I love the Winter holidays here. There are long bank holidays on festivals we either don’t celebrate or have a quiet time at home because there are no family visits to pack in. This gives us a lot of time to explore the area. The weather isn’t warm but there is so much to see and do here that looks beautiful in any weather.
For Thanksgiving weekend we took the family on a trip to Mount Ranier National Park and for a ride on Mount Ranier Scenic Railway ‘s Santa Express.
We entered the park at Longmire rather than the larger entrance at Paradise. At Longmire there is a restaurant, a small gift shop and a museum (this wasn’t open).
The girls were very excited to find snow, every few feet my youngest would stoop down to pick it up.
We then went for a short walk along the trail. My adventurous family hate to stick to the path, so soon we came across a river and we slid down the bank to see if we could get across.
My husband carried the little ones across but it wasn’t long before they were wading through the water themselves, just about managing to keep their clothes dry, even if their feet got a little wet. What a beautiful place it was, the wide expanse is so different from anything you get in the UK. My husband (followed by the dog) soon practised his balancing act on a tree stump closely followed by my eldest.
The twilight was drawing in so we made our way back across to the path. We walked back to the car holding hands as we felt it getting darker around us. The girls were a little scared and a little excited to walk while it was getting dark but were reassured by the road nearby with its comforting lights.
The boots and socks were dried out overnight and we headed to Elbe for our train ride. We gathered a few provisions in the local store. I loved the sign explaining the demographics of Elbe ‘population – not many’.
We soon saw the train arriving.
Once the train departed the guard informed us that we could see Santa, we made our way through the many carriages trying hard not to fall and passing the many Christmas trees. Santa was in his grotto and the girls each had a nice gift and a candy cane.
By the time we arrived back from Santa we had almost reached the mid-point of the journey. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the views. I expected stunning mountain views but instead we saw forest, farms and rivers. The girls watched out for wildlife whilst playing with their new toys.
The train ride lasted around 2 hours which seemed to pass very quickly. A lovely start to our Christmas festivities. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mount Ranier when the weather is warmer.
As an outsider ‘Thanksgiving’ is a bit of a mystery. My basic understanding is that is a time to say thank you, get together with family and eat a big turkey meal and is associated with harvest festival.
However, as a young child you might be forgiven for believing that it is a celebration of turkeys. Whilst browsing Pinterest a few weeks ago, I was overwhelmed by the amount of turkey crafts. There were a few posts about ‘trees of thanks’ but every other Thanksgiving activity included turkeys. I asked my 9-year-old
You’ve learned about Thanksgiving at school. What do turkeys have to do with Thanksgiving?
I have no idea.
Did they eat turkey at the first Thanksgiving?
I think so.
I know that turkey is eaten at Thanksgiving but then we eat turkey at Christmas and we would think it a little weird if everyone started making turkey crafts for Christmas.
I did a bit if searching on the internet. The origins of Thanksgiving come from the arrival of the pilgrim fathers to America from Plymouth, England. The journey across the ocean on the Mayflower was dangerous and many lives were lost. Coinciding with the European Harvest Festival the pilgrims decided to hold a feast to thank God for their safe arrival and invited the native Americans to join them. It is suggested that 4 turkeys (a native American bird) were killed for the feast (though it is likely they ate many other local fowl, game and seafood too). The turkey came to be known as a symbol of affluence (even in Victorian times only the very richest Europeans could afford to eat turkey at Christmas) . I assume therefore, that the turkey at thanksgiving symbolises a way expressing thanks for prosperity.
I was interested to find out if my-5-year old knew what Thanksgiving was.
I know what it is. It’s when we give lots of stuff.
She remembers her friend across the road bringing her pretzels last year.
Why do we give stuff?
To say Thank You
I wondered if she knew anything about the first Thanksgiving. I told them about the first settlers here from Europe.
How do you think they got here?
On a boat.
