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Our journey to Christmas

Phew, we’re almost there.

Every year I decide to do less in the lead up to Christmas, and every year I still get exhausted!  Getting the flu (I know!  It’s summer, for goodness sake!) hasn’t helped, but we have had a lot of fun during Advent.

Sausage helped put up the tree.

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Her brother was supposed to help too, but he chose to pack a massive tanty so he got packed off to bed.  Toddlers.

The advent calendar has been a huge hit, as always.

Chip has managed to respect the rule that we only open one bag a day.  Kudos to him, because patience is soooo hard when you are two.  I filled the calendar with a chocolate each and a note about what Christmas-related thing we’d do that day.  Note to self: do not choose cheap wrapped chocolates from bulk bin ever again as they mostly get spat out by picky toddlers.  Despite not liking some of their ‘treats’ the kids don’t seem to care, and are still excited to see what is in the bag each day.

We haven’t always managed to do the calendar activity each day – mostly due to sickness – but my tots aren’t old enough to care, let alone remember.  I have found that thinking ahead to prepare the calendar had really helped with being organised for Christmas.  I finished my shopping ages ago, and only have a few consumables left to make.

St Nicholas Day was very exciting, and Sausage shared chocolate coins with her class at kindy.

We have been very involved in our church Christmas events.  A float telling the real Christmas story has been lacking in Whanganui’s Christmas Parade for several years, so this year several churches from several denominations got together to make a float and participate as a group.  One of the leaders from my church spearheaded the amazing design of the float, and she said the children’s ministry leaders from each church had such a great time organising this event, that they plan to meet regularly to share resources and pray for the churches.

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Waiting to march

The parade was wonderful.  Sausage, my mother-in-law and I had a ball with our church friends, and it was such a joy to see the thousands of happy faces lining the streets to watch the parade.  The weather was perfect, and it felt so great to have joined forces with other like-minded folks to do our bit to share the Christmas message.

We also supported our church’s annual Nativity play.  Chip refused to participate.  He can’t sit still for more than two minutes so his being in the play was always going to be a long shot.  However, he did help by handing out invitations to the local community.

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Sausage was an angel again, and I warned the minister that she will probably demand a speaking part next year!  She loves an audience.

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D has been incredibly busy dealing with Christmas lights.  For the past three years, we have entered Whanganui’s Light Up Your Home competition.  Households and businesses compete to win prizes, and a map is published so the community can go around looking at the lights.  D’s brother, an electrical engineer, has been in town so the two of them tried something new with the lights this year.  They spent hours, but it was definitely worth the effort.

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Chip helping D with the lights

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The finished product (complete with Christmas people mover…)

It’s hard to get a decent picture!  There are more lights in the trees and around the house and fence, but the main feature are the flickering camel and star lights.

We have never entered to win.  We enter because we know the delight it brings to the many families who venture out each Christmas.  I have an especially fond memory of piling into our van with my family, my aunt and her friend to look at the lights, singing carols at the top of our lungs.  I think at one point my Auntie was singing out of the sunroof!  Anyway, going to look at the lights became a family tradition, and it’s lovely to think we are play our part in carrying on that tradition for other families too.

The past week really threw me for a spin though.  I have said NO to anything that was a ‘nice to do’ but not essential to do.  Despite this mantra, this week was crazy-busy with several MUST-GO-TO events.  We had Sausage’s kindy’s end of year concert on Thursday night, immediately followed by Chip’s playgroup Christmas party Friday morning, and Sausage’s BFF’s birthday Friday afternoon.  Argh!  I was so exhausted I couldn’t attend the birthday party, but fortunately D took the kids.

My exhaustion turned out to be the flu, but even still, it was frazzling.

End of year Christmas parties really are a bugbear of mine.  I’d like to be able to say ‘sod the lot of them!’ but my tots are old enough now to a) know that these parties are happening, b) are expected to participate (e.g. the kindy concert) and are c) important to my tots.  I do get frustrated at the mandatory $5 gift from Santa at every.single.one.  Why???  It’s not like these privileged children won’t get a gift come Christmas day.  I was really pleased that our Playcentre decided to do away with this and instead gave families different options on how to give to people in need.  Go Playcentre!  I know I’m a grinch, but I reckon if more organisations and workplaces shelved Secret Santa and gave to charities, so much more light and love would be spread around at Christmas.

