Christmas Memories

Day eight of Christmas countdowns…

Being Saturday, it has been harder for my kids to wait for evening to do their advent calendars! They’d love to open them each morning but I figure finding Tinkles is enough to fit in before school, so advent calendars are for counting the end of each day and see how many more days there are to go…

When do you open advent calendars in your house?

Ornament calendar

Our press out ornament calendar was themed on presents tonight – two gift boxes piled as an ornament, and a picture of two elves wrapping presents.

Present ornament from press out calendar

Lego City

A picture paints a thousand words they say – just as well I can add a picture of today’s Lego City advent item as I have no idea what to call it! It certainly isn’t a Christmas item – what do you think it is? I should add that my son believes it is a drone, and I can kind of see that…

Lego item from City advent calendar

Lego Friends

Our newest Lego ornament is a candy cane – bigger than a Lego character or the common candy canes, and harder to put together than you may think (three different types of connector meant you have to concentrate to get it working). There are little vents in the long straight pieces – I’m not sure what they are for…

large Lego candy cane

Christmas Book

Tonight we have a party to attend so we deliberately read a short Christmas book – Dear Santa. It is a lovely story, aimed more at babies than school aged kids but still a lovely book to look at together before we head out! Enjoy your Saturday night!

Christmas wreaths

Growing up, we didn’t have a wreath at home and I didn’t see many, except sometimes in repeated street decorations.

But I now have wreaths around my house, and like seeing them around – especially seeing the variety of wreaths around!

A variety of wreaths…

Here are just a few wreaths that I have seen and like… which is your favourite?

A poinsettia wreath

Felt poinsettia wreath handing on a blue wall

Bec’s gum leaf and stick wreath

I love the simplicity and natural Aussie look of this wreath that Bec made.

Christmas wreath made from gum leaves and sticks

Jen’s food themed wreath

Christmas wreath with food themed attachments

A cheese wreath

Baked cheese Christmas wreath on a wooden board

Some gum leaf wreaths

Some gumnut wreaths made by kinder children (Excuse the background as they dried on a cars mat!)

gumnut wreaths drying - kids Christmas craft

A golden bauble wreath from Erica

Erica made this beautiful wreath “$40 worth of baubles, $7 hot glue and a pool noodle, plus 15 hours and multiple hot glue burns – Bauble wreath is complete! ”

a wreath of golden baubles

Tracy’s natural wreath

Tracy Davison attended a workshop and made this gorgeous wreath (her first ever), saying ” I used about 8 or more different elements to it and I was thrilled with how it turned out. It is all natural, so has that lovely smell of evergreen, very Christmasy?”

natural wreath

Sophie’s floral wreath

Last year, interior designer Sophie Kost shared with us her tips for Christmas decorating and an image of her lovely floral wreath.

Red, orange and beige Christmas wreath on a door

Fir tree and lights wreath

green Christmas wreath with fairy lights

A gingerbread wreath

brown wreath with gingerbread man and stars

A red berry wreath

I spotted this pretty wreath Westminster Christmas shop when we visited last year.

red berry wreath

A large wreath

This wreath (and a few matching ones) was hanging on the Melbourne Town Hall in 2015 – it was larger than most Christmas wreaths!

large green wreath decorated with coloured baubles

So what wreaths do you have at home? Are there other wreaths you love? Either way, share your wreath photos in the comments so we can all enjoy them!

Is Tinkles flying or swimming?

This morning we woke to find Tinkles hanging from the Octopod!

So a few years ago, when my younger kids were in love with The Octonauts, I made them a light fitting in the form of the Octopod (the main base submarine that the Octonauts live and travel in). Tinkles apparently thinks hanging from the Octopod is a good vantage spot (she can certainly see everything in my son’s room and the front door from there!)

From Lego dragon yesterday to Octopod today – maybe Tinkles likes high places, or maybe she is just getting an overview to start things off…

Tinkles the elf hanging from an orange ocotpod light fitting

And here is a clearer view of the Octopod  – essentially  a large orange ball with a window at the top and four balls connected to the sides as living quarters – although it doesn’t show the maze of tinsel underneath her (my son’s idea of decorating his room!).

