by Eva Eriksson (translated by Susan Beard). Floris Books, 2014.

I have something beautiful to show you today! It is an Advent storybook, first published in Sweden as Jul I Stora Skogen in 2012. This English edition was published this year by the fine folks at Floris Books - the same company responsible for all those awesome Elsa Beskow and Sybille von Olfers reissues.

The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits: A Christmas Story for Advent is divided into 25 chapters, one for each day of December until Christmas. If you follow the Floris Books blog or their Facebook page, they have been posting that day's chapter since December 1. However, we were able to check out a copy of the book from our local library. I have decided I need to purchase a copy for next year. While we have other Advent books, none are as engaging as this one. It would be a lovely new tradition!

The book opens with a little explanation:

In Swedish tradition it is a tomte (or jultomte - Yule tomte) who brings Christmas presents to children. It is traditional to leave a bowl of porridge out for the tomte on Christmas night as a special gift to thank him.
The 13 of December is St. Lucia's Day, and in Sweden, saffron buns are made to celebrate this holiday.
On December 1, you meet Grump the tomte, living on the grounds of an empty cottage, still making his rounds, despite the lack of people and animals. After spending a few days with Grump, we meet the little rabbit family, who find the tomte's hat, mittens, and signpost, after a windstorm. After the rabbits and other forest animals learn that tomtes visit at Christmas, and after learning a bit about Christmas, the animals decide the "Tomte Co" sign (which originally read "Tomte Cottage") must mean a tomte is coming to them. The animals begin to prepare for the tomte and for Christmas. Lucia makes an appearance to Grump on the 13th, telling him he will soon have two children. Beyond that, I just don't want to give the story away! Follow along at the blog, or get a hold of this book. Even if you don't fit it in this year, there is always next Advent!

Ulf Stark is a popular and prolific Swedish author. I haven't read any other books by him, but thanks to Melissa at Julia's Bookbag, I do know you can find some of his books at IKEA! The illustrator, Eva Eriksson, provided the artwork for these sweet books by Rose Lagercrantz. Big Sis and I checked them out last month, but returned them when we realized our holiday reading would take so much time. We plan to re-check them after Christmas.

The book's Swedish publisher has a YouTube of Ulf Stark reading Chapter 1, in Swedish. Enjoy!

Seriously, I think this will be a new Advent tradition in our home. The girls are loving it.

I'll have more Scandinavian-inspired goodies tomorrow, as we count down to St. Lucia Day.

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Old World Simple

It is only Tuesday, and this week already feels interminably long. Mr. B and I have caught Little Sis's cold, and Big Sis - who remains healthy (knock on wood) - is in her final week of The Nutcracker. She rehearsed last night, she'll rehearse Wednesday, she will perform twice for the local schools on Thursday, then Saturday will bring morning rehearsal and the full show in the evening. My head is swimming. I still want to bring some simple seasonal joy into the house, so this weekend, we made a few quiet old-world decorations.

I've wanted to make dried orange slice decorations since last year, but we switched to the artificial white tree, which called for a kitschy mid-century American vibe. We did, however, save our fairy branch tree, setting it on the porch for the holidays, and I decided it could use a few more decorations. (Most of the fairy dust necklaces and glitter acorns went home with Little Sis's birthday party guests.)

We usually have a big bowl of little clementine oranges in the middle of our table, this time of year. They are a favorite go-to snack. Occasionally, the bag we'll buy will have a few especially squishy or not-so-nice ones. I pulled those to make our decorations.

The internet is full of instructions for how to make these. I think this post over at  Red Ted Art  was the first one I pinned. I set the oven at 200° F, and allowed mine to dry for about 2 1/2 hours, or a little less. I think if I do this again, I'll set the oven lower (150°, maybe) and allow more time for the slices to dehydrate. It may be because I used clementines instead of large navel oranges, but mine were really starting to brown.

We didn't need to poke holes in our slices, as nature provided us some openings for our yarn.

We hung them on the tree branch that night. I think they add something sweet and colorful to our little porch.

I'm still lamenting the fact that we don't get to go to Lindsborg for Lucia Fest, this year. If money weren't so tight, I would try to head there for a little shopping excursion. The grocery store alone would be worth the trip! Alas, it isn't in the cards, so I'm trying to bring a little Scandinavian simplicity into my admittedly big, kooky holiday time.

Swedish Christmas Crafts by Helene S. Lundberg. Skyhorse Publishing, 2013.

I checked this book out from the library. There are other books out there that I'd love to get my hands on, but this is the only one I could locate in our library system. See the apple candle holders? I think I need to do that...

I'm not sure if everything in the book is especially Swedish, or just inspired by the Scandinavian look. I know that orange and clove pomanders are popular all over the place - the girls helped decorate some at the Victorian Christmas event at Old Cowtown this weekend, in fact - but we hadn't made any at home for a while. I even had some lovely cinnamon sticks in the cabinet.

Here is our table right now. I have to tell you, I'm a sucker for cloves. I love the smell, and the scent mixed with citrus fruits? Heaven. I always add extra ground cloves to my pumpkin and gingerbread baked treats, too.

I liked the look of these simple stars on ribbon, too. I moved our straw Swedish star over the dining area, and strung our own paper stars (on yarn, instead of ribbon).

This year, I checked out a lot of books about Christmastime in other countries. As always, I have a hefty stack of Scandinavian or Scandinavian-inspired tales. While the girls are at school this week, I'm prepping a few activities and picking books to get us to Saturday morning, which is St. Lucia Day. Big Sis and I have to be downtown early that morning, but I think I can swing some Lucia buns, if I do most of the work the night before. Audrey Eclectic is hosting another St. Lucia Blog Procession this year. I had a lovely time participating two years ago, and hope to link up this weekend.

So, for the next few days, join us for some Scandinavian-inspired books and activities as we prepare for St. Lucia Day, this Saturday!

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