Santa's Letter Elf

A writing elf who helps out Santa each year with some personalised letters for Australian children

Christmas treasure hunt – Christmas book review

Christmas treasure hunt Christmas treasure hunt book review

by Sarah Powell
designed by Emma Jennings
St Martin’s Press, London, 2014

Age group: preschoolers

Size/format: board book

A cheerful looking baby book full of Christmas images that we gave to a young friend last Christmas.

The story

A search and find book for babies and toddlers. There’s no story as such!

My review

This is a very cute book, enjoyed by adults and loved by the one year old we gave it to. Not surprisingly, it is very simple given the age group.

Santa page within the Christmas Treasure Hunt

There are seven sets of images (such as Santa and some Christmas stockings) where one image is a little different to the others. There is also a teddy bear ‘hidden’ on each page.

It is a lovely first book, and could be read throughout the year, not just at Christmas time.

 

The Magic of Christmas in Central Australia

While Christmas tree festivals may not be well known in much of Australia, guides in Alice Springs ran a community Christmas event between 1996 and 2001.

One of the founders of this event, Karen Byrne, was kind enough to share the following article and photos…

The Magic of Christmas building in Alice Springs

How it began

Written by Margaret Rudwick for Guiding in Australia, March 1997.

Karen Byrne and Sue Ride sat relaxing outside a local church one afternoon, guarding the white balloons they had just blown up, each with a paper dove attached, ready for the annual Peace Day service.

It occurred to them that there were a number of community–wide activities run each year by local organisations, but Guides in Alice Springs did not have one. And so a crazy idea occurred to them – why not do something special for the people of Alice Springs, and in doing so, put Guiding on the annual calendar?

“Crazy,“ says Sue “because we should have known what we were letting ourselves in for!”

“I’d always had an idea we could do something at the Guide Hall for families, something affordable,” says Karen, “and as no–one else in town had a major Christmas activity it seemed just the thing to do.”

And so the Magic of Christmas was born.

Planning the Magic of Christmas

Plans were made, and not on a small scale!

The whole of the Guide Hall was to be decorated, a dozen or so distinct displays set up, and local families encouraged to come and share together the Magic of Christmas.

Local suppliers were generous with their donations and not one knock–back was received in a whole day of canvassing the town, although there was some confusion over the collectors’ enthusiasm for “rubbish” in the form of polystyrene sheets & boxes!

The Trefoil Guild donated $500 which was the only cash received and enabled the purchase of the crepe paper (yes, we used a lot of crepe paper!) The Support Group provided the bags of sweets for Father Christmas to give out. Members of both these groups gave of their time and skills throughout the opening hours, adding to the Magic for all the visitors.

About two weeks before opening day, the real work started.
The Magic of Christmas door, complete with gingerbread man

The making of the Magic of Christmas

All four interior walls of the hall were to be lined with red, white and green crepe paper – this had to be double thickness to hide the murals on the walls. Now the hall is quiet a reasonable size so this is no mean feat! Although a large quantity had been special ordered there never seemed to be enough so Sue’s mother, Joan Higgins, was kept busy scouring the town for more. One of the complicating things was that different brands came in different shades so acquiring just what  was wanted was really difficult.

“Kilometres of crepe paper,” groans Joan.

“Have you ever covered a hall in crepe paper?” asks Karen. “You get it up nice and firmly, and then you go home for the night.”

“But, horror of horrors,” Sue adds, “when you walk in next morning all the even, straight paper you left the night before has sagged and gone all crinkly overnight. It took us a while to realise it was just the unseasonable humidity. By mid morning, it would be dried out and look fine again.”

“Even though it happened each night we still worried about it each morning,” says Karen.

Once the crepe paper was up – and there are stories of ladders, and chairs on tables and other indescribable ways of doing the job – the setting up of displays could start.

A false front made the hall look like a little red Christmas house complete with a letter box for posting letters to Father Christmas – all of which were answered. Inside, the focal point was to be Father Christmas at the far end.

