“The Guardians of Childhood” Books by William Joyce, article by Kirsteen Mclay-Knopp

Guardans FY

The Guardians of Childhood is a series of children’s picture books and novels and the inspiration for DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians adaptation. The books are written and illustrated by author William Joyce, whose other works include George Shrinks, Santa Calls, A Day with Wilbur Robinson, and the much loved Rolie Polie Olie series, which has earned Joyce three Emmy awards.


A luminous new book series from William Joyce that redefines the icons of childhood: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman, the Man in the Moon and many more. Published by Simon & Schuster, these books explore the mythology of childhood legends through vividly illustrated picture books and chapter books for young adults. In November of 2012, the series became an animated feature film from DreamWorks Animation:Rise of the Guardians.


We at “The Forever Years” love this series and the movie, because they epitomise the “magic of childhood”, the magic of “believing”.    Many parents and carers disagree about the benefits to children of believing in characters such as Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny and those of Christian faith often feel that the latter two detract from the true meaning of the festivals they represent.  Leaving these arguments aside, however, the “magic of childhood” is a universal concept.  We all have childhood memories of times which seemed “magical” or, perhaps for want of a better description, times filled with warmth and family, positive surprises and wonder.  Most people have at least one such childhood memory, no matter how good or bad their other childhood experiences might  have been.  As adults, we are tasked with “paying the magic forward” and creating opportunities for our children to see that the world can, indeed, be an amazing and wonder-filled place.

The character of “Pitch Black”, who represents “the bogey man” or “monsters under the bed”, is a generalised depiction of childhood fears coming to life.  He also seems to represent adult cynicism, a loss of the “wonder” of childhood.

Pitch is everything a child fears, and he thrives on the fear of children, taking a cruel delight in turning their pleasant dreams into nightmares. But what Pitch hates is when children overcome their fears and don’t believe in him, particularly when parents tell their kids that the Boogeyman is just a bad dream. 


In many ways we adults are the “Guardians of Childhood”.  We choose how much cynicism, apathy or sometimes downright defeatism and lack of self-belief we impart to our kids, which in turn effects their outlook on life as they grow into adults… including their belief in themselves and their ability to influence the world around them.  While childhood, and life in general, cannot be perfect or ideal all the time, striving to keep a sense of hope and wonder in our children’s “forever years” is giving them a gift which will stay with them throughout their lives… and which they will “pay forward” to their own children.

Ab Collage 11

Broken Christmases Past and Present

Xmas broken FYBy Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Around the world on Christmas Eve, millions of children will excitedly fall asleep, “…nestled all snug in their beds… while visions of sugar plums dance in their heads” (as the poem by Clement Moore says).  Many others will go to bed terrified, or at the very least uneasy about what the next day might bring.  Christmas is a “big forever year”. By that I mean we often remember our Christmases in isolation (particularly our childhood Christmases), almost as though they are a separate life in themselves.  For some the “forever years” of Christmases past bring back nostalgic memories of fun with family and friends, whilst for others the memories are not so rosy.  We all know that Christmas can also bring some major stress and children often end up in the firing line of adult anxiety.

At Christmas time finances can be completely blown out as we try to reach the expectations we feel we must live up to to provide our family with a Christmas meal and presents.  Shops are busy and traffic is crazy.  In Southern Hemisphere countries Christmas coincides with the end of the academic year: every school and kindergarten has break ups and parties which we are required to attend with a plate of food and “farewell” and “thank you” cards for the kids’ friends and teachers.  We queue in the heat at the shops (or in the cold, I imagine in the Northern Hemisphere) to let the kids see Santa and visiting the “old dude in red” can result in children having melt downs (whether from waiting in line or from sheer terror when their turn does actually come and they decide the last thing they want to do is sit on his knee).

Trips to Santa can be less than positive...

