Star Christmas cards

There seems to be a bit of a star theme going on on this blog this Christmas! First there were the cupcakes we made for my friend’s sister’s charity fundraising efforts, then Andrew’s nativity play costume, and now these homemade cards. One of my reasons for choosing a star as the shape to feature on the cards was that I wanted to use the finger paints that I bought last year (they seem to last ages, even having used them a few times since last Christmas) to do some potato stamp painting, and a star is a shape that is both Christmassy and simple enough that I could easily make a potato stamp using a star biscuit cutter that we have. Plus Andrew is a big fan of stars, particularly the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, so I knew he’d enjoy making cards with stars on.

Potato stamp cut with biscuit cutter and knife is ready to roll (or stamp!)

Potato stamp painting is something I haven’t done for a long time, and it reminds me of early school days. It’s such an easy and cheap way to make your own stamp – a baking potato cost me about 30p, and we already had a star cutter for making biscuits and playing with play dough. I cut the potato in half, and pressed the cutter into it and took it out again; I then cut out the potato from around the edges of the star to the edge of the potato, to a depth of about 0.5cm.

Andrew enjoying helping me paint the stamp before pressing it onto the paper.

The paint we used was some blue finger paint that came as a set of 4 pots (with red, yellow and green too). We stamped one blue star into the centre of A5 orange paper (A4 cut in half) – blue and orange are complementary colours, so the star stands out well on the background. Once the paint was dry, we stuck some glittery mini star stickers randomly around the big star, to make it look like a starry sky (with a bit of imagination 😉 ). Then to assemble the cards, I chopped a 1cm border off each edge of the orange paper, and stuck it down using double-sided tape onto A4 brown thick card folded in half.

11 stars drying overnight on our kitchen floor.

I always like to make (or buy) my Christmas cards with a design that reflects the real reason for Christmas, rather than something seasonal like snowmen, robins or holly. That was another reason for choosing a star – it was a star that marked the place where Jesus was born, so it had a vital role in the first Christmas. To go with this star design, I printed the text of a Bible verse that tells of the Magi’s (or ‘kings’ or ‘wise men’ as they are traditionally known) encounter with the star that shone over Bethlehem:

The star the Magi had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Matthew 2:9-10

We then stuck this verse onto the inside of the cards, the opposite side to where I wanted to write the greeting. I used a silver pen to write on the brown card. And that’s all there was to our card making, pretty simple really, but something Andrew could get involved with and enjoy doing!

A finished card, ready to write and send!

A starry role

At less than 2 years old, Andrew took part in his first nativity play this year. For our church (Holy Trinity, Cambridge), the children’s nativity play is an annual tradition. Since we started going there over 6 years ago, Tom and I have always enjoyed watching the play and seeing how excited the children are to take part and reinact how Jesus came into this world as a baby. We hoped that the day would come when our own children would be involved too, though I thought it would be a couple more years yet.

My little star! (after the play had finished - it wasn't a solo)

Until last year, the youngest children taking part were about 3 years old, as that was the age when toddlers graduated from the creche on Sundays to the youngest Children’s Church group, where they learn about Jesus through reading the Bible, making crafty things and singing kids’ worship songs. Recently, however, the creche has split into two, because there are so many young families with babies and toddlers at the church now that the room was getting overcrowded and toddlers couldn’t play as freely as we’d like because there were young babies playing on the floor too. Now there is a group for 18-month olds to 3-year olds (and the creche is just for babies up to 18 months old); it’s mainly a group for play, just like creche but with toddler-specific toys, but they also sing songs and read simple Bible stories together. This is a great transition from creche to the older Children’s Church groups.

This year is the first Christmas that the 18-month plus group has been in existence, and the leaders decided they were brave enough to include these little ones in the annual nativity play. Their role was to be a chorus of stars, and they sang a version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star which was adapted with an extra verse which describes how it was a star that guided visitors to Jesus after he was born.

Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky

But there was no pressure, they didn’t have to do it, and could go up to the front with a parent if they liked. Andrew was happy to go up on his own and sat just in front of a leader, looking at us in the congregation. He was unaware that Granny and Grandad were also in the congregation, up on the balcony, just in case he caught a glimpse ans would have rather gone and sit with them than sing.

So, to make my little star into a real good looking star, I set to and made my very first costume for a nativity play. It’s been an easy start, easing myself in gently to the world of kids’ costume making; I’m sure future years will bring times of more complicated animal and people costumes that will require more imagination and trips to scour various charity and craft shops. Have you made any nativity play costumes? I’d love to hear from anyone who has, especially if it was a bit unusual or complicated.

Here’s a quick guide to how I made the costume. I bought a long-sleeved white t-shirt from our local supermarket (in fact it came as a pack of three, with bright green and blue ones too). I made a star stencil by printing from my computer a star shape drawn from the shapes available in LibreOffice word processing software, and cutting out the star to leave the A4 card with a star shape in the middle. Using this stencil and some yellow fabric paint that came in a set of 6 colours from a craft shop, I painted a star onto the t-shirt. A quick iron to make it colour-fast… et voila, a simple star costume! He wore it with some plain black trousers (he doesn’t have any light coloured trousers – who would put such a thing on their toddler other than someone who likes doing laundry?!)

Star printed out on card, ready to cut out the grey bit from the middle
Stencil held in place on fabric with selotape at each corner. Also there's a scrap piece of card undreneath the fabric where the star is, in case the paint leaked through, but it didn't.
Painting with the stencil to get a nice clean line around the star
The finished costume

Chocolate and marzipan star cupcakes

When an email popped into my inbox the other day, from a friend asking if anyone could bake cakes and/or sell them to help her and her sister raise money for charity, I thought that I could help. Baking is a great way to keep Andrew from getting bored and makes a change from the DVD and youtube watching that goes on at the moment. And we get to help raise some money, so it makes it even more worthwhile. The charity they’re fundraising for is Asthma UK, which supports asthma sufferers and their families. My friend’s sister is asthmatic herself, and despite this she is running the London marathon in April as part of her fundraising efforts too – now that sounds much harder than baking cakes! 

As it’s nearly Christmas, I decided to go for something a bit festive but not the traditional mince pies etc. as we already have so many of them at this time of year. I think it’s easier to sell little individual cakes rather than whole ones or slices of whole ones, so I went for cupcakes. They are chocolate sponge, with chocolate chips, and have a marzipan star on top (that’s the festive twist, in both flavour and shape!) The star is held on with a bit of buttercream icing, and on top of the star there is a little swirl of glittery purple icing to finish it off. The sponge has ground almonds in, partly to make it a nice moist sponge, partly to blend with the flavour of the almonds in the marzipan. Oh and the cupcake cases are silver, to make them extra sparkly for the festive theme.

Andrew enjoyed helping me – he stirred the mixture a few times at different stages, and he rolled out marzipan and cut out stars (his favourite job). During our baking session, I noticed that he has a new phrase to say: “Mummy do it” and, more often, “Andrew [A-tar] do it”. I’ve given the recipe below, if you’d like a bit of inspiration to have a go at your own Christmassy cupcakes. This made 16 cakes. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 170g sugar
  • 170g margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks (or ready done chic chips)
  • ready to roll yellow marzipan
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • glitter sugar

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and place 16 cupcake cases into muffin tins.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs until well combined.
  4. Add the four, cocoa, ground almonds and baking powder, and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases to about two thirds full.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  9. Meanwhile make the buttercream icing by mixing the butter and icing sugar until smooth and stiff; then add the splash of milk to make it a little less stiff and a good consistency to work with.
  10. Spoon a small blob of icing (at this point without colour) onto each cupcake; then add the glitter sugar to the remaining icing (I chose a purple glitter sugar).
  11. Roll out the marzipan to a few millimetres thick on a board dusted with icing sugar.
  12. Cut out 16 stars, and press them down quite firmly onto the top of each cake.
  13. Finish by putting the remaining glitter icing into a piping bag and piping a small swirl onto the top of each star.