Christmas spirirt

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?

Family time over Christmas

To me, one of the highlights of  Christmas is time spent with people you care about, whether they are family or friends, we all tend to make time to catch up with people during December.

But what sorts of things can you do with your immediate family as Christmas activities? Or with a group you are catching up with?

Thanks to Clair’s comment about finding some family activities for Christmas somewhat challenging, I got inspired and am trying to give everyone lots of celebratory ideas!

Simple activities at home

There are many things you can do, of course, but here are a few categories and specific ideas to get you thinking about how to entertain the kids and family at home in the lead up to Christmas…

boy and two women cooking Christmas treats in Santa hats

Family cooking together is a lovely preparation for Christmas

Outings and other activities

Sometimes you just need to get out of the house or you want the excitement of doing something different, so I’ve also listed some Christmas activities you can visit…

  • walk around your area and check out the decorations and Christmas lights – or visit another area and check out their lights!
  • visit your closest city and admire the displays and activities – for instance, the Myer windows in Melbourne are a popular outings for families. What can you find in your city?
  • take a break and visit another city and check out all their Christmas attractions – don’t forget regional cities can be fun, too, so you can fit a trip into a day or a weekend
  • have a picnic in a park as an informal Christmas party – invite all your friends and tell them to bring their friends
  • get a group of kids together so they can all write Santa letters and Christmas cards together
  • find out where Santa is visiting in your area and go visit him, maybe even get your photo taken with him or some of his elves
  • go for a walk in the bush and see which trees would be good to decorate – or not!
  • look around for some celebrations of other cultures – maybe there is a display or event for Hannukkah, Eid-as_Adhe or Bodhi Day near you
  • deliver some Christmas items to a nursing home, hospital or charity
  • arrange to visit some people in a nursing home, community home, hospice or hospital – just a friendly chat will brighten them up, or you could perform some carols or a Christmas story for them

    Christmas in July displays in Maldon - Mrs Claus, carollers, wombats, kangaroo pulling a koala in a sleigh

    Some of the displays in historic Maldon were well worth the drive.

Add some excitement to your Christmas plans

Set up a family advent calendar where each day you select an activity (eg have them on pieces of paper in a jar – maybe have a weekend jar and a weekday jar though to allow for different amounts of time available) to do as a family.

As well as doing anything in the above lists, what else would your calendar could include?

 

* Images courtesy of 123rf & LoveSanta

getting on Santa’s nice list

Everyone wants to be on Santa’s nice list when we get to Christmas Eve!

12 month calendar

Santa decides if you were naughty or nice for the whole year…

But how do you make sure you are on that list?

Remember it is all year

Santa doesn’t just decide who’s naughty or nice on Christmas Eve, or even the last few days before Christmas – he remembers if you were mostly nice throughout the year.

So it’s important to try your best ALL YEAR not just near Christmas time 🙂

 

 

Doing good deeds

It’s a nice idea that we can be nice or good all the time, but in reality we’re human so we make mistakes and sometimes are not so nice.

But the best way to make up for any mistakes or naughty things is to do some good deeds whenever we get the chance.

Most good deeds can be done very quickly and with little effort, but can have a huge impact on the people around us (and our chances of making it onto Santa’s nice list!)For instance, smiling at a lonely person can lift their spirits and picking up a dropped pen for someone with a bad back is very helpful.

Nobody has to know about it for it to count as a good deed, either, so picking up rubbish in an empty park is just as relevant as holding a door open for someone.