Christmas displays

From the entrance and down each side were almost a dozen separate themes including:

  • A two meter high advent calendar. One visitor each day was lucky enough to open a window on it which revealed a different Christmas scene;
  • A trading table which sold small Christmas items suitable as children’s gifts to family and friends.
  • Stained glass window – all the windows were transformed into the Three Wise Men, Candles or Bells created with cellophane and black cardboard.
  • An Australian Christmas theme, complete with native tree, a swag, native birds, all under the Southern Cross.
  • A Guide corner where there was a large red Christmas tree on which there was a photo of every single guide and leader in Alice Springs. Every girl bringing her family could point out her photo and those of her friends. Christmas tree made of a collage of photos
  • A section showing Christmas traditions from overseas countries including England, Scotland, Mexico, Italy and France.
  • A snow scene with a snowman and a beautiful free standing reindeer.
  • A traditional tree with 24 gifts in a sleigh beside it. One lucky child each day was able to open one of these.
  • A teddy bear’s corner with a small competition.

Devonshire tea and coffee was supplied by the trefoil Guild, and they also ran a small raffle. There were treats for the children there, too.

There was a children’s play area with games, a video and a train set for the young ones who did not need (want!) to spend so much time looking at the details.  In fact, not a part of the Guide Hall was left undecorated – streamers, snowflakes and stars covered the ceiling and angles, and novelty trees, lanterns and candles added to the magic in corners and on the floor. Glitter covered the carpet.

Sue and Karen are adamant it was well worth it. “Our families didn’t see us at home very much for a couple of weeks,” says Karen, “but they came along and helped us!”

“And help us they did – we would never have done it without their fantastic support,” adds Sue. “And not just by helping us to put up the displays either. Karen’s husband ,Greg, had to manage without his hat and my husband, Graham, lost his boots to the swagman! Whilst Karen’s children Raymond and Rene talk of leaving town at Christmas time, we suspect they will be there again offering their tired mum a coffee in bed, or waiting tea until everyone is home at 10pm.”

“Home“ says Karen wryly “was where they went to escape the crepe paper, and the monotonous diet of cold coffee and guide biscuits!”

collage of cardboard Christmas trees made by guides

Magic of Christmas outcomes

Over 1,000 families visited the hall in the time it was open and entry was free.

And was it worth it?

“Just to see the children’s faces made it  worthwhile” said Karen.

Father Christmas was always there no matter what time a family dropped in. If he wasn’t sitting in his chair he would always appear within a few minutes of someone’s arrival and he had a bag of lollies for all his young visitors.

Each child had their photo taken with Santa, with the photo being available for sale next day, and although there was no obligation to buy, most people did come back a purchase a copy.

Planning is already well in hand for next Christmas. Bigger and better things are planned and there will be many changes, including more activities and visitor involvement, and some moving displays.

Families will be charged a gold coin donation to enter, not to make a profit, but to improve the displays for the following year. School groups will be admitted free during the day.

But crepe paper will be out – paint is in next time!

“What we set out to do was make a Christmas spectacle on a shoestring – to do something anyone, anywhere could do. All you need is unlimited imagination,”  says Sue.

“If two housewives in Alice can make the Magic of Christmas, then so can anyone else in any other small town in Australia,” says Karen.

Nativity scene in Alice Springs


Karen further told me “We had so much fun doing it and seeing the faces of the kids was great!

“For me personally, I loved the fact there was somewhere Mums could take their kids on a hot day and not have to say no all the time. The relaxation on their faces was obvious – it was too demoralising visiting the air conditioned shops every day when on a tight budget so they appreciated the Magic of Christmas. Many returned several times!”

SO maybe there is a challenge to us all – set up our own tree festivals or complete Christmas displays like the Magic of Christmas!

More festival of Christmas tree ideas

As well as all the decoration ideas for a community group Christmas tree, I collected some ideas for the tree itself and for making the most of the decorating experience. So here are those ideas in another post for you 🙂

Again, many of these ideas were inspired by the 1st Facebook Scout Group, so thanks again to those leaders.

ideas for the tree and surrounds

  1. make a tree shape by lashing poles together – it can be a simple tepee shape or more advanced with branches off a main stem
  2. use an old canvas tent to form the tree, using something like an umbrella stand to hold it up
  3. stack 2 litre plastic milk bottle in layers to form a tree shape. You can stick a badge or picture over each lid as decoration and insert a light inside the pile

    Two Christmas trees made of milk bottles!

