christmas

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!

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!

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.

Christmas bon bon jokes

How many times did you pull on a bonbon this Christmas?

three Christmas bonbons with Santa and Rudolph faces

Santa and Rudolph bonbons

We had them at two family functions, and actually found different jokes in each set. Not that they are necessarily jokes we haven’t heard before, but at least there was variety!

So to add some post-Christmas cheer (or groans as you may be inclined!) here are some of the jokes I came across this year… and they are all family friendly, too!

Christmas and Santa jokes

What do you call a bankrupt Santa?

Saint nickel-less

What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus?
Claustrophobic

Who delivers presents to baby sharks at Christmas?
Santa Jaws

What do you call a kid who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus?
A rebel without a Claus

Where does Santa go when he’s sick?
the elf centre

What did the sea say to Santa?
Nothing! But it did wave…

What do reindeer hang on their Christmas trees?
Hornaments

Boy in Christmas elf costume

Making someone smile makes you feel good too

What do you call a dog who works for Santa?
Santa paws

What do Santa’s little helpers learn at school?
The elf-abet

What do monkeys sing at Christmas?
Jungle Bells, Jungle Bells

What goes OH OH OH?
Santa walking backwards!

Why is it getting harders to buy advent calendars?
Because their days are numbered

Why does Santa love gardening?
Because he goes HO HO HO!

What is the best Christmas present in the world?
A broken drum – you just can’t beat it!

What nationality is Santa?
North Polish

What do you get when Santa stops moving?
Santa Pause

Why is it getting harder to buy Advent Calendars?
They’re days are numbered

Who is Santa’s favourite singer?
Elf-is Presley

Other jokes…

What is green and goes camping?
A Brussel Scout

What’s the difference between a boogie and a Brussel spout?
Kids don’t eat sprouts

There were lots of non-Christmas and non-Santa jokes in our 2014 bonbons if you want some more to read or share!

 

Swap old or unwanted presents?

So how many unwanted presents did you get for Christmas?

Most of us try hard to give gifts someone wants to get, but not everyone gets it right so we sometimes (often?) get gifts that are not useful or not suitable for us.

Christmas presents under a tree, caption 'dealing with unwanted presents'

What do you do with unwanted presents?

Seriously, what do you do with those presents? Let us know in the comments as we all come across this issue from time to time!

I can’t say I’ve tried all of these, but here are some ideas for those presents when you can’t openly improve the situation…

  1. take them to a shop and exchange them – particularly useful for swapping clothing sizes/colours or book titles.
  2. regift them if someone else would truly appreciate the gift
  3. swap the item with someone who wants it – maybe they got a present you would like!
  4. go to a swap shop session where the community can exchange unwanted gifts, such as run in Stevenage, UK, for Christmas 2015
  5. put them in a cupboard to collect dust – not my preferred option and not really a good use of resources…

Advent calendars are up to day 13!

collection of images from teh Lego 2016 advent calendars

We’re now past half way through our advent calendars and Christmas is definitely feeling closer now…

Tonight, we discovered some chairs and a plate of cupcakes for Emma and Naomi, and a man with a remote control device in Lego City.

Collage of day 13 Lego advent calendars

Remember you can read the introduction to our Lego advent reviews or catch up on day 12. And if you’re interested in using a Lego advent calendar after reading our reviews, I don’t think it’s too late – the kids will just have the fun of opening lots in one go, or maybe make it two a day until you catch up. Especially as some places may have reduced the price a lot by now…

What’s cooking on day twelve in Lego calendars?

collection of images from teh Lego 2016 advent calendars

Oops – I’m a bit late with last night’s advent calendar review so apologies for that 🙂

Anyone hungry? The Friends calendar provided my daughter with an array of cooking utensils – plate, knives and forks, along with a hand mixer, frying pan and spatula. Emma was quickly whipping up dinner for Naomi and the two ice-hockey players from Lego City 🙂

Lego cooking utensils and people

Emma using Lego cooking utensils to provide dinner for friends

Over in Lego City, we’ve got a bit more Christmassy light to enjoy… An old fashioned lamp post (not the same as the one we got in last year’s calendar as this one has two lights and a circular wreath) decorated with a Christmas wreath is pretty and welcoming.

Lego Lamp post with a green wreath

Lamps and a Christmas wreath to decorate the Lego City

Which would you prefer to have discovered behind flap twelve – the cooking things or the lamp post and wreath?

If you missed days ten and eleven nine, they are still available – in fact, every day of our Lego Advent Calendar reviews from 2015 and 2016 are online for you to catch up on at any time!

Christmas hair ties

My children enjoy making a small gift to put with a Christmas card for their classmates.

In the last couple of years, they have each made something different. But this year they are both making one gift for the girls and one for the boys.

Christmas hair ties

The girls will be getting a Christmas hair tie made by my children.