Trips to Santa can be less than positive…

On the day itself family rifts can be brought to the fore and family politics can become strained, to say the least, as people organise who is having Christmas with who.  In cases where parents are separated or divorced, there may also be heated negoatiations over child access and contact.  From a child’s point of view, the normal structure and routine of things is not in place, which can be both exciting, but also unsettling.  Many adults drink a bit more than they should: for some this is no problem (like the Uncle who falls asleep on the couch every Christmas Day after lunch), but other people are less pleasant when intoxicated.  There is the pressure to accept presents graciously, whether we are pleased with them or not, and children are hyped up, excited and often overloaded on sugar.  Potential soars for parents to feel embarrassed by their children over such things as lack of manners when receiving a gift; poor table etiquette around extended family members and excessive expectations surrounding the receiving of gifts, (like asking every friend or relative who arrives, “where’s my present?”).

In fact, the holiday season can be an exceptionally tough emotional period… even for children. Most loving mothers will do whatever is necessary to create a fun and festive holiday environment for their children. However,  for children living in a home where violence occurs, very often Christmas represents a prolonged period of trepidation due to the anticipation of violence. (Rachael Dove, journalist).

Studies have shown that in most countries an increase in domestic violence occurs during the Christmas holiday period: this includes child abuse.  (See the links below).

The good news is that, while these statistics are disturbing, they are being recognised more and more and measures are being put in place to assist with and prevent violent situations at Christmas time (or any time).

Santas run

The 5k “Santa Run” to prevent child abuse in Tennessee, USA.

For other children (and adults) Christmas can be a lonely, sad time.  Our society has ingrained in us that we should be “happy” and spending time with a large extended family on this day.  Children who have been newly taken into foster care or families where there is only one parent and one adult and no other relations can feel the isolation of their situations more keenly during this very family focused festival.

At times, too, we “use” Christmas as a weapon of guilt.  A woman I know said she felt bad for years, because she threw a tantrum one Christmas morning when she was a child and was then told by her parents that she had “ruined the whole day” (there we go again with the expectation of everything being perfect).

tinsel_tangleIt is important to have a spirit of giving and compassion at any time of the year, but it is important to realise that there is a different emotional landscape at Christmas time for everyone, whether positive or negative.  Helping others with such things as childcare in order to enable Christmas shopping to be done, or by being honest with a friend whom you suspect is in an abuse situation or with someone who may be letting stress negatively effect their behaviour towards children, can go a long way towards alleviating stressful situations.

If you are in a violent situation this Christmas, don’t think, as many do, that it is a time of year when you shouldn’t “rock the boat” or that you must “suffer in silence” so as not to “ruin Christmas”.  Many organisations, aware of the strain Christmas can place on families, have resources and help available.  Using these is preferable to letting a situation escalate to crisis point or to the point where anyone might be in danger.

Xmas DV

Poster credit: NZ Women’s Refuge

It is good to remember the old saying about it “taking a village to raise a child”.  Christmas (and other festivals like it) are supposed to be about the kids having fun, feeling special and enjoying themselves.  We are all responsible for watching over “our” children and giving them the best memories of the day we can: this doesn’t need to cost a fortune either.  “Presence, not presents” at Christmas time is another useful saying.  Kids will remember the atmosphere and any tensions on Christmas Day years after they’ve forgotten which toys came from Santa.

A Merry Christmas to everyone this year.


Related Links:




Also see “Christmas for the Broken Hearted” latteslacedwithgrace.com


What about Santa? … a seven year old asks questions…

Chimney Check FYBy Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

“What about Santa?” my seven year old son asks me.

“What do you mean?” I reply.

“I mean, what about Santa?  There are all these poor kids in the world with no toys and Santa’s supposed to give presents to everyone.  Why doesn’t Santa just come along and give them all stuff?  They haven’t all been naughty have they?”

