Project Gingerbread Nativity

Christmas in the Belfast Clutterbuck household has a very strong emphasis upon nativity sets.

Long-term friends and readers will be aware that for some time, my mother has been collecting nativity sets from around the world. She receives them as gifts, and we’re always on the lookout for interesting new ones. I haven’t counted them (yet) this year, but we must be approaching 60.

This year, one of the new nativity acquisitions (there have been several), was a Nativity Gingerbread set. I can’t remember which of us discovered it via Twitter, but it was a set of biscuit cutters from (of all places) Urban Outfitters [it’s now out of stock and I can’t find it anywhere else online]. The basic premise is simple, you make dough, cut out nativity themed biscuits, and assemble.

We decided it would be a fun activity for Christmas Eve – Mim and I would take over the college kitchen (leaving our Mum with the house kitchen in which to complete important Christmas food preparations) and within a few hours our project would be complete. It didn’t quite turn out like that. Sure, the gingerbread making was simple, as was the cutting out and baking. Where things got tricky was with the decoration and the assembly…

Project Gingerbread in action

Unlike a gingerbread house, there was no structure to hold together with royal icing [incidentally, my first attempt at making this substance was a triumph] – according to the box, the stable and figures were simply meant to stand around, stuck down with the icing. This, you can imagine, is rather tricky. Fortunately, while cutting the dough, I had an inspired idea. Two inspired ideas in fact:
1. That the manger ought to be three dimensional, in order to facilitate the placing of the baby Jesus within it.
2. That the stable needed doors. We had a cutter for the back of the stable. Cutting out a second, and cutting it in half, and sticking it to the back created an area in which to place the figures.

This meant that when things got tricky with the royal icing and gingerbread magi/shepherds, we could simply prop them up. Genius team work. Here’s the result:

Project Gingerbread Nativity

The method was simple – we used Mary Berry’s recipe for a Gingerbread House, recently demonstrated on the GBBO Christmas Special. We used half the quantities for the gingerbread, and had more than enough. For the royal icing we used a third of the quantity needed for the house, but might have needed more than that, had we chosen a more elaborate form of decoration for the figures. As for the colour, it’s fondant icing, conveniently packaged in a pack of the ready-made variety. And it’s all brought together on a bread board.

Obviously, in the picture above, a key piece of any nativity is missing. Have no fear, we were not going to let that state of affairs persist come Christmas Day. (No nativity should include Jesus prior to that date.) With our creative manger, there was scope for a creative Jesus – so we went for marzipan. Voila, an almond paste deity:

Marzipan Jesus

It was a fun activity, but perhaps could do with being spread out over a couple of days, rather than crammed into Christmas Eve. It was also lacking a few key features – including a Jesus cutter and an angel. We created our own angels (though the addition of them to the scene would have compromised its structural integrity); found a pig cutter (for extra livestock); and attempted to create a sheep via a combination of the pig cutter and a scone cutter (unsurprisingly, this did not work).

Perusing Google image results for ‘gingerbread nativity’, it would appear that there are other kits on the market, so it may be possible to find your own next year…

[In case you’re wondering, it’ll be dismantled at my parent’s ‘Kings Feast’ on the eve of Epiphany.]

Fractionally more Festive Friday Fun

The problem with working in a church at Christmas time is the lack of screen time it involves. (This is the first time my trusty Macbook has been touched since Tuesday night – shocking…) This lends itself neither to blogging or discovering Friday Fun, but here are few things I’ve found along the way.

Firstly, it seems obligatory for Call Me Maybe to be parodied by anyone and everyone. Inevitably, the Christmas season has barely begun and already we have a nativity version – Call Me Mary

One of the best lines would have to be “And all the Catholic boys are gonna parade me, ‘cos I’m a virgin, and I’m having God’s baby.” Got to love those Christian parodies!

