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What our children like to do during the christmas holidays.

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      18.12.2009 13:03
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      Have a brilliant Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS PAST ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Ahhhh. Christmas. That wonderful and magical time of year when families get together and married couples pussyfoot around the terrifying yet unavoidable question of where it's going to be. It should be simple really - it shouldn't matter where it is or who hosts it - but family life is rarely like that - and usually around October, hints are dropped by our mothers and aunts with increasing frequency, holiday plans are teased out, and a full-scale diplomatic charm offensive is waged by whichever wing of the family feels its "their turn" to spend countless days and hours of meticulous planning and preparing to lay on more food than anyone could ever eat. That's how Christmas used to be for us. Then, last year, it dawned on us that somewhere along the way - probably between the annual ritual of gluttony we indulged in on Christmas Day, the greed we demonstrated with our "I want I want" attitudes evidenced by meticulously compiled wish lists on Amazon, and the double-headed beast of envy and pride we basked in when trying to outdo the previous year's efforts - we had completely and utterly lost touch with the real meaning of Christmas. Those of a less religious persuasion will point to the coincidence that Christmas - a high Christian holiday - coincides conveniently with old Roman and pagan festivals. That's not unusual, it's a precedent repeated many times during the millennia of human existence. When a new religion is born, it seems the best way to convince people to join your new and exclusive club is to make as few changes as possible - and snagging their previous holiday dates is a time-worn, well-tested and ultimately successful tactic. The true meaning of Christmas now appears to have been hijacked by the secular world as a welcome excuse for drinking, eating and making merry - usually to excess. The irony is not lost on me, given - way back in the day - we Christians interceded and co-opted the date for our own ends. We appear to have come full circle, as the ORIGINAL winter festive holiday was (amongst other things) the Roman festival of Saturnalia - used by the populace as a welcome excuse for eating, drinking and making merry. Cheeky or what? My family do not like to be called "religious", as to us, religion implies something to be done out of habit or duty. The many Christians who dutifully turn out to church twice a year - Easter and Christmas (and perhaps the occasional christening, wedding and funeral) - are what we would call "religious". We would describe ourselves as a family "in faith". As practicing evangelical Christians, Christmas means much more to us than sleigh bells, snowmen, reindeer, St Nick, mince pies and an endless stream of meaningless presents. Although we do enjoy the festive atmosphere produced by these trappings, for us, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is, and should always be, at the centre of this wonderful holiday - a fact that is easily forgotten amidst the tinsel, fairly lights and visits to Santa's grotto. Don't get me wrong - I have no issue with non-Christians celebrating Christmas. Jesus was a party-goer at heart and attended a fair few weddings and feasts in his time. Anyone who would brand him a party-pooper would do well to remember that he changed water into wine - and not vice-versa. The Son of Man certainly knew how to have a good time, but he also knew that the "message" had to remain at the heart of it all if it wasn't to be a party for a party's sake. Sadly, the spirit of the holiday has been lost for some time now. Nativity plays in secular primary schools are scarcer than hen's teeth - especially as our educational authorities seem scared to death of offending anybody. They used to be an integral part of the winter term at school. I am not saying that they should be reinstated - if I was that bothered I'd send my kid to a Christian school - but it is a useful example of the how the original purpose and meaning behind the holiday is being marginalised and diluted, evidenced by the inexorable rise of the anodyne and basically meaningless phrases "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings". ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Something had to change for us, as a family, if we were to return to celebrating Christmas. The way it was meant to be celebrated. So, after much deliberation, last year we decided to do something fairly dramatic. The bible reinforces the message that it is better to give than to receive, so we adopted that as the central theme and focus of our Christmas holidays. That sounds commendable, but what does it actually mean? Well, let me tell you what DIDN'T change. Our family still comes together on Christmas day, we still have lunch together, we still cook way too much food, we still have a laugh, pull crackers and wear silly hats, read excruciatingly bad jokes and play some party games. However, this time, there is much more method to our holiday madness, because instead of all the excess food going to waste, it now goes to the needy in our local community. Last Christmas, as adults, we agreed not to buy gifts for each other - only for the children under sixteen, and we also informally agreed a budget for the kids presents so that there would be no pressure on anyone to spend more. In place of gifts, the adults pooled the money they would have spent on each other into a central fund. We then asked our pastor to identify members of our local community (i.e. not just the Christian congregation) who were would appreciate some company and a hot meal on Christmas day. He obliged by giving us a list of almost twenty people, most of them elderly or ill with no close family. We were quite taken aback by that number - perhaps naively believing that everyone makes an effort to visit family at this time of year. Our fund is then used to buy non-perishable food to make up a Christmas hamper, with the remainder covering the cost of a hot meal and other sundries. So our Christmas is a little different to what it used to be. We now cook two huge turkeys - one at my mother's house and one at my mother-in-laws - and we split out the preparation of the trimmings between us. As our house is closest to our church, last year about twenty friends and family congregated for a buffet lunch around noon (our table isn't big enough for a sit down meal!). One of our number dresses up as Father Christmas (usually my Dad) and the kids are given their gifts while lunch is being prepped for the table. When all is prepared, we gather in the dining room and I read the evocative passages from the gospel of Matthew which describe the circumstances leading up to and including birth of Christ. Then my father-in-law, who is a lay pastor, usually says the grace. We remember those who could not be with us on the day, we thank the Lord for all of the blessings He has bestowed on us during the year, we thank Him for giving us the means to put food on the table and for keeping our families in good health. We pray for those less fortunate than us and we ask for His hand to be on the good work we intend to do that day, to give us travel mercies and ensure our family members come home safe and sound. Then, much like any other family, we tuck in to turkey, Christmas rice, roasties, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, roasted vegetables, gravy, pigs in blankets and cranberry sauce. We tend not to drink, as a fair few of us will have to drive that afternoon, and after about an hours "rest" we decamp to our church hall - which has specialist catering facilities and a large work area - and get to work. Last year, the ladies made up around twenty hot dinners in microwavable Tupperware, and the gents - under careful supervision - put together the hampers of food (typically tinned stuff, Christmas cake, mince pies, a bottle of cheer, biscuits and the like). When it's all ready to go, we set out in pairs around 4:30pm and delivered around three to five hampers each. The people we visited knew we are coming and we typically spent around 20 to 30 minutes in each home with one of us plating and heating up the food (not everyone has a microwave) and the other having a chat and a cup of tea. We got back to our house a couple of hours later where, having worked off our Christmas lunch, we put our feet up, had a deserved glass of something alcoholic and then tucked into the Christmas pudding(s). Party games followed for those who hadn't fallen asleep. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS TO COME ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ We feel as if we have found the real spirit of Christmas again. Finally, for our family in faith, the focus of the holiday is back where it belongs. On Christmas day a child was born, a child who would grow up to bring a message of love to the world. What could be better than for us, as a Christian family, to celebrate and honour the birth of the Prince of Peace by the act of giving - of our time, of ourselves and our means - to those less fortunate than us? This year, our pastor has been encouraging other families to join us and we received the happy news last week that another twenty people will be available to help on Christmas afternoon and that the collection the Sunday before Christmas - on the day our children perform their Nativity play - will be used to help us feed and visit more people. We're aiming for around forty in total. We have found something that works for us and has made the holiday season special again. Hopefully, we are also leaving a valuable legacy for our children, by teaching them that what we do is far more important than what we say. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A BENEDICTION (OF SORTS!) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ So Merry Christmas to one and all. For those just in it for the party, I wish you a safe, happy and hassle-free time with your nearest and dearest. For those in Christ (and anyone else who will appreciate the sentiment) may the peace and love of our Lord bless you and your families abundantly at this special time. © Hishyeness 2009 - Also on Ciao