He’s a serious wee guy, this second son of mine, with a really good heart for helping those less fortunate than himself.  What to say?  I reassure him that no, the children in poorer parts of the world (and those whose families are struggling here in our own country) haven’t all been naughty.  At the same time, I think to myself that not every child who receives an expensive present has been consistently “good”.  I manage to mumble some stuff about Santa being very busy and having so many countries to visit in one night and sometimes Santa needs help in looking after the “poor people”, so those of us who are more fortunate can help (like with the “Operation Christmas Child” shoe boxes… see older posts on this blog).  I can tell that my son is not entirely satisfied with my answer.

Mr. ClausWhy do we have Santa Claus in our culture?  What’s the history and meaning behind the old man in red?  He’s nothing to do with the birth of Jesus (just by the way, many “Christmas” things including decorated trees have nothing to do with the birth of Christ either).  When I was teaching English in Vietnam some years ago and explaining Christmas traditions, one of my students said, after having heard about Santa Claus, “so you lie to your children? And you tell them that someone comes into your homes in the middle of the night while you are asleep?”.  Put like that, it does sound like a weird custom.

Santa Claus… Kris Kringle…Old Saint Nick… We see him on advertising posters, in parades, at departments stores… who is this guy and why does he have so many aliases? And how does he accomplish the seemingly impossible task of flying around the world and delivering (house by house) presents for every single child on the planet (but, as my seven year old noted, forgetting the poor and disadvantaged who don’t seem to get anything)?

St. Nicholas "Lipensky" (1294), Lipnya Church of St. Nicholas in Novgorod

St. Nicholas “Lipensky” (1294), Lipnya Church of St. Nicholas in Novgorod

The original St. Nicholas lived in southwestern Turkey in the 4th century. As the bishop of Myra he was credited with doing a number of miracles involving sailors and children. After his death this led him to become the patron saint of both groups as well as for unmarried girls. As a saint he was given his own “feast day” which was celebrated on December 6th.

At about the same time Nicholas lived, Pope Julius I decided to establish a date for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. As the actual time of year for this event was unknown, the Pope decided to assign the holiday to December 25th. There had long been a pagan midwinter festival at this time of year and the Pope hoped to use the holiday to Christianize the celebrations.

Eventually, Saint Nicholas’s feast day also became associated with December 25th and his connection with Christmas was established. A tradition developed that he would supposedly visit homes on Christmas Eve and children would place nuts, apples, sweets and other items around the house to welcome him.

From these origins, the Santa Claus we know today evolved.   In the now famous poem The Night Before Christmas (written by Clement Moore in 1822), Saint Nicholas is depicted with a sleigh drawn by eight (named) reindeer. They fly him from house to house and at each residence he comes down the chimney to fill stockings hung by the fireplace with gifts.  Where did Moore get the idea of Santa Claus having reindeer? The Saami people of northern Scandinavia and Finland often used reindeer to pull their sledges around and this found its way into the poem.

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast

Norman Rockwell’s 1921 cover for the magazine The Country Gentleman shows Santa with his modern red and white theme.

As time went by, more and more was added to the Santa Claus legend. Thomas Nast, a 19th century cartoonist, did a series of drawings for Harper’s Weekly. Nash’s vision of Santa had him living at the North Pole. Nash also gave him a workshop for building toys and a large book filled with the names of children who had been naughty or nice.

The 19th century Santa was often shown wearing outfits of different colors: purple, green and blue in addition to red. This slowly faded out so that by the beginning of the 20th century the standard image of Santa Claus was a man in a red suit trimmed with white.

So the question remains: should we tell our children about Santa Claus?  I know people who, for various reasons (including that Santa detracts from celebrating the birth of Jesus and that the whole “Santa story” is just an excuse for excessive Western materialism) do not want the old dude in the red suit associated with their Christmas at all.  I can understand these sentiments at one level and everyone is entitled to make their own choices.  Just as I know Christian people who do and who do not incorporate Santa Claus into their celebrations, I also know a number of people of other faiths whose views about him differ.  Muslim friends of ours take their children to Santa every year because “…the kids love it and he doesn’t have anything to do with religion.”  Many feel that he’s a kind of “uniting figure” of childhood, a “shared memory” of children around the globe, creating the “Forever Years” of their Christmases.