I think it would make a lot of sense to help their understanding of Thanksgiving if they could understand how difficult it is to travel on a boat without an engine for thousands of miles across the ocean. I looked for a book from the Library to help explain. None of them seemed quite right until we found this one, a simple description of the pilgrims journey from the point of view of the children.
I decided to take the idea to a free build play session where we began by reading the book.
The children were very interested in the fact that the pilgrims could only eat certain foods on the boat like hard biscuits.
“But I like hard biscuits” said one child.
“Yes but not if you ate them all the time.”
” How did they manage the journey without getting scurvy?” asked another.
“A good question, many of them didn’t”
We brainstormed some of the reasons the pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving
A parent had donated large cardboard boxes for us to make a replica of the Mayflower. Fourteen children worked collaboratively to build the boat. They added a mast and sail, lifeboats, steering, roof, a plank and loaded the boat up with food from the play kitchen.
It has been left up for the children to continue to play with and develop their own stories.
I think that makes more sense than making a turkey out of a pine cone.
A letter came home from school last week asking us to decorate a shoe box and make a hole large enough to fit a greeting card. My daughter dutifully created her box ready for the school Valentine’s party. I expected the box to come home with a few cards from her closest friends, until her younger sister came home from pre-school with a bag laden with goodies. Her bag contained lots of little cards with sweets attached from both her teachers and all of the children at pre-school. Had I missed something somewhere? Was there a letter asking us to bring in Valentine’s treats? I think there was an assumption that we would know what to do – now I feel like the mean, lazy parent.
My eldest went off to school today armed with her box. She returned laden with gifts.
That explains why we were given a letter with the names of all the children in the class. I assumed it was so we would know how to spell a name if we wanted to send a Valentine to a special friend.
If you want to avoid being the odd one out you need to :
Send a card to every child in the class
Attach a sweet or small gift to the card
Sign your child’s name.
Hold on a moment
Isn’t Valentine’s Day meant to be about showing appreciation for those you love or sending a message to someone you admire? Isn’t it about giving not receiving?
My children came home excited about what they had received. There was no sentiment attached to any of the cards, nobody said ‘I’m giving you this because I think you are a great friend.’ It strikes me as another example of greed and an expectation that we load the children with lots of stuff because no child can be left out. I think my 4-year-old got the sentiment right when she decided it would be nice to send a Valentine to the friends she misses from home to tell them she is thinking about them.
I’m sure next year the girls will want to send Valentine’s to the whole class to fit in with their friends. I’d like to think that they will at least find one nice thing to say about each person they give them to. Isn’t it bad enough that adults are driven to spend 4 times the usual price for flowers just in case their partner is offended? Let children believe it is about love and friendship at least for a little while.
Having experienced our first American Christmas, many people have asked about the differences. Without our family and friends Christmas was always going to be different. In some ways Christmas was more relaxing without rushing off to visit relatives and in others a little of the Christmas spirit was lost. The good thing is that with Skype and Video Kinect we were able to talk to family and friends at various points through the day and the grandparents were able to watch the kids open their presents.
The Christmas tradition here is different in many ways, some take a little getting used to whilst others are a breath of fresh air.
It took me a while to get used to the American reference to Holidays rather than Christmas. At first it seemed too politically correct. Being invited to a Holiday party and school letters referencing Holiday gifts was very odd. The lack of emphasis on any one festival is nice but still feels a little strange; for me it will always be Christmas.
I took the children to see the switching on of the Christmas lights at the City Hall. This turned out to be simply turning on the Christmas tree lights, accompanied by a school choir singing songs about snow and jollity but not the traditional Christmas carols I expected. It appeared at first that the word Christmas was a taboo but over time I began to hear Christmas references more frequently. I read an article by a Jewish lady talking about how tiresome it was as a child to be asked what Santa was bringing and have to explain her faith time and again. I’m beginning to see the merits of the term ‘Holidays’ but I’m not a full convert yet.