    Plastic Bottle Trees made by Harleston Guides in England

  4. whittle old wooden tent pegs to form a tree (in miniature) or the branches (on a bigger tree)
  5. stack up some old wooden pallets to form a tree shape – simple, rustic and effective!
  6. collect some sticks then lash them together in an appropriate shape. Spray white paint across the top and sprinkle over some glitter
  7. get the youth to collect some sticks (about 5mm thick) and cut them to size. Drill a hole in the middle of each stick and place them over a threaded rod (or straight wooden rod) attached to a wooden base. Spray paint or drizzle with glitter, maybe add some battery powered fairy lights or thin tinsel.

    Christmas trees made out of sticks

    Christmas trees made from sticks by scouts in the UK

  8. cut a tree shape out of thick cardboard (shiny gives a nice effect!) and attach it to a wall or divider. From there, it can be decorated however you like, but some ideas are to cover it with a photo of each person in the group and have a feature in the middle (Christmas song/poem, group photo, group logo, photo of your hall, etc), cut photos of everyone into bauble size and shape to stick on the tree, get everyone to put a paint handprint on it, or let the kids decorate it with textas and glitter.

    Christmas tree made of a collage of photos

    A collage based Christmas tree from Guides in Darwin

  9. use some old branches to form a natural looking tree – I once used a gum tree branch that way on our house. You can make this as small or as large as suits your space, too.baby grabbing tinsel off a gum tree
  10. collect some old LPs and add a photo or picture over the label of each one. Heat the record until the sides curve up and in to form a bowl of sort. Use a hot glue gun to join the ‘bowls’ to form a pyramid tree. decorate it with a bit of tinsel or just drizzle glue and glitter over it all.
    A similar option would be to keep the records flat and glue them onto a wire frame to form the tree.
  11. create a tree by gluing lids (plastic milk bottle lids, metal or plastic jar lids or metal drink bottle lids) onto a frame or just to each other to create the shape.

ideas for sharing the experience

So instead of just one person, or two or three, coming up with an idea and implementing it, here are some better ways to make the group Christmas tree a community experience.

  • get lots of people to give some input – you don’t have to be the creative one, and sometimes a group will brainstorm a much better idea than any one person thought of.
  • take it in turns. For example, one scout group gets a different section to design the tree each year – it always has a scouting theme but different age groups have different designs so it stays interesting, everyone gets a go and the other sections get a surprise.
  • allow time – maybe have one meeting for discussing and deciding on a theme and concept, and then another for making the tree, decorations, etc. For young children, an adult or two may need to put everything together, but older groups may need a third session for the construction and decoration!
  • have two trees! Divide everyone into to groups and let each group decorate their own tree – maybe on inside and one outside, or one big tree to sit under and one small to be a table piece. Lots of options and more Christmas trees just mean more joy!

So, what ideas will you be using for Christmas tree decorating this year? Maybe you can start a new tradition in the groups you belong to, and leave the box of old decorations stored away instead.

 

* Photos courtesy of Love Santa, Andrew (a UK Scout leader) and Fiona (Harleston Guide leader) – thank you!

Peppa’s Christmas Post – Christmas book review

Peppa’s Christmas Post

Ladybird, United Kingdom, 28 September 2016Cover of the book Peppa's Christmas Post

Age group:

pre-school

Size/format:

hard cover, 48 pages with 6 envelopes and surprises

Looking like the Jolly Postman books, I couldn’t resist getting this as a Christmas gift for a young friend…

The story

Mummy and Daddy Pig have to stay in bed, so Peppa and George prepare for Christmas with their Grandparents.

My review

I suspect that any Peppa lovers will adore this Christmas book!

While toddlers may be the prime target for Peppa, this book is not a board book and could easily be damaged by eager little hands. It also has a fair bit of text on each page so may be too long to be read fully to younger children. Inner pages of Peppa's Christmas Post

Peppa and George have fun with Granny and Grandpa Pig as they bake, decorate, make and write. Each page is followed by an envelope containing something special and no only relevant to the story, but sometimes telling part of the story. The book is bright and colourful, showing genuine Pig family characters and a happy Santa Claus.

Everything is wrapped up nicely at the end of the book, with the children being acknowledged for their help and reminded to write thank you letters to Santa as he loves getting mail.

