Christmas Memories

Merry Christmas!

It is now Christmas Day and we wish you a wonderful day filled with love, laughter and friendship.

If you’re in a heat wave like us, remember to drink plenty of water and stay cool.

Merry Christmas Australia!

 

two young girls in front of a Christmas tree

Enjoy your Christmas with the excitement of a child 🙂

Fourth day of December and advents

Sunday evening and we’re onto the fourth day of advent calendars.

Have you missed any days yet?

So my son was very pleased to find that he did get another instrument in the fourth advent calendar flap tonight! The trumpet came with another fire fighter so I suspect we have a fire brigade band performing in Lego City this year.

Lego fire fighter with a trumpet

A second fire-fighter musician for Lego City

And my daughter was happy upon discovering a campfire and plant in the Lego Friends advent calendar. I can’t say I understand why there are flowers to the side of a fire but maybe it will become clearer as we move through the calendar.

Lego figure of Emma beside a fire and flowers

Emma enjoying the fire and pretty flowers…

If you missed it, you can read our review of day three as well.

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?

Enjoying Christmas music

Christmas holly on top of musical notesWhat sort of Christmas music do you like?

I think of three, or maybe four, categories of Christmas music…

Rocking Christmas songs

A few days ago, Pitchfork put out a list of their top 50 Christmas songs ever which is really interesting as they give stories and information about the songs, too. There are certainly songs on there I don’t know so I may have to start checking out rock Christmas songs this year!

Santa hat on a muscial note Who knew Sufjan Stevens has released more than 100 Christmas songs since 2001, for instance?

Or that Frank Sinatra sang three different versions of “have yourself a Merry little Christmas“?

Or that Chuck Berry also sang a Rudolph song written by Johnny Marks (who wrote the original Rudolph the red nosed reindeer)? It was called Run Rudolph Run.

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

Make Santa letters a family tradition

Boy writing letter to SantaWriting letters to Santa is a long standing tradition in many places around the world.

It is a lot of fun and has many benefits for children, but it can also be a family event that is lots of fun.

Writing letters as a family

So how can you make it a family activity?

Basically, you just have to make the time to sit down together and write letters to Santa. But to get you moving, here are a few tips…

  1. make a date and time to do this so it will happen. if you make a date like ‘the first Saturday in December’ or ‘the third Friday in November’ it is easier to become a tradition that will last for years with little effort.
  2. get things set up first – have paper, pencils, textas, crayons and even special things like glitter and stickers. Spread them out on a table, turn on some Christmas or other loved music, and maybe have a yummy snack on hand so the letter writing time can be truly dedicated to being creative.
  3. let everyone ‘write’ their own letter. For very young children, you may write the actual words, but let them draw and write on the letter as well, and make sure they tell you what to write rather than deciding what to write for them.
  4. have a rule that nobody has to share their letter as they write, although encouraging sharing the finished letters can lead to some lovely times together. If someone (usually an older child) wants to keep secrets, maybe they can just read out part of what they have written instead.
  5. let everyone be creative – kids can draw pictures and decorate the letter, anyone can use different coloured pens/pencils for each sentence or even each word, and so on. This is for Santa, not a bank manager or lawyer, so make the letter beautiful!
  6. remember to include something nice for Santa in the letter, it shouldn’t just be a list of gifts you want
  7. have everyone write a letter, not just the kids. Parents can have fun, too, and it may help tip kids towards gifts you want instead of another pair of socks!

Lessons to be learned

Smiling little girl writing a letter to Santa

Writing to Santa makes children happy! Writing with family is even better.

Writing Santa letters together has a number of advantages, including kids learning some useful lessons such as

  1. how to structure a letter!
  2. why it is nice to write letters and how people enjoy receiving letters. And in modern times, a letter takes more effort than an email or text so receiving a letter is even more valuable so it is a social gift to be able to write letters.
  3. practice writing, spelling and using grammar/punctuation.
  4. about other members of the family – want they may want, what they think is important to tell Santa, and how they use their creativity
  5. using good manners (eg “Santa can I please have…” rather than “I want …”)
  6. about Christmas and Santa – it is a great time to chat about what these things are and how your family celebrates them, and to answer any questions your children may have at that time of year.
  7. how to address and envelope and mail it – unless you leave the letters under the tree or in stockings instead of course!
  8. how to relax, have fun and enjoy tradition and magical moments. Remember the kids are given facts and goals all year so it is nice to have some magical and imaginative time, too (as stated by Michael Grose).
  9. having traditions like this help connect the family and set some rhythms that give kids certainty and security over time.

 

Has your family (present or in your childhood) ever written Santa letters together? Are they special memories?