Tinkles the elf and the Octopod

Christmas in Norway

After reading about Doctor Proctor, Nilly, Lisa and Santa, I looked into some Norwegian Christmas traditions.

Christmas obviously has similarities and connections, but the celebrations in Australia and Norway are unsurprisingly different.

Two images - Norway covered in snow and a Christmas table in a sunny park

Christmas in Norway

Being in the northern hemisphere and so close to the North Pole, December in Norway is often snowy and Christmas is in the middle of darkness thus is celebrated with lights to welcome the coming of spring and summer. From pagan beginnings about seasons and harvests, Christmas was slowly Christianised in Norway and surrounding countries – it remained Jul but focused on the birth of Jesus.

In Norway, to say God Jul or Gledelig Jul is like us saying Merry Christmas. In parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, they speak North-Sami and they say Buorit Juovllat.

But I have yet to find anything about children writing to Santa or receiving letters from Santa

Christmas dates  24 gifts in a grid, each numbered to form an advent calendar

  • celebrations and present sharing are held on Christmas Eve, leaving Christmas Day as a quiet day for brunch and to read books and enjoy gifts (and I’m guessing they recover from the food of the day before if they are like us!) This includes most families going to church – even if they are not Christian or church goers
  • the 23rd of December is called Little Christmas Eve (or lillejulaften)
  • Christmas starts on the 13th of December with the Saint Lucia ceremony which represents thanksgiving for the return of the sun. It involves the youngest daughter of the family dressing in a white robe with an evergreen crown, then all the children serve their parents coffee and lussekatter (Lucia buns). I must say it is a nice tradition to start Christmas with children doing something for their parents
  • some families give a small gift each day or December, with or without a chocolate advent calendar! This is called Adventsgave or Kalendergave
  • there is a Christmas advent calendar on TV, with a new episode shown each day of December. Called Jul I Balfjell, it has been going since 1999 and is based on a fairy tale of pixies in blue hats
  • families light a candle each day from Christmas Eve to New Years Day

Norwegian Christmas traditions

So, here are some Norwegian traditions and activities…

  • Santa is known as Julenisse and wears a red stocking cap with his long white beard – he is more gnome than person though. He knocks on the door in the evening of Christmas Eve (Juleaften) and hands out presents after asking “Are there any good children here?”
  • Nisse – a little gnome who guards farm animals. Children leave out some rice porridge (risengrynsgrot) for him or else he plays tricks on them!A Nisse toy (Scandanvian gnome associated with Christmas)
  • a goat like gnome or elf known as Julebukk delivers gifts – there are have been a few variants of this since the Vikings worshipped Thor and his goat, but the current one is fairly tame and friendly
  • the juletre (Christmas tree) is usually a spruce or pine tree and is decorated with candles, red harts, apples, straw ornaments, cornets, tinsel and glass baubles, according to individual taste
  • the same Christmas movies are played on Christmas Eve morning and evening – apparently, people got very upset a few years ago when the station suggested changing the movies that Christmas!
  • Flaklypa Grand Prix is an animated Christmas movie made in 1975 that most Norwegians love to watch each year. I will have to find it and watch it, but so far all I know is that an inventor, a penguin and a hedgehog build a race car for an oil sheikh and the soundtrack is by Bent Fabricicus-Bjerre
  • a sheaf of wheat may be left out to feed the birds – being winter and snow, this is more relevant in Norway than in Australia where food is generally available for wild life
  • skiing is a hugely popular, and skiing events are on TV throughout Christmas – their biggest finale is in Oslo on 1 January
  • they gift a huge Christmas tree to the UK every year in recognition of help provided during World War II – it stands in Trafalgar Square in London
  • often children dress up as characters of the Christmas story, usually shepherds or wise men, and go house to house singing Christmas carols
  • many people sing a traditional folk tune with the words of Musevisa (the Mouse Song)
  • O Jul Med Din Glede (Oh Christmas with your Joy) is a children’s song with actions that any adults also participate in for Christmas!
  • home made decorations are the tradition for houses – toilet roll pixies are quite common, along with star lights in windows. Keeping things home made ensures a focus on children is the belief, and it makes sense.

