Happy holidays

You know what I love? Christmas. You know what one of my favourite things about Christmas is? Revisiting the same traditions year after year as the boys get older and watching them reinterpret the traditions for whatever age they are at.

It’s been nearly a decade since we discovered the Portable North Pole (PNP), and it has become one of the Christmas traditions my kids love best. Even now that they’re teenagers (sidebar: what? when did that happen?) they still watch their annual video message from Santa, and Lucas has already started speculating about when his video might arrive. Truth be told, I credit the Portable North Pole for keeping the magic alive – I’m sure my kids accepted Santa as real for years in no small part thanks to the arrival of their personalized video messages each year. I have loved watching their faces as they watch the videos!

Talking to Santa

So what is the Portable North Pole? At its core, it’s a wonderful little site where you can upload a few photos and select a few options and make a customized video letter from Santa for your child. There’s just enough details in the video that it truly seems that Santa has been keeping track of who has been naughty and who has been nice, and it’s all rolled together in a cute little storyline. The options change from year to year, so even after nearly a decade, the kids have never received the same video twice. And, since the kids always watch each others’ videos, I’m delighted that there are always at least three unique videos to choose from each year, so they are truly personalized for each kid.

They have added lots of other fun activities through the years on the PNP site. Now in addition to the personalized video letters from Santa, you can get bedtime stories from Santa and birthday wishes from Santa. There’s an app, and fun and games on the Santa’s Village microsite, and your kiddies can even get a telephone call from Santa. And, in a touch that I think is lovely, 5% of all funds collected through the sale of magic passes is donated to childrens’ hospitals around the world.

IMHO, though, the real magic of the Portable North Pole is the video messages. For Black Friday (now through November 27) use THIS LINK and coupon code PNP7BFD to save 30% off a Magic Pass. If you’re seeing this after November 27, feel free to use discount code PNP7BLG20 to save 20% when you purchase a video pass or a magic pass. (Here’s an article that explains the difference between the video pass and the magic pass.) There are also a small selection of free videos available. There’s a little something for everyone!

If you do use the coupon codes, be sure to come back and let me know if your kids loved it as much as my boys do!

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(Disclosure: I received a complimentary video pass in exchange for writing this post, but I’ve written before about PNP and genuinely recommend the sweet, fun videos to add a little extra sparkle to your Christmas magic!)


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The year we moved to Manotick was the year we swapped our almost 20 year old artificial tree for a (formerly) live one. Though I had never had a “real” tree, we have come to love our annual Christmas tree quest and I could not imagine ever going back to an artificial tree.

Conveniently, 2010 is also the year I launched my photography business. Fun to see both how much the boys have grown and how much I have grown as a photographer over the years!

2010: they were babies!!

The Great Christmas Tree Adventure 2010

2011: clearly I hadn’t unlocked the mysteries of white balance because everything is blue.

Searching for a tree

2012: the year we discovered Thomas Tree Farm, where we’ve gone every year since. Also, the year Tristan was big enough to take over one end of the tree.

Christmas tree quest 2012-6

2013: Lucas is wearing the coat today that Simon was wearing that day.

Christmas Tree Quest 2013

2014: I never noticed before that it’s always Simon’s task to carry the saw.

Christmas tree quest 2014-5

2015: that weird year we wore spring coats until Boxing Day. Also, add reindeer to all the things!

Christmas tree and reindeer

2016: where did all these man-sized children come from?

Christmas tree picking 2016-6

Do you have a favourite holiday tradition that you do every year? Our holidays are steeped in tradition, but hunting for the Christmas tree is probably our family favourite!


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Things you see in this photo:

* three boys decorating a Christmas tree
* two boys who are nearly as tall as the tree itself
* my boys are still wearing pajamas even though this is late afternoon (lazy Sunday FTW!)
* a nearly triangular tree that is far wider than we expected
* that our tree is full of mismatched and home-made ornaments and though will never make it to the cover of a decorating magazine, each of those ornaments makes me smile

Decorating the tree

What you don’t see: now that it’s a few days later, the entire bottom section has been stripped of its ornaments by Lucy the kitten. We keep finding smaller, lighter ornaments stashed throughout the house where she has dropped them.

We seem to be in an ongoing cycle where the fragile ornaments are on the tree (the childless years) then off the tree (the toddler years) then on the tree (the Katie years) then off the tree (hello clumsy, exuberant Bella!) then on the tree, and once again back off the tree (Lucy has not yet actually scaled the tree, but we’ve caught her thinking about it.)

I’d say “this is why we can’t have nice things” — but maybe the nicest things are the ones that endure the likes of toddlers and boisterous puppies and curious kitties?


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Edited to add: Click this link for the 2017 Santa Claus and holiday parade info!

Welcome to one of my favourite holiday traditions! Welcome to the original and most comprehensive listing of all the Christmas, Holiday and Santa Claus parades for Ottawa and Eastern Ontario and West Quebec.

Can you believe we’ve been doing this post for eleven years? I’m a bit later posting this year’s list, and I can hardly believe that parade season is starting tomorrow! Here’s all the info I could scare up about the 2016 Santa Claus and Christmas parade line-up, in chronological order:

Photo of Santa Claus at the Christmas parade 2013

[click to continue…]


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For weeks, I’d kept an eye on the forecast, hoping for just a wee crust of snow to be on the ground for this weekend. Alas, with sunshine and temperatures well above zero, there was not a flake in sight (heh, except maybe the one behind the camera) as we launched our family Christmas season in the traditional way.