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        18.12.2009 00:06
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        Reflections - The end of the noughties

        Ho Ho Ho! Shouted St Knickerless This is the season to be thankful for all those loved ones around you who've stayed with you during those hard months of morose negative headlines that raises the blood pressure to dizzy levels. For all those who know me, I'm sorry for causing the dinner plates to bounce on the table and more importantly for all those frequent spillages due to excessive explosive quips that swim out of my mouth as if they live in an aquarium. Christmas time for me is a time for reflection. It usually starts when the eagerly awaited Birthday passes and the avalanche of Christmas festivities embark on the High Streets with an ever increasingly agitated shopper swooping on the two for one deal, which inadvertently helps with obesity, in the long term slowing them down to a snail pace so swooping wouldn't be advisable or a priority. - Then again I'm always surprise how quick they motor when a deal appears out of the woodwork. I can see where our superiors are thinking with this concept. My dear Aunt is a fantastic reminder on a yearly basis, for when you should embark on preparing for that indulging 24hr period which inevitably seems to blur out around 4pm. She asks me about festive plans and then proceeds to talk about present ideas for cousins alike; it is a normal rigmarole every autumn when the leaves descend and block up your drains. I set my watch by her, she is sponsored by Accurist, she is of sound mind and like me does a fair bit for charity. I must be like her but as per usual decide to encounter the idea of festive preparations a lot later than her stead-fast routine of wheeling and dealing in her charity shop and setting aside items for people she kind of likes or not. My Aunt remembers what everyone gave her every year. The conversations we have does border on satirically amusing; she expects me to remember as well. I of course do and continue the pretence. My thought of actual physical shopping is inevitably like every other male in the country, is about lunch-time on Christmas Eve. You have approximately 5 hours to burn off some calories and get stressed to the hilt, and still manage stiff malt; a Black Bottom to be precise. Afterwards, I usually get a shock at the time as the closing of 90 per cent of the retail outlets is by 4 am, how silly is that? There is a still an age till Christmas day and many red faced men stalking outside shop windows, head resting against expensive jewellery outlet windows leaving a long greasy mark. I imagine managers getting rather irate at getting in the window cleaner in early before the masses of consumers descending in on Boxing Day. You simply just keep the shop open, these marks will miraculously disappear. 'This year to save me from tears' - Quote from George Michael's 'Last Christmas'; I did shop throughout the whole year. The problem is I have to go on a witch hunt for these gifts, now I've got to decide when do I start this hunt? - I can see myself whizzing through the lingerie section in the eleventh hour, for the present for me. - All the decorations are dangling and lit up in full flow and viewed by admiring neighbours, I've kind of iced a Christmas cake, couldn't follow the instructions though, there wasn't any. Give me an iPhone or something easy and I'll be in my element; getting icing to stick, well that is too scientific. Gravitational pull is the problem, I blame Isaac Newton; if I didn't know what it was I wouldn't be bothered, and probably buy an M&S masterpiece. Today, I was pleasured somewhat at a prize winning picture of Gordon Brown in a Christmas pudding outfit. To say he was the epitome of "Captain Mannering" is an understatement; this could be a new profession for him as the panto season kicks off. It would be fun to shout out "He's behind you!" when Brown goes to Iraq on a moral boosting mince-pie around regiments camps. - I think I've found my Christmas card design this year, I shall include the heading at the bottom "Anyone got any Brandy and matches" and I'll stick a piece of holly on top of his Christmas pudding helmet. I could put "Blank inside". Any ideas? 'Mistletoe and Wine' - Cliff Richard candle swaying effort; this is for you pyromaniacs. Yes it is the time for searching for those heavily scented candles that swim in wax and sends your scent glands into nostril heaven, then leaves you with a pulsating headache. I try to make my own crackers and titter myself into Frankie Howard humour while leaving purposeful 'one liners' for several family members, who take it far too seriously after a third Merlot. Hats are compulsory, but only worn while entering the selected abode, then usually lost in the wrapping papers and general on-goings. The important matter is always come prepared and expect the most unexpected when it comes to how you deal with rich food and a numerous of rumblings, try to leave a window open if the entrapment becomes too much to bear. Going by past experiences the Turkey is tasteless and dry and requires much wine to help the cranberries and bird down, then you forget what the Turkey was really like and then