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December 2, 2016

Get into the spirit of Christmas with these ideas for festive family fun. 

No matter what your beliefs, at its heart the festive season is about special time with family and friends. Many of us have fond memories of Christmas from our childhoods, and it’s fun to continue or start building new Christmas traditions for your own children. 

It’s often the simplest things that will mean the most to them – like the excitement of staying up late to go and see a Christmas lights display, helping to make reindeer-shaped biscuits for the neighbours, or leaving a special snack out for Santa.

With all that in mind, we’ve compiled some ideas for creating fun Christmas traditions for your family. And who knows? Maybe one day your children will continue them with their own families. 

Out and about

  • Whether you’re staked out on the city pavement with thousands of others or cheering your community Santa parade – there’s nothing like seeing the Jolly Man himself wave from a passing float filled with elves and reindeer. Check your local events listings for details of parades near you. 
  • There is something magical about Christmas lights, and there are streets around the country that have become famous for their Christmas light displays. Find one near you with
  • Large department stores in the main centres, such as Smith & Caughey in Auckland, Kirkcaldie & Stains in Wellington and Ballantynes in Christchurch, all create spectacular Christmas window displays that are well worth a special family trip. 
  • In Dunedin, the historic Pixie Town Christmas display from the city’s original DIC department store has been relocated to Toitu Otago Settlers Museum and will be open for Christmas fun. 
  • Soak up the festive family atmosphere at one of the many Christmas markets held around the country. It’s a great chance to get a bit of Christmas shopping done while supporting local craftspeople and businesses. 
  •  Yes, they’re cheesy, but we’ve all got them and they make for great additions to the photo board when the 21st rolls around. We’re talking about the traditional Santa photo, and they’ll be popping up at a shopping mall near you. 
  • Everyone loves a sing-along (go on, yes you do) so head along to your local Christmas carols concert. From the extravaganza of Christmas in the Park (Auckland and Christchurch) through to smaller local events, there will be something musical to enjoy over a picnic dinner.  


  • Make a decoration for the tree each year – as your child gets older they can help you, or start making decorations of their own. These will only increase in meaning as you hang them on the tree each year. 
  • Make or buy a keepsake ornament for baby’s first Christmas. 
  • Make or buy a Christmas stocking for baby.  
  • Buy a beautiful china or crystal decoration that could become an heirloom item to pass down through the family. 

Festive traditions to start

  • Turn decorating your Christmas tree into an occasion. Make a playlist of Christmassy music, get all the decorations out and let everyone help. (Note: any plans for a perfectly coordinated tree will need to be abandoned once children are helping. This is all part of the fun.) Don’t forget the twinkly lights – they look beautiful at night and will keep babies mesmerized, especially if they flash softly on and off, or are different colours. 
  • Make an advent calendar. It can be as simple as trinkets in little socks hung on a ribbon, envelopes each containing a family photo from throughout the year, or even dried fruit wrapped in colourful paper napkins hung from a string of tinsel. See our Christmas elves idea in the 'Made with love'  feature on page 108.
  • If you send Christmas cards to friends and family then let your child help with colouring the envelopes or decorating the cards. 
  • Snuggle up together on Christmas Eve and watch a Christmas movie while awaiting Santa’s arrival. 
  • Read a special Christmas story before bedtime on Christmas Eve. It could be a new book, or part of a special Christmas collection. 
  • Write a Christmas letter to your child. Take time to reflect on the year and write to them about all they’ve achieved, the memorable moments and all that you love about them. Keep each year’s letter in a special box for them to read when they’re older.

All about Santa

Help your little ones write a letter to Santa. Encourage them to think of just one thing they might really want for Christmas, rather than a huge list of toys. Get them to focus more on telling Santa about their year. (These will be a delight to keep and look back on.) Or, if they want to post their letters, then NZ Post has a special postal address for Santa’s mail, and he will then write back to them. Find out more at Children can also call Santa at his North Pole base. Spark’s Santa Line is free to call on 0800 222 222. 

No chimney at your house? An old key painted gold or tied with a sparkly string can become a ‘Magic Key’ to leave out for Santa. 

Make a special snack for Santa and his reindeer. (Everyone knows that an empty glass and crumbs from a Christmas mince pie on Christmas morning is incontrovertible proof that the Big Fella has been.) You could also leave a bowl of water on the floor for Rudolph (splash a few drops around before morning) or make special Reindeer Food by mixing glitter with rolled oats. 

Keep an eye on Santa’s progress in real time with a Santa Tracker. The two best international sites are and the original, 

Yes that’s right, NORAD (The North American Aerospace Defense Command) follows Santa’s progress each year, and has been doing so since 1955, when a misprint in a newspaper advertisement gave the number for Defense Command, instead of a local Santa line. NORAD rose to the occasion and has been tracking Santa’s yearly journey ever since. You can also find local updates on 

Think of others

Let them help you make a Christmas treat for neighbours. Elderly people in particular might appreciate a visit and a little parcel of homemade goodies.

Help them to make a gift or card for someone outside the family who is important in their lives, such as a teacher at daycare or kindy, or a nanny.

Many supermarkets and malls take donations of presents or food at Christmas time. Your child could help to choose and wrap a gift to donate to a child who is less fortunate. 

Help a struggling family to have a brighter Christmas. The Salvation Army’s ‘Adopt a Family for Christmas programme’ matches families in need with donors who give a hamper of food products for the family to enjoy on Christmas Day, along with a present for each child. Contact your local Salvation Army office for details – find them at 

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