Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas

A meeting with Santa: at his own home

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“I’ll never forget this trip as long as I live,” said my little boy, giving me a hug.

That solitary comment certainly made it worthwhile: we were on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Lapland to see Santa. That’s right: the real Big Fella.

It was a magical trip and one the children will look back on with fondness.

After weeks of reading up on the different companies that offer Santa trips, we chose Esprit. It had a good choice of trips, wasn’t the cheapest or most expensive but – most importantly – has a good reputation and offered a private meeting with You Know Who.

There are choices of day trips, two night stays and three night breaks. The thought of flying three and a half hours into the Arctic Circle, only to return after 48 hours was too much.

For us, Santa’s Spectacular was the best option: a three night stay in the delightful town of Saariselka, staying in the Hotel Riekonlinna.

There would be an activity day, a 25 minute coach ride away from the resort, where we would enjoy a short husky ride, a reindeer sled ride, play ice hockey, toboggan, do a spot of ice fishing, watch a traditional Saami ceremony and drink enough warm berry juice to keep the cold at bay.

There was also a chance for the children to show off their artistic talents and do an ice sculpture and enjoy a spot of skidooing.

Of course, the extra day meant we had lots of free time. For us that meant tobogganing – seven hours. That’s a lot of trudging up Europe’s longest tobogganing run (1.2 km if you climb right to the top). But we did it because it was free.

We could not justify forking out for optional trips. A one-hour husky sled ride cost £89 per adult and £65 per child (aged 2-11), while one and half hours’ snowmobiling would have been an extra £370.

But tobogganing was such fun, I frankly didn’t care. Ploughing face first into a four foot deep snow pile because you can’t control the small plastic tray you sat in produced streams of raucous laughter.

The snowsuits, thermal socks, gloves, hats and boots handed out upon arrival kept us toasty warm and as they got rather damp from the snow ploughing, snow angels and snowball pelting it was great to have the drying cupboard in our hotel rooms.

The Hotel Riekonlinna stands at the end of the tiny town’s high street, close to the toboggan run. It is cosy and friendly with a bar that serves expensive drinks (a small local beer costs €5.30. Finland is notoriously pricey).

There is also a restaurant that serves a half-decent buffet breakfast – the usual array of breads, cereals and fruit, as well as a hot selection – but dinners didn’t hit the spot with many of the guests.

The choice was limited and strict vegetarians might get very hungry. And only one pudding.

The bedrooms, although in need of modernising, were spotless and very comfortable. A bit too comfy: who’d have thought I’d have had the window open all night in the Arctic Circle in December?

But the children didn’t care about any of this. Why would they? What they were interested in was seeing Santa.

As we travelled in a sled behind a snowmobile on our activity day through a forest to Santa’s house, there was evidence that elves were definitely up to no good. Abandoned gifts and a tipped up sleigh gave the clues, but soon we saw them outside a festive-looking wooden chalet.

After a minute of play – with them stealing our hats and having snow shoved in our faces – we were ushered in to a lovely, warm room, festooned with decorations and gifts. And there he was. Santa. And he had my children’s letters to him in HIS HANDS.

As he walked through the door, he exclaimed their names and they could barely speak. My son (8) was in total awe. How on Earth did Santa get our letters?

My daughter, who is ten, was rendered completely confused by the experience. As a Year 6 pupil, she is *on the cusp* with Santa. But there is no denying she loved the brief two-minute meeting with Santa – as well as the lovely gift of a reindeer in traditional Lappish costume.

So, was it worth it? It’s a heck of a lot of money for we grown-ups and I wouldn’t do it more than once. But it’s a lifetime of memories for youngsters – and that’s priceless.

Facts

Jayne Howarth and family paid for their three-night Esprit trip to Saariselka, flying from Manchester to Ivalo.

They stayed at the Premier Inn, Manchester Airport prior to the 6am flight to Ivalo.

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Written by CommonPeople

December 21, 2009 at 3:21 pm

‘But I wanted to be Mary’: the politics of the school nativity

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"I wish mum hadn't complained about me not getting the main role"

It’s that time of year when parents run around like loons, finding last-minute costumes for the school nativity, Christmas production or festive service.

(I dread the letters that emerge out of the school bag a week after they were sent from a stressed teacher, asking for nigh-on impossible costumes. Especially when you realise you have two days’ notice to find a Major General uniform from 1844 or a Tudor-style dress, complete with ruff. And what have they got to do with Christmas, anyway?)

But, for some parents, it isn’t the costume that fills them with dread: it’s looking at the cast list.

Over the past few weeks, you might well have heard the complaints: “I see Tabitha is Mary AGAIN. She was Mary in Reception and took the lead singing role in Oliver last year.” Or: “I see it is the Smith/Jones/Peters [insert appropriate family name here] show again. Why do teachers always pick the same children?”

I certainly have.

I have had conversations with parents whose children are at different primary schools complaining that it was usually the same girls and boys who took the starring roles.

They were not bemoaning the fact their own son or daughter hadn’t been given the main part, but cast doubt on whether the schools offered the same opportunities to all.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=nativity+play&iid=3013096″ src=”9/8/a/d/Pennywell_Farm_Hosts_4ed8.jpg?adImageId=7846866&imageId=3013096″ width=”500″ height=”303″ /]

It was an interesting point: so, armed with neither evidence to support assertions nor an agenda, I asked the question on Twitter: do you think your school always chooses the same children for the lead roles in plays/team captains etc?

I posted the same query on Mummy Bloggers. It was also picked up by Jim Hawkins on Radio Shropshire and he had parents contact him in droves.