Norwegian Christmas food and drink

A Christmas feast, or Julebord, is held many times in Norway – it is a gathering or people with a table full of food, and can be celebrated as a work or school party through to the family and friends gathering on Christmas Eve.

  • there are specific Christmas delicacies, but these vary between towns – even the special bread called Julekake can vary in ingredients across Norway. Parties can therefore include an array of different dishes when people come together from a bigger area  Mulled wine on Christmas eve
  • Sand kager is a traditional Christmas biscuit, as is Krumkaker which are thin waffle-like biscuits curled into a cone
  • gingerbread or pepperkake, is very popular in Norway for Christmas, often shaped as people or stars and a thicker gingerbread is used to make gingerbread houses as well – pepperkakebyen is a gingerbread city in Bergen!
  • rice porridge is a common treat, eaten with butter, sugar and cinnamon for lunch on Christmas Eve or with whipped cream as a dessert. If you find the almond in your serve, you get a prize (bit like finding coins in the Christmas pudding we used to do) – the prize often being a marzipan pig
  • some rice porridge is often is left out for the birds at Christmas, too
  • Glogg is a traditional drink with red wine, almonds, raisins and spices. Many breweries also release special Christmas beers, too, known as juleol, and a soft drink called julebrus – everyone has their favourite version though!
  • the main Christmas meal is usually pork or lamb or mutton sticks (Pinnekjott), potatoes and surkal (cabbage cooked with caraway seeds and vinegar). Lye-treated codfish is also popular around Christmas time.

Have you been to Norway for Christmas, or perhaps have Norwegian family and experienced some of these traditions yourself? We’d love to hear about your Norwegian Christmas in the comments below!

* Images courtesy of Love Santa, Max PixelSmarias and Oleksandr Prokopenko

Christmas movies – angels and calendars!

Santa in Christmas movie on a TVI went away with a friend and our children over the long weekend. Once the kids were all settled in bed, we watched a Christmas movie each night which was fun.

 

Angels in the snow

A 2015 movie from George Erschbamer, Angels in the snow is classed as a children and family movie and a drama, and goes for about one and a half hours. It stars Kirsty Swanson, Chris Potter and Colin Lawrence.

The story is based on a book by Rexanne Becnal, also called Angels in the Snow, although the names are different and the book blurb doesn’t hint at the same twist as seen in the movie.

Rich businessman Charles has built a ‘cabin’ in the woods to surprise his wife and children. Their first trip to the cabin is for a Christmas holiday together, but a blizzard quickly turns things cold. A knock at the door overnight, welcomes the stranded Tucker family into the ‘cabin’ (actually a luxurious two story house) and thus the two families spend Christmas together.

Charles continues to work during their holiday – alienating his teens by insisting they go tech free when he can’t manage it himself – and his wife is obviously unhappy with the state of things. On the other hand, the Tuckers are a loving family and set a very different example for impressionable (and precocious) eight year old Emily. Slowly, the Tuckers influence the Montgomerys and both families make a tight bond – but there are some strange comments and looks from the Tuckers that hint not all is as expected.

The movie has the message of communicating and spending time with the people you love, which is a valid message, although it was perhaps a bit heavy handed in this case.

collage of children making Christmas crafts

Kids making Christmas crafts is a highlight of this movie

Some of the scenery is this movie was spectacular, and there are some nice scenes like where the kids all work together to make decorations for the Christmas tree. And there is certainly a feel good element of the Montgomery family finding their way back to each other.

But… the ending is not fun. The twist, although we saw it coming, was unbelievable and shallow, and the follow up scenes to explain it were painful to watch. I can’t say I liked most of the Montgomery family (mum was self absorbed and weepy, the son was arrogant, Emily too Pollyanna-ish to fit her family and the teen daughter was superficial) although Charles was somewhat redeemed by his connection to Bella, and the Tuckers were all lovely.

And it was a bit harsh to send the Tuckers out after the blizzard, without blankets, on a two hour walk back to their damaged car! Charles perhaps didn’t learn as much as we thought we had!

It is rated ‘family’ but kids will be bored by all the talking and may be upset or challenged by the twist at the end, so I’d leave it as an adult movie. Then again, I think I’d just leave it altogether as there are just too many weaknesses in it.

