Countdown Podcast #3: 349 Days to Go!

Click on the link to hear us- Yule Log 349 to go

This week our discussion focuses on crafts you can make with the Christmas cards you received this year.  We also share some thoughts on cards in general and how our site and podcasts are catching on.  Check out the links and photos below for more details on the card crafts mentioned tonight.  Here’s the link for more information about the program at St. Jude’s- recycled card program.  Here are links to the individual crafts:

Directions for 20-point Star (time-consuming but pretty); YouTube Video of 8-point Star (easy to make–accuracy required); Simple Treat or Gift Boxes (addictive and easy enough for children); Gift Card Envelopes.  Martha Stewart’s ornaments (not pictured) are the traditional ball shape made with round circles of Christmas cards.  This was fun to make, but the dogs thought it was a toy.  No photo, but here’s the link to her directions.


Poin-SET-ee-ah or Poin-set-CHA, What do you do with them now?

Everyone loves the beautiful red leaved plants that we include as part of our Christmas decor.  The poinsettia is as much a part of the Christmas greenhouse as holly or a fir-tree.  But how did we come to include these plants as part of Christmas?  The plant is a native of Mexico and is more a small shrub or tree than a flower.  The red color is actually the leaves of the plant changing color, not petals at all.  The Aztecs used the plant to make dye for fabrics and to paint their skin.  The Christmas connection is said to originate in the 16th century with a young girl who wished to make a gift to Mary on Christmas Eve but was too poor to afford a gift.  On the way to the church she was visited by an angel who told her to pick some weeds along the road.  When she presented these at the church they were transformed into the beautiful red poinsettia plant.  In the seventeenth century Franciscan monks in Central America had incorporated the plant into the holiday season and said the shape of the plant represented the star of Bethlehem and the red color the sacrifice Jesus was to make.  The plant was introduced to America in the 1820s by our first minister to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, obviously the plant’s American namesake.

The popularity spread quickly in the US in the 20th century.  From 1900 through the early 1990s a single family, the Eckes, dominated growth and spread of the plant.  In the early days of color television the family sent free plants to news and other TV studios to use a set decoration on the air to increase popularity and demand for the plant.  In the 90s the family met new competition as the secret method they had for growing the plants so full ( a genetic hybrid) became known to all.  Since 2008 the largest producers of the plant no longer grow in the US.  Today the plants may be red, pink, or white in coloring.  Even brilliant yellow and silver varieties are grown.  There are more than 100 different varieties of the plant.  But what do you do with them from January through November?

Keeping your poinsettia plants year round is not as easy as it might seem.  This is why so many people just buy new ones each fall.  I still remember the gigantic plants my great, great aunt had at her house when I was growing up.  She diligently cared for hers and the plants were close to 30 years old I was told.  The key to keeping the plant year round is the care.  In late spring it must be cut back and then in the summer placed in bright sun to grow anew.  You must regular pinch back the new growth to keep it a stout plant and not grow to be tall and spindly.  The real challenge is in early fall when you must keep the plant in total darkness for about 14 hours a day.  Check out the great tips on care from’s gardening section- Poinsettias- Keepers or compost? .

Do you prefer donkey, sheep, ox, or camels?

In your nativity scene of course!  All of those animals have made appearances in the birth recreation.  The most traditional are the donkey and the ox.  The ox said to represent patience and the donkey represents humility.   My favorite discovery is the inclusion in some scenes of an elephant.  Personally I love the sheep.  I have very fond memories of the sheep in our display while growing up.  They were hand-made and covered with real wool.  We stored them in a small tin to protect them from any possible danger from mice or other special visitors.  I also really love the sheep in one of my current sets- they’re so happy!! (thanks to my friend Shawn for the great gift)

Whether you call it a nativity, a crèche, or simply a manger it is the traditional representation of the birth of the baby Jesus.  The depiction of the small crib in the manger with the shepherds, animals, the magi, Mary, Joseph, angels, and of course the baby come from descriptions found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.  Matthew has the star of Bethlehem and the Magi.  Luke has the angel and the shepherds.  Throw it all together and you get our take on the events.  The nativity tradition has been around for nearly 800 years.  History tells us that St. Francis of Assisi began the nativity display with a living display in the year 1223.  The practice was wildly popular and spread throughout the western world.  There are many unique cultural and regional practices connected to nativity displays.  They are as different as are people.  Spend a little time searching the web and you can view elaborate or simple creations.  (Special bonus points to readers who know of the Catalonian tradition of the caganer)  Fisher Price has a Little People display, S’mores marshmallow people have one, the Vatican has one of the most recognized crèche scenes the world over.  Check out this great candle display at savingslifestyle.  I wonder if Lego has ever considered producing a display?

Taking off from the traditional nativity scene is the more expansive Christmas village display of the Christmas Putz.  These village displays can be quite elaborate and a true sense of pride for the owner.  Locally take advantage of the opportunity to see the great Putz display at the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ.  This display is up each season during the Frederick Historic Houses of Worship tour, traditionally held the day after Christmas.  Frederick just celebrated its 25th tour- plan now to catch it in 2012. It is a great night in the downtown area and features architecture, fellowship, refreshments, and great music.

My church has a beautiful nativity scene.  The manger is front and center and the baby Jesus arrived on Christmas.  The shepherds are off to the left tending their flocks.  Slowly over the last weeks the wise men have been moving closer.  It will be exciting to see them arrive this weekend with the celebration of the feast of the Epiphany.  Tomorrow marks the final day of our 12 days of Christmas- Epiphany!!


Finally I wanted to show my newest nativity set.  I have about 9 of them and love to find unique and creative displays.  This one was a gift and I believe was discovered in the discount bin at a Wegman’s of all places!  Thanks Paula:)

What’s in a day?

So there seems to be a little bit of contention about how many days actually remain until Christmas 2012.  Counting down the days to an event or happening is always a little confusing.  Do you include today as part of the count?  Do you include the actual day?  There are plenty of ways to check your calculations or to prove your math correct.  Our official countdown is from Santa’s official countdown, located at  Here are a couple of other sites with countdowns to Christmas 2012: or  As with all countdowns it will all clear up and come together as the date gets closer.  At least with Christmas we don’t have to deal with half days or if you count the weekends like we do counting down to the last day of school.  (149 days to go for June 15th FCPS followers!)  Calculate your our countdown to any date using this site-countdownto?

On the fourth day of Christmas…

So today arrive the calling birds.  What the heck are calling birds?  I think most assume, as I did, that they are some type of ornate and beautiful song birds.  Nope.  A little digging led me to find that calling birds are just an American change in pronunciation of colly birds.  Colly birds are not ornate, not beautiful, and don’t sing.  Turns out they are just your plain old black birds.  I think I might have to let my true love know to stop delivery on those birds.

The gifts are not the same the world over.  In France on day four you might be receiving four pig’s trotters- yup, pig’s feet.  If your true love is Scottish, on day four prepare for the arrival of your grey goose.  If your gifts come from an Aussie there are a few options for day four.  Down under you might get four lyre birds, four kookaburras, or four koalas cuddling.  Not sure which of the options I’d most like to be sent, but the trotters are definitely on the bottom of the list.