I don’t recall ever feeling “lied to” as a child about the existence of Santa Claus.  What I do recall, if I really think back to the Christmases of my childhood, is the intense excitement I felt on Christmas Eve, even if it was tempered, once I passed a certain age, with some suspicions.  I still feel that excitement now as I see my own children when the “special day” draws nearer and when I find my seven year old attempting to put his head up our chimney (I did this too as a child and ended up covered in soot).

A sense of this joy and childhood Christmas wonder is conveyed in the famous answer to an American girl’s letter to the editor of  The New York Sun newspaper, in 1897, in which she asks whether there really is a Santa Claus.  I will print this below, you might enjoy reading it with your children this Christmas.  May we all share joy and the spirit of kindness and giving not just with our families, but also with all “our” children, the children of the world, at Christmas time and all through the year.


Left: Virginia O’Hanlon                                 Right: Francis Church, writer for “The Sun”

yesvirginiaNewsman Francis Church wrote The Sun’s reply to Virginia’s letter:

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Beautiful Bead Work: for Christmas or all year round! “Beads for Wildlife”: a success story for the women and children of the Melako Community, Northern Kenya

Beads feature image FY By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Bead work is an integral part of the life and culture of the women of the Melako community in Northern Kenya.  The women relax and bond with one another whilst doing their bead work and the beads represent who they are.  Beads tell a woman’s marital status, age and number of children. Now these women have turned their bead work into their livelihood.

As business partners of the Melako, Werribee Open Range Zoo in Melbourne, Australia, sell the intricate bead work made by the women of families who have had no other source of income in times of drought.  The beads can also be purchased online (see the link below) and among them are some charming Christmas decorations.  About 500 families benefit from this relationship. It’s not about “aid”. The women will not accept aid, they want to be considered professional business partners.

beads-for-wildlife Zebras, beads, ladyThe parched land in semi-arid scrub where the Melako live has little to offer grazing cattle – and Grevy’s zebra. The “Grevy’s zebra” also known as the “imperial zebra”, is the largest and most endangered of the three species of zebra in the world.   Compared with other zebra, it is tall, has large ears, and its stripes are narrower.  The Melako respect the Grevy’s zebra and there is a mythology within their culture built around the zebra representing their deceased ancestors.


Some Melako children, Northern Kenya

Grazing of cattle by humans however, particularly during periods of drought, has depleted the food and water supply for the zebra.  Its population has declined from 15,000 to 3,000 since the 1970s.  As of 2008 the population is stable: partly due to projects such as “Beads for Wildlife” involving the Melako community directly in the zebra’s protection.

Bead zebra

A bead zebra

Each purchase of a beaded product is direct income for the Melako people, empowering them in their community and enabling them to rely less on livestock – leaving more resources for local wildlife.  Before “Beads for Wildlife” most of the women had dreams of getting food on the table and getting their children to school. Now they want to open their own shops, fund a water-filtration system and send their kids to high school. Their lives are changing for the better.

Zoo visitors have bought more than 20,000 pieces of beaded jewellery this financial year  (Mar 2014) through the “Beads for Wildlife” program.

Bead Collage FYRelated Links:



Kiwi Kids Can at Christmas… another way to Support Children in Poverty in Aotearoa/ NZ

Kiwi Kids Can FYBy Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Calling all New Zealanders again!  Here is another way we can help support kiwi kids living in poverty this Christmas: the “KidsCan” Christmas cracker appeal.  It’s also cheap and easy: each Christmas cracker is only $2.  The KidsCan Charitable Trust,  sells the crackers to raise funds for helping to provide on-going support for disadvantaged children  throughout New Zealand.

i7e3lxThe crackers will make an ideal addition to any Christmas table, with everyone having a chance to win some great prizes from a prize pool of over $110,000.  Prizes up for grabs include a family holiday to the Gold Coast Australia, Spring free Trampolines, Fuji film Cameras, Ecostore products, Bauer magazine subscriptions and much more!

