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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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Advent in Tawhero, pt 2

In case it’s not evident by my other Christmas-related posts, I loooove this time of year.  I really do.  I look forward to Christmas more than any other time.  Christmas brings up so many warm and fuzzy connotations for me.  If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I hate the consumerism of Christmas.  The stress.  The hustle and bustle.  The debt.  The family fights.  It saddens me that Christmas has been overtaken by all those things, and that there is nothing but a sea of Santas and Rudolphs to tell the Christmas story.

What I most want to pass on to my tots is the story of Jesus.  I also hope to instil in them the joy of giving, making things instead of buying when possible, caring for those less fortunate, and the importance of family.  But how to do it?  Enter our second advent calendar.

Sausage and Chip LOVED their advent calendars last year.  It was the highlight of their day.  I liked the idea of making an interactive calendar – one that has an activity each day.  If an activity a day seems overwhelming, fret not.  Advent should not be a time of busyness or stress.  The trick is to fill the calendar with things that you would do anyway.  In fact, spreading all those things out over 24 days is actually less daunting than a flurry of activity the week of Christmas!

As I’m doing a Buy Less Christmas, I made an advent calendar from some paper bags, scraps of wrapping paper, numbers printed off the internet, pegs and ribbon.  I think it cost me $4.  I’m stoked with how it turned out:

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I’ve seen some cool calendars done in frames like this which I may do in the future,

but I’m going to hang our one on our mantelpiece (the joys of Christmas in summer) this year.

Here’s what my tots and I will be up to in the countdown to Christmas:

  1. Decorate the Christmas Tree
  2. Make and send a Christmas cards to relative in the Netherlands
  3. Read the story of St Nicholas with Daddy
  4. Make a Christmas wreath with Mummy
  5. Put your shoes out for St Nicholas
  6. Give out gold coins to your friends today, like St Nicholas
  7. Donate toys and books you don’t want anymore to less fortunate kids
  8. Read the story of Baby Jesus with Mummy
  9. Make Christmas stars with Mummy
  10. Watch a Christmas movie for family night
  11. Learn a new Christmas carol (Te Harinui)
  12. Have a dance party to Christmas music
  13. Buy each other a Christmas present, and for a Birthright child
  14. Make a card and a present for your teachers
  15. Make wrapping paper
  16. Get Christmas photos taken at the museum
  17. Sing Christmas carols with our church
  18. Make gingerbread cookies and give them to our neighbours
  19. Make Christmas presents for the grandparents
  20. Make Christmas presents for the Uncles
  21. Take a trip to see the Christmas lights
  22. Make Christmas presents for your friends
  23. Make and deliver Christmas cards (and the presents) to your friends
  24. Call Opa, Auntie G and Uncle J in the Netherlands and sing them a Christmas carol

 

So that’s it.  Nothing complicated or earth-shattering.  I’m going to let the kids decide what gifts to make  – within reasons, and with plenty of suggestions.  Both will be given a small amount of money to buy the other one a gift, and to buy a gift for a child who is less fortunate.  I figure it’s a good lesson for them to go into a toy shop thinking about what someone else would like.  I’m pretty sure Sausage will insist that her brother really wants high-heel dress up shoes, and Chip will think his sister is dying to have a toy combine harvester, but hey, we must start somewhere.

What are you up to this Christmas season? Chime in below.

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Toddler Advent (so far)

I’ve been rather quiet on here as I have been unwell (every now and then my thyroid likes to throw a wobbly), and I’ve also been spending my evenings making Christmas presents.  I’ve enjoyed doing some crafting, but the photo books for my children are doing my head in – I swear the site I am using got a sadist to design its photo upload system…

Anyway, Advent and all things Christmassy are in full swing in our Tawhero household.  Sausage is absolutely loving it, and Chip is irresistibly attracted to the shiny bauble on our Christmas tree.  I’m grateful that my efforts to explain what Christmas is really about to my almost-three-year old have paid off.  This year she knows who everyone in the Nativity story is and can sing most carols off my heart (although she may have got some of ‘The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy’ a tad wrong…I caught her singing “Oh YES! Beavers.  Oh YES! Beavers..”  She means ‘believers’.  I laughed waaaaaay too hard at that).

Sausage chose a gift for a less fortunate child (who is bound to love the Frozen doll Sausage picked out), which she happily handed over to a local charity.  It must have stuck in her mind, because the other day she said to me ‘Mummy, let’s give my small clothes to a baby that needs them.  Some children don’t get any’.  Heart-melting.

We’ve been making crafts related to Bible readings about Jesus.  Simple but great fun.

 

Getting the hang of advent calendars took a little while, especially as she shares one with her brother.  I was gobsmacked to see these in one of our local Warehouse stores (sort of like Target for my overseas readers):

DSCN8423.JPGYou almost never see any Nativity-related things in the shops here – it’s nothing but snow, reindeer and Santa.

And I was even more surprised to discover the shop sold these:

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This cardboard cut-out Nativity set was absolutely perfect for Sausage to put together, and she was most particular about who was grouped with who.

My tots are inundated with advent calendars this year as my mother discovered my Aunt was going to get rid of a lovely felt one, so she rescued it and put some fun gifts in it for the children.  Sausage has grasped the concept that one day is ‘her day’, and the next day her brother gets to take the gift.  They get so excited about this calendar.