First, the annual Santa Claus parade in Manotick. You can never have too much sunshine for a parade!

Christmas traditions

Can I just take a moment to say that there is a special place in my heart for people walking in parades who make the effort to ensure that even the tallest, gangliest and peach-fuzzed kids get a piece or two of Christmas candy along the parade route? I was touched by the number of people who offered candy canes and other treats to all three boys, even though one is now as tall as me. He may be big, but he still loves Christmas AND candy. :)

And then, lack of snow be damned, we took a lovely autumnal walk through our favourite Christmas tree farm. This year, the saw was handed down to the middlest boy for the first time. It’s the first year we’ve had to worry about mud instead of snow on the ground, but the tree is as lovely as ever.

Christmas traditions-2

Jackets unzipped, or carried casually in hands, and nobody thought to bring gloves to protect our hands from sticky sap and picky needles instead of frostnip, but we managed to get by without the snow.

Christmas tree and reindeer

And though I didn’t catch it here, Lucas even took a turn carrying the tree this year. My boys, they’re growing up fast!

Did you catch the reindeer in the background? Shockingly, nobody seemed to notice him lounging in the forest when we were getting our tree. He only became obvious when I was processing the photos. Oh the magic of Christmas!! (I’m sort of like a toddler who learns a new trick and then must repeat it ad nauseum. I promise, I’ll get it out of my system in time for spring 2016’s porch portrait season! Probably.)

Turns out we didn’t really need that snow after all. I’m happy enough if it holds off until December 20 or so, now. You can take plenty of lovely Christmas photos even without a snowy backdrop, and a magical reindeer or two. :)


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I have lost track of the number of times I’ve recycled this post, but it somehow just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I’ve shared it again. Besides, with a new job and a new circle of friends, there’s a whole new audience to edumacate about this most important Christmas factoid. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the annual reindeer rant, because especially at Christmas, traditions matter. Also? Because Donder.

Reindeer Games: Team Donder

“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen;
Comet and Cupid and DONDER and Blitzen…”

You did know that Santa’s reindeer is actually Donder and not Donner, right?

Here’s a little history lesson for you. The poem “A Visit From St Nicholas”, commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas”, was written back in 1823 and is generally attributed to American poet Clement Clarke Moore (although there have been recent arguments that the poem was in fact written by his contemporary Henry Livingston Jr.) The original poem reads, in part:

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name.
“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on Dunder and Blixem!

As explained on the Donder Home Page (no relation):

In the original publication of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1823 in the Troy Sentinel, “Dunder and Blixem” are listed as the last two reindeer. These are very close to the Dutch words for thunder and lightning, “Donder and Bliksem”. Blixem is an alternative spelling for Bliksem, but Dunder is not an alternative spelling for Donder. It is likely that the word “Dunder” was a misprint. Blitzen’s true name, then, might actually have been “Bliksem”.

In 1994, the Washington Post delved into the matter by sending a reporter to the Library of Congress to reference the source material. (In past years, I’d been able to link to a Geocities site with the full text, but sadly, Geocities is no more.)

We were successful. In fact, Library of Congress reference librarian David Kresh described Donner/Donder as “a fairly open-and-shut case.” As we marshaled the evidence near Alcove 7 in the Library’s Main Reading Room a few days ago, it quickly became clear that Clement Clarke Moore, author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” wanted to call him (or her?) “Donder.” Never mind that editors didn’t always cooperate. […] Further confirmation came quickly. In “The Annotated Night Before Christmas,” which discusses the poem in an elegantly illustrated modern presentation, editor Martin Gardner notes that the “Troy Sentinel” used “Dunder”, but dismisses this as a typo. Gardner cites the 1844 spelling as definitive, but also found that Moore wrote “Donder” in a longhand rendering of the poem penned the year before he died: “That pretty well sews it up,” concluded Kresh.

So there you have it. This Christmas season, make sure you give proper credit to Santa’s seventh reindeer. On DONDER and Blitzen. It’s a matter of family pride.

Photo of three boys and a reindeer


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Photos of the day: Reindeers and Christmas Jedi

1 December 2015 Happy holidays

How do you torture a photographer? Send her two exquisitely cute families for Christmas portraits on the porch, and then make her choose just ONE for the photo of the day. I seriously couldn’t do it! First, these two dropped by. Little Miss was a little bit shy, and a lot three years old. Sometimes, […]

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Happy Christmas!

26 December 2014 Happy holidays

Oops, I’m a day late. We were too busy having a low-key, wonderful family Christmas for me to be playing on the computer. But, I hope it’s not too late to wish you and your families a wonderful Christmas season, and a new year filled with magic and joy. Merry Christmas, with love from DaniGirl, […]

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Flashback Faves: An interview with NORAD’s Santa Tracker Team

21 December 2014 Happy holidays

Aside from the Reindeer Rant, this post from last year is probably my holiday favourite, and definitely worth sharing again! If you’ve been around for a while, you might remember I spent some time working with the Canadian Army. When I was there, I was lucky enough to work with Captain Jennifer Stadnyk, and long […]

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Reindeer Rant Redux – and a reindeer rampage!

15 December 2014 Happy holidays

My bloggy peeps, I have a reindeer-palooza of fun for you today! You might have read the reindeer rant a time or two (or coughninecough) before, but now we have reindeer trivia! And photoshop! And webcams! And even reindeer on a rampage! Oh my. But first, the rant. Because especially at Christmas, traditions matter. Also? […]

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