The Christmas Cracker appeal is running up until 27 December and crackers are available for purchase nationwide from all The Warehouse stores, Countdown Supermarkets, Z Service Stations, The Coffee Club and The Mad Butcher stores, (remember, great value: just $2 each).

Follow this Link:


See Related Posts in “The Forever Years Blog”:

Variety Collage FY

 “Helping Kiwi Kids Living in Poverty this Christmas.”

Sept 2014 Listener“The Other Children: Child Poverty in Aotearoa/NZ”







Dc Collage 2 FY“A Ministry of Children’s Affairs for Aotearoa/ New Zealand?”


Top Toys of Christmases Past: 25 Years of “Must Have” Toys!

Toys Collage FY

Provided for The Forever Years by Jules Garcia of Personal Creations

Remember the hectic mall visits leading up to the holidays to snatch the last “Tickle Me Elmo”? Or what about when “Furby fever” seemed to take over every tween’s wish list? Whether you were giving or receiving these toys, chances are some made it to your home wrapped in a big bow.

Harken back to toys of Christmases past with us and see if any of your favorites made the list:


25 Years of Must-Have Toys

Graphic Source: “Personal Creations”– see link below.

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Variety: Helping Kiwi Kids Living in Poverty this Christmas

Variety Collage FY

By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

It is incredibly difficult to imagine a child in New Zealand living in deprivation, but the reality is that 1 in 4 Kiwi kids are going without the basics. This Christmas please consider sponsoring a Kiwi child – a gift that will have a lasting impact. For as little as $35 a month your sponsorship could make an immediate and positive change in the life of a child in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, through “Variety- The Children’s Charity” (follow the link at the end of this article to their website).

“Variety” started up in New Zealand in 1989 and has been helping kiwi kids in need for 25 years.  As well as organising sponsors for individual children, the charity produce a range of products for sale, including some beautiful Christmas cards (Our children recently sent some cards to children overseas and the “Variety” surfing kiwi ones were ideal!).  Funds raised from the cards will support Variety’s Gold Heart Scholarship programme, designed to help talented New Zealand children facing serious personal challenges achieve their lifelong dreams in the areas of sport, education, music and the arts.

The Variety Gold Heart Scholarship programme makes available to each recipient a maximum of $5,000 per year for up to three years. This may include assisting with tuition fees, personal development, coaching, purchase of training equipment, travel or accommodation.  Leading professionals and celebrities are also matched with the recipients to mentor them in their chosen pursuits.

“Purchasing Variety-branded Christmas cards and wrapping paper is a meaningful way for New Zealanders to support a charity this festive season – in the current environment, many children and their families are still struggling financially, and this promotion will help us to help them reach their full potential,”– Lorraine Taylor, CEO of Variety – The Children’s Charity.

What a great charity and means of advocating for and supporting some of our most vulnerable children here in Aotearoa/ NZ.  We at “The Forever Years” think this is awesome!

600-Kiwi in snowindex

Related Links



A Slow, Simple Christmas

A Slow, Simple Christmas

By Sarah Wilson

Will you be having a happy Christmas this year, or a hectic, hurried one? I love Christmas. I love everything about it. That is, apart from the rush. Last Christmas I was madly crafting and baking……and blogging about it too. And in years before that I’ve been known to attempt to make truffle towers and gingerbread houses from scratch with a toddler under my feet. But this year, with house renovations going on and family staying, I’m trying to take it easy.