Nice things that Santa notices

In case you are wondering what good deeds or nice things you could do (or to acknowledge in others), I thought I’d share some of the good things Santa wrote to Aussie children about last Christmas.

cartoon boy owing grass

Mowing the lawn is one way to help at home

  • being a great brother/sister
  • writing cards/letters to a sick person
  • giving away some toys and books to children who need them
  • doing your best at school/kinder/sport
  • teaching something or helping others learn
  • tidying your room
  • looking after pets
  • being kind to others
  • helping Mummy/Daddy/other at home
  • listening to your teacher
  • making people smile
  • always looking after your friends
  • using good manners most of the time
  • doing homework without being asked
  • sharing your (special toy/game)
  • watering the plants or helping in the garden
  • working hard to learn new things
  • collecting the mail each day
  • being affectionate (giving mum/dad/others cuddles and so on)
  • being reliable and honest
  • helping dad train
  • being brave at the doctor/hospital
  • being generous
  • not giving into yourself (staying clam, not loosing your temper)
  • making things for people (especially drawing pictures)
  • writing thank you notes
  • including everyone in your games

 

*Image created with images from 123RF ( ragnarocks & nazlisart)

Creating positive messages for Christmas

So you’ve decided to do an advent activity based on positive messages, whether just for the kids, the family or maybe even a group of people you see regularly.

It’s a lovely, positive way to celebrate Christmas, and can be very colourful, too, but sometimes, writing the messages may seem a little daunting.

Writing the messages

getting set to write…

Apart from the obvious need to get materials ready to write the messages, how do you prepare to write positive Christmas messages?

The reality is you may have to push yourself and do it when you’re tired or grumpy, but as much as possible try the following ideas to make writing easier:

  • remember it’s going to be fun seeing them read what you write
  • think of the lasting impact this December could have
  • give yourself some time to do this – rushing just makes it harder (and makes mistakes more likely)
  • sit somewhere comfortable so you can relax
  • make it fun for you – have a nice drink and a snack beside you, play some music you like, burn a candle to encourage your sense of smell, etc
  • have some props around you to help – maybe photos of the kids doing things, your diary so you can remember things you’ve done together, a print out of the tips below, and so on.

When to write…

You could write the messages each day, for example write them out each evening in preparation to be read the next day. I like this as it will be fresh and relevant to the day, and is probably easier to do than writing 24 messages at once. But I would have a few spare ones written in advance in case you don’t get to it on any particular day (like when you’re out at Christmas functions or carols by candlelight!)

Or you can write out all the messages in November so they’re all done for the count down. How you’re going to present them will also impact on when you write them!

What to write…

What to actually write in the messages is the biggest hurdle for some people. So here are a few tips:

  • keep it simple – “I love how kind you are” or “Your smile brightens up my day” are short but meaningful
  • remember the good deeds done throughout the year, not just recently
  • focus on the good, don’t try to change anyone. For instance “well done for setting the table this week” is much better than “remember to set the table every day”
  • don’t give the same message to everyone in the family, at least not everyday
  • use sentences (“generous” isn’t as nice to read as “you are so generous, Jane!”) but one sentence per message will usually be enough
  • stick to things they can control – so make it more about behaviour and attitude than appearance. It’s much more affirming to be told “you are friendly” and “you are good at helping people” than “you have nice hair”
  • add their name to at least some of the messages – it has more power that way

And if you’re really struggling, here are some actual message ideas:

  • I love your smile
  • you make me laugh!
  • you are very kind to animals
  • you’ve worked really hard this year
  • thanks for making me so many dinners
  • you are a great friend
  • I am proud of you
  • you are a great big sister
  • your integrity makes you beautiful
  • you are a great cook!
  • I’m proud of you trying hard at school
  • you give great hugs!
  • I appreciate you saving water when you can
  • you are very artistic
  • you have a great fashion sense
  • I love your laugh
  • you make good choices
  • it’s great watching you play sport
  • you are a great team player
  • you are good at thinking about things
  • I’m pleased you are loyal
  • I’m grateful you’re always there for me
  • You show me the way, even when you’re scared of the path

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.

 

Pending coffee and snacks

Today I heard about pending coffees for the first time.

Maybe I’m a bit behind or maybe it’s just because I don’t actually drink coffee or buy many drinks in cafes! Whatever, I love this idea, especially as we head into the Christmas rush.

Chirtsmas bow on a mug beside a plate of mince pies

Sharing a drink and snack is truly part of the Christmas spirit – at any time of year!

What is pending coffee?