I am a little torn about the interactive parts of this book. A couple of them are not just letters to read, but once you make use of them, they are no longer part of the book. For instance, a page of cut out decorations is cute but once you have separated them and hang them up will they ever get back into the book? And a blank template for writing to Santa is lovely but only can be used once! So they are fun but limited uses. post coming out of an envelope in teh book Peppa's Christmas Post

My favourite part is Peppa being so excited about getting a personalised letter from Santa?

Christmas monopoly!

Last weekend I had the chance to play Christmas Monopoly with a friend who loves Christmas at least as much as me!

the box from Christmas Monopoly

We had a lot of fun playing it and being amused by the Christmas elements of the game.

What is Christmas Monopoly?

So it’s all basically the same as the classic game of Monopoly but made Christmassy!

Game board for Christmas Monoply

At the simplest level, the differences are

  • using snowflakes instead of dollars
  • using Christmas themed tokens – a Santa, reindeer, Christmas pudding, etc
  • Christmas themed properties to buy
  • you can add grottos and warehouses to your properties instead of houses and hotels

Playing the game

We had fun playing Christmas Monopoly with seven and nine year olds, and had to apply a time limit to have an end point. Like most board games, it is a good way to spend time together and let kids (and adults!) practice some maths skills and strategic thinking.

Property cards showing 'Letters to Santa' in Christmas MonopolySome of the property ideas were cute – the yellow set is Christmas Pudding, Brandy and Cream, and my favourite was the pink set containing Santa Letters, Christmas cards and Christmas shopping! And we liked the reindeer instead of train stations!

Less endearing was a roast chicken or turkey as a game token. It seemed out of place (maybe a turkey would work for a Thanksgiving game in America, but not Christmas!) and there are other ideas they could have used like a gift, a Christmas tree or a Christmas stocking. Note there was a Christmas pudding token so food was covered already.

My first Santa’s Sack and Christmas Crackers were both ‘get out of jail free’ cards, and one came in handy a bit later on in the game. Other cards included regifting something from last Christmas, taking friends out for Christmas drinks and getting a present you like.

The role of Santa was overplayed, though. Yes, I know that seems strange for me to say as I love all things Santa, but it’s true! Santa was a game token, the name of a property (replacing Mayfair of the original game) and the banker. It got a bit confusing in explaining the rules and talking about snowflake change when buying Santa and paying Santa…

The elves, chimneys (utilities from the original) and reindeer cards all had very cute pictures on them which we enjoyed. The kids were worried something was wrong, however, when they bought properties and those cards didn’t have pictures on them.

Collage of the Christmas Monopoly game

On a practical level, the instructions were clear, both explaining the game and differentiating from the original game. Unfortunately, the divider for the snowflakes didn’t have enough sections for all the denominations (two denominations had to be placed elsewhere) and can’t be used for storage. Lined up snowflakes from teh Christmas Monopoly game

So if you like the idea of themed Monopoly games, I also discovered that there is Nightmare before Christmas (with Tim Burton) monopoly, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer Monopoly and A Christmas Story monopoly! Have you already tried one of those games? If so, let us know what you thought!

Choosing a building block advent calendar?

Wanting something of more value and fewer calories than a chocolate advent calendar for your kids this year?

There are many options, but a popular choice is an advent calendar where the daily surprise is a toy, namely some construction pieces like Lego. Compared to a chocolate calendar, Lego advent calendars are very expensive and harder to justify although I think the value is there.

So maybe you’ve thought of getting a non Lego building block calendar instead…

A Block Tech Christmas advent calendar

I wasn’t really planning to try something different, but the Block Tech calendar cost me $10 at Kmart, and I’ve taken a sneak peek (for days 1, 2 and 3) to see how it compares to the Lego advent calendars.

box for the Block Tech Advent Calendar (decorations)

It wasn’t quite as I expected, but the key points I noted were:

  • Block Tech has no fold out scene to lay pieces on – but to be fair, it is not meant to be a set to create a story but decorations for a Christmas tree (not that I read that on the box before I started opening flaps, oops!) It does however include some string within the box to help you hang the created pieces as decorations
  • it was harder to open the flaps then for the Lego boxes, and more likely to end up with torn flaps.
  • day one flap open on teh Block Tech advent calendar

