Paid collaboration with St Fagans National Museum of History as part of Cardiff Mummy Says role as blogger ambassador with National Museum Wales
We kicked off December with a wonderfully festive day at St Fagans National Museum of History last Sunday. Their Christmas offering is a little different to their Christmas Nights of previous years, taking place instead on Saturday and Sunday day times in the run up to Christmas. Entry to the museum is free as usual, but there are four paid-for activities on offer, each bookable in advance separately and available in both Welsh and English.
St Fagans kindly asked my nine, eight and five year olds to try out all four activities – Crafts with the Elves, Meet Father Christmas, Cooking with Mother Christmas, and Christmas Letter Writing. In between we also spent time exploring some of our favourite historical buildings at the museum. Here’s how we got on.
Crafts with the Elves (£5 per child)
Our first activity of the day was Crafts with the Elves, or Crefftau gyda’r Corachod, as we did this in Welsh. This took place in one of the education rooms in the new entrance building. The room looked so festive, with green and red table cloths adorning the long rows of tables, a giant fireside display with stockings and presents, and a lovely tree, full of some of the wooden decorations we were about to make.
The session was lead by two bubbly and kindly elves called Candy, and Cane, who was the rather more mischievous of the two, running past and tickling the children as they crafted, hiding from Candy and so on.
The elves checked at the start to see if any parents didn’t speak Welsh (my husband doesn’t), and there were no issues with parents speaking English to their children.
The children were able to choose from a range of plain wooden decorations, such as Christmas crackers, a stocking, a present or holly, which they were able to decorate as they wished. While my nine and eight year olds created quite intricate and detailed designs, my five year old had fun experimenting with different colours and sticking all sorts of sparkly gems on his. All three decorations are now hanging on our tree.
The elves also lead a few games, including one involving indoor snowballs, which my children especially loved.
This half hour sessions was great fun, relaxed and informal and with a craft to take home at the end.
Meet Father Christmas (£7 per child)
Well, actually, we met Sion Corn in this Welsh language session, which was such a lovely and magical experience of around half an hour. We headed to Ciliwent Farmhouse, a white-walled long-house depicting what life was like in the 1750s, along with around 20 other children and their grown ups (it’s worth nothing that space restrictions mean there’s a limit of one adult per child) where the museum staff guided us into the first room of the house, warmed by a huge fire.
The children had to knock on the door to the next room and we could hear Sion Corn singing Pwy Sy’n Dwad Dros Y Bryn, a famous Welsh language children’s Christmas song. He invited us all into the cosy second room, with the children sat on the floor and the grown ups stood behind. He read a story to the children – Sion Corn a’r Anrheg Gorau Un by Tudur Dylan Jones (Santa’s Greatest Gift) – before inviting them up one at a time, asking them how old they were and what they wanted for Christmas. Parents are welcome to take their own photos. All the children got a hardback copy of the book Santa yn Dod i Gymru / Santa is Coming to Wales.
My three children went up separately and I managed to take individual photos, but Sion Corn was more than happy when I asked at the end if I could take a photo with the three of them together with him.
Sion Corn was so lovely and kindly, really taking the time to speak to the children individually. His red suit was luxurious, he had on white gloves, however his beard wasn’t real – my children know that Father Christmas can’t be everywhere at once so asks his helpers to assist him so this wasn’t an issue for us, but it’s something worth considering.
Cooking with Mother Christmas (£6 per child)
I think this was my favourite session of the four. Taking place at the Llwyn Yr Eos Farm House, a group of around 15 children helped Mother Christmas (Sian Corn in Welsh) make festive Welsh cakes, flavoured with mixed spices and cranberries.
The children stood around the large wooden table, each of them doing something to help the baking, from mixing ingredients and kneading the dough, to cutting out the Welsh cakes with a festive star-shaped cutter. Mother Christmas was so kindly and warm, with a lovely smile and manner about her. She was very patient with the children, amazingly remembered everyone’s names, and made it fun, getting them all to wiggle while cutting the shapes out of the dough. Her assistant was baking the Welsh cakes on a bake stone on the big stove behind her – and all the children got to eat one at the end of the session. A lovely fun activity and something a little different to the usual Christmas activities.
Letter writing (£5 per child)
This took place at the Maestir Victorian school house, and my children were so excited to be able to sit in the rows of wooden desks. Usually when we visit, the desks are roped off, but not today! An enthusiastic elf told us how excited she was that because Father Christmas was at the museum today, he would be able to pick up our letters directly. She presented Santa’s book of naughty and nice children. This had the names of all the children booked into the session and which list they were on, and our elf went through them one by one. I know some families won’t like such an emphasis on the naughty and nice lists, but our elf made it clear that no one was perfect all the time and that everyone in the room had done some nice things that year in order to make the list. They all looked so excited when their names were called.
The children were then given a letter to fill in, asking for their name, three nice things they had done this year and what they wanted for Christmas. After putting the letters in an envelope they were able to take them to the Blaenavon post office, right behind the school house, and put them into the post box.
Elsewhere at St Fagans
We were lucky that the weather was sunny and dry, albeit cold, so between sessions we had time to visit some of our favourite St Fagans buildings, including the old Gwalia Stores and the Rhyd-y-Car Cottages. The foyer of the main entrance building was also hosting the St Fagans Makers Market, with so local crafts people selling a range of locally-made gifts. As Christmas approaches, St Fagans will add more activities to its Christmas offering, including Carols in the Chapel on the weekends of 14/15 and 21