Christmas for littlies

Christmas Tree decorating fiesta in Mt Eden.
Marlborough Brass Band on Rogers St.
Renee Liang muses on how her perception of Christmas has changed since she had kids.

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Renee Liang muses on how her perception of Christmas has changed since she had kids.

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I have a confession to make. For most of my adult life I’ve been a Christmas grinch.  This may stem from the fact that growing up, my family’s attempt at Christmas (an ever-diminishing plastic Christmas tree, dusty tinsel and those Christmas lights that are now sold as vintage) paled in comparison to all my friends’.  It was even worse if we went to Hong Kong for an extended family Christmas – there, my aunty would dress as Santa and force us – even the extremely embarrassed teenagers – to do ‘performances’ in the living room while the adults got cringe-worthily drunk on small amounts of expensive wine (they don’t usually drink and anyway they’re Asian.) I have therefore always been dubious about the value of the arts at Christmas.

Until now.  Suddenly with two kids (Miss bossy-boots two years and Mr Grabby-hands nine months) Christmas becomes a feast of ‘experiences’ to take them to. Let’s stay real here. They are still at the age where almost anything – a shred of newspaper, plastic picnic bowls – can quickly be elevated into the realm of wonder. The toddler’s imagination now runs away as quickly as her tongue and her brother, being a follower for now, likes anything she likes. But Christmas definitely offers an abundance of sparkly, sing-y, sugary opportunities. So without further ado here’s a selection of our arty Christmas experiences to date.

Experience 1: Christmas Tree Decorating Fiesta on the Mt Eden Village green, 6 December.

Theatre luminary Ben Crowder has been ‘directing’ this for years, funded by the Mt Eden Business Association and helped by some familiar faces from the theatre world. It’s a simple set up. Potted miniature Christmas trees are adopted by families for a $10 donation to the Maxine van der Velden Memorial Charitable Trust, supporting a scholarship for young people. Trolley loads of craft materials are dumped on picnic mats, scissors and glue handed out, a DJ puts on funky Christmas music – and we’re away.

Crowder comments that they’ve found that simple is best – they once decided to do a more directed ‘making’ activity but kids are happiest when left to be their sticky creative selves.  Ours certainly didn’t waste any time – the baby ended the day happily covered in an array of feathers, glitter and crepe while the two-year old took command of her slaves (Dad, Uncle and older cousin). At the end of the session, everyone gets a prize (mandarins and $2 shop toys) for making an awesome Christmas tree.

Verdict: win-win. Toddlers entertained, something to take home to show the grandparents, and as a bonus no Christmas trees get killed.

Experience 2: Marlborough Brass Band.

We’ve been in Blenheim on a work assignment, and yesterday as we finished dinner heard trumpets in close proximity. So dad and Miss Two shot down the end of our driveway where we found a brass band playing Christmas carols on the back of a ute.  Cue nostalgia – although this wasn’t the Salvos, just the local brass band, they were playing Christmas carols, and doing an end of year fundraising collection.  Miss Two was heard to hassle Dad for some coins to give, and we followed them down the street for a while, singing and waving.

Verdict: old time nostalgia right before bedtime. Plus Miss Two learns about charity at Christmas.

Experience 3: Santa at the playgroup ‘do.

The man in red is clearly a multitasking genius, as most toddlers by this time of year have seen him multiple times. (Me to a young patient: “How many times have you seen Santa this year?” Her: slowly and with look of extreme boredom, unfurls all five fingers.)  Santas vary in quality – the one at the local cafe with a cotton wool beard, plastic sunnies and joking with his mates about wine as he handed out lollies was clearly Santa on an off day.  But then there are the good ones: when we arrive at our local playgroup, His Jolliness is seated on a raised dais in the middle of a circle of trees, singing along with the kids about poor Rudolph.  Mr Grabby Hands gets into the bells and shakers straight away, while the toddler hangs back, sucking her hand while she assesses the situation.  But after watching all the other kids go confidently up, she decides it’s OK to sit on his knee. “What would you like for Christmas?” he asks her gently, bending down. Mr Grabby Hands promptly pulls at his realistic beard while the toddler sucks away thoughtfully but refuses to answer. Verdict: well, we got a nice photo.

I’m actually quite glad she says nothing. Christmas – at least public experiences of it - often seems focused on encouraging kids to list all their wants, and celebrating with characters whose shallow depictions don’t do justice to their back-stories (how does Rudolph deal with the teasing for the other 364 days of the year his nose isn’t useful? What would drive an elderly man to move to the North Pole?)  Luckily, many of the free, publicly funded Christmas events focus more on fun and spontaneity than ‘what I want.’  If we were in Auckland in the lead-up to Christmas I’d be taking the kids to APO’s Pirate Christmas; the Christmas events in Aotea Square put on by Auckland Live; and the ASB Santa’s Grotto (which is one of the many events to employ actors over the holiday season).  We’d also be doing the rounds of Christmas lights, which often brings out theatricality in otherwise staid householders.

For now, we’re in Blenheim so we’ll have to make do with meeting Santa every few days and the odd spot of pre-Christmas cherry-picking. Merry Christmas everyone. Have a fun and glittery time.

Written by

Renee Liang

18 Dec 2014

Renee is a writer who is exploring many ways of telling stories, including plays, short stories, poetry (which she also performs), and cross-genre collaborations with composers, musicians, sculptors and filmmakers.

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