If you have seen it, what did you think? Would you recommend it to anyone?

 

The holiday calendar

Released on 2 November (the day before we watched it so this is a very new movie!), The Holiday Calendar is a Netflix movie starring Kat Graham, Ethan Peck, Quincy Brown and Ron Cephas Jones.

Abby (played by Kat Graham) lives in a small town and works for Mr Singh as a photographer rather than as the artistic photographer she wishes to be. Her best friend, Josh, is also a photographer and just returned from far places as a successful travel blogger.

Abby receives an antique advent calendar from her Gramps. The calendar is beautiful and doors only open as each new day starts, showing a little toy. Along with Abby, we learn that the calendar is magical and perhaps predicts the future with the toy produced each day.

Wooden Santa advent calendar

A simpler advent calendar than in the movie, but I like it!

The movie has Christmas, romance, magic, family and self-realisations about dreams. It has some pretty scenes and the advent calendar itself is lovely. I do like that there was a diverse range of people and that some characters were more than stereotypes (for example, Mr Singh is a bit of the grumpy old boss out for a buck but also actually cares about the kids enjoying a visit with Santa).

I would have liked to have seen more of the advent calendar items – the first few days are shown but after that we only saw a couple of them. Sure, doing a day by day recap may get a bit boring in a movie, but a few shots with all the toys in front of the calendar or something would have been a nice touch.

The outcome was somewhat predictable but what do you expect in a feel-good Christmas movie, lol! It is comfortable and cosy, with no fake threat to Christmas, the town or Abby’s family, so it adds up to a nice movie – unlikely I’d watch it again but we had fun watching it.

Christmas movies…

So there are Christmas movies for families and romantic Christmas movies.

Generally speaking, you don’t expect a Christmas movie to be up amongst the great movies – and these two are certainly not amongst the best movies I’ve ever seen.  They are not even amongst the best Christmas movies I have seen, unfortunately.

I guess I will just have to watch some other Christmas movies to find better ones I can enjoy!

Evergreen – idyllic or commercial?

Evergreen – a magical town where things are beautiful and Christmas is wonderful – sounds idyllic!

In the movie

So Evergreen is the setting for a new Christmas movie called Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa, due to be released (on American TV) on 18 November.

Overall, it appears to be romance where two couples find each other and presumably kiss under the mistletoe! There is nostalgia and a concerted effort to make  Christmas wish, found in an old letter to Santa, come true.

If you like Christmas and romances, this could well be a lovely movie to watch.

Note it follows on from a 2017 movie, Christmas in Evergreen, where a small town vet wishes for her ‘most romantic Christmas ever’.

Santa in Christmas movie on a TV

Its origins

Evergreen is designed to bring to life the magic of Geoff Greenleaf’s card illustrations. Greenleaf is the master artist and illustrator at Hallmark, and Evergreen is a town based on illustrations forming the background of many of their Christmas cards.

If you have paid attention to enough cards, it may be sweet to see it come to life in a movie, and it adds an extra layer to the meaning of those card illustrations. And seeing things come to life (think books, stories, characters) can be comforting and exciting.

One review I have read goes on to list various iconic Hallmarks items that are included within the movie set of Evergreen. While this builds the authenticity of the town, it feels a bit strange to me.

For starters, I’m not sure that I would recognise things as Hallmarks property so the authenticity would be lost on me!

More than that, though, it feels very commercial and money-grabbing to have such icons in a movie – I want to relax and feel the Christmas spirit, not thinking about a big corporate and their profits!

However, this is perhaps expected on the channel showing this movie as part of their Count Down to Christmas – it is actually called the Hallmark Channel! Again, an entire channel owned and managed by a retail-based company feels strange to me, but I gather it has been in place for many years in the USA. I am curious to watch that channel and see how commercial it is – maybe the advertising is more subtle like including their icons and settings in programs.

What do you think – does this movie and channel feel too much of an ad for Hallmark, or is it just good that this company is putting money into making Christmas movies to watch?

 

* Image courtesy of Belchonock at 123rf

Introducing a Christmas elf

In the last couple of years, the idea of Santa sending an elf to visit in December has become widely known across Australia.