  • unlike Lego’s advent calendars, there were no instructions on the flaps – but I eventually figured out that if you open the box, there are instructions on a separate sheet of paper (handy to keep and use to make decorations again next year)
  • The instruction sheet is colourful, organised and easy to follow.
  • there were fewer pieces each day (compared to the average number of Lego advent calendar pieces)
  • PIeces from days one and two of teh Block Tech Advent Calendar

  • once made, the pieces don’t look as solid or rigid as Lego nor as tightly fitted
  • Block Tech advent calendar decorations for days one to three

  • it is completely compatible with Lego – I have seen some nasty plastic blocks sets that claim to be compatible but really weren’t – these truly click in place with Lego so can be part of the general Lego collection after Christmas
  • Block Tech Christmas pieces on a Lego plate

    Three Block Tech decorations on a pink Lego plate

 
Of course, my children haven’t seen this advent calendar yet so I can’t give you their opinions…

So which one to get this Christmas?

I don’t think there is a simple answer to that question, sorry!

Lego is definitely better quality and a higher price.

Block Tech is a little different as it provides Christmas decorations so each day something new can be added to the Christmas tree (whether the main tree or a special tree just for these decorations).

There is only one Block Tech version, whereas Lego has three versions (City, Friends and Star Wars) so depending on how many sets you want for your children this could be a deciding factor.

Lego has a greater resale value – that is, Lego stays good for a long time and can be sold down the track if you want to reduce the toys in the house.

Personally, I have to say that the Lego advent calendars are the better value but the novelty of making decorations is where Block Tech stands out for me.

And then there’s the Graifx Block Tech advent calendar that is based on a story set – it is nearly twice the price of a Lego advent calendar!

Which one better suits your needs?

 

Festival of Christmas tree decoration ideas!

Recently I have seen a group of scouting leaders share ideas for decorating their community Christmas trees this year.

And as some of them have elaborate ideas, it’s no wonder they are talking about it in October!

Christmas tree festival photos

Christmas tree festival guidelines

While it can vary from community to community, most places have guidelines as to what can and cannot be used in the tree festival. For instance, some place provide the trees so all are equal in size and structure while others allow different interpretations of ‘Christmas tree’ although possibly with size restrictions.

So if you are trying out a Christmas tree festival idea, make sure it fits into the guidelines and theme of your festival.

Scout Christmas tree ideas

All of the following wonderful ideas have been suggested and used by scouting and guiding groups in the UK. Some may be specific to such youth groups, but many of these ideas could be used for a childcare centre, kinder, school or sporting club just as easily, or with a few tweaks.
And many of these ideas can be combined for a more colourful result!

Decorations to hang on the tree

  • thread some cotton through some badges and hang them on the tree. Just use group and district badges, badges to suit a theme (eg red and green badges) or try Christmas theme badges (Scouts Australia produces a Christmas badge each year). Brighten things up further by winding some fairy lights (battery operated are easy for a display like this) around the branches and badges.
  • get the kids to make Christmas stars, using group colours as the backgrounds
  • Scout badges and photo stars hanging on a Christmas tree

  • hang ribbons on the tree to reflect your group colours – add your group scarf to complete the scene, maybe as a tree skirt hanging from the lowest branches. Add more of a scouting feel by knotting some of the ribbons 🙂
  • print out your group or scout/guide logos, get kids to colour them in and decorate them, laminate the drawings and hang them as ornaments.
  • use cardboard rings (like cut up paper towel rolls) to make the fleur de lys and let kids decorate them. They could be colour coded by section (eg Joeys use brown, cubs use yellow, scouts green and so on) or all be based on group colours.
  • make decorations out of paracord! Try a candycane or a Christmas tree
  • make some mini scout scarves and hang them alongside other decorations
  • get some cheap Christmas balls and paint the Fleur de lys or other scouting/guiding images on them.
  • Christmas baubles decorated with the Australian scout symbol (stylised fleur-de-lys)