Melbourne’s Myer windows

Growing up in Melbourne means visiting the Myer windows for Christmas.

Collage of Myer windows, Christmas 2015

A long standing tradition

As I mentioned last week, this is the 60th year that Myer has been providing this festive delight to Melbournians.

Like many Melbournians, I remember heading into the city (and going by train just added to the excitement!) to view the windows as a child and again with my friends as a teenager. Now, I get to take my children in and share the experience with them.

All but a few years had moving parts to the displays, and all years have a theme linking the six windows.

60 years

To celebrate the fact that the Myer windows are 60 years old, one of this year’s windows was very special. It showed the back of a typical scene so we can see the mechanism allowing for movement.

On either side of that scene was a bookshelf containing items/characters from old window themes. That is one window I wish I had been able to spend more time at, but it went quickly and was of less interest to my kids.

2015 – the little dog story

Little dog sitting in front of a gate in Myer windowSo this year, the theme behind the Myer Christmas windows is the book Little dog and the Christmas wish by Corinne Fenton.

Each window has a little dog at the front of the window looking into the scene of the story. The story can be heard and read as you move along the series.

As the little dog move around the suburbs and city of Melbourne, the various scenes show Melbourne from the 50s.

Changes over time

When we visited the windows last week I noticed a few changes from when I was younger.

  • there are structured queues so everyone gets a turn and starts at one end of the windows – and the doorways into Myer are kept free for shoppers! I remember crowds of people in front of each window, and you just saw them as you could.
  • the displays are behind a curtain. The curtain goes up, the story and movement starts, then the curtain goes down again to signal it’s time to move onto the next scene. There’s nothing to really stop you watching a particular scene more than once, but it is a good way to keep things moving smoothly
2015 Myer windows with 60th sign and little dog

The Little dog looking at the closed screen

Accepting Christmas cards

So just a few days after posting about the advantages of kids writing Christmas cards to their friends and classmates. I came across a story that shocked me.

Christmas card rejection story

CHristmas cards and candy canes across a table

Many children add a candy cane to friends’ Christmas cards

So the story is that a nine year old boy spent about two hours writing out cards for everyone in his class, including a picture for each child and adding in a candy cane each.

The next day, he handed out the cards and brought home some of them, minus the candy canes. When questioned, he told his mother that some kids didn’t want the cards so only took the candy canes.

My reaction

I am horrified that some kids could be so rude and disrespectful as to reject cards given to them in a spirit of generosity and care.

They could have at least taken the cards and thrown them in the recycling bin at home instead of refusing to take them. And as for taking the gift without the card – I just can’t comprehend being so rude.

That boy is like my children – he obviously put thought and effort into writing those cards and he deserved better treatment than he got. Even if you don’t like Christmas or cards, surely you can be taught to appreciate the thought and effort?

I don’t even accept that people who don’t believe in Christmas should act this way – if you refuse the card, you must also refuse the candy cane I’d say. And you can accept the card in the spirit it was given rather than take some high ground of not believing.

My son and I discussed cards for one of his classmates who is Muslim – he is aware she does not believe in Christmas and didn’t want to offend her with a card. However, I said let’s include her by giving her a happy new year card instead. Either way I can’t see her or her mother refusing to take the card as they understand it was out of my son’s respect she was given the card.

Is this common?

I have never before heard of anyone accepting only part of a gift and refusing the card attached. I certainly would not act this way nor allow my children to do so (not that they would – they always bring cards home proudly and want to display them).

Am I just lucky enough to be surrounded by people with more manners and appreciation for being given something? Or is this a rare instance of rudeness? In other words, have you ever come across this sort of behaviour?

Names of the six white boomers

So most Aussies know that it is too hot in Australia for the reindeer (they are used to the snowy North Pole after all!) so six white boomers help Santa get around Down Under on Christmas Eve.

Many people are interested in the reindeer names, but did you know that the boomers also have individual names?

Six boomers pulling Sata's sleigh

The actual six white boomers song does not include the names, unlike the original Night before Christmas story, but they are included on the album by Rolf Harris when he produced the song in the 1960s.

So, the boomers who help Santa are…

  • Jackaroo
  • Curly
  • Bluey
  • Two-Up
  • Desert-Head
  • Snow

If you are not an Aussie, many of those names may seem a bit strange or foreign, but they seem fairly normal to me!

Different advent calendars

So the main idea of an advent calendar is to enjoy the count down of days to Christmas Day.

By walking through shops and listening to kids, it would seem that the first thing in many minds at the mention of an advent calendar is a cardboard folder with 24 chocolates. There are many options available, from Christmas related images to popular children’s themes (Frozen, Cars, Peppa Pig, Dora the Explorer, Star Wars and so on).