Four Christmas hair ties

Four Christmas hair ties

We started with a packet of hair ties and some rolls of Christmas ribbon. Actually, what I used was like a hollow string rather than a ribbon, but any Christmas ribbon will look pretty 🙂

green hair ties and Christmas ribbon cut into strips

Hair ties and ribbon are all you need!

I cut the ribbon into lengths of approximately 20 cm.

Then we simply tied a piece of ribbon onto each hair tie, making the two lengths equal.

child tying string onto a hair tie

Attaching the ribbon to the hair tie

We then tied the ends into a bow.

child's hands with a finished Christmas ribbon bow

A finished bow…

I say simple, but it was more challenging for my six year old than her brother or me – good fine motor skill practice though!

child adding finished CHristmas hair tie to a pile of hair ties

The resultant pile of Christmas hair ties is very pretty and festive! And hopefully will make  a number of young girls happy when they open their envelopes.

array of CHristmas cards and envelopes with hair ties included

Cards and Christmas hair ties ready to hand out at school

Other children’s craft

If you are looking for other ideas of things children can make as token gifts to classmates and the like, have a look at previous things I’ve made with my kids:

How early should Christmas start?

A white Christmas tree with coloured baubles

A pretty Christmas tree display in a shop (taken during November!)

It’s now December and a lot more Christmas is around us.

For example, as of yesterday classrooms at our local school are decorated with tinsel and trees and Christmas parties are in full swing.

Obviously though, Christmas items have been on sale for a while now, along with decorated shops and Christmas centric advertising campaigns. And some will say it all started too early.

I’m ok with Christmas things around in October (on a small scale) and November, although I do find hot cross buns on sale in December a bit much in preparation for Easter!

Has Christmas got earlier?

But did you know that Christmas promotions stated in early spring (that is, during September) back in 1912 and even in August 1914? And complaints about Christmas starting ‘too early’ and ‘earlier every year’ were made in 1954 Britain and 1968 USA. So it’s not really a recent thing that Christmas is getting so early!

Ads for Christmas were published in November 1885, and retailers started with Christmas ‘events’ as early as November in 1888 and 1893.

 

Why have Christmas so early?

Well, it obviously works for retailers to promote Christmas earlier, or they’d have stopped it long ago.

Earlier promotion and reminders of Christmas encourages some people to shop earlier which means

  • less fluster and rush later on for those people
  • being able to spread the expenses of Christmas over a longer period
  • having more time to think of specifics gifts and finding it
  • spreading out the number of shoppers which is good for retailers as there are fewer crowds, less staff needs, reduced risks of stock run outs, and income is more spread out

I found it fascinating to learn that an American social reformer by the name of Florence Kelley strongly supported early Christmas shopping promotions to stop “the inhumane nature of the eleventh hour rush”. She felt that the shopping frenzy in December was “a bitter inversion of the order of holiday cheer”, and I must say I agree! From her essay in 1903, a huge campaign was waged to bring shopping forward as part of Kelley’s fight against child labour and abuse of overtime.

12 month calendar

When should Christmas displays start?

Some people like Christmas advertising to start well before December as it

  • inspires them to start Christmas shopping (to reduce the last minute stress and financial burden)
  • makes them feel good and builds the Christmas spirit
  • can give some good ideas, with time to implement them
  • is a reminder of better weather and holidays ahead.

So how do you feel about Christmas being presented to us from September? Would you prefer it started in November or December?

The cost of Christmas decorations

Lego Santa, surfboard and Christmas tree in Melbourne

Lego Santa, surfboard and Christmas tree in Melbourne

My family had a great time last year checking out Melbourne’s Christmas sights. And we’re planning to do it again soon.

We equally love Christmas lights and displays on homes, both in our area and elsewhere we manage to visit.

Benefits of Christmas lights

So what is so good about seeing all those lights and decorations?

  1. it’s fun!
  2. they can be very beautiful, and we all need beauty in our lives and to remember to appreciate beauty rather than being so busy all the time
  3. it is a great way to spend some family time, and that is valuable. I still remember Christmas decorations on the street near my uncle’s house form when I was very young – it was a clear sign that excitement was on the way!
  4. Christmas can often bring out the best in people – they tend to be kinder, more generous and remember to show appreciation to people who serve all year – and if decorations and lights help bring that about they are well worth it as peace and kindness is what the world desperately needs at the moment
  5. walking around looking at lights gets people moving, out of the house and interacting with others
  6. it encourages people to visit public resources and appreciate their cities and town centres
Some of the Melbourne Christmas displays from 2015

Some of the Melbourne Christmas displays from 2015

Costs of Christmas light displays

Obviously, every Christmas decoration costs money. And wide scale displays cost a fair bit, especially if you factor in the electricity costs to run a light display.