  • make it a celebration of the last year by hanging pictures (photos or hand drawn pictures) of group events as decorations. The pictures could be stuck on circles of coloured paper and laminated, attached to small stockings, glued onto Christmas balls or made into paper chains.
  • get kids to make gingerbread or salt dough ornaments and decorate them to hang on the tree. Maybe have gingerbread people decorated to look like cubs/scouts/guides. The decorations can then be given as gifts to a group of people (nursing home residents, the volunteers running the festival, etc) – and if the gingerbread was presented in bags on the tree, they would be tasty gifts, too!
  • if you have the resources, cut out decorations from wood – simple shapes with a jigsaw or more elaborate designs with a laser cutter. Kids can paint of add glitter for a colourful decoration. Of course, a similar thing can be done with thick cardboard if you don’t have the resources or want the kids to make them by hand. collage of child-made Christmas decorations
    Be creative – the cut outs could be Christmas themed or scouting themed (a tent, campfire, rolled sleeping bag, backpack, etc)
  • use toothpicks and string or icy pole sticks and glue to make stars to decorate and hang
  • Christmas star made from icy-pole sticks

  • make a garland from woggles! Especially if you use some colourful ones, this is an easy way to make the tree cheery and scouty!
  • paint or add pictures to one side of a disc (CD or DVD) for colour and sparkle. The Love Santa bauble templates could be used for this!
  • turn a gumnut or acorn into Santa!
  • get kids to make pompoms (with glittery wool is awesome!) and hang them as a garland or stick them over a Christmas ball (or any other ball really!)
  • make an icy pole stick campfire
  • tie ribbons onto cinnamon sticks (for a nice smell) or sticks the kids find for simple, pretty decorations
  • ask the children to design new badges and hang their designs as decorations
  • turn it into a communitree by decoupaging pictures of the group scouting in the community
  • get the kids to make jar lid decorations
  • hang a photo of each group member, in uniform, on the tree. Stuck on cardboard of suitable colours, in a circle, star or other shape, these are personal and create interest. Or stick the photos on some decorations instead – think of lots of Santas hanging from your tree, each one with a different smiling face!
  • make Christmas bells out of coffee pods (saves them going to landfill, too!) You can stick photos of the kids on them, too.
  • Coffee pods recycled as Christmas bells

  • Spray some small pine cones or gumnut bunches with coloured paint to match your group colours. Hang on the tree with pompoms in matching colours and a fleur-de-lys on top of the tree

Note the ideas above were inspired by scout leaders in the UK (thank you to 1st Facebook Scout Group) but were written by me and adjusted at my discretion, so I take full responsibility for them :).

Santa’s husband – Christmas book review

Santa’s husbandCover of book Santa's husband

by Daniel Kibblesmith
illustrated by AP Quach
Harper Design, New York, 2017

Age group:

3 or 4 years and up, but read the review first!

Newly released, this is a different take on the Santa story!

The story

Described as the true story of Mr and Mr Claus, this book tells about the real Santa and how is helped by his husband.

My review

I loved this book, but am aware that others may not like the content and I strongly recommend reading it before sharing it with children (so you are prepared for any questions that may arise).

Ready for the shock? In this book, Santa is both black and gay. The Santa we are used to seeing is actually Santa’s white husband, named David. Personally, I have no issues with either coloured skin or gays so this didn’t bother me – but if it does bother you, this book will challenge you.
Inside peak at Santa's husband

For younger children, it can just be another version of Santa. For children a bit older, it can also be a catalyst for some interesting and important conversations (gay marriage, racism, dietary restrictions, differences between Santa images and why people get angry about such things). For adults, it is surprising, refreshing and funny!

There is some humour included which makes it fun for adults without being inappropriate for younger readers, such as keeping each other cosy in winter and sooty footprints all over the floor annoying Santa!

Quach has drawn some colourful and engaging pictures of Santa and his husband, and the writing itself is well done.

Overall, the book has a number of positive messages – primarily, acceptance of differences (“Who is anyone to say what the real Santa looks like?”) but also the concepts of working together and making up after disagreements.

I think this is a fantastic Christmas book that should be in every home.

Christmas tree festival

Have you ever heard  of a Christmas tree festival?

What is a Christmas tree festival?

Christmas tree festival photos

Apparently fairly common in England, and perhaps all of the UK, I have first heard about these in the 2016 Christmas season.