But there are many other ways to count down to Christmas, so I thought I’d list a few…

Christmas books

array booksWhile keeping to the idea of counting down the days, this one doesn’t actually involve a calendar as such. All you have to do is read a different Christmas book each night.

So you need to have 24 books (or a few less if some are longer/harder/multiple stories) but the advantage is that you need only one book per family and can reuse them year after year! You could wrap them all individually and unwrap one from under the tree each evening, or have them in a special box to get one each day (let children take turns to choose one or make it a lucky dip).

There are many Christmas books around, and you probably already have a few around the house. But if you’re looking for some more, you might like to read our Christmas book reviews for ideas.

Lego Advent calendars

Lego City advent calendar 2015Ok, these are not the cheapest option and could still be considered commercial, but they are not based on chocolate and leave the kids with something long term. Plus Lego is a great way to build fine motor skills and imagination.

We’re actually trying these calendars for the first time this year so check out our reviews day by day🙂

beautiful messages

I admit I have often thought of this but leave it too late to organise. Basically, it just means writing 24 personal messages to each child, giving them one a day to read. The messages can be presented in a number of ways, and maybe you could a different presentation each year!

The only rule is that every message must be positive, either acknowledging something good about the child or encouraging them to keep trying.

daily activities

Like the beautiful messages, you can create an advent calendar of your own but instead of positive messages, add in some fun activities to do together.

a tree of thanks

This is simple and a different twist on the messages idea above, but certainly fits into  the spirit of Christmas – and I think it is a great idea to help bring some peace to the world this year. Get the family to make Christmas decorations each day that centre around gratitude, creating a very special tree of thanks to treasure.

homemade treat calendar

Instead of using the commercial chocolate advent calendars (which usually have pretty cheap chocolate in them!), you can get some other chocolates or lollies and give out one a day. Presentations can be as simple as en envelope each day or you can use a reusable calendar (like a wooden display or a cloth calendar with 24 pockets, or make one!)

Another option is to give non edible treats each day – we did this last year with a number of small items as the surprises (things like toy animals, stickers, pencil sharpeners, hair ties, toy cars.) The challenge we found was buying enough different things that were small enough to fit into the compartments of our wooden advent calendar!

make Santa’s beard

I think this is very cute – have a lovely image of Santa, preferably with fluffy trims on his hat, but no beard. Each day of December, stick on one cotton ball… Thanks to oopsey daisy for this idea 🙂

Christmas tree decorating

While you may add the lights and tinsel to the tree on 1 December, you could all add one ornament a day until Christmas Eve as a form of counting down the days and making the tree more exciting day by day!

Positive message count down

If you’re more interested in the spirit of Christmas than the commercialism of bought advent calendars, maybe this is an advent activity you will make time for this year. And it doesn’t just have to be for kids!

This can bring people together, make people feel good and build fantastic Christmas memories. If you’ve ever been involved in a message advent activity, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Presentation of the advent messages

So, how do you present these positive messages throughout December?

Well, you can do it anyway you want but here are some suggestions…

  • roll each message like a scroll and tie it onto the Christmas tree with red ribbon (You might need a special tree just for this if you’re including a lot of people!)
  • fold each message and put it into a pre-made advent calendar
  • fold each message and put it into a jar then pull one out each day as a Christmas lucky dip! To make it nicer, use a red jar or tie a festive ribbon around the jar (and of course, the jar could be any type of container, really!)
  • put each message into an envelope and open one per day
  • stick the message to the bed head so children wake up to see a positive message waiting for them
  • create them as an advent calendar. That is, write the messages on a piece of paper/cardboard then stick another piece of paper over the front having partially cut out some flaps to be lifted (or ripped off) to read each day’s message
  • you could go electronic and schedule the messages to be sent each day via email, social media or even as their screen saver
  • pop a new message into a Christmas stocking (preferably hanging in front of the fireplace or Christmas tree rather than in the dirty laundry basket!) each day – or you could use the stockings for the lucky dip option!
A collage of photos showing advent calendars made at home

Some positive message advent options

And using a different colour (paper, pens, whatever) for each person will make it easier to keep track of things, too!

If you have any other presentation ideas, please share them below 🙂

Creating the messages

This is both the time consuming and challenging part of the process, but also, I believe, the rewarding part.

Little girl dressed for Christmas and writing on blank paper

As you write positive messages, your little Christmas helpers can be writing, too!

Put simply, you need to create 24 positive and encouraging messages for each person using the advent calendar. These messages need to be read each day so should be individual.

I’ll share some ideas about writing the messages themselves in the next couple of days.

 

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