santa

Welcome back elves!

Tinkles the elf arrived in our house this morning, fresh from the North Pole and Santa.

Tinkles the elf sitting in red tinsel

 

I know some elves have arrived during the week in preparation for today – I guess it is too hard for Santa to magic them all in the same day! – but they are now all on duty. I wonder if kids’ behaviour will suddenly improve 🙂

Anyway, Tinkles arrived, sitting under our newly decorated tree with Santa and a special letter from Santa…

Tinkles the elf sitting by Santa under the Christmas tree

She also seems to have brought some balls with her for the kids to play with! Has an elf arrived in your house, with or without a gift?

Santa arrived at Knox today!

Some will just say “but it’s only November!” but Santa arrived at Knox Shopping Centre in Wantirna (Melbourne) this morning.

Santa arrived with Mrs Claus in a golf buggy (remember the reindeer are resting for the big Christmas Eve trip!)

Santa and Mary Claus arriving in a tinsel cover buggy

There was also a parade, including a band, elves, Rudolph and some golden bells.

The sun was out, the skies were blue and it was a lovely day for greeting Santa and his Christmassy friends!

Collage of elves, rudolph, bells and Mrs Claus at the Know 2018 Christmas parade

And as for those saying Santa shouldn’t arrive in November, bah humbug! Seriously, it makes sense to me as Santa must be so busy in December that parades and crowd visits like this must be much easier for him to fit into November!

Santa’s Place

Over the long weekend I got to visit Santa’s Place and it was lovely!

collage of photos fo Santa's Palce Christmas tree farm and shop

Santa’s Place is a Christmas tree farm and shop in Moorooduc, south east of Melbourne.

There are a number of rooms, each of which is full of Christmas decorations and delights. One room has a Christmas village display, too.

Santa's Place images - Christmas village, fairy, Santa in workshop

I was very excited to see a huge sleigh pulled by two boomers!

And the neighbouring room has numerous Aussie themed Christmas items. I couldn’t resist coming home with a cute platypus decoration to join my other Aussie Christmas tree ornaments.

Collage of Aussie themed decorations at Santa's Place

The playground and cafe were also enjoyed by the children I was with, so we spent a fair bit of time happily visiting Santa’s Place! The staff were friendly and appreciated my eight year old helping them restock a display!

So I daresay we will be returning…

 

Follow me Santa – Christmas book review

Follow me Santa

by Roger Priddy
illustrated by Steven Wood
This book was made by Nicola Friggens, Robyn Newton, Penny Worms and Kylie Hamley

Priddy books, New York, 11 September 2018

Age group: toddler to pre-school

Book cover of Follow me Santa

The fun starts on the front cover!

Format: 14 page thick pages

This is exciting – a new release Christmas book that is colourful and fun! I think this should be under many Christmas trees this year!

The story

A quick overview of Santa’s activities on Christmas Eve, from leaving his workshop to arriving back home ready for a nap.

The story as such is short and simple but you get to follow along by finding the way for Santa through a finger maze.

My review

This book is a delight! I discovered Roger Priddy’s work earlier this year when I reviewed Let’s Pretend Christmas and was happy to find this book was going to be released in September (and I may have ordered it on the spot as a pre-release!)

Let’s start with the mazes – I like that they are cut outs so that little (and not so little) fingers can trace their way through the maze. Much more fun and easier to use again and again than a maze you draw on. The pattern is not the same on every page so there is challenge to it, even more so if you get distracted and look at the pictures rather than focussing on the maze from above. My favourite is the maze up and down chimneys so the correct path is all over the double page spread.

Inner pages of Follow me Santa showing the ocean

Steven Wood has done some lovely illustrations, too. Each image is cute and colourful, and there are fun details to notice (like the bike covered in Christmas paper and the air traffic controller elf).

As well as the maze, there is a search activity on each page. And I like that it has a little twist on some pages – for instance there are five polar bears but only four are wearing jumpers as listed to find.

Santa does travel the world but is only shown in cold, icy places unfortunately, but it great to see elves male and female, and different skin colours. Maybe one day Priddy can do a second book to include those of us with warm Christmas celebrations!