arrives another year doing what tradition allows us to do, being out rightly cheeky and over eating, not exactly a Cliff Richard, but he needed a mention, because it's Christmas. Matching up personalities with Christmas cards goes out the French window after the second written anecdote and 'bost wishes' which often leaves me in hysterics, which obviously takes up an ample of time which I've always lacking. I dread receiving cards from people I've forgotten, they come out of the woodwork this time of year with their overdose of news in a mass print out thanks to their new Canon printer that has some remarkable features like 'actually printing stuff'. This is greeted with a sigh as I swear quietly as I subsequently drift off into a daydream of boredom. We promise we wouldn't do this moronic thing, yet we still do. I laugh at the silly spelling mostake from someone who supposedly got a first class degree with honours from Bristol University. My next quest is to try finding the smallest Christmas card possible so that it has been acknowledged. I make sure the hand written scribble is illegible so that when it comes to next year, I wouldn't be subjected to this again; though it always repeats itself because of our psyche of tradition. Getting away with doing a 'secret santa' is notoriously tough; but catches up with you in the end regardless how busy you are; the same goes with the eternally anal office parties that numbs the brain without the help of a Scumpy Jack. Last week's annual office controversy, I was opposite a Buddhist who doesn't celebrate this wonderful festival, couldn't wait for the new decade to begin and yet couldn't turn down a 'free meal and bottle of wine'. "I thought I would be polite" he said. A bundle of fun he was as he poked at his turkey as if he was trying to see if it was dead. To break the ice I started conversing with my out of work pursuits like being part of Ciao's lovely community, it was a waste of breathe. I found solace in a corner of the bar. Tone it down guy's, I can here the Aaah's from here. I smiled at my own raconteur's and wondered how my 'secret santa' gift of an electric toothbrush would go down. I hope she likes it; it is great replacement than doing it manually. Before the big day of worshipping the Birth of Jesus and Christianity, I have to sift through all the soft centred Cadbury Roses, such as the coffee creams, strawberry creams, orange creams and toffee creams and put them on the top of my favourites, so that when they are offered around, the creams will miraculously disappear. It is a ploy that no-one has caught onto yet. It is all in the preparation. - Plus being green this time of year is difficult. There have been some big advertising campaigns regarding your personal carbon footprint because of what is not happening in Copenhagen at present. Our authoritarians are asking our nation to travel five miles less per week. That is fine but when you've got a load of preparations to embark on all in the name of 'Christianity', and time is dwindling, travelling five miles less per week is not on my priority list, especially as I've not got my Nan's favourite shortbreads. Anyhow, the traditional Christmas dinner has a massive carbon footprint in air miles, the average feast travels a mind boggling 1850 miles and it's only one way as well. - I'm not sure what the campaign is trying to say, but I prefer not to venture off and wring a neck of a pheasant in the field next door, or pick-up a road-kill, for the sake of saving the planet. There is one thing about being really well prepared, is that you can be sure that when all is said and done something else will rise from the Phoenix ashes, and bite me on the bum. I've been rather cock sure this year and proud of it, I can see myself scouting around haplessly on Christmas Eve using up my excessively my five miles per week quota on gallivanting across town peering through closed shop windows leaving greasy forehead marks. - It is fact that men do not do organise, we are unable to do two things simultaneously in our sleep, or stop Simon Cowell from conquering the world. On reflection my thoughts are with the families of serviceman who are fighting a war that our superior morons have thwarted and dithered on for far too long already. On a more serious note, my thoughts are with the 4000 stranded Flybe passengers who've no means of getting back to the UK at present, and also spare a thought for the elderly who despise this time of year due to having no family left. Now that the UK is blighted with Serbian weather this week, the chances for having a 'White Christmas' has soared. What's happened to global warming? I take it has popped off on its Christmas holiday's, preferably by British Airways. More importantly will X Factor winner Joe Elderry be Christmas Number One, or will he be beaten by 'Rage against the Machine' angelic tones 'Killing In The Name'. Be prepared, it could get nasty as abuse from Zack de la Rocha has today turned the BBC airways blue, all in the name of the coveted position of topping the charts on Christmas Day. Where's Cliff when you need him most? Have a peaceful, safe Christmas and good fortunes to you all, into the next decade. Thanks for all your rates and support. copyright - 1st2thebar 2009

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          18.12.2001 00:17
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          Well after my last opinion went down like a bull in a china shop I thought I would have to show you all that the image I may seem to come across to you all as from my last opinion is far from the real loving family man dad type person that I am and love being. So here we go what me and my daughter have done so far this christmas and how I am going to make the first christmas she can really understand one to remember. Well I love christmas and remember what fun it used to be when the advent calander went up on the wall and the decorations came out of the boxes and got dusted off for another years use so I thought seeing as my daughter is 3 now she will really get into the spirit of things so I got out all the christmas CD's and put some on then dissappeared out and returned with a huge christmas tree and you should have seen the shock on her little face she even told me off for bringing a tree into the house. Well we lit all the christmas candles and had little bowls of snacks and things to nibble whilst we decorated the tree and oh what fun she had pulling out all the different decorations and hanging them where ever she saw fit which at times was very eratic but hey as long as she was enjoying herself. Then came the big moment when the lights were switched on and she got really excited and loved them. After all the fun of erecting the tree we then got out loads of card and shiney glitter and shiney stickers and made everybody home made christmas cards and she had real fun getting really messy and signing the cards with loads of kisses. Then came the time to hang the chocolates from the tree now I did not anticipate this being as hard a job as it was seeing as we had 15 chocolate santas and reindeers to hang one for each day but when we counted them after hanging them we seemed to have lost 7 which was really odd so we presumed they had been thrown in the bin as the little madam has a habit of doing. Well what a suprise when we woke the next morning to find that she was sitting in bed eating the chocalotes that had been (lost)or should I say hidden. Now we are awaiting the big day and having to constantly remind her not to open any pressies until christmas day or santa won't come and she has kept to this but has found it impossible to hold in the secrets of other peoples presents although she has tried hard,slipping up when being babysat by her auntie we took the present round to put under their tree but when auntie went to put a box on top of the present bought by us she blurtted out no auntie soph not on the glasses they might break(she tried). Next thing on the agenda was to spray the windows with white snow foam which she could not help but get involved in so I allowed her to spray whilst I held the stencils of santa and so on I had bought but there was my next mistake because stupidly I know I left the snow spray within reach and when I re-entered the kitchen she had sprayed her pig and elephant stencils all over the windows,well it's not that bad christmas pigs actually look quite nice. I love christmas and it really has brought back the fun I used to feel at this time of year when I was just a nipper and all I can say is hurrah for christmas and the joy it brings not only to the kid's but to the kid inside every one of us.

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            12.12.2001 18:53
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            If I had no children Christmas would be a very different season for me. I do not know if it would be better or worse. I know that with children December ends up being the busiest month of the year. I am not talking about the extra work involved in present and food preparation for the big day no I am talking about the events I have to go to! The first Christmas party I went to this year was on 4th December which is very early but the Youth group I run and my oldest attends finished for the year with a bash. The previous week food had been made by the youngsters so you could eat it if you felt brave. This was a traditional party with games and food, balloons and tinsel not forgetting crackers. 10 to 12 year olds like a good time playing games. The same week as the party, on the 6th came the Music school official Christmas concert where we were treated to a fabulous concert with some very talented musicians as well as school choirs entertaining us for an evening. My poor children didn't get to bed till very late that night. The next day was the Christmas fayres at both my children’s schools, what a dilemma which to go to. I am afraid the secondary school won out as my daughter was performing in both the choir and band, a chance to see my daughter play and sing Christmas music. I am afraid the children missed out on the visit to Santa and everything else at the primary school fayre. Saturday came next and it was time for the music school unofficial concert where the less advanced children performed for us. There is still a lot of talent and lots of Christmas music. After a couple of days away from Christmas specials comes today the 12th and a chance to see my 6-year-old in her Christmas production at school. I have to make sure I am there in plenty of time to get a good view of the proceedings and a slightly more comfortable seat. I had to get her a costume so she can be a star. My 9-year-old got to see the performance yesterday and says it is worth watching. I've now seen this and my daughter was definitely the sparkliest star! As my son said it was well worth watching! On the 13th we get to sing carols and eat mince pies at they junior youth group. A chance to see what goes on at their club. The 15th is the swimming club parties so we have to be there to see if any of our children are given awards, you never know they may had done well enough this year. Cubs have their carol concert on 16th. A chance to see cubs doing some acting and having fun. On the 18th there is a carol concert for the secondary school so I have to go and see my daughter singing and playing again. On the 20th keep away from my local Sainsburys as my sons Cubs are supposed to be packing bags, but my son will not be there as I will be going out for a meal with my husbands colleagues as well as my other half. On the 23rd the children do their part in the Christmas service. Yes my children will be singing and playing and I shall be watching proudly. On the 25th well it’s just the normal Christmas day with stockings, church, dinner and presents not forgetting a bit of the television. I am looking forward to the 26th, as that is when I intend to rest; maybe I'll find time to put up those Christmas decoration, who knows? Oh no!! I have no idea when my sons school carol concert is, I hope he reminds me so I do not forget to go.