Luckily, Ellie T of Bicestor, Oxfordshire, was kind enough to explain them to me and share some photos of the festival she was involved in with her scout group.

Basically the local community come together to make a gallery of decorated Christmas trees. Usually in a church, local businesses, clubs scout groups, guide groups, schools and the like each pay for a tree and then decorate it however they wish. People then pay a donation to come and visit the gallery of trees, and all proceeds are directed by the involved church.

Ellie told me “they seem to be quite popular at the moment. We had to pay £19 for the tree and then decorate it. We can make a further donation to keep the tree or the church sell it to make a few more pennies. There were 80 trees in total for 2016 at St Edburg’s Church.

“The church also has a baptismal tree with a note of all the baptisms this year and a memory tree. They provide gift tags and you can write a message for a loved one no longer with us.”

Decroations made by scouts for their Christmas tree festival. I think it is a lovely idea. It would probably take a bit of effort to get one started in Australia as people don’t know about them – maybe they could be near some of the popular Christmas light displays!

Ellie also mentioned that she “came across a small chapel which was decorated with wreaths rather than trees! There were 80 of them also!”

Happy Christmas Spot – Christmas book review

Happy Christmas Spot Cover of book Happy CHristmas Spot

by Eric Hill
Penguin Books, London, 2011

Age group:  toddler to pre-primary school

Spot the dog is a well-known character for many young children, so sharing a Christmas story with him will be enjoyed by many.

The story

This is a fun little board book where Spot and his friends share presents with each other.

My review

In Hill’s usual style, the story is easy for young children to follow while the ‘lift the page’ intrigues slightly older children as well.

The book offers great opportunities for discussing the book – guessing gifts by shapes, counting ornaments and snowflakes, and naming colours.

Definitely a Christmas book worth considering for toddlers and pre-schoolers, although it is very focussed on winter activities. My three and five year olds have enjoyed reading it while we had it from the library.

Angry Birds wreck the halls – Christmas book review

Wreck the halls (Angry Birdscover of the Angry Birds book, wreck the halls

by Tomi Kontio
translated by Owen Whitesman
graphics by Terhi Haikonen
Puffin Books,  London, 2013

Age group: early to mid primary school (6-9 year olds)

Size/format: small, soft cover

I spotted this in an op shop recently and thought it was a bit different to the typical Christmas book. I believe it was originally part of a box set with a toy but I only got the book.

The story

A sack of Christmas presents is taken by three pigs and chased by two birds, Bomb and Red.

My review

This the first Angry Birds book I have read, and I know little about them. I was surprised to find a varied and interesting vocabulary (I wasn’t expecting to see words like smouldering, careened and precipice) and interesting descriptions (like majestic mountains, slanting rays of sun glimmering and gleaming pearls of ice).inner pages of Wreck the Halls

The story itself was good – the birds on skis chasing the pigs in a frying pan sled had excitement and anticipation. The birds speak respectfully and care for each other, and any anger is justified. It is a bit strange when Bomb explodes with expected repercussions, and comes away unscathed but I suspect that is something Angry Birds fans would understand and expect!

The pictures are ok, but I found a couple of them unclear. There is a reasonable amount of text on each page (it is not a picture book or aimed at early readers) and the font is rather small. The book is actually created based on an Angry Birds episode of the same name which was produced for Christmas 2011.

My children have played Angry Birds a couple of times (my sole previous knowledge of angry birds is based on those games!) My eight year old has more prior interest in the Angry Birds and he really enjoyed this book (“My favourite part was when Bomb exploded”); my seven year old was less excited but still enjoyed hearing the story.

Christmas shop fun!

Following on from my post last week about the golliwog Christmas tree, I thought I’d share some photos and comments from a recent visit to a Christmas shop in Melbourne as they start gearing up for the 2017 Christmas period.

Santa was there with his naughty and nice list

A model Santa holding a list of children's names

A Christmas train for Santa around the top of a Christmas tree made me smile…

A Christmas train running around the top of a Christmas tree

And I loved seeing some Aussie Christmas items, too…

A kangaroo and two koalas holding Santa sacks of toys

Santa was also there with Mrs Claus and some reindeer…

Santa, Mrs Claus and reindeer photos in a collage

What do you most enjoy seeing at Christmas shops or Christmas displays in general shops?

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