I also love the details of Mrs Claus having a present for Santa at the end, although it must wait until he has finished his well deserved nap with his teddy!inside pages of Follow me Santa

 

So do I recommend it? Absolutely! It will entertain young children for ages while helping them observe, count and gain fine motor skills. Older children may solve the mazes faster, but can still enjoy the illustrations and feel of the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Elf – Christmas book review

The Christmas Elf

Book cover of The Christmas Elf

by Hsiu Peng Wong
illustrated by Sami Lewis
IG Design Group, Clayton South, Victoria*

Age group: primary school (5 – 10 years)
Format: soft cover picture book, 14 pages

This book came as part of a box set with a plush elf who can stay in the house each December to help Santa.

The story

A short story to build the message of an elf who watches children’s behaviour to help Santa keep his naughty and nice lists current.

My review

I love the illustrations in this book – it is colourful and cheery, and fun to read. There is not a lot of text so the book will suit very young children as well as those able to read it themselves as part of their Christmas excitement.

Map of Australia and New Zealand Aussie kids dreaming inside The Christmas Elf book

I also like that there is a variety of children in the story – different genders and skin colours – and that dreams of gifts are not genderised (for instance, one child wants a boat and a doll while another wants a tennis racket, a nutcracker and a doll).

It is an Australian book and shows the elf crossing Australia and New Zealand in Santa’s sleigh. So I would have preferred the use of ‘jobs’ instead of ‘chores’ and perhaps some reference to the boomers instead of just reindeer.

It is a positive that the book gives some constructive ideas for getting onto Santa’s nice list – keeping a bedroom tidy, doing your jobs, finishing your homework and being good to one another.

Unfortunately, by the end of the second read, pages were starting to come loose so the construction quality is not great and I’d be wary of letting toddlers read it alone…

Map of Australia and New Zealand inside The Christmas Elf book

* Unfortunately, the publication date is not printed on the book nor can I find it elsewhere…

 

 

We’re at the end of advent calendars…

So the big day is almost here, and Santa will be visiting lots of good girls and boys over the next few hours.

To help us finish off our countdown and build the anticipation of Christmas Day, our Lego calendars provided another two days of fun for us…

23 December

My son was delighted for find Santa’s sleigh behind flap 23 of the Lego Friends calendar (meaning the earlier one is now just a sled!)

Lego City Snata sleigh

Likewise, my daughter was excited to find a ‘one horse open sleigh‘ to attach to the horse from day 22.

Lego horse pulling a one horse open sleigh

Christmas Eve, day 24

And so we have reached the final flaps in our advent calendars – is the excitement at fever pitch in your family yet? There was speculation from my children – would it be Santa, or maybe a reindeer, some presents or Santa’s chair? But there was no doubt it would be something Christmas…

My daughter was very happy to find a Santa snowman – that is, a snowman with a red top and a Santa hat. So the Friends advent calendar had some disappointments early on but the rest was up to expectations and my daughter seems to have forgotten her sadness, which is good. It does have me wondering whether or not to bother next year, so I guess I will be looking at other options for 2018.

Lego snowman dressed as Santa

While I think it is just a sad anomaly, we found nothing behind the final flap of the 2017 City advent calendar 🙁 We can see it was meant to be Santa – and we searched the box and everywhere around where we have kept the calendar, but Santa was not to be found unfortunately.

Lego advent calendar Santa flap

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

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.

Why Doges don't bark at Santa inner pages

Santa and Rudolph in the snow

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

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.

Boy riding a reindeer and reading a Christmas book

Reading about Santa and dogs whilst riding a reindeer!

A Christmas party

We started December by going to a wonderful Christmas party, thus delaying our start of the 2017 advent calendars!, so here are some of the photos from the night…

Santa beside a 'Santa stop here' sign

Obediently, Santa stopped by…

There were lots of Christmas treats to eat…

CHristmas doughnuts, Christmas tree watermelon and muffins beside a Christmas candle

Some gorgeous decorations, including a bunch of mistletoe

Array of CHirstmas decorations, including mistletoe and a Christmas tree

Outside were some pretty lights

Christmas light display photos

And the star of the night, of course, was Santa!

photos of Santa at a party

Santa gave lovely cuddles to Charlotte, the little elf.

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!

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