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              09.12.2001 06:21
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              My original op on Northpole.com is underneath but I just thought that I'd share another Christmas website with you seeing as though, for some reason, Dooyoo would not let me write another opinion in the same category. I could only modify the one I had alrady written. So, apologies for the length!! You can find this site at www.noradsanta.org/english/index.html and it is a website that enables you to track Santa on his busy night. First a bit of background ~ Norad is a binational organization of Canada and the United States who are resposible for the aerospace defence of the two countries. I won't go into too much detail about this as this is something you can read about on the site and I don't want it to seem that I have just copied everything they have written. It seems as though Norad have 'tracked' Santa for the past 44 years and took over from another Air Defence organization named CONAD. The whole tradition started when a local shop displayed a phone number for children to call to speak with Santa, but inadvertently gave out the number of the Commander in Chief of operations at CONAD. And thus a tradition was born. The site has millions of visitors every year and can be read in over ten languages. Various parts on the site include what Santa likes to snack on, is there a Santa, how he gets down the chimney, although a lot of these questions seem to be bypassed and no answer is given. For example, there is a part where you'd assume you can type in your postal code and find out how many kids Santa will be delivering to, but when you get onto that page it goes into a lot of detail about how Santa must be operating on a different time and space continuum! Also, the same goes for the naughty or nice section. Unlike Claus.com, you can't type in your name to find out how good you've been (ooopps, I mean how good the kids have been!) One part that I nearly liked was the music played by the USAF Band of the Rockies and the Royal Canadian Artillery Band. I say nearly as my Windows Media Player keeps cutting out ~ I'm not experienced so any hints or tips on this would be appreciated! From the parts I heard, the music sounded wonderful. Also, apparently, the site is going live on Christmas eve to track Santa so hopefully that will be somethin to entertain the kids, fingers crossed! If this site is aimed at children, then it will be little genius children who can manage to understand the lingo about radars etc... and not normal kids who believe in Santa. I do wonder whether or not this site is a mickey take as it goes into great detail about how usually the radars track missiles that may threaten the two countries but then it switches to how the radar can pick up the heat from Rudolphs nose! If you have little genius children then they will enjoy this site, otherwise it is interesting reading for adults while you're waiting for the kettle to boil! * ORIGINAL OPINION * Recently, by pure chance, I found a childrens website called northpole.com, and being a good parent, I decided to check that it was suitable for the age range of my kids. I was on the site for two hours last night (while the blighters slumbered) and I had a great time! Before I start, this opinion will contain no frills, just information. Please don't think that I haven't bothered trying!! I will now put my opinion into categories; CONTENT; When you first arrive on the site, you are greeted with a picture of Santa's secret village. In the village there are many different places for your child to visit. The WORKSHOP has 14 (I think) stories to read and colour and are all printer friendly, that should keep them busy for a while. SANTA'S DEN and the TOYSHOP are two seperate places to visit, but, these are the only places that would not be interesting to my children as Santa is really just advertising his l ist of favourite Christmas videos and books,the list is quite long. The MAILROOM is very good as it gives your child a chance to write a short, or long, letter to Santa. There is no need for an email address as you can revisit the site two days later and pick up your mail, ours should be arriving tomorrow. Your child may also send and receive animated postcards to and from friends but I can't comment on that as we have not tried this one yet. The CLUBHOUSE has some great memory games and a 'tetris' type game, all in all, both kids had fun. There is also an area that gives the kids an opportunity to chat with any of Santa's six elves, but, with my kids being 6 and 3, I didn't think it was appropriate for them to get into that habit. The GIFTSHOP is a bit like santa's den and the toyshop and has ideas for gifts with links to pages for buying gifts. REINDEER BARN is home to, you guessed it, reindeer and has hidden stories which are found by simply moving the mouse over the picture on screen. And last of all there is the KITCHEN where Mrs Claus invites you to send in your delicious Christmas recipies and also offers her own. BEST BITS; Our personal favourite no the site is the personalised stories part. There are three stories to choose from and at the beginning you enter the childs name, best friend, favourite activities, favourite toy and favourite food and it is all incorporated into the stories. I printed the stories out, (which was a bit painstaking as they are printed out page by page) and stapled them together, then presented them to my kids this morning. They were so impressed with mummy's handiwork! There is also a fantastic on site radio packed with Christmas tunes which are great for the background music when reading the stories. WORST BITS; There aren't any really bad bits, only the advertising in the toyroom etc... but if anyone can suggest any Christmas websites for kids that are purel y games and activities without advertising, then please leave a comment. My kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves and the colouring printouts can be repeated, they're not bothered that they've had that one before. I wouldn't say that it would keep them occupied for hours but it is a welcome break from glitter and glue!