And leading up to Christmas 2017, a number of friends were visited by an elf and thus my children were keen to have an elf in our home, too.

When to welcome an elf to your house?

Apart from anything else, I didn’t think it would work very well to have an elf arrive part way through December. I guess it could have been too busy helping Santa at the North Pole to get here for the first of December, but it felt strange to me.

If you have a visiting elf in your house, when did it arrive? Do you think it matters when he or she arrives?

However, it also seems a long time until next Christmas, especially for young children, so when I came across an elf the other day I thought of having him pop in now to say hello in preparation for next December.

box set of The Christmas Elf

Tinkles was acrobatic before she even left the box!

Introducing an elf to the family

How do most people have the elf appear?

At our house, we take down the Christmas tree and decorations on the 6th of January – based on the tradition of 12 days of Christmas.

As we worked on removing the tree decorations, we discovered an elf hiding amongst the branches!

Soft elf, Tinkles, hiding in the Christ,as tree

Tinkles hiding in our tree!

My children were very excited to discover we had a visiting Christmas elf! And even more so when they discovered the elf had a letter from Santa with her to introduce her as Tinkles the Elf. After a brief visit today, the letter explained, Tinkles will return on the first of December to watch over our family and report to Santa.

Elf lying on a letter from Santa

Tinkles lying with the letter she delivered from Santa

We finished packing up the tree and have left the elf sitting on our mantelpiece to be close to the chimney for his return to Santa at the North Pole. It also gave them a timeframe to write their thank you letters to Santa so the elf could deliver them directly for us.

Elf in front of a colourful letter to Santa

Tinkles on the mantelpiece with a thank you letter for Santa

 

Mistletoe traditions for Christmas

“I saw Mummy kissing Santa Claus, underneath the mistletoe last night”

Santa standing under some mistletoe

I saw Santa under the mistletoe in early December – but I didn’t get a kiss!

Yes Mummy kissed Santa, but the mistletoe connection to kissing is more than just a lyric in a 1950s song!

What is the mistletoe tradition anyway?

The Christmas tradition for mistletoe is that if you stand under some mistletoe, you have to kiss anyone standing there with you or near you.

One version of the tradition states men can only kiss the cheek of a woman met under the mistletoe. Then he must remove one berry from the bunch. Once there are no berries left, the mistletoe no longer signifies getting a kiss!

Of course, you can say no to a kiss – or work hard at avoiding standing under the mistletoe! However, the tradition states it is bad luck to refuse a (suitably sedate) kiss.

While it may look funny, especially in any romantic comedy movies, the tradition really only applies to mistletoe hung in a doorway or archway – so anyone carrying it around or having it stuck on their hat can’t expect lots of kisses!

What is mistletoe?

Collection of photos of the mistletoe parasite

Let’s start by saying that mistletoe is not the same as holly, although people do get them confused as both have an association with Christmas celebrations. Even if you Google mistletoe you see lots of images of red-berried holly!

So mistletoe is an evergreen plant with white berries that grows on the trunks of other trees – in other words, it is a parasite. It is spread by birds eating the berries and leaving the sticky residue on trees they land on.

It is commonly found on apple, lime, hawthorn, linden, willow and poplar trees in Europe, and less commonly on Oak trees. There are many species of mistletoe, including a number that grow in Australia (but not in Tasmania interestingly!)

Mistletoe uses the host tree for water and nutrients but photosynthesises to produce its own energy – not all parasitic plants do this.

While the berries have been used medicinally for centuries, it is important to know that Mistletoe stems and leaves are toxic. Eating mistletoe can lead to blurred vision, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and drowsiness, so be very careful to keep it out of reach of children and pets.

 

How has mistletoe been linked with Christmas?

Mistletoe has been linked to Norse  mythology (a symbol of love and friendship), Celtic mythology, ancient Druids (in a fertility ritual) and was a pagan holy plant. In medieval times, it was used to ward off bad spirits during December (thus the Christmas connection now) and burnt afterwards.

As mistletoe is green and healthy during winter when the host tree would be bare and dead-looking, it is perhaps not so surprising that people were in awe of it and saw it as somehow mystical and powerful.