*Steps down from soapbox*

On a brighter note, I’ve been so chuffed that one of my best friends has moved to Whanganui with her family.  They were living in Auckland, and decided they wanted a better lifestyle for themselves and their children.  It is beyond cool to have them in the same town.  Their children are similar in age to mine, and are the closest thing to cousins my children have.  We’ve done loads of stuff with them already, and I’m sure many adventures await.

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My tots playing doctor (with paintbrushes) on their ‘cousin’ J

These friends gave Chip a disco light for Christmas, so it is party time at our house until we can party no more (bedtime is at 7pm, after all).

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The rest of Advent is somewhat quieter.  Workplace lunches for both D and I.  Seeing the lights with friends.  Gathering with church friends on Christmas Eve.  Playing as many Christmas carols as I can possibly squeak in.

On that note, I will leave you with the words of our friend Rev. Malcolm Gordon, who recently composed the wonderful song, Hey Mary, which you can listen to (and buy) here.  And the video is here.  It’s based on the annunciation in Luke’s gospel:

‘Hey Mary, there’s an angel in your house!’ 

Said, ‘Mary have I got some news for you.’ 

‘You seem to think you’re nothing much but Heaven’s coming close enough to touch, yeah!

Hey Mary, God is coming here through you!’ 

‘There is no such thing as ordinary now God is here. 
Every life and breath is blessed, you never know when God might appear.’

 

This Christmas I wish you peace.  Peace from the busyness, the shopping crowds, the parties and to-do-lists.  I wish that you can find pockets of peace for yourself, to rest, and to reflect on the miracle that is Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

 

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A Buy Less Christmas

Last Christmas I led an Advent study all about trying to reclaim Christmas from the consumerist trappings that have overtaken the true Christmas message.  I find it heartbreaking that many people approach Christmas with dread, as it has become a time of insane ‘busyness’, end-of-year parties up the wazoo, and shopping.  Jesus barely gets a look-in amidst the Santas and Rudolphs on display.

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Sausage choosing her ‘Wise Woman’ costume for the Christmas Parade

This Advent season, I’m approaching Christmas just as mindfully.  I absolutely love the ‘Buy Nothing Christmas’ movement.  Buy Nothing Christmas was started by a group of Canadian Mennonites who had a desire to tell a better Christmas story than one of stress, shopping and debt.  They took action, and this initiative has spread across the globe.  Their website is full of terrific ideas on how to reduce our consumption and spending at this time of year.  They emphasise making gifts, re-gifting or upcycling, and really having a good think about how you might spend your time, money and energy at Christmas.  You can find some of their ideas here.

While I cannot commit to a Buy Nothing Christmas (due to lacking certain necessary skills), I can commit to a Buy Less Christmas.

It’s been hard!  Christmas was a big deal in my family growing up.  My mum filled our Christmas pillowcases (yes, we had pillowcases – thanks Mum) with cool stuff, like felt pens, calendars, chocolates, and these cool soap pens which kept my brother and I amused writing on ourselves in the bath.  My family of origin love to celebrate, and I’ve always appreciated this.

It’s hard for me not to go overboard at Christmas.  I love seeing my tots happy and excited.  I love giving presents.  So how to balance this with ensuring the message of Jesus isn’t lost?

We are doing lots of Advent-related things over the coming weeks, to keep our hearts and minds on the right track.  We are saying no to lots of events and parties, and yes to those that involve our church, and our other loved ones.  With more time on our hands, we can hang out with our special people, or just relax.  We are giving to more charities, especially those based in our city.  The kids and I will be making gifts for their friends and family members, so they learn how wonderful it is to GIVE to others at Christmas.