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                10.11.2001 17:59
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                It never ceases to amaze me how year after year, the shops can introduce their Christmas themes literally months before Christmas itself. There have been times when I have been shopping, and the sun is shining away outside in the high street, but inside the shop assistances are setting up Christmas trees and decorations as if it’s the week before Christmas. I have even wanted to run up to them and say; “No, don’t do it, it’s not even officially Winter yet, we’ll all be sick of it by Christmas!” The thing is, I love Christmas, not just because of the memories of my own childhood and the intense excitement that grew in the lead up to the big day, but because now I have the opportunity to create Christmas’s that provide my kids with wonderful memories over the years. Making Christmas an exciting time for kids is easy, making it special for you and your grown up loved ones is about far more than recieving presents. Christmas preparation for me is all about the 'feeling' of Christmas. The atmosphere, the sights, the smells, the sounds, and it takes preparation, but if you start when the shops do you'll be all burn't out and sick of the whole notion of Christmas long before Christmas day. For me, buying Christmas presents is the least exciting thing about it all, giving them however fills me with a warm feeling, accompanied by seeing the joy on my kids face as they discover a new toy. This year I have discovered an overwhelmingly pleasurable way to give, but more of that later. I love to decorate the house, and I admit, even I have to put my decorations up some weeks, but not months I hasten to add, before Christmas Eve. We have a huge artificial tree, although I love the feel of a real tree and the aroma it creates, I hate the constant dropping of needles that always seemed to find their way between the dog’s pads, or get sprayed across the floor each time they brush past. We cal l our tree ‘The Californian Redwood’, because it is so big. These days we only erect the two top pieces, as it tends to take over when the kids are around. I am rather particular about colour schemes, being a Virgo, everything has to be just so! For the last few years, I have decorated the tree in gold, red and purple, and burn little purple candles on the mantel piece. Each year I like to make a spectacular centre piece for the table and mantel piece. The process begins with a walk in Windsor Great Park to collect Holly, Ivy and other attractive foliage, and I have even been known to shout at my husband as we are driving along, if I see a particular bit of foliage just right for my display. I also take great delight in cutting foliage from my neighbours overpowering conifer, which actually looks rather attractive as a base for my display. You can buy florists wire and a large piece of oasis fairy cheaply from the garden centre, and even a few artificial red berries that you can use year after year, that stay fresh and luscious looking throughout the Christmas period. These days it is possible to buy huge church candles from trendy discount shops, such as those that sell crafts from India. All you then need to do, is ram the candle into the centre of the water logged oasis(which you can stand in a large bowl or on a tray, although less stable), and then while a way an hour arranging your selection of foliage. Each year, my table groans increasingly loudly with the weight of my latest Christmas display. With foliage costing nothing, you can go as big as you like! By the way, I don’t suggest you pinch foliage from a private garden without asking. Although I pinch stuff from the Queens ‘garden’, I think she can take it with out it making much of a difference. Scented candles of spicy medleys and Frankincense, create an instant aroma of all things Christmasy, you can even buy Christmas Pudding flavour and Mulled Wine varieties. I would say however, that you must be really really careful when burning candles. Don’t leave them lighted and go off for half an hour. One year my mum nearly set fire to the house because she had left a candle burning in the lounge. Luckily the smoke detector alarmed and I shoved a wet tea towel over it before the furniture went up in flames. I’m not going to go into talking about Christmas food, as I’m sure there will be loads of you that can talk far more eloquently and informed on the subject, but I will just mention another little tradition we have started in our house. I bought a couple of beautifully decorated stocking's for the kids last year. Fergus’ has snowmen on and Kitty’s has fairy’s. I got them in Monsoon, they were pricey, but will last for years, and are beautifully decorated in rich colours and lovely velvety fabrics. I realise though that it would be great fun to make something like this, and it would be even more special as you brought them out each year. My mum has stockings for the kids at her house too, she’s sown on sequins spelling each of their names, they look great too. Now after all this waffle about the preparations for Christmas in our house, I want to change gear a little and talk about something very important to me. If all this talk of Christmas has got you thinking about your own Christmas preparations, great, I hope I have maybe given you a couple of ideas. However, some of you may be thinking, “But jusophine, what about the true meaning of Christmas, after all, isn’t it about the fact that God gave his only son to the world?” Look, you are totally right, I am no church goer, but I am a spiritual person, and I would like to believe in the reason we celebrate Christmas. I certainly enjoy sharing nativity books with my kids and love nothing more than singing along to carols from Kings College each Christmas Eve. For me , the true meaning of Christmas must be at the centre of all this, it’s what makes it so special. Now that I have children, I understand more than ever how lucky I am, how truly lucky my kids are, and how lucky we are as a population in general to be living in a rich country in the west. Most of us have everything we need not just to stay alive, but for so much more, in fact, I for one have an obscenely affluent lifestyle when compared to those in some other countries. This year I was drawn to a charity campaign that Fergus’ nursery was highlighting, inviting parents to donate a shoebox full of gifts to a needy child. The idea immediately appealed top me as we would be able to directly choose gifts for a child who would otherwise receive nothing this Christmas. The day after picking up the information leaflet, I was busy hunting for shoe boxes, and even ask the neighbours if they had any. Having collected 3 standard sized adult shoe boxes, I set about filling them with suitable gifts for a boy between 2 and 4, a boy between 5 and 9, and a girl between 10 and 14. The leaflet suggested giving second hand toys and picture books(without language), that were in good condition, sweets, chocolates, school supplies such as pencils, pens and exercise paper, as well as toiletries, such as flannel’s, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, you could also include clothing such as gloves and scarf’s. All this really made me think about the kind of child that the boxes would be going to. What use would toys and sweets be alone if the child had no soap to wash with, or pencils to write with? Having selected a contents for each box, consisting of basic toiletries, flannels, tooth brushes and toothpaste, toy cars, hair care sets, sweets, books, pens, pencils and pencil sharpener’s, and various other toys and suitable gifts, I wrapped each box up in Christmas paper(lid and box separately). The leaflets come with st ickers so you can indicate what age group and sex each box is for. Each box costs £2 to send, to cover the cost of shipping and distribution, but you can also add an extra contribution as I did. The boxes will be distributed to needy children around Europe, the charity operates in many countries; Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Ukrane, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. This year on the 25th of December, as my kids are hastily unwrapping their presents and tossing them aside, I shall be thinking of 3 children in one of these countries, being handed their gift. I shall picture their little face lighting up as they discover the contents within their box, and shall imagine them cherishing their very own belongings. As Operation Christmas Child’s leaflet says, these children have suffered war, natural disasters, poverty and illness, but with the help of this charity, we can make a difference. Unfortunately, if you would like to make a difference too, you only have a couple of days to do so. The final collecting day for the pastels is 12th November, but if you want to make up a box, why not pop down to the local nursery, school or library, and see if they are taking part. Or, you can contact the charity, Samaritan’s Purse, direct for information about your nearest drop off centre. They have a 24 hour helpline. Tel 0870 01102001 or take a look at their website, www.samaritanspurse.org I do hope you don’t feel I’ve used this opinion to try and rope you in to something just because I have taken part. I think you’ll agree, this kind of giving makes for a better Christmas all round.