Kissing under mistletoe may have been around since the celebrations of Saturnalia (a Roman pagan ritual), but certainly since the eighteenth century. It was probably a bigger attraction in times when touching and kissing while you were single was frowned upon.

 

* Images courtesy of Love Santa, Llez, Max Pixel and Loadmaster

Another scouting Christmas tree idea!

Following on from the Christmas tree festival ideas and the tent-based Christmas tree, I found another effective tree decorating idea.

CHristmas tree with decorations and scout signs

Clare (Scout Leader), Adam (Explorer Leader) and Laura (Beavers Leader) set this up at 5th Littlehampton Sea Scout Group’s hall this year.

Apparently some leaders were very keen to get a tree up, even though it was still November – they suffer the terrible affliction of pre-festivitis!

They normally have a “look what we do” board at the entrance to their Scout Hall, but there was no space for it and a tree, so they combined the two.

I like how simple it is – a few signs that share who the group is, a few decorations and some tinsel and the tree is done!

I think this concept is simple enough to be used by other scout and youth groups, plus many other places. Would you use it to add Christmas cheer to a public place or group?

 

* Photo used with permission of Laura, with thanks!

make gifts from memories

Giving gifts of meaning is always appreciated, and it makes me feel good to do it, too.

A $5 notepad bought because I’d love the picture is a much nicer gift than a $20 impersonal gift voucher in my eyes.

And home-made gifts show love and care as well, so why not make a meaningful gift for someone this Christmas?

Creating memory gifts

I’ve thought of a few ways to collate some memories to share as gifts…

  • frame a collection of old kitchen or workshops gadgets – or a photo of them!  Use a deep frame or a shadow box (best for reducing dust collection!) or skip the glass front and attach items onto the backboard of a frame.  It’s a great use of old things not used much but too treasured to throw away.
  • put a collection of treasured items inside a glass topped table

    Trinkets on display in a coffee table

    Display table {image courtesy of HousingWorksThriftShops (Flick’r)}

  • make a picture out of special cards or tickets – put a few on an interesting background (try scrapbooking paper for inspiration) or overlap a lot of items.
  • put some special photos into ornaments that hang on the Christmas tree
  • laminate a special or funny photo and put it into a clear containers to fill with soap  as a personal addition to a bathroom or kitchen
  • stick photos/collage onto kitchen canisters – it’s a very personalised kitchen, reuses old canisters and displays special memories in a creative way
  • use old mirrors (especially those hand held ones that could be a reminder of a grandmother or childhood) as alternative photo frames
  • make a picture or a collage of old house and car keys – a great  trip down memory lane! Alternatively, make them into a mobile or windchime.

    Display of old keys

    Mount some old keys to remember their secrets! {Image courtesy of TakiSteve (Flick’r)}

  • use an old window frame from a family home to create a shadow box or picture frame so the frame and the contents bring warmth and happiness
  • turn old wooden items into Christmas decorations
  • make a wreath (of Christmas or perhaps to hang outdoors all year round) out of old tools, garden implements or kitchen gadgets
  • make a patchwork quilt or throw rug out of some favourite fabric items like
    • baby clothes and blankets when the youngest child grows out of them
    • old tablecloths, runners and doyleys from your grandparents
    • a few favourite dresses or t-shirts

      colourful patchwork couch

      Is this a colour statement or a collection of memories? {image courtesy of Maleva Apaixonada (flick’r)}

    • tea-towels from various places you’ve visited
  • make a hanging rack by sticking objects on a length of wood – you can use cutlery and kitchen tools bent to shape, handles from various tools, door knobs, Lego or wooden blocks, and all sorts of things
  • use some old lace and some glue to create a lamp cover or even a decorative bowl

    Two bowls made form lace doilys and glue

    Two bowls made from lace and undiluted glue {image courtesy of Christine Majul (Flick’r)}

  • make a snow dome using a laminated photo or some small items, like a toy car, animal or person

Of course, the hard part may be giving up your work when it’s time to hand it over!

Have you ever been given a gift based on memories and treasured items?

 

* All Flick’r images are used under the creative commons licence.

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!

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?

 

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