Create a Scene

Remember the once loved dolls’ house/train set that was consigned to an attic along with your school reports and the cute shoes you wore when you were one? Well, miniatures haven’t stopped being charming and this season, though it pains me to say it, there’s a trend for not putting a candle into a lantern and instead creating a little seasonal tableau within its glass walls.

This is not as easy as it looks. There’s a real danger of stepping over the line into twee, naff or decidedly eccentric.  The key to making it work is to keep it simple. You’ll need a large modern lantern with clean lines and clear glass walls; the storm lantern below is ideal. Outdoor scenes work best. Use a lot of faux snow and greenery then add a stag deer, a lamp post or a timeless form of transport. Just don’t over do it, aim for Nordic simplicity rather than Victorian kitsch.

Storm lantern with snow and fir trees

Snowy pines inside a storm lantern

Alternatively, go traditional; swop the snow for sand and hay and add a few farm animals and a manger. Shepherds, camels, kings, an angel and a star in the East?  Bit more tricky.

Finally, smuggle some light into there if you can; tiny LEDs with a buried battery case work well and miniature lamp posts with real working lights are magical. Please note, though, that no LED is a magical as a candle and these lanterns do look their level best when there are lit candles nearby adding movement and warm reflected light.

If twee, naff or decidedly eccentric hold no fears for you then by all means follow your heart. You could add a flying snowman, a lion, witch and wardrobe or two singing Disney princesses. Or use what’s to hand. An angel, a dinosaur, a tardis… If it’s the only scene that’s created this Christmas you’ll be doing really well.

How to Make Ice Lanterns

You know how, because it’s Christmas, it’s perfectly acceptable to stay in your pyjamas until noon, hide scrabble tiles between sofa cushions, lose count of glass refills/days of the week and pretend the dessert was all your own work?

No?  Well it is.  And because it’s a stubbornly mild Christmas here in the Westcountry, it’s also okay to cheat improvise a little when making ice lanterns to welcome your guests in from the cold. Cold-ish, that is. You can make the lanterns in the freezer and they will still look entrancingly beautiful because nothing quite works like combining fire with ice.

You will need:

  • a bucket or plastic food container
  • freshly cut evergreens or herbs (try using spare branches from your Christmas tree)
  • a drinking or votive glass
  • masking tape
  • tealights or small pillar candles
  • distilled or filtered water (optional)

Basket of greenry1.  Attach the glass to the centre of your bucket/container with the masking tape as seen in the picture below. Secure it so that there’s a nice gap between the bottom of the glass and the bottom of the container.

2.  Push the greenery down in between the glass and the container and pour water in around the leaves. Use distilled, filtered or twice boiled water if you’d like the ice to be clear. Leave room for the water to expand as it freezes and do a bit of rearranging of the leaves as necessary. You could also add berries, sliced fruit, flowers, stones, glass pebbles or shells.

Making ice lanterns, pouring the water

3.  I happen to know that one reader of this blog lives in Alaska. If this is you (I’m sorry, I don’t know your name), then pop your container outside for about ten minutes. For everyone else, it’s time for the most challenging part of the process which is making space in a festively packed freezer. You may need to eat some of those mince pies.

4.  When the water is completely frozen (it takes about 24 hours) and you’re ready to use the lantern, remove it from the freezer and remove the masking tape. Then remove the glass from the lantern – I’ve found the easiest way is to pour a little hot water into it.

5.  Remove the ice lantern from the container (upside down under a warm tap if necessary) and pop a lighted candle inside.  A small pillar candle would work better than a tealight in warmer weather because you want to avoid the base getting so hot it melts the wax.

Ice lantern with lit tealight inside

I made these two last year, so that’s why there’s snow in the pictures. If you’re dreaming of more white Christmases to come, then please think about switching to renewable energy. And if anyone asks for that dessert recipe, you’ll give it them another time – right now, it’s Christmas. Have a very merry and bright one.

Two lit ice lanterns on snow