Do we in our society make the Christmas season a little crazy? If we are not careful this busy season can just fly by in a blur. By all means elf on the shelf if you want to, please don’t let me stop you. But for many of us perhaps the key is to find a way to enjoy Christmas without running oneself ragged.  Many psychological studies that have demonstrated that people do often experience more stress in the lead up to Christmas.  I wonder whether this may be especially so in the southern hemisphere, where Christmas, and the end of the academic year coincide. Prize givings, end of year school productions, shared lunches, and gifts for teachers is an equation that often equals frazzled parents and grumpy kids. In addition, it is summer so instead of the quieter advent season that you may have in the northern hemisphere due to the colder weather before Christmas, many families also go away on their main holiday of the year on boxing day or soon after. So not only are you winding down from school, getting ready for Christmas, but you are also having to organise and pack for your holiday which may be camping or the like. No simple feat especially if you have smallies (aka children).

A Slow, Simple Christmas is not about doing away with Christmas.  Instead, it’s about taking the crazy out of Christmas and figuring out how to have a simple joyous celebration in the midst of a hurried life. Perhaps we can learn from the slow food movement, cultivating a Christmas celebration that is sustainable, nourishing, and deeply delicious.

There are many factors that are beyond our control, however here are a my top ten tips to ensure that it‟s a time of year that refreshes you, rather than one that raises your blood pressure.

1. Plan ahead

Dont keep Christmas in your head. Get it down on paper (or download a Christmas planning app!). I devised a Christmas planner that is one page, as I am aiming to keep my Christmas Plan to one sheet of A4  this year.

christmas planner
2. Delegate
Write out your list of things to do, then strike through the tasks that are neither urgent nor essential. Look at what‟s left and see what you could delegate, e.g. give someone responsibility for buying and putting up decorations. Your ‘to do‟ list will instantly shrink.

3. Presence or Presents? 
Is Christmas about spending time in the presence of family and friends or is it about presents? Taking the consumerism out of Christmas can be a way to simplify this season. If you are buying presents, shopping online or through catalogues can minimize stress. Another option is to do all your Christmas shopping in one day as this helps focus you. Last week I went into town and had a Christmas shopping blitz. I often joke that now that I am a mother of three I shop like a man. I write a list, I go to the shop and get what is on the list, and then I get out quick! Gift for Life and other catalogues can be ideal gifts for the person who has everything. (http://www.giftforlife.co.nz/). And I have often wondered whether our children today acquire too many gifts. We have decided in our family to give our children one gift plus a stocking. After all, they are thoroughly spoiled by other relatives!

Gift Labels for Kids

round something christmas labels

 Credit: http://www.greatfun4kids.com

4. To write Christmas cards or not to write Christmas cards?

This year we have decided not to send christmas cards in the post. Not to mention the cost of sending cards overseas, but I also find that sending christmas cards is rather labour intensive for me. So this year we are sending a card and brief newsletter by email instead.

Christmas Card 2014 for blog

Year in Review for Blog

5. Learn to Say No. Limit obligations (such as Christmas cards for example) and just do what you can.

6. Practise self-care. As women we are always giving to others. But like a car, we can’t keep going and going without refuelling. Find something that nourishes and refreshes you during this busy season.

7. Practice giving this Christmas season. If you have the time and resources, find a way to bless others, whether it is someone in financial need, someone recently widowed or someone who is ill. There is heartache everywhere we look.

8. Cultivate Christmas traditions that won’t cause undue stress to maintain each year. Instead of making a gingerbread house from scratch as I tried to one year, this year we are going to simply turn ice cream cones upside down to make Christmas trees and decorate them with icing and sweets. My husband makes a birthday cake for Jesus and on Christmas Day we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Don’t compare your efforts to others. It doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect. Celebrate Christmas your way.

gingerbread xmas tree decorations

9. And on Christmas Day – create a calming atmosphere. If cooking stresses you out, opt for a simple BBQ, a pot luck lunch or eat out at a restaurant or hotel. Not only does this omit the menu planning and food preparation, it also means that you don’t have to wash up.

10. Most importantly, have fun. Find out what is important to you at Christmas. For us it is about ‘unwrapping the greatest gift’ – the baby in the manger.