Thursday, December 3, 2009

Here's a little gift idea for St. Nicholas Day (or a great stocking stuffer)

It's almost time to start supper, but before I do, I wanted to quickly write a blog entry about my newest find--a toy line called "So Small Pets."  I saw them in Target today and they are adorable!

"So Small Pets" are 3" soft, poseable pets that fit nicely in a pocket or backpack, making them a great "take along" toy on holiday trips.  They would also be a great way to keep your little girl entertained while you run errands or wait at a doctor's office. They are wonderfully detailed and look like mini versions of plush toys.There are many different pets--Haylee the Horse, Bully the Cow, Jackie the Dog, Pinky the Pig, and several others.  You can buy little accessories and clothes for them.  They also have the cutest playsets (that's what caught my eye at Target--the Treehouse Playset was wonderful!) I like the idea that these little guys have alot of play value (and will help your child's imagination) but they aren't large or cumbersome.

This might be a great gift idea for a little girl. (My seven year old daughter is fascinated by them.) The little figures would fit in a shoe for St. Nicholas Day or a stocking for Christmas Eve!

You can check out some of the available animals and playsets on the So Small Pets website. Or, on your next trip to Target, stop by the doll aisle.  In my store they were near the Barbie dolls and Fancy Nancy stuff.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A great movie for St. Nicholas Day or any day during December: Winky's Horse

I am always looking for unique and interesting films to add to our home library, especially family-friendly films. So thought I would tell you about a film that my kids and I recently watched. It is called Winky's Horse.

I stumbled upon this DVD quite by mistake, but it is a mistake worth repeating! I was at the library with my kids, looking for something to watch together on family movie night. That can be a challenge when everyone in the house has such diverse interests. But this movie was a winner. In fact, the kids asked if we could buy a copy for our home library.

Winky’s Horse is about a 6 year old girl who moves from China to the Netherlands. The movie documents some of her frustrations at learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture. After a frustrating first day at her new school, she vows never to go back. On her way home, she sees a small horse and immediately falls in love with it. Life becomes more bearable now that she can sneak off after school and go to the farm to see the horse. She begs her parents to go to the farm and ride, but they say she is too young for horses. She asks them to get her a horse but her mother is afraid of them and says that she is too small. Then she hears about St. Nicholas, and decides that he is the only way she will get a horse. When he appears at her school, she asks him for a horse but he gives her a plush dog toy instead. Despite this, eventually her dreams come true. But you will need to watch the movie to see how!

The story had my seven year old daughter in tears; but then again, she cries easily at most movies! But even my ten year old son liked the movie. It has some weaknesses. It isn’t a glitzy, high budget film with the latest technological advances. But that would detract from the film’s purpose and story, which is a simple one. It was originally filmed in Dutch, so the dubbing of the English language over the film is a bit awkward, and the English is a bit stilted.

The film has some strengths, too. For example, it gives a good glimpse into Christmastime in the Netherlands, and the Dutch culture in general. It is interesting to see how the children make paper hats and do other projects to prepare for Sinterklaas. Incidentally, Sinterklaas is different from the American Santa Claus. He dresses in a red robe (instead of red jacket) and wears a miter on his head instead of a red tasseled cap. In fact, Sinterklaas resembles the ancient bishop after whom he is patterned--St. Nicholas of Myra. It is interesting to see that he travels into town on a ship, then travels around town on a white horse.

The film was produced in 2005. It has won a number of international film awards, including a Kids Audience Award at the Munich Film Festival in 2006, a Children’s Jury Award at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in 2006, and an Audience Award at the Castellinaria Festival Internazionale in Bellinzona, Switzerland in 2006.

I hope we can find the sequel, Where is Winky’s Horse? so we can see the further adventures of the impish Winky!

Some might think this movie is a bit corny, but I recommend it as a great family flick for the holiday season!

Incidentally, the cover art shown at the beginning of this article is from the original Dutch release of the movie. The artwork was changed for U.S. release. The new artwork is strange; it shows a photo of a Caucasian girl, a white horse, Santa and his sleigh. Neither they girl, Santa or the sleigh are a part of this story. I think Peace Arch Entertainment, the distributors of the film in the U.S., must have changed the cover art to appeal to U.S. audiences. That’s too bad because Ebbie Tam, the little girl who plays Winky, is adorable, as you can see in the original artwork.

You can see another synopsis of the movie at the website

If you can't find this film at your library, you can purchase it inexpensively on  Click on this link for more information:

This would be a good film to get now so you can watch it on St. Nicholas Day (December 6).  

Some information about St. Nicholas Day (December 6)

The next few posts will include some fun ideas for celebrating St. Nicholas Day.  Most Americans may not be familiar with this holiday, which is the feast day of St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop in Myra (modern day Turkey) during the fourth century. Many consider him the predecessor of today's Santa Claus because of the way he anonymously helped many people in need.