Christmas decorations and lights started to go up in the neighbourhood as soon as Thanksgiving was over. Outside decoration seems to be as important as indoor, yet somehow it’s all a bit more tasteful than the UK . No house looks like it’s been adorned with the contents of Poundland. Lights are put around the roof or to light a pathway, beautifully lit ornaments are placed on lawns and every door displays a Christmas wreath. Perhaps it’s just that the houses and plot sizes are bigger that avoid them looking like they’ve been spewed on by the tinsel fairy. I’m slowly trying to blend in, I turned my old garland that I made when we were first married into a wreath and hung it on the front door and I’ve put a snowflake light in the window. Next year I think I need to research in advance how to power all the outdoor lights and decorations so we can sparkle with the best of them.
Once Thanksgiving was over I expected the supermarkets to be full of Christmas food. We found Christmas cookies, candy canes and egg nog but where were the beloved mince pies? It appears that Christmas cookies are an American tradition. Not gingerbread cookies or spicy lebkuchen that we would associate with Christmas but ordinary sugary cookies in Christmas shapes. Traditionally they were hung on the Christmas tree and left out for Santa.
My kids love mince pies, we would eat them every day from when they appeared on the shelves until we had exhausted our stack of reduced ones from the January sale. When the cashier at Waitrose told us that their bakery stock individual ones year round, the girls jumped for joy and we would sometimes pop in for a treat. So how would we cope this year?
After searching around and almost going as far as making mincemeat from scratch, I was relieved to find a jar of Robinsons mincemeat. The girls and I made a batch of mince pies. My pastry was a disaster, even the dog worried he may break his teeth. So I resigned myself to a Christmas without mince pies. That is until I discovered the delights of Cost Plus World Market, where we found mince pies (all be it at $7 a box) along with Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding, Cadburys biscuits, pickled onions and other treats like Marmite and Birds custard. We were all set for a traditional Christmas.
One of the best things about living here in the Winter is that a 40 minute drive takes you to snow. You have all the fun and beauty of snow without any of the inconvenience. We had a wonderful time at Hyak Snow Park tobogganing and building snowmen and the view was just like a scene from a Christmas Card. Perfect for my 4-year-old who believes that there is always snow at Christmas.
Gifts and Cards
Rather than sending Christmas cards, the neighbours left little treats like cookies and chocolate brownies on our doorstep. What a great idea, this is definitely something we should adopt in the UK. We baked a batch of mince pies (they were substantially better than the first batch) and the girls and I delivered them to the neighbours on Christmas Eve.
In all our first Christmas in America was pretty special and hopefully in future years we will have family or friends to share it with us.
This Christmas we decided to take a break from our traditional way of doing things. We visited Butlins Minehead Resort courtesy of the Butlins Mums Ambassador Programme. We usually spend Christmas at home, but I can thoroughly recommend a Christmas Butlins break for taking the hassle out of Christmas and spending quality time with your family. We did many things on the break that are not unique to Christmas, these will feature in a later post. This is our diary of the special things that are available on a Christmas Butlins break.
We checked in at our Gold apartment and were immediately greeted by some lovely added touches. The dining table was laid with a Christmas cloth, wine glasses, crackers and a bottle of bubbly and when the children checked out their bedrooms they found a lovely little gift each on their bed.
We then headed to the Yacht Club for dinner. The children were given Christmas cookies on arrival while we were allocated our table (guests keep the same table for the duration of their break). The dining experience was a real highlight of the break. Not only did I not have to cook but the quality, quantity and choice of food was excellent. Food and drink were on a self-serve basis and the children enjoyed coming to make their own choice of food and using the machines to get drinks. The meals ranged from 3 -5 courses and included a bottle wine . Our meet and greet host Mark also deserves a special mention for his exuberance and energy and for going out of his way to make sure we were happy. The children loved his illuminated tickling stick.
Butlins had a special visit from 2 of Santa’s reindeer and we visited them in the morning.