Our local friends and family will be getting my world-famous-in-my-own-head chocolate truffles and D’s amazing ginger beer.  Most of my closest friends live scattered around the country/world.  We have swapped small gifts for years, and unless they decide to stop, I am happy to keep this up as I have so much fun choosing something for them.  This year I decided to decorate tote bags for them.  They are useful, cute and light to post(!).  I really enjoying decorating the bags, and made each one personal.  Here are some:

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Pinterest was a great source of inspiration, as always.  I could have sewed the bags myself, but I sourced these for less than it would have cost me to make, despite them being fair trade cotton!  So pleased.

For my tots, I went for a mix of ‘useful things’ and ‘following their interests things’.  I sourced pretty much everything secondhand or on sale.  The kids get three gifts from D and I, like the wise men gave Jesus.  They also get a stocking from us.  I usually have a few frivolous things in there, but mostly the items in it are useful.  We intentionally keep gifts on the low-key side, preferring to keep big-ticket items for birthdays.

This year, Chip is getting a decent sandpit from D and I.  The old one is definitely a case of ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us’.  Our home came with a raised vege garden planted in a stupid spot – in a corner, that sits in shade a lot of the time.  I subsequently put in several more vege gardens in sunnier spots, so this one is now redundant.  We put our chickens on it to clear it up, and enrich the soil.  D and I will soon remove the topsoil for compost, transplant a rosemary bush, put down some plastic and get a load of sand.  The raised garden is the perfect size for our kids (and a couple of friends) and comes with edging for little bottoms to sit on, should they wish.  One set of grandparents is gifting Chip with sturdy sandpit equipment like a kid-sized shovel, and they are giving us a gazebo they no longer need to put over the sandpit for shade.  The only expense for us is the sand.  Score!

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This will soon be a pit o’fun

Chip is also getting a Superman costume (his latest obsession) that I got for peanuts, and a hefty die-cast bus (another interest) I got for 90% off.

In his stocking some of the things he is getting are: a ball, a mint condition Paw Patrol onesie I got for $4 secondhand, soap pens (Hmm, wonder where I got that idea from?), some chocolate, a super hero cape, undies (toilet training, here we come), a couple of action figures, and secondhand books.

For Sausage, I’ve been dying to make her this idea from Pinterest:

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She is starting to recognise numbers, and this is a game that gave me hours and hours of entertainment as a child so I’m betting she’ll love it too.  We are blessed to have a big backyard which can easily fit the hopscotch pavers.  I had pots of paint already, and sourced 9 pavers for $1.19 each.  I’m pleased with how they’ve come out and will post pictures of these in situ after Christmas.

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I had loads of fun painting some river stones left on our property by the previous owner, that Sausage (and friends) can use as hopscotch markers.

 

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For her other main gifts, she is getting a Princess Aurora dress I scored for $8 at a secondhand store (which looks brand new, and retail here for $40-50), with an Aurora doll.  I’m not keen on the whole Princess thing, but she is.  I figure that as I am still a card-carrying feminist despite being entranced by princesses and all things Disney as a kid, so I suspect Sausage will be a-ok too.

Sausage also getting a portable karaoke machine that you plug into an mp3 player and sing along to any song you want.  It sounds much flasher than it is, and I got it for 60% off.  Again, this is a following-your-child’s-interests thing.  If you knew my child you’d know she sings and dances through life, so I thought this would be a good fit for her.  Oddly enough, since I bought the machine a few weeks back, she has become obsessed with pretending to be a ‘rock star’ and asking me for a microphone (apparently to be a rock star you must have tap shoes, tutus and microphones).  I have no idea where the rock star thing has come from, but it’s funny as heck.

In her stocking she’s getting things such as: a jewellery box, a super hero cape, bubble bath, some chocolate, a sticker book all about sea creatures (her greatest love), and some secondhand books.

The only gifts left to make now are the truffles, which are quick and easy.  Christmas Day is shaping up to be a low-key, low-fuss affair with our in-town family.  I’m looking forward to eating my Mum’s turkey and my auntie’s meringues, singing carols at the top of my lungs, and going to church.

So that’s it.  I bought some stuff, but I tried to keep it on the useful side, and kept costs down by buying secondhand or on sale.  I made as much as I could.  I’ve probably bought more than strictly necessary, and that’s something I’ll be working on for next year.

 

What do you do to reduce stress and consumption at Christmas? Chime in below.