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A simple Christmas

Life is currently taken up with preparations to move our family to Pleasant Point, in the South Island.  Our movers are doing the packing for us, but even so there are a million things that need.to.be.done.

Friends will be renting out our house for a while, which is an awesome win-win situation.  They get to enjoy our house while they discern where to buy, and we don’t have the hassle of property managers and unknown tenants for a while.  We want to leave our house in tip-top shape for our friends and future tenants so I’ve been busy weeding the garden and pruning trees, deep cleaning the house, water-blasting the house, and painting.

Because the move is looming large in my mind (we are leaving mid-January), my head isn’t as into Christmas as it usually is.  We’ve already done some ‘lasts’, which feels sad and strange.  Our last Mainly Music.  Last days at kindy.  Last church groups.  Last catch ups with friends.

I led my church’s advent study [which we always do in November], which helped to clarify and reinforce the values I have about this time of year: keeping Jesus at the heart of everything, keeping things simple, and not mindlessly consuming nor mindlessly buying into trends like Elf on the Shelf (just typing Elf on the Shelf makes my eyes roll…).

At home my two are enjoying the advent calendar (the highlight of their morning), and I let them decorate the tree all by themselves.  They were surprisingly good at it!

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It’s definitely been a season of NO for me.  I’ve turned down invitations to several parties because I need lots of rest and downtime, and so do my kiddos.  I said NO to making gifts this year.  I had it all planned but when it got down to making them, I just couldn’t face it.  I’m tired and a bit stressed with all the things I have to do between now and our move.  At first, I raged with myself about spending more money than I’d intended, but rational Angela piped in with ‘Chill dude, you’re moving house, be kind to yourself.’  I went out and bought some lovely, frugal gifts, and shelved my ideas for next Christmas – along with the lesson of making gifts WELL in advance of December.

I’ve said YES to activities and events that aren’t draining: our church’s annual Christmas play, and visiting my friend F’s mother’s house who goes ALL OUT at Christmas.  And I mean, ALL OUT.  A bunch of us took our families there for the night so the children could enjoy all the lights, bells and whistles that she puts on at this time of year.  It was ah-mazing, and it was great to hang out with some of my favourite folks.

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Sausage was an angel in my church’s Christmas play

Some of the sights at the Christmas extravaganza house

Big and small kids had a blast at the Christmas house

Still to come is a neat tradition that my neighbour S has, where we walk with our children to look at all the Christmas lights on our street (our street is the most popular destination for lights in our town).  And then finally we will be carol singing with our church at a shopping centre – loads of fun!

But mostly over the Christmas holidays I plan to take my tots to the beach a LOT and enjoy our favourite spots around town before we leave.

Friends have kindly invited my extended family and I to their place for Christmas lunch so that D and I wouldn’t have the pressure of hosting this year.  I’m looking forward to spending time with some of my favourite people on Christmas Day.

 

How is your Christmas season going so far?

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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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Christmas at our house

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you had a peaceful Christmas.

Despite going into Christmas quite mindfully – thanks to running an Advent study at my church – the lead up to Christmas was still all hustle and bustle.  There is simply just too much happening in December.    Every single organisation I am part of had a Christmas party.  Every single one.  I eschewed some, and went to others out of a sense of obligation – which I thoroughly intend to stop doing this year.  I have nothing against Christmas parties, I swear; I just wish that some of these groups would think “Hmmm, December is a loco time of year for most people.  Let’s have a welcome back party in the New Year instead!”

There were some great Christmas moments though: watching Sausage in the Nativity play, Sausage really getting the Christmas story this year, going carolling through the streets with my church, celebrating D’s new business with his business partner and family, gathering together with friends on Christmas Eve to reflect on the birth of Christ, and filling up the sacks I’d made my tots with gifts.

 

D spent the last bit of Christmas Eve doing this:

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A wonderful Christmas gift from Nang-Nang and Grandpa

…while I waited for the children to finally go to sleep so I could sneak in with their presents.  Christmas morning was a blur of wonder and delight for our children.

The trampoline has been hugely exciting and I’m not sure who enjoys it more – the kids or me! (Such a good workout.)

As always with children, here’s what else has provided great entertainment:

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Yes, that’s right. The box a gift came in.

We enjoyed having friends visit for several days and saw in the New Year with them, which involved a BBQ and a hotly contested board game.  The weather was gorgeous, the company par excellence, and the rambunctious, happy children running around our backyard completed the recipe for a great New Year’s Eve.

 

Happy 2016, from my house to yours.

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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.

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Christmas for Tots: creating family traditions

Despite being from the same faith, my husband and I come from families who celebrated Christmas quite differently.  This has meant we needed quite a lot of discussion to figure out what Christmas means to us as a new family unit.  Depending on how widely your backgrounds differ, it can be a bit of a minefield to navigate for new parents.