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Sausage taking out one of the gifts

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Chip enjoying one of his gifts (a whistle)

 

St Nicholas day was a big hit.  We read books about him in the weeks leading up to it, and then on the day the children got chocolate coins in their shoes in memory of this remarkable man.  Of course, chocolate for breakfast is pretty much their best day ever!DSCN8464

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A traditional Dutch Taai Taai (aniseed bread) in the shape of St Nicholas

We’ve been lighting candles on our Advent wreath during dinner, and that has been HUGELY fun for the children.  Sausage loves to blow them out, and waits rather impatiently for us all to finish eating.  ‘Are you finished yet?’, she will cry as you take your first bite of food…

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It doesn’t get much more exciting that this when you are 16 months old

We have a plethora of Christmas books telling the story of Jesus’ birth.  Each one is delightful in its own way, but my favourite is our copy of  The Christmas Book by Dick Bruna (Dutch author of the Miffy books) as it has a wonderful inscription from their Oma and Opa to my husband and his little brother.  A real family taonga (treasure).

There is more fun to come in the next two weeks – a couple of parties, making presents and going caroling around the streets with our church.

 

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Advent for Toddlers

I’ve been running an Advent study at my church.  I couldn’t find any resources online that were quite what I was looking for so I developed my own.  The upside of this is I am approaching Advent much more mindfully than I usually do.

Last Christmas I was just emerging out of the reflux baby fog when it was like blam!  Christmas is here!  I felt that I hadn’t prepared my toddler properly.  I didn’t even teach her any Christmas carols, and other than reading a few nativity-related stories she ended up being a little confused as to what Christmas was all about.  Was it Jesus who left her a stocking at the end of her bed?

This year is going to be different.  Here’s a round-up of what we will be doing:

  • Learn Christmas carols.  We’ve already started playing Christmas music at our house, and I’m playing a mix of traditional Christian carols, and more modern songs like ‘Jingle Bells’.  Sausage is picking up the songs quickly, and Chip currently loves to spin around and around to ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’.
  • Celebrate St Nicholas Day (Dec. 6).  There is Dutch heritage in our family, so this is a nice nod to that.  We don’t do Santa, but I am happy for my kids to learn about St Nicholas who was a real, and inspiring person.  Our tots will wake up to a few chocolate coins in their shoes in memory of St Nicholas.  (We tell them the coins are from us by the way.)
  • Open an advent calendar every day.  Growing up my brother and I took turns opening our calendar.  It was hugely exciting, and after a few years I figured out that if I opted to go second, I would be the one who got to open the double doors on Christmas Eve.  Oh the anticipation!  Anyway, I have a beautiful calendar from Germany which will do the job nicely.
  • Read from the bible and make a simple craft each day.  I really love this idea.  Sausage and I will be doing this while Chip sleeps, as he wouldn’t a) sit still to read more than a page of story and b) will want to eat the crafts.  Now I can understand that doing a craft or activity EVERY day may seem rather overwhelming, but these crafts are seriously simple.  Most of the supplies I have to hand, and my hope is that they will help solidify some of the messages in the Bible readings.
  • Light an advent wreath.  We have a wreath with different coloured candles: green for hope, yellow for joy, red for love, blue for peace, and white representing Christ.  Show me a toddler who doesn’t like candles.  No really, show me.
  • Buy a present for a less fortunate child.  Oh man, if there is one thing I want my kids to know, is how blessed they are.  They have it so good, compared with many other kids.  Sausage is not quite three, so there’s a limit to how much she will actually understand, but I plan to chat about some children not getting presents at Christmas, and will take her to choose a gift for a little girl like her.  I’m guessing Paw Patrol will win on the day…
  • Make gifts for others.  The other thing I want my kids to know is how good it is to GIVE.  We will make some very simple and frugal gifts (cookies etc) to give to some friends, family and their play group leaders.  We’re also going to make our own wrapping paper and cards this year.

 

This may seem like a long list, but most of these things either don’t happen every day, or don’t take more than an afternoon to complete.

At 16 months, Chip obviously won’t be so involved, but I’m sure he will enjoy eating chocolate coins, singing carols and watching us light the candles.

My tips for celebrating Advent with toddlers are:

  • Keep it simple.  An advent calendar, a decent story book on the nativity story, and a simple carol like Silent Night are all that’s needed if your December looks frazzling already.  Christmas doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be filled with all the bells and whistles that our consumerist society says it should.
  • Get good books and a decent kid’s Bible.  This is true for children’s literature in general, but wow, some children’s books are appalling.  With many Christian books aimed at toddlers, the language is often too advanced (try explaining what a prophetic dream is to your toddler!  This was in a book about Joseph and his coloured coat…) or the concepts are too complex.  We love the Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers, and the Jesus Storybook Bible is also highly recommended.   Both my tots love Scripture Union’s Christmas Bible Storybook.  Hands down, their books win my award for Most Appropriate Use of Language.

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  • Don’t be too ambitious.  Your toddler isn’t going to grasp that Christmas isn’t all about the presents for a while.  But now is the perfect time to create giving traditions so that they become a natural part of Christmas for your child.
  • Play to your child’s strengths.  If your child loves books, read the Bible and other Christmas books to them.  If they love crafts, make some Advent crafts.  If your kid won’t sit still for more than five seconds, make a game of tossing a ball to each other to count the days left until Christmas.

 

Wishing you peace, love and fun as we move into Advent.