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                  27.07.2001 03:49
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                  It was chrismas day 1996. My husband and I had been really busy in the pub that we ran in our home town. The night before all the revellers had been in to celebrate chrismas eve and it had been the early hours before we had got rid of the crowds and been able to crawl to bed exhausted. I was up early on xmas morning to prepare the usuall chrismas dinner for the family which was a tradition that had gone on for many years. This year though was a little more special as my son had died just three months before and had left two small children aged one and three. We wanted to make the day a bit more 'magic' for them. My husband had spent most of the week buying presents for everyone and wrapping them in 'glitzi' paper. He had hired out a father christmas outfit and then built a grotto in the corner of the pub. The time of arrival for all the family was arranged by my other son. The 2.30 deadline arrived and everyone walked into the pub and the look on the childrens faces was a sight to behold. Thier cries of laughter and wide eyed amazement brought huge tears to my eyes. My hubby(father christmas) came walking in with a huge sack on his back to the tunes of 'ho ho and who have we here'. There was totall silence, they all looked with mouths wide open, they couldn't believe their eyes. 'Father christmas' Took each child in turn onto his knee, asked the usuall questions, and then gave each one a present. The youngest one wasn't too sure of father christmas but did give him a kiss on the cheek and say thank you. We adults just stood back in awe and to see the smiling faces of the children was well worth all the hard work involved in the preperation. Everyone lept up the stairs to the living quarters , my 3 year old grandson shouting for grandad. My husband arrived upstairs 15 mins later and asked what all the noise and laughing was about. 'Gr andad' they said, You have just missed father christmas, He came special to see us today to give us all these presents. Oh grandad you missed him You should have been there they all chatted at once. My hubby looked at me and just smiled. I think my son was there that day too. To see the little ones laughing and enjoying themselves. The three year old is now seven and still talkes about how grandad missed seeing santa on that xmas day.

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                    28.11.2000 03:36
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                    Last Christmas after scoffing Christmas dinner we all sat around exhausted. Except for the children! It's always inevitable that you will run out of steam before they do. However, on this occasion one of the children had a bright idea which I thought would keep them occupied but ended up keeping us all quite entertained. Rather than bringing out the old board games we decided to create our own! You can use this idea or come up with your own for next Christmas: GAME PLAY The aim of the game is for the Magi to reach baby Jesus. Each of the players is one of the Kings, although more than just three can participate! The board is designed so that it sprials towards the centre, where baby Jesus lays! The spiral itself consists of squares, and each player throws a dice to move to the next one. It's not just as easy as rolling a die however! The following are the sorts of things which appear on the squares: - Some squares allow you to move forwards - Some squares make you move backwards - Some squares are activity squares which must be completed to the satisfatction of the other players! Such activities are: 1) Sing a specified Christmas carol 2) Tell a joke 3)Dance to your favourite Christmas song etc. (make up your own) * * * * * * * This is just an outline, but the kids can have fun making the gameboard and the pieces. You could even make the materials for creating this a special Christmas gift! Hope you all have fun and a Merry Christmas!

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                    24.11.2000 23:28
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                    Christmas shopping is getting easier each year. I think that this year there is even more choice available then ever. For starts there is the traditional high street shopping which is a bit of a nightmare on a Saturday afternoon and particularly near Christmas. However there is a good atmosphere in the High Street and I love seeing the Christmas lights. There is the hassle of parking but lots of town centres offer you a park and ride service which can help. There are also the out of town shopping areas where you can shop. Also this year alot of the supermarkets are stocking more Christmas items so it is possible to but things while you are doing food shopping. Mail order and catalogues are a good idea for presents if you dont like the hassle of High Street shopping. This options normally works out a little more expensive especially in the case of catalogue shopping. The final option that I can think of for shopping this year is the internet. Some many more shops are online at the moment and the prices they offer are quite competitive. It advoids the hassle of High Street shopping but I suppose it can get a little boring. I would suggest that you try a combination of all these methods. I certainly will be! The good thing is that they are all fighting for our business so that can only mean better deals for us!