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image credit                                                           credit

My mother-in-law is Dutch, and this heritage has strongly influenced her approach to Christmas.  Christmas Eve was quite special, attending midnight services when the kids were old enough. Christmas Day was more about being together than presents, and therefore low-key.  From an early age, my husband and his brother were told the truth about Santa, and viewed him like any other fictional character.

My family LOVED Christmas.  It was a big deal in our house – lots of decorations, advent calendars, learning about how Christmas was celebrated in other countries, carols, the works.   It’s still my favourite time of the year.  As Christians my parents taught us that Christmas was a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but we still did Santa and Christmas stockings (actually, we had pillowcases – my brother and I thought this was genius as you could fit more in!).  Christmas Day meant a lovely dinner with all the trimmings, with our extended family.

So you can see we had quite different Christmases!

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My husband did not want to ‘do’ Santa with our children, and I am absolutely fine with that.  We agreed that we didn’t want to go overboard with gifts for the children.  The idea of buying kids super-expensive gifts for Christmas grates with me, and I hope that my kids will eventually learn that there is so much more to Christmas than presents.  Having said that, I don’t want my kids to miss out on the joy of waking up to a stocking of presents on Christmas morning, so they are getting them, albeit in the knowledge that the gifts are from Mum and Dad.  Sausage is getting a few inexpensive things in her stocking like a calendar with baby animals, a marshmallow Santa, and whiteboard markers (which she will not be able to get into without adult help!).

I read about a family who give their children three main presents like the Wise Men gave Jesus, so we’re going with that idea.  For her three presents she is getting:

  • A blackboard/whiteboard, which we got at a half price sale for $25.
  •  A playhouse – admittedly I only got this as it closely resembles one I had as a child.  My brother and I spent many happy hours playing in that thing! Cost – $25.
  • A book called Lulu’s Loo, as we are about to start toilet training.  Eloise has another Lulu book, and they are absolutely delightful, and also totally spot-on when it comes to what little girls like.  Cost $14.

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Chipolata is getting a cool polished wood turtle toy from Trade Aid ($25) and a book ($9).  He’s four and a half months old.  He’ll be more happy with some paper and some tinsel, but these are gifts he can grow into.

That’s actually more money than I would have liked to have spent, but I just could not go past that playhouse.  I know it will get used.  Next year all our presents for the kids will be handmade, as we are doing a spending fast.

My Dad gave Sausage a chocolate Advent calendar, which has been very helpful at building her anticipation of Christmas day.  Now it is empty, I will take off the cardboard and save the chocolate moulds to make Christmas chocolates with her next year.  I will definitely be making an advent calendar for her next year – perhaps one with decorations to put on the tree.

Tonight we started our first Christmas Eve tradition – home made pizza, and a movie.  My brother’s wife passed away this year, so he joined us, and I hope he will be a part of this tradition in the years to come.  We watched The Polar Express, which Sausage enjoyed quite a lot.  I did have to fast-forward through the slow-moving sections, but we still got the gist of the movie.

On Christmas day we will have a simple breakfast (although I will miss my Mum’s amazing pancakes…), let Sausage open her presents from us and then we are hosting lunch at our house with our extended family.

If your tots are ‘newly minted’ like mine, here are my tips for creating your own Christmas traditions:

  • Start off small.  Particularly if your kids are under two, they won’t remember what you did when next Christmas rolls around.  There’s no need to go the whole hog with Santa photos, driving around to look at the Christmas lights, Carols by Candlelight etc.  Park those for later years when they will actually be appreciated.
  • Keep presents few and simple.  Tots get overwhelmed quite easily, so showering them with gifts will most likely send them into overdrive.  A friend said her three year old was given lots of gifts by his grandparents last year.  He unwrapped the first one (a set of toy cars) and was so enamoured with that present, the rest were totally ignored.  This year his grandparents are keeping it simple and giving one gift only.
  • If you know your children will get lots of gifts from friends and relatives anyway, stagger them.  Let your children open presents received before Christmas early, or save them for later on in the Christmas break when boredom threatens to sink in.  Give your own gifts to them first thing in the morning if you are meeting with family later in the day.  Ask relatives in attendance if they mind your tot opening their present another day (although most people want to see their little faces when they open them, quite understandable!).
  • Choose traditions that will grow with your children.  Even as a jaded teenager, I still loved watching cheesy Christmas movies and singing carols.  Post-dinner Charades and Santa photos?  Probably not top of the list for teens.
  • Choose traditions that respect your family’s beliefs and heritage.  D and I are fortunate in that we are both Christians. but many couples come from different faith or atheist backgrounds.  This may mean compromise if one of you wants Santa and/or Christmas, while the other doesn’t.  There is always a middle ground if you can get creative.  We ‘do’ St Nicholas on December 6th in homage to my husband’s Dutch heritage (albeit very low-key), and my daughter really loves her books about him – although the other day she saw a picture of Santa and said ‘There’s Jesus!’, so clearly we still have some work to do, separating St Nick from the Jesus story!

I’d like to leave you with some words from one of my favourite carols “I heard the bells on Christmas Day“:

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Merry Christmas everyone!