The girls and I spent the afternoon in the Skyline Pavilion. We watched the puppet show and danced with Angelina Ballerina but the highlight was Bjorn the Polar Bear. This amazing animatronic polar bear was so responsive and lifelike that the children were captivated.
One girl was chosen to be the first to interact with Bjorn and when she called his name he turned and walked towards her. All the children had a chance to hold their hand out for Bjorn to move towards them to be stroked and as a finale he rose onto his hind legs when the audience clapped and made a noise like a seal.
The snow globe looked like great fun with its simulated snowstorm, character photo shoots were scheduled here during the day. Unfortunately, by the time we considered going in (on Tuesday) it had lost some of its juice and the snow wasn’t falling and blowing properly so we decided to give it a miss. Next time I’ll make sure we get in early.
During the afternoon the housekeeping staff visited with a bag each containing a carrot for the reindeer and a mince pie for Father Christmas.
The girls filled out their letters to Santa included in the welcome pack. We intended to post them on our way to Father Christmas but by this point the post box had closed and we were too late. I believe had we been on time the girls would have received a personalised letter from Father Christmas.
We had a pre-booked time slot to visit Father Christmas in his Enchanted Forest. The children loved being met by the Gingerbread Man and a fairy as we entered the Forest and each had a good quality gift from Father Christmas (this incurred no extra charge).
On the way to dinner we caught the end of the firework display and my 3 year old who is afraid of fireworks was very brave.
After dinner we headed to Reds for a few drinks, and to catch the Take That tribute band. This was followed by an Adele tribute and Beatles tribute, but these were a little late for our kids.
When back in the apartment the girls hung their stockings on the tree ( we took a small table top Christmas tree with us) and put out the carrots and mince pies along with Santa’s magic key (Butlins apartments don’t have chimneys).
All of the Butlins staff went out of their way to help during our stay, this included the security man who helped carry presents to our chalet at 4am. As a minor suggestion if you are considering a Christmas break at Butlins, leave some of the presents at home. The time and space it took to load, unload and unwrap all the presents was a little overwhelming!
The girls woke up very excited that Father Christmas had visited Butlins. Remarkably, we managed to get the girls to breakfast before opening any presents. On opening the door they found this note from the man himself.
The morning was taken up opening presents and we headed for Christmas dinner during the mid afternoon. Today the little table in the entrance was laden with chocolates, fruit and nuts and a glass of Bucks Fizz for the grown ups. Our places were adorned with crackers, chocolates, a box of party poppers, rocket balloons and streamers, a bottle of fizz (yay!) and a little wrapped present for the baby. We unwrapped it to find a Billy Bear bowl – very useful as I had been feeding her snacks from a china bowl in the apartment up until this point.
The meet and greet staff soon arrived with children’s crackers and Billy Bear cups for each of the children. A traditional 5 course Christmas Dinner left us all suitably satisfied, before heading back to the apartment for my Christmas Dr Who fix.
In addition to regular Christmas television, the Butlins television channel showed the Redcoats favourite Christmas movies, this helped to keep the children amused.
Today was our pre-booked time slot for the pantomime Aladdin. This was great fun and the girls really enjoyed it. It wasn’t too long and included plenty of catchy songs.
We spent the afternoon at the funfair before coming into the warm for coffee and hot chocolate while the girls enjoyed softplay.
For the evening entertainment we made our way to Reds for a Robbie Williams and Girls Aloud tribute and a bit of a boogie. The girls had made friends with some of the children we met at the restaurant and stayed up late dancing and playing with them.
Time to check out and say goodbye. I can highly recommend a Christmas break at Butlins. It was great to focus on the children at Christmas rather than visiting and entertaining. I would love to do it again with a large family gathering …. I wonder if I can persuade my family to book for next year?
This Christmas break was in Gold Standard accommodation with the Premium Dining package (Dinner, Bed and Breakfast) at Minehead Resort.
At the time of visiting my children were aged 7,3 and 1.