The ridiculous/alternative nativity set theme has continued with aplomb this week – both online and in the real world. (I noticed on my way home last night that the local Funeral Directors now has quite an impressive nativity scene laid out in its window. Cheery.) Favourites have included:

What I like to call the Bill & Ted nativity. (Found here.)
Nativity in outer space. 
(Found here, where you can also find out how to make your own.)

Mexican NativityMy friend Amy’s Mexican ‘nativity within a Mexican man’ nativity. I’m sure there are all sorts of theological interpretations to make from this…

And, simply because I’ve told the story of this particular nativity countless times over the last couple of weeks, here’s my mother’s famous Inuit nativity:

Yes, that’s a polar bear. I think the Greek gospels may have been mis-translated somewhat and neglected to mention this particular creature’s presence at the birth of our Lord.

Finally, here’s something more dramatically amusing – as in it’s quality drama, as opposed to sheer ridiculousness. This is some people I know’s entry to the annual Nativity Factor competition and I have to say, would have featured here if I hadn’t known the person playing the Angel Gabriel…

Fractionally Festive Friday Fun

As it’s December, I will finally allow myself to share some of the festive fun that’s accumulated over the last few weeks. (Don’t think I take this blogging business seriously, there are rules people!! Yes, they’re entirely of my own making, but it’s always nice to have structure…)

Firstly, Advent season means that it’s absolutely ok to be listening to Mariah Carey on a regular basis. There are many interpretations of her Christmas classic, but the version below is beautiful in many, many ways:
1. She’s singing live and virtually a cappella, which is an impressive feat and just goes to show that whatever else Mariah may bring to the table, she has a pretty amazing voice.
2. There are children’s instruments providing much of the accompaniment.
3. There are children singing. (And one of them is wearing cute headgear.)

Before you accuse me of being rather secular in my Christmas fun, to counterbalance Mariah, here’s the ever-lovely Swingle Singers singing O Holy Night. Regular and truly devoted readers might recall that two years ago I posted a video of this arrangement performed by the Swingles at my old church. As carol service Sunday approaches, I am grieving the absence of the St Mary’s carol service spectacular in my life, and watching this enables me to imagine for just a few moments that I’m sat on a stage, the smell of evergreen and candles all around, and that lovely singing men in lovely jumpers are right in front of me. (Plus, the video’s filmed on Hampstead Heath which was the destination of choice for family Christmas walks when I was a child. The whole thing is Christmas in a nutshell.)

Finally on the Christmas front, it would be wrong not to point you towards the 42 worst nativity sets – particularly as countless people have sent the link my way, given the family’s obsession with nativities. I did mention it last year, but this year there are a few new ones, the most notable of which has to be the Tampon Nativity…

Tampon Nativity

Fear not! You can make one yourself – full instructions can be found on the Tampon Crafts website (tagline: “for any time of the month”, the hilarity). There, you can also learn how to create a whole lot of Christmas crafts (snowflakes, bells, lights…) plus a few less Christmassy creations, like a tampon blowgun; iTampon; and truly disturbing heart earrings. Personally, feminine hygiene products are pricey enough without buying additional ones for craft purposes, but maybe if you’ve got a stash that need using (e.g. you’ve recently entered the menopause or acquired a MoonCup), perhaps it’s worth exploring?

This leads us nicely into the realm of non-Christmassy fun (after all, there are still 3 Sundays left in Advent). This morning, I’ve discovered possibly the most British corner of the internet – a combination of the tube map, the shipping forecast and a cup of tea:

Finally, some fun that is slightly more niche than usual. Many, many months ago, I had my first experience of eating snails – in fact, it will probably be my only experience of eating snails. It was at the start of our Easter trip to Chateau Duffy and four of us had a somewhat epic night out on the cobbles of Montmartre. At around bottle of wine three or possibly four, I was persuaded to sample escargot – an achievement given that I’ve always had fussy eater tendencies (though these have diminished considerably over the last three years). A friend filmed it, and I finally got my hands on a copy of the video last night, when their presence in my flat enabled us to AirDrop the rather large file. It’s a little long, because snails are tricky creatures to release from their shells, so if you just want the image of my face while I’m chewing it, go to around the 2.50 mark…

I feel I should apologise for some of the language used by my fellow diners. It’s also worth looking out for the hot beardy French man sat at the next table…

I suspect that as we draw nearer to Christmas, Friday Fun will increase in its festiveness, but for now, I think it’s good to remember that there’s more to life than Christmas insanity.

Friday Fun with a Festive Twist – Week 4

It’s Christmas Eve-eve, and still there are fun things to share…

Firstly, in honour of the fact that I joined my family for Christmas yesterday (and the remaining bits of it fly in today), how about some awkward Christmas family photos? I am so glad the family photo Christmas card isn’t as much of a thing in this country as it is in America, but at the same time, it does provide a good many laughs. This site brings together the best from a few classic sites – including previously mentioned Awkward Family Photos and Awkward Family Pet Photos – but with a running Christmas theme. Some are just simply hilarious, others go to show that what seemed like a good idea at the time isn’t necessarily good in hindsight.

A couple of my favourites related to families who thought matching outfits were appropriate:

Christmas jumpers are always good, but so many and so gender distinct?!

Similarly, I’m all for Christmas PJs, but this is just wrong. 
(Incidentally, think about the fact that this was taken in a studio, not their home.)

Being with my family for the festivities also means that I’m occupying a house containing 33 nativity sets (fret not, nativity fans, much more will be made of this after Christmas Day’s past), and this provides me with an excuse to share a few more nativity story gems. It’s particularly good to retell Bible stories in unusual, captivating ways and with materials found in most homes – so how about a jam nativity?

Yes, it’s surreal and ridiculous, but it’s a condiment nativity – what’s not to like? Slightly less ridiculous is the Sat Nav-itivity (another entry to this year’s Nativity Factor contest) – explaining why it was that the Wise Men were so late to the party:

Finally, it turns out you can have fun with Christmas tree decorations too – apparently not everyone takes them as seriously as my family does. I was entranced by the tale of a woman whose grandmother made her Christmas decorations from clothes-pegs every year – especially once I saw the photos. You can create a fun game from the accompanying Flickr set and see if you can work out what the pegs were meant to represent.

I have no suggestions for the one on the left…

Lastly, something that’s not so much fun as beautiful. This is what passes for a ‘last minute’ animation from a fellow Vicar School student and it’s stunning. The nativity in silhouette:

May your Christmas be festively fun and special.

Friday Fun with a Festive Twist – Week 3

This week has been the week of the carol service – services in fact. One last Sunday, one on Tuesday (featuring Rupert Everett, *swoon*) and the final one this Sunday, when the children of the parish will get involved. Children are, of course, a crucial element of the Christmas festivities – the birth of Christ cannot be celebrated without at least one tea-towel clad shepherd…

Plus, the involvement of children lends itself to fun, of varying qualities. Friends down-under are particularly good at utilising their children well. Last year I featured their Christmas Story, this year they’ve made a prequel featuring some Old Testament classics. Personally, I think the Bible sounds particularly good when read in a Kiwi accent.

Then there’s the humble church nativity complete with tinsel and very enthusiastic children. The following video comes courtesy of my sister who probably felt a sense of comradeship with its star – I’m sure she may have done something similar in her youth. This is a brilliant example of why the words “sing up” should be used with caution around small people:

You will now have “Ohhhhh yes, believer!” in your head for the rest of the day. I do not apologise for this, but to help you remove it from your brain, I give you this – a Christmas Medley from the end of a central London carol service last Sunday. A few tears were shed at the weekend as this was the first year (in 6 years) that I wasn’t part of this extravanganza, and things just weren’t the same. But thankfully several people did a lot of videoing and thus I can experience all the best bits via YouTube.

Oh, and just to show that they did perform some religious music, here’s O Holy Night (it didn’t have quite the effect on me that last year’s version did, but that’s because there wasn’t a hot bearded man singing the solo…):