In case I’m not the last to know about it, let me explain.

Some people walk into a coffee shop and ask for two coffees – one for them and one pending coffee. The shop takes money for two coffees but only serves one.

Later, a person with financial worries comes into the shop and asks if they have any pending coffees. The shop then serves that extra coffee they’ve already been paid for.

It’s a really simple way of giving to those who need some help.

And of course, it doesn’t have to just be a coffee (in my mind anyway!) It could be a pending snack at the café or a pending bucket of chips in a take away shop. As long as hungry people know a shop is willing to serve pending drinks/snacks, it’s there for the offering.

Do you order a pending coffee or snack?

As I said, I don’t drink coffee and hadn’t heard of pending coffees before so I haven’t done this, but I intend to do so. Have you ever done it?

I’m curious as to how shop people react if they don’t already know about this means of Paying it Forward

Maybe we need little signs in shop windows to tell people they are welcome to offer or request pending drinks and snacks there.

Working as Santa’s Elfs

It had been a rough year money wise. Christmas Eve was here and there wasn’t going to be anything under the tree. Luckily the kids were all small and probably wouldn’t even realize that Christmas had come without a visit from Santa.

I decided to at least bake some cookies for the holiday. Mainly to lift my own spirits.

I was just taking out the last pan when my brother-in-law showed up. He helped pack up the 3 children and fresh baked cookies so we could spend the night and Christmas day with the rest of the family.

After getting all the kids asleep for the night, he proceeded to open his closet which was piled to the ceiling with boxes. He started to pull stuff out handing it to us. It was toys! He worked for a donation center. All the toys had been donated but rejected because they weren’t in very good shape.

tools for reconstructions (sewdriver, thread, pliers & glue)Until the wee hours of the morning we fixed and rebuilt cars, dolls, stuffed bears and tricycles.

When we were finished there was more toys than all our kids needed. My husband and his brother loaded the extras in the car and using a list my brother had gotten ahold of, took off and left presents at doors of other struggling families with small children.

The next morning watching the kids tear open the gifts made me happy but the fact of what we had accomplished made me feel the happiest. Really felt like one of Santa’s elfs.

Driving presents all day for Santa

There’s a lady in my area who collects toys and drives them to another place where the kids aint got much.Cheerful pile of Christmas presents

I think it’s about 8 hours each time she drives up there to give those kids stuff, which is a pretty long way to go, y’know? I guess Santa goes further but many people wouldn’t.

My kids have helped get stuff at their school – that’s how she gets most of the gifts I think, through schools and preschools near here.

Just thought I’d share this Christmas nice story. She is doing a good thing so this is my little thank you ‘cos I don’t do much meself.

Oh, and I found a paper article on the net about her, too.

Retired toymakers helping Santa in Africa

I read a story about some men in Brisbane who are making toys for kids in Africa. Just little wooden blocks and trucks, but for kids who are sick in a poor place so usually just play with blown up gloves which is too sad.

Even nicer, some nurses from Brisbane are taking the toys to Africa and giving them straight to kids’ hands on Christmas morning – not just sending a brown box.

Smile from young nurses with gifts and things to teach local nurses will make a lovely Christmas so me gratitude to retired men and nurses if that ok.

Wooden blocks with Santa images

Wooden blocks can be used many ways by young children

Multicultural Christmas activity

MUlticultral Christmas & Santa images

Santa, Sinteklaus or St Nick, Zwarte Piet, boomers – different Christmas traditions

As a cub leader, we’re always looking for ideas for un nights that help the kids develop income way. Throwing around ideas this term we thought of doing a Christmas night where kids’ families come along and share their culture/traditions.

The idea is for a parent/grandparent to talk for 10 or so minutes about the Xmas traditions of their home country/region, showing any costumes or props, then answering questions.

It’s a nice way to celebrate Christmas without just being about gifts or decorations and it’s a fun way to teach them about different cultures and countries (must remember to have a world globe handy!)

 

 

* Collage made form images from capl.washjeff.edu, free digital vintage stamps and private sources

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