Since the beginning of the year I have kept a special secret …my book Grandma’s Kiwi Christmas with its illustrations by Australian illustrator Craig Smith, was to be used as the Christmas theme in the windows of well-known Auckland department store, Smith and Caugheys. I remember the special magic of Christmas windows from my childhood so it was rather overwhelming and very special to have my own ideas shared in this way. Scroll down to see the photos and/or read my story as below.
Grandma has asked me to share the background story of the book and some of her/my ideas about Christmas. Anything to keep the peace love and joy abounding, so here goes! Back a few years when I was writing a new Grandma book, Grandma insisted it be called Grandma Goes on Stage.
‘And perhaps you could tie it in with Christmas‘, she added.
‘Me write a Christmas story,’ I answered…it seemed a bit out of my league.
But then Grandma started talking about her kind of Kiwi Christmas. As she talked she was interrupted, firstly by her grandson who needed someone asap to play the Christmas fairy, and off she went. Next it was the mayor who needed help to get the grandpas to the Christmas parade. No sooner had she got her kilts and bagpipes together and dashed off, with a jar of marmalade in her bag, than a message beeped on the computer and it was Mrs Santa, worried about Santa who was in bed with a bad cold. My Christmas story was on its way! Here is one of my favourite illos of Gran skating off to replace the Christmas fairy in the Christmas panto.
I really enjoyed writing Grandma’s Kiwi Christmas, as it became, and the illustrative process was exciting too. It is always a surprise to see how someone else translates one’s ideas but Craig has always done wonderful illustrations for my Grandma books. For this book, as in Grandma Joins the All Blacks it was very important to me to show the ethnic diversity which is now the hallmark of New Zealand. This book was for children and whatever their culture most children in NZ enjoy a slice of Christmas. It would be fair to say that Christmas itself has become a culturally diverse festival. I think Craig did a great job of putting this aspect across.
Grandma herself was delighted to be involved in a round the world Christmas and experience a great variety of chimneys and homes when she helped out Santa. Her favourite home, and mine, was the Mongolian yurt. When I asked for the yurt illustration, my editor was just a tad concerned about the availability of a chimney. ‘Yurts don’t have chimneys’ But she was totally persuaded by a splendid chimneyed yurt courtesy of the internet. If you want to see Craig’s very cool illustration of Gran stopping off in Mongolia you will need to read the book, as you won’t see it in the Christmas windows. In fact the adaptation of Grandma for their windows is brilliantly done. They have managed to emphasise the kiwiness of Grandma’s Christmas as well as showing some of her adventures. As you can see from the below photo the store has a number of large windows but the book has 32 pages.
In my young days Christmas windows were all tinsel and glitter. I’m not sure when Christmas windows began in NZ. I expect the first shop windows had decorations. Below is a National Library photo from the early 1950s – in black and white of course.
For many years the traditional ‘English’ Christmas, reigned supreme, in New Zealand, probably because most of the population at that time had some kind of ties with Britain. And the whole Christmas tradition idea would have been a great reminder of home which is what many people called England until not so long ago! And as for snow at Christmas, that just added and still does to the magic associated with Christmas. And then there’s the decorations and the pine trees with that wonderful smell! These days I like the outside sort, the ones that are still growing. Grandma feels the same. See the Xmas window photo below. The policeman is gazing anxiously up at Gran as she puts the Xmas star in place atop the pohutukawa tree. (New Zealand is lucky enough to have its own red-flowered tree which produces prolifically at Christmas!)
In my young days, it really was a must to have a hot Christmas dinner with all the extras. Yes I know many still do and as the weather at Christmas these days is sometimes not the glorious summer stuff we boast of, it gives us another choice. And I have very fond memories of Mum’s steamed pudding made a few weeks earlier and full of threepenny bits. Oh the excitement of finding one!
Nowadays, flexibility is the key for me. I like a Christmassy sort of tea and something more relaxed in the daytime. And talking of Kiwi summer Christmases, I recall a picnic at the beach where we sat with our backs to the sea to keep the wind out. It was sunny though. Of course one can always have a picnic on the lounge floor with a blanket. That last suggestion is for kiwis overseas longing for sand sea and summer! But it works well here too. And as Grandma says it’s all about family and friends. Never mind if the pork sausages, turkey/chicken/lamb or even your expectations, get singed. Put the kettle on and relax. Gran always has a good stock of marmalade in the cupboard for Christmas emergencies so I’m lucky that way. It worked for the All Blacks after all. (Marmalade is Gran’s panacea for all things bad and uncomfortable.) In Grandma’s Kiwi Christmas, Grandma was treated to a surprise barbecue. And here is the Christmas window to show you.
Back to Smith and Caugheys. All was to be revealed on November 14th and my dear daughters, who are in Auckland, went off to see the unveiling. Down here in the South Island I waited for some news. And then, just after six, a photo arrived on my phone. ‘We’ve had a glimpse said the girls and Gran looks real cute.’ The tension eased a little. And then, finally, close to seven the windows were ‘unwrapped’. I received footage of people polishing the glass and doing last minute touches. And then more photos trickled in…a lovely one of a grandmother peering in the window and others of people pointing….It looked as if they liked it. Phew!
To be honest it was all such a big secret that I didn’t know what to expect. I was quite overcome to find that eight windows featured scenes from the book with the story lines running along the bottom. And the girls reported that the puppets kept the spirit of the book another Phew! I’m sure Smith and Caugheys were doing their own phews and I can’t imagine the amount of work which has gone into this display. I know that the marvellous puppetry work was done by an expat kiwi in Australia. It hurts to think of all the work she has put in but again brilliantly done!
Below for those of you who may like them are a collection of stills I have been sent. Remember,the puppets are actually moving all the time and of course there are people walking past and Christmas music is playing which adds to the buzz.
Note the pavlova cake in the above photo, New Zealand’s own claim to fame when it comes to Christmas fare. Don’t let the Aussies tell you otherwise.!
These are just a few of the Christmas window shots for you to see. And if you’re really interested you can search the internet yourself where there are already other photos and even some video footage. As for me I am looking forward to seeing the real thing. 🙂 Yes I confess I haven’t but I will next week. 🙂
Many thanks to all who helped make the Christmas windows possible; Harper Collins my publishers, the management of Smith and Caugheys, in particular Kevin Broadfoot, their Special Projects Manager, the wonderful Australian puppeteers. And all the other numerous people who helped put it together.
Grandma and I wish you a very happy Christmas holiday with much love and laughter.
Meanwhile as this is Tuesday and this post is posted on the Tuesday Poem Blog why don’t you leap over there and read some very excellent poetry. Click here