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                      21.11.2000 19:19
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                      Today i had a conversation with a mum on the way to my childrens school. She was astounded to hear that my eight year old son Joshua still believed in santa. Of course he does i told her,who am i to take away his dreams.She said the other children will laugh at him at school,also that he should understand that we buy his presents,not a make believe man.She on the other hand had told her children when they were six years old that santa didnt exist. I found that very cruel,i love seeing my children getting excited,about this soft bearded man in red clothing ,who has a magic sleigh and reindeers who can fly,who brings them lots of nice presents, its the main part of christmas for me. The wonder really begins on Christmas Eve,putting out nibbles for santa and a can of low alcohol beer (wouldnt want santa to get to merry would we). Then there are the three sacks to be placed at the bottom of their beds,each with a name on as he might get them mixed up. Just before bedtime a visit to the loft window,just in case he comes early,might just catch a glimpse of him on his sleigh,not forgetting the reindeers to. Disscusion time,how will santa get into our house ? He cant use the living room chimney,might burn his bum !! Has to be the dining room chimney,but what if the dog barks and wakes everyone up,and what if the dog steals santas nibbles?Everything needs to be planned out so all goes well. Bedtime comes later, today,as all must be tired,so they go to sleep quickly,because everyone knows that santa doesnt come if you arent asleep,or even if you are peeking. All of the above are treasured moments,that i could not deliberately remove. Obviously Joshua will find out oneday that santa doesnt exist,but that will be his own choice. And as for who buys his presents,well its santa again this year.

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                        17.11.2000 06:28
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                        Fancy finding out if you are on the good or naughty list this year. If so visit claus.com. This is a really fun website, it is essentially an online shop, but it has a lot more than that to it. Check the naughty and nice lists -------------------------------- Simply enter your name at the prompt and you will get a detailed report of which list you are on and why. You can also check out the top ten of ways to get on the lists. Example include sharing the remote will get you on the good list and not scrubbing behind you ears will get, a lot of you I fear, on the naughty list. Polar Post ---------- The south poles very own newspaper, will keep you updated on how the preparations for the big night are going. You can also see what Santa and those naughty elves do when they are not preparing your pressies. You can also have this e-mailed to you daily. Mrs Claus’ Kitchen ------------------ Find out what Santa’s favourite foods are and try them out yourself. Elf School ---------- Some fun games and puzzles for the little ones. And of course you can e-mail Santa with your wish list. This is a really imaginative site one that Kids and adults will enjoy. Don’t forget you can track Santa on Christmas Eve and see where he is in the world. I have no idea what the shopping is like I have been to busy finding out if my friends have been good or not. There is so much on this site I cannot even try to tell you everything that is there. You will just have to try it out for yourself. Merry Christmas

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                          13.11.2000 06:30
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                          Last Christmas Eve my Daughter Joanna who was 4 at the time, was feeling poorly she had had a cold and was still feeling under the weather. Late that evening she was still waking up (the excitement of Christmas and her not feeling well combined), all the cuddles did not make her feel any better. Later that night I went out into the garden and with my best voice gave out a loud "Ho Ho Ho". Sure enough the tip toe of her little feet appeared downstairs and she asked if I had heard Santa. I smiled and told her Yes, she then checked to make sure Santa had eaten his mince pie and drank his glass of Sherry and that the Reindeer had eaten their carrots. She went back to bed contented and slept through the rest of the night. The next morning she was boasting to her brother that she had heard Santa. A Year later and as Christmas approaches she still talks of having heard Santa, her brother will be listening for him as well this year. I just hope my voice is up to it. Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas Everybody **Update** Joanna talking to her older brother Michael. "I heard him say Ho Ho Ho, so I went downstairs and saw him and talked to him". Hmmmmmmm funny that I do not remember that happening. I think I might have made a rod for my own back though, I also heard them discussing how they will both stay awake this year to make sure they see him.

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                            11.11.2000 20:04
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                            Christmas is all about the children. Every year children around the world get excited about putting the Christmas tree up, hanging the magical decorations around the house, and Santa coming on Christmas Eve with their presents... but only if they're good. Some of the best memories that I have are of Chrsitmas time as a kid, and I think this is true for most of us. At that age you can't expect them to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas (ie. the birth of Jesus Christ), they simply wouldn't understand it. For children, Christmas is the time when School's out, when the snow starts falling, and when they write their wish list to Santa and send it off to Lapland (where do all those letters go I wonder?)... and this is how it should always be. Childhood is a special time for anyone, and Christmas is - as the song goes - "the most wonderful time of the year". Let the kids absorb all the energy of the season, the chrsitmas music playing in the shops, the bright lights and glittery things on the Christmas Tree, and the thought of Santa trying to squeeze down their chimney or fit through the window! Of course it's true that Christmas is, in this day and age, very much commercialised. Those adverts for Barbie don't just happen to be shown during the cartoons you know. But so what if it is commercialised, as a child you thankfully aren't are of any of it. On the other hand, the parent's wallet DOES seem to take some impact. But seeing your child opening their present on Christmas Day and the smile on their face is more than worth it i'm sure... just make sure you take a look at their letter to Santa, before they post it to him! Christmas is a spcial time of year for everyone, but more so for children. Could you imagine what it would be like, without children taking any sort of interest in it? And while there are a lot of people who go to great lengths, trying to get into the Christmas spirit (eg. hanging hand reds of lights outside their house), nothing can compare to how magical it all seems when you're young. I can still remember standing under our christmas tree, staring at all the lights and tinsel... while now, I'm TALLER than the tree and can actually put the fairy on top! And who remembers watching "Father Christmas" and "The Snowman" annimations as a kid? These were just fantastic and guaranteed to capture anyone's imagination at a young age (the "walking in the Air" music is on The Snowman). They're usually on Channel 4, so look out for them this year. I hope as many people out there as possible can enjoy Christmas with their family and children, but we must also think about those who - for one reason or another - cannot enjoy Christmas. Hopefully, past memories such as Christmas as a kid, will be sufficent at what is for many people, the hardest time of the year. Remember... make it special for the children, something they'll always remember when they're older. Happy Christmas.

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