My latest hand work project (and I'm not going to pretend there are a lot of them) is to make a home made advent calendar, which gradually builds into a nativity scene. This is something we have been working on in the playgroup I take Mikaela to at Liam's Steiner school - we the grown-ups that is, it's sort of a surprise for the children (though some will have been paying more attention than others).
The calendar consists of a long piece of string (a twistie actually) with 27 little packages tied to it. Each package will contain one thing to add to the nativity scene. Advent starts on Sunday 28 November this year, so that's the day for opening the first package.
The night before that, I will be setting up a little barn, made just with some pieces of bark for the roof and walls, and a few little blocks of wood to lean them on. I have a lovely piece of blue silk to set it out on. Now I just have to find a space which "can remain honoured and respected", where the kids can see and carefully touch, but where any visiting toddlers (and I'm expecting a couple in coming weeks) won't be tempted to touch too much!
Now, what will be in the packages? Well, the idea is to move through four kingdoms of minerals, plants, animals and humans (this is a Steiner concept I think*). So the first week is minerals. Stones and shells and crystals, to decorate the stable area. I have yet to scout around for these, but I don't think I'll have any trouble.
The second week is plants. So I have a few sticks of plasticine for the bases, and I plan to use some twigs and leaves and maybe some lavender and banksia flowers to be little trees and bushes.
The third week will be the animal kingdom. So far I have made a donkey and two sheep out of wool and pipe-cleaners, I have another sheep to make, and I have an echidna, a bee and a wombat, basically made out of seedpods (the bee has some yellow wool fleece twisted around it, and I will add a little white wool for the wings).
Then the last week is humans. I have Mary and Joseph already (pictured above), and half a shepherd (pictured left), and two more Shepherds to make. That leaves one day for which I will either make a star or an angel (no wise kings I'm afraid). And then the baby born on Christmas day will not be part of the calendar, but will be there when the kids wake up in the morning, in a bark manger, if I can find a curly piece of bark.
Alternatively you can have Mary and Jospeh there at the beginning and take them through a journey - now, I quite like that idea, but it would mean coming up with two more people for that final week before Christmas. Maybe I could do some wise men after all, but I don't have the materials for them at this point (and it's all gotta be finished by Saturday night, so really I should be working on the shepherds and sheep right now, not blogging!).
The book we've been using for instructions on how to make the animals is The Nature Corner: Celebrating the Year's Cycle with Seasonal Tableaux. But for the people we just had instructions from someone at the school, and I think they're a bit simpler than hers, basically just using fine wool batting, and a felting needle to "stitch" the pieces together. For the angel though, if I get to that, I think I'm going to use MamaMoontime's fleece fairy doll as a base, but I'll probably do the head the way we have for the other people, just sort of pulling a bit of the wool back over to make a smooth face.
Advent is traditionally a time of anticipation but also of preparation, of making ready for the new year. Apparently it used to be a time of fasting in the Christian calendar (I wonder if this was as well as lent, or did it move over to lent? Not that many people actually fast during lent either). I'd like to give my children some sense of reverence amid the excitement and joy of Christmas. So we'll be finding a time each day - probably right after dinner - for opening the parcel on the advent string calendar and maybe having a little bit of the story of advent. Or maybe the story will be reserved for weekend nights, I'm not sure yet.
Since we're not a strictly Christian family I'm thinking of including some other stories, from other faiths or cultures relating to this same time of year, but that's a bit further from my expertise.
The funny thing is that the idea of this being the end of the year is really predicated on coming up to mid-winter, but here in Australia we're coming up to mid-summer, which has quite a different feel to it. So although we are approaching the end of the calendar year, and, more significantly for children, the school year, seasonally speaking we're right in the middle of life. So I might need to dig out some summertime stories too.
I'll post an update with pictures when I have the initial scene set up with the advent string ready, and then I'll try take another pic at the end, when the whole scene is complete.
*According to this page about Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education:
In terms of the "kingdoms of nature," we share our physical body with the mineral kingdom, our etheric body with the plant world, and our astral body with the animals. The ego is shared with no other kingdom: only the human being carries this "divine spark" into earthly life.