The responses were interesting, to say the least.

One caller to Jim claimed that when she was an active member of the PTA, her children were given main roles; when she left, they were no longer considered for major parts. Coincidence? Who knows.

Others were insistent it didn’t happen. A few callers suspected it did.

Here are some responses I received:

Yep, the same girl at my sisters grammar got picked every year. It’s always the kids with the starry names too! At my school it was Antoinette. She got to play Eliza Dolittle-she’d actually left our secondary school, but they brought her back to play it! (Claire)

At our school it’s always the same kids who get the lead roles and while we all moan and groan about it, they are the kids who have charisma on stage and are capable of remembering all those lines! (muummmeee)

I don’t think this goes on at Amy’s school, but I do believe it goes on at another school I know of. It also seemed to be the same kids with the better roles – the ones that have all the best lines and all the best scenes etc. I remember mentioning it once and was hit with excuse after excuse about the fact that some kids are just shy and others really want to be in the limelight. But you could guarantee whatever the play, the “shy” kids were never given a chance. Shame. (Crystal Jigsaw)

I think at my daughter’s school they definitely choose the same children over and over for the big speaking parts. I think that’s because they are the loudest, but that does mean other kids don’t get a crack. Until you know that you can stand up in front of the lower school and say a handful of lines…you don’t know it. (Jennifer Howze)

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=school+nativity&iid=4586952″ src=”d/7/d/a/Nativity_Play_9ce6.jpg?adImageId=7847112&imageId=4586952″ width=”380″ height=”290″ /]

There are some children who shine on stage. Should we turn it around and say they shouldn’t have the opportunity to do that so a child who doesn’t gets to have the main part? I’ve sat through countless school productions and I’ve noticed the ones who are good in shows are the ones who are most comfortable on stage. Not all children want to be in the spotlight.Our school is excellent at ensuring there are five or six decent parts for the oldest children. They also give solos to the ones who are good at singing. It’s lovely to see someone you perhaps thought of as quite shy singing like an angel. (Deb)

Other comments via Twitter included:

So far, they’ve been really fair at my kids’ school, with kids who don’t have parts in one play getting them in next one … Last year someone was really put out their daughter wasn’t Mary & told us all. Pathetic. (@VWallop)

If they think that is a big ‘problem’ then they need a reality check (@LindaSJones)

It’s a snapshot; it’s not scientific; for me, it is an interesting topic for discussion.

I hate unfairness and hate to think that a school teacher would favour one child over another, although I know/strongly suspect it goes on in SOME schools.

I know that there are a goodly number of children who aren’t interested in the starring role; some prefer to be the giraffe (I know, in a nativity, too. How does that work?) or the third tree on the left, but there are many who want to be given a chance, if only their teachers would offer them encouragement.

Let’s give those shy children – who deep down would love to be given  a chance to shine on stage as Mary, Joseph or the inn keeper – a chance. It might just give them the boost they need.

What do you think?

(two photos of nativity courtesy of PicApp)

Written by CommonPeople

November 26, 2009 at 4:33 am

Just another stressful Christmas

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This week is going to be much better than last week. It is a promise I have made to myself and I am determined to see the funny side of life.
Last week, I experienced disheartenment, frustration and bewildermen. So close to Christmas, too.
First, I had the mother of all colds. Yes, I know you probably had one, too, but this is all about me. My cold was worse than the previous four years’ worth put together. I lay under a duvet for two days and snivelled, ached and flopped, while child number two came out in sympathy and joined me for a weekend of coughing and spluttering.
But, a Christmas tree had to be bought, so I dragged my aching carcass to the local farm to see a handful of pathetic specimens left (“Should have come last week, love,” I was told, by a ruddy-faced farmer, who clearly has not seen any evidence of the credit crunch this year. “I had more than 600 then.”).
I chose the least ridiculous looking one and took it home. And there it stood it the garage, all forlorn for two days before I could muster the energy to find the decorations. I’m afraid it looks fairly rubbish with the adornments.
Low number two came in the guise of a bizarre self-inflicted accident on the way to work. Still weary and delicate from man ‘flu, I reached into my car boot for my handbag. Then, in slow motion (as it always seem to be, but you cannot do a darned thing about it), I banged my head on the lock, which caused me to bring my gloved hand down to rub my head.
Instead, my gloved hand overreached my noggin and – for reasons that I cannot fathom – I ended up punching myself very hard on the bridge of my nose. There were chunters, a few tears of anger and sheer embarrassment and a throbbing sensation that was to last the day. A black eye for Christmas, madam? Oh, just what I always wanted.
Then I spent a fruitless day searching for a Christmas present that mother-in-law claimed wasn’t in her bag of goodies that I’d bought for the children.
With an ill son resting in the lounge, I spent a total of FIVE hours looking for the missing DS game. Wardrobes were turned inside out, drawers were emptied repeatedly and beds were moved. Just in case.
Now in full panic mode, I try to re-buy the game online (now not available until January) and almost weep (again) in frustration.
I confess to m-i-l that the game is missing in action. It cannot be found. There is nothing we can do.
“What DS game?” she asks, puzzled.
“The one that you said was missing from the bag of presents,” I wail.
“Oh, I’ve got that. It’s the CD that’s missing,” she chirrups. The CD she said she was going to get.
Anger? Frustration? Helplessness? Tears?
Ah, yes. It must be Christmas. Happy Christmas to you all.

Written by CommonPeople

December 21, 2008 at 12:23 pm