I was surprised to read recently that it costs about $3.78 million to ‘fund and promote’ the Christmas displays in the Melbourne CBD. I hadn’t really thought about how much it cost before.

It’s a lot of money, and if you add in that most (all?) local councils also spend large amounts of money, it seems somewhat decadent to spend it on decorations rather than spending more on other causes (like homelessness and health care).

So it is worth spending that much money on one month?

Cutting the costs

I love the lights and displays, and I can see benefits to having them. But I am struggling with spending that much money on them.

So for what it’s worth, here are some suggestions from me on how to cut back those costs while still celebrating the Christmas magic.

  1. cut back on marketing and PR – most people know the city has displays without having to be told in a marketing campaign so this seems a large expense for little return. And even then, maybe use designers and marketers rather than big agencies to keep costs lower
  2. invest in solar panels to power more of the decorations – and other things throughout the year of course
  3. swap decorations with other local councils/cities so that they get more use and the costs are minimised
  4. sell tinsel and baubles etc after Christmas to recoup some costs and reduce decorations reaching landfill. Or donate lots of them to hospitals and other child-centric places so they can give Christmas cheer next year
  5. only put large decorations on every second pole so the impact is still there but at a lower cost
  6. consider the necessity of ‘VIP events’ or what is included at them  – the city paying for food for lots of VIPs doesn’t help the city or the locals very much
  7. rotate decorations so each set is used again after 3 or 4 years
  8. get public involvement. For example, a big wall could be covered with kids’ drawings of Christmas trees instead of paying for fancy displays

How else could cities and councils cut back on their Christmas savings without cutting back on Christmas cheer?

Santa for all

Santa loves all children (and adults!). No exceptions, he’s just a loving person.

So it is always special when others help Santa reach other kids than those who manage in mainstream situations.

girl sitting on Santa's lap

Sitting on Santa’s lap is a delight for many children and all should have the opportunity.

Quiet Santa times

There is a shopping mall in Novia Scotia, Canada, where autistic children can have private chats with Santa in a quiet room that has fewer decorations.

I think that is a wonderful idea to allow those children to experience sitting on Santa’s lap (or beside him), knowing that the noise, movement and crowds in a normal Santa situation could easily overwhelm children on the autism spectrum.

I have heard of other places in the past doing this, too.

The Sensitive Santa Project, run in Nillumbik Council in Victoria is a similar program being run this year. And Sensory Santa 2016 is encouraging shopping centre to hold more quiet Santa visit options – it lists centres across Queensland, NSW and WA that will offer Santa visits this coming Sunday (20 November).

Santa signing to deaf children

Last year, I was just as moved by the story of Santa using sign language to chat with Tilly in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK and to communicate with a three-year-old girl, Mali, in Cleveland, USA.

That Cleveland Centre will have Santa signing again this year, as will a school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.

Back in Australia, some 2016 Christmas and Santa events including Auslan are:

Other inclusive Santa experiences?

Have you ever experienced an inclusive Santa experience somewhere? Did you see it make a difference to children who may otherwise have missed out on something that most other kids take for granted?

Santa writing with a quill

Writing letters is one way Santa shows his love for children.

Do you know of any others coming up in Australia this year as I’d love them to be shared and become more common.

Important notes

Santa of course loves all children and will communicate with them as best he can (writing letters to children is obviously a key way he communicates!). But because he is such a busy many, he has some other Santa helpers who take his place in some shopping centres and the like so more children can experience being with a Santa. And that’s why not all Santas you see can use Auslan, other sign languages or communicate in other ways and languages.

I am sure there are many more inclusive Santa events in Australia (and outside of Victoria!), but the ones above were the only ones I easily found via Google. If you know of others, please share them in the comments.

For or against Christmas…

I just think of Christmas as it is now – a family-focussed time of colour and magic, with religious meaning to some. So it’s interesting to find out about how Christmas has been viewed in the past.

An article by Gerry Bowler covers some of the key changes in Christmas celebrations, such as it taking about 300 years after Christ’s birth before his followers celebrated his birth at Christmas.

1911 painting of a family around the Christmas tree

Albert Chevalier Tayler’s “The Christmas Tree” from 1911 is the type of traditional family Christmas many of us imagine for Christmas past.

And I found it fascinating that Christmas was banned during the sixteenth century and actually disappeared from places like Scotland, the Netherlands and even England for a while. it amuses me that “in England and America it had become an alcohol-centered season of low-class rowdiness.”

I guess it is the reappearance of Christmas in the early 1800s that has given us the images of English families sitting around a Christmas tree and building the values of sharing and togetherness I now associate with Christmas.

Of course, there are still many opinions about Christmas – it is not religious enough, it should be removed from religion and be secular, it is too commercial, and so on – but I can’t see Christmas disappearing again and agree with Bowler’s closing words “We may expect [Christmas] to be celebrated and attacked for centuries to come.”

 

* Image is in the public domain

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