St. Nicholas is a very well-known and popular saint throughout Europe.  In some countries, he is the one who delivers the holiday gifts, but not on Christmas Eve.  Instead, he appears in mid-November in the Netherlands and travels throughout the country for most of the next month, visiting schools, churches, stores and many other public locations.  In most countries he makes his secret visit to homes on the evening/late night of December 5, leaving little treats for children in their shoes.

I have shared one of my favorite resources for this holiday in the past, but it is certainly worth sharing again! I love the St. Nicholas Center website because it is filled with everything you could ever want to know about St. Nicholas:  his history, where and how his feast day is celebrated around the world,  activities and crafts you can do with a St. Nicholas theme, stories to read, recipes to make and much more!

Last year my kids and I took a drive over to Holland, Michigan, to experience St. Nicholas Eve in this Dutch-themed town. We were able to see Sinter Klaas (the Dutch name for St. Nicholas) ride into town on his white horse and parade down the main street.  The procession ended at a Dutch themed outdoor Christmas market at the end of the street, where children sang traditional Dutch songs to St. Nicholas.  Several Zwarte Piets (Black Peters) were mulling around in the crowd, handing out candy to all the kids.  I even had a chance to photograph my kids with St. Nicholas. I purchased some Dutch cookies from the baker in the marketplace, and we walked around this quaint little town to admire the lights and decorations, before returning to our hotel for the evening. 

Jimmy and Maria were a bit worried that St. Nicholas might not find them in the hotel, but the receptionist at the hotel assured the kids that Sinter Klaas ALWAYS stopped there.  Sure enough, they awoke in the morning to find that their shoes had been filled with the traditional treats:  a clementine, some chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper, a candy cane, and some Dutch cookies.  Sinter Klaas also left them a doll (like the one pictured at the right) and a book about St. Nicholas.

One thing I like about this holiday is that it doesn't have to be "over the top" like many of the celebrations in December.  Kids learn to appreciate little treats like clementines and foil-wrapped chocolate coins!  My kids know that the holiday isn't about the gifts they will receive, but rather about remembering a saint who played an important role in Christian history.  They both enjoy learning about other countries and customs so this holiday is a treat for them.

This year, we are going to attend the St. Nicholas celebration at Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium. One of the male parishioners always dresses up as St. Nicholas and the kids learn the nomenclature for the pieces of clothing that a bishop wears.  They realize St. Nicholas is a parishioner, and not some unknown person who appears out of nowhere.

Yet there is still something magical about the celebration for them. You can see it in their eyes, as he calls each of them to the front of the room and talks to them about their behavior over the past year.  He might gently reprimand "Johnny" for pulling the cat's tail, but then will compliment him on the great way he shares with his little sister. After his personalized pep talk with each child, he hands them a small fabric bag filled with the traditional treats, plus perhaps a St. Nicholas prayer card or ornament.

If you have ever watched the movie "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates," you see a similar scene with Sinter Klaas at a party in Holland.  (Incidentally, that would be a great movie to watch on December 6!  Your library might have it or you can purchase it online from Amazon.  See the notes and links at the end of this article.)

If you have never celebrated St. Nicholas Day before, why not try to incorporate it into your holiday season?  As I mentioned in Monday's blog entry, you don't need to do alot to make these Advent celebrations special. Kids enjoy even the smallest touches, like serving Dutch Pepernoten cookies (find the recipe here on the St. Nicholas Center website) or reading a book about St. Nicholas on the eve of his feast day. (Your library will probably have at least one book on this saint, or you can download stories from the internet.)  Of course, stock up on clementines and chocolate coins to add to those shoes, which the kids should place outside their room doors on December 5!

Perhaps you could find a church, school, or public activity in your area where St. Nicholas appears. The St. Nicholas Center keeps a list of  St. Nicholas appearances and activities by country.  Although it is not comprehensive, it may give you some ideas.  Search through their listed activities by clicking here to go to the St. Nicholas Center website.

I will be sharing another great movie for St. Nicholas Day this evening, so please bookmark this blog and come back later today!

About the "Hans Brinker" movie:
There are four versions of this movie.  Two of them are easiest to locate: one is a 1962 Disney-produced film with Rony Zeaner and Carin Rossby.  The other is a 1969 musical made for NBC TV with Eleanor Park and Richard Basehart.  I have both films and they are good, although I prefer the second version a bit more.  It  isn't as "Disneysque" and, I think, better portrays the difficulties of  the Brinker family after their father suffers a head injury. It isn't as commercialized and may seem a bit hokey by today's standards, but it does take you back to 19th century Holland. However, both films have their merits, which is why our family library includes each version!  You can find out more about the films by clicking on this Amazon link:  Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates