santa

A gingerbread sleigh and reindeer

Happy Gingerbread House Day!

To celebrate Gingerbread House day (yes, there really is a day celebrating gingerbread!), ChristmasJen and I made some gingerbread to give Santa a sleigh.

A gingerbread sleigh shown from different angles

We used a gingerbread recipe known to work well and a cutter set that I had grabbed from an op shop.

Cutter set

Using the cutters, we cut out two sleigh sides, two sleigh ends and four reindeer. My tip if you create a gingerbread sleigh – cut half the reindeer with the cutter upside down so some will face the other way for decorating.

gingerbread pieces and an empty piping bag

Baked gingerbread pieces

The set made this all very easy, but you could cut out cardboard templates instead – the ends are just squares and the sides were about 3 times longer with curved sections to look like a sleigh. Any other animal cutters may work if you don’t feel able to draw some reindeer templates!

Creating the sleigh

So you will need gingerbread and icing, plus a board to sit your sleigh on.

  • two sleigh sides
  • two sleigh ends
  • reindeer (as many as you want – I got four out of the recipe above)
  • egg whites
  • icing sugar

To make the icing, start by beating two egg whites until they are white and form stiff peaks.

Stiff peaks in the egg whites are important

Then add icing sugar, about half a cup at a time, to make a really thick icing. I used 3.5 cups in total, and probably could have used more. Remember that thinner (ie runnier) icing takes longer to set so you will end up holding pieces together for a while.

Spoon standing in icing to show how stiff the mixture is

Stiff enough to hold up a spoon!

Lay out your gingerbread pieces and pipe some icing to stick them together as a sleigh.

Sticking pieces of gingerbread together to form Santa's sleigh

Let the construction begin!

Decorating the sleigh

The reindeer were easier to decorate lying down, but the sleigh can be decorated once it is put together – especially if you want to decorate the back of the sleigh.

Some lollies ready to use in decorating the gingerbread

Some of the lollies used on our gingerbread sleigh

My son had a wonderful time using the remaining icing to stick on Smarties, candy canes and lolly cupcakes.

CHild's hand attaching lollies to a gingerbread sleigh

He was generous with the icing as he attached lollies!

To finish off our sleigh, we added a marshmallow Santa on top.

 

Decorating the reindeer was quick and simple – and we added a glacé cherry to one to be Rudolph!

Decorating gingerbread reindeer

They gained personality as added decorations!

Then we ran long streams of snow (also known as icing!) out in front of the sleigh and stood the decorated reindeer in the snow. This is where stiffer icing would have helped as I need supports for the reindeer for a little while as the icing fully set.

We used some sour pencils to form the reins between the sleigh and reindeer, and we were done!

Santa's gingerbread sleigh

Santa’s gingerbread sleigh

It was a lot of fun to make Santa’s sleigh. And the reaction at a local Christmas party when I presented the sleigh was priceless! There were compliments from adults, but more striking was the amazement and wonder on lots of little faces – I do love delighting young children! It didn’t take long for there to just be an empty board with bits of discarded icing…

Santa is Coming to Victoria puzzle

Puzzle box of Santa comes to Victoria
It is very exciting to find personalised things, so books about Australia (and more specific areas I know) always catch my eye and make me smile. And I know my kids love seeing Aussie Christmas stories and images.

I have previously reviewed the books Santa is coming to Australia and Santa is coming to Melbourne, but now here is a jigsaw puzzle based on the Santa is Coming to Victoria book of the same series.

 

 

 

 

Santa is Coming to Victoria puzzle

The puzzle comes in a sturdy box with a handle so you can store it fairly easily, which is always handy.

It has big pieces which are also sturdy and made of thick card, so it will survive many uses and the curiosity of little hands.

I had a lovely surprise upon opening the box and finding a miniature version of the book in the box as well (ok, it is written on the box but I hadn’t remembered that!). So we read the story before attempting the puzzle which helped bring the picture alive even more.

Puzzle pieces and the mini book

Putting the puzzle together

Although I expected it was too young for him, I did with the puzzle with my nine year old to see how it went, and whether it was suitable to give to a two year old. We did it fairly quickly but he made some mistakes in the side pieces so it’s not overly simple.

Edges of puzzle all in place

I’ve taught my children to do the edges first in big puzzles

It is harder because the image is a collage of Victorian landmarks so the top of a building, for example, may not be at the top of the completed puzzle.

My son absolutely loved spotting places he knows. And I enjoyed being able to name the places as we put the puzzle together, too.

completed Santa is coming to Victoria puzzle

Overall, this puzzle is probably best for 3.5 and up, but still fun for 8-9 year olds. It will excite Victorian children, and I daresay the equivalent puzzles for the other states and cities are similar in style so they can have their local excitement, too! It is also a nice gift for someone travelling to Victoria now or next year (a good preparation to do the puzzle ahead of arriving!)

Why dogs don’t bark at Santa – Christmas book review

Why dogs don’t bark at Santa Book cover of Why Dogs don't bark at Santa

by Greg Ray
illustrated by Jenny Miller
designed by Holly Webber
Why Dogs, Tasmania, 2017

Age group: preschool to 10 years, adult dog lovers

Format: hard cover, 26 pages

 

A friend travelling in Tassie discovered this book for her grandson, and lent it to me.

The story

Santa and Rudolph are heroes to dogs everywhere, and this story explains why…

My review

I was surprised at enjoying this book more than I expected to. Jenny Miller has created some beautiful watercolour images for the story that merge into the white space used for the text. It starts with a dog not reacting to reindeer outside the window and Santa’s feet arriving in the fireplace.

The text itself consists of rhymes throughout which is fun for younger listeners, and for the reader!

Why Doges don't bark at Santa inner pages

Santa and Rudolph in the snow

Through a snowy storm, Santa doesn’t give up on searching for a group of lost puppies so the book showcases Santa as generous and caring, as we expect him to be.

This is the latest in series of Why Dogs books which are all self-published in Tasmania. I haven’t read any others, nor seen them, but they are described as a tongue in check collection of stories about the characteristics and eccentricities of our canine companions.

My seven and nine year olds enjoyed this story, as did a friend’s two year old dog-loving son.

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!

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 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?

Make Santa and his sleigh!

Last Christmas, my daughter’s grade 1 class made some Santa sleighs and reindeer in their art classes. I think they are very cute, and a clever idea on the part of their teacher.

COllage of kids craft work - Santa in his sleigh with a cotton reel reindeer

I love the Santa face and beard some of the children created! The reindeer are very cute but don’t really stand up very well unfortunately – you need something stronger than pipe cleaners really.

Two child-made Santa sleighs and reindeer, with Santa smiling

As this could also be a great craft activity for Christmas in July (and craft in the upcoming winter school holidays may be a good choice!), here is my break down of how to make Santa and his sleigh.

Making Santa and some reindeer is a fun kids' craft activity.

Materials

  • 1 cardboard box with lid (about 7cm long and 4cm wide)
  • sheet of plain paper (could be coloured or Christmas themed but that reduces decorating!)
  • scissors
  • textas, pencils, glitter, glue, etc for decorating
  • double sided tape (or glue)
  • two cotton reels (wooden preferably)
  • 1 brown pipe cleaner
  • 3 glittery red pipe cleaners
  • two googly eyes (you could draw them on if you wanted to)
  • gold elasticized thread or string
  • a golden bell (or a bead will do)
  • a couple of cotton wool balls
  • thick red paper

Instructions to make the sleigh

Cut out two sides for the sleigh, making them about as long as an A4 page.

One end needs to be about 15cm high and the other only 3 cm or so high. The shape in between is up to you – it can slope down quickly like a husky sled or stay high and then slope down like a sleigh (better for keeping Santa warm and his sack safe!)

CLose up images of Santa's sleigh made from paper and a cardboard box

Decorate the cut outs as you wish with colour and glitter.

Sit the box inside the lid.

Doing one side at a time, attach the sleigh sides onto the box with double sided tape (or glue). Leave 2 or 3 cm of the paper past the box.

 

Instructions to make SantaRed paper Santa face made by a child

Take the red paper – cut it into a circle of about 10 cm in diameter (ie 10 cm across the circle).

Cut a triangle wedge – about 1/5 of the circle.

Roll the piece of paper so that the two sides of the wedge overlap and can be taped or glued together.

Stick a cotton ball on the top of the cone and another near the base to be Santa’s beard.

Draw on some eyes and Santa is done!

 

Instructions to make the reindeer

Stick the googly eyes onto a cotton reel.

Fold the brown pipe cleaner in half and push the folded end into the top of the cotton reel with eyes. Depending in the size of the hole, you may want to add some glue to keep the pipe cleaner in place. Adjust the pipe cleaner to look like the reindeer’s antlers.

Cotton reel and pipe cleaner reindeer made by a child for Christmas

Push all three red pipe cleaners through the other cotton reel. Then, adjust them so that there are four ends are equal on each side of the cotton reel – these are the four legs and can be pulled into position.

One of the remaining ends can be shorter and bent upwards to form the tail. Take the remaining end of the pipe cleaner and put into the other cotton reel to join the two reels together, forming the reindeer’s neck.

Note you could make one pipe cleaner a different colour for the tail and neck – I just kept it simple!

Putting Santa with his sleigh

Stick one end of the gold thread onto the smaller end of the sleigh side with some sticky tape.

Thread the bell onto the thread and knot it in place about half way along the thread.

Loop the golden thread and bell around the red pipe cleaner neck.

Stick the other end of the thread onto the other side of the sleigh.

Sit Santa in the cardboard box.

Santa and his sleigh can now be put on a display as a hand crafted Christmas decoration or given as a gift.

Is your Santa black?

St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet at Sinterklaas

St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet celebrating Sinterklaas

With the exception of Zwarte Piet (Black Peter – Saint Nicholas’ companion in Holland), nearly all images of Christmas characters are white.

While I think it is ok to have a specific character be any particular colour/race/religion, there is no need for ALL characters to be one ‘type’ of person. It’s a bit like the old goodies in white hats and baddies in black hats – lots of good people actually prefer to wear black, and there are now stories of good witches and ninjas etc wearing black.

So is Santa black? Given he keeps himself hidden at the North Pole and comes into our homes when we are asleep, who knows what he really looks like? For all we know, he has purple skin and green hair!!

Teaching multiple stories.

I have just read an article by Peggy Albers about the impact of telling a single story. Called ‘Why is Santa black?’ the article explains that having a single story leads us to have a single perspective on things and can lead to narrow thinking.

Peggy suggests we read some stories from a different perspective and stories that show certain groups in different ways.

For example, I once read a version of Snow White told from the step- mother’s perspective. It told of her concerns about the teenager dropping rubbish everywhere (like a trail in the woods!), needing to be tricked into eating healthy food (like apples) and her relationship with the woodsman before running away. It was fun but children hearing that may get to understand that there is always another perspective, another side to the story – and that is certainly a valuable lesson to learn.

Peggy gives examples of Jewish characters being portrayed as poor, living with tension or fearful  of supernatural forces. The main reading I have done with Jewish characters have been set in or around World War 2 (so yes they were living with tension) or dealing with expectations based on deceased relatives (so supernatural forces) – so my own experience agrees with Peggy’s research. However, I also have some life experiences (and heard many other stereotypes) so have a broader perspective of Jews – but I can see how books give a limited view.

array of children's Christmas books

There are many books with Santa – mostly white and human, sometimes an animal.

I intend now to get and read ‘Twas the night before Christmas: An African American version* to broaden my Christmas story – and am glad I have read (and reviewed) some revised versions of Christmas stories such as:

Interestingly, there is a lot of debate about Zwarte Piet – many say he is racist and based on a book written in the 1850s while others say his origins are much older and relate to traditional European Santas having a black assistant who was invisible in the darkness and travelled through chimneys (so was covered in black soot). Accepting the book version of Zwarte Piet gives a different perspective of the character, whereas the historical version has more depth and fewer racist overtones – again, a single story impacts on the perceptions.

Does Santa’s colour matter?

The real symbols of Santa are a red suit, big belly and a white beard.

Yes, most images of Santa do have him as white but I don’t think that has to be the case (and will consciously use some other skin tones from here on myself).

And life is certainly more interesting when we have a variety of stories and cultures, so I’m all for some different Christmas and Santa stories (and there are a few around!)

So, what colour skin does Santa have in your mind? Other than it currently being unusual, would you have an issue with Santa being African or Asian in appearance?

 

* So far, I haven’t had much luck finding this book. It was written and illustrated by Melodye Benson Rosales, and published in October 1996.

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!

 

Christmas at the Zoo!

On Saturday night we were lucky enough to be amongst the Melbourne Zoo members who attended their Christmas party.

It was a lot of fun!

Visiting Santa

For our turn with Santa, a Christmas fairy greeted us and took us into Santa’s cave for a personal chat with Santa then a chance to take a photo. Each child also got an early gift, but only if they could answer a special question from Santa (like “how many reindeer pull my sleigh” and “name two of my reindeer other than Rudolph“.)

Santa at Zoo Member night 2016

Winter Wonderland

Within the winter wonderland, there were multiple snow machines, a couple of craft activities, a silent disco (we spent ages in there!), a family photo scene (complete with snow covered mountains and a Rudolph statue) and a chance to pose with the Penguins of Madagascar.

A jungle gym, festooned in tinsel and bells was very popular, as was an inflatable maze. There was also a little kids area with Christmassy playthings and dressups.

Zoo animals

We were at the zoo, so of course we also walked around to see some animals before enjoying the Christmas activities. Unfortunately, many of the animals had decided to have a nap or otherwise stay out of view so we didn’t see many, but it was nice to walk around in the evening and experience a different sort of atmosphere at the zoo.

Giraffes & zebras at Melbourne Zoo

Entertainment& other activities

To keep us all entertained outside of Winter Wonderland and Santa’s Cave, there were various entertainment options provided.

  • on the main stage, the Party Animals played three sets of mixed songs
  • children were able to write to Santa – there were child-sized tables and chairs, simple letter templates, pencils and a large red letterbox for mailing the letters
  • train rides around the zoo
  • wandering characters stopped and talked to children and had photos takes, and waved to other children as they walked around
  • some performers on stage interacted with children, including teaching them dance moves and handing out prizes

Christmas entertainment images from teh melbourne Z00 2016 party

Day eight is Christmassy!

collection of images from teh Lego 2016 advent calendars

“Mum, today’s calendar is really Christmassy!”

So yelled my six year old upon opening the Friends Lego calendar this evening and finding a snack for Santa and carrots for the boomers and reindeer.

Lego biscuits and hot drink plus a reindeer carrot

Getting a snack ready for Santa and the boomers!

Meanwhile, in Lego City advent calendar, my son found a boy with ice skates and hockey gear.

Lego ice-hockey player in front of advent calendar

Creating an ice-hockey player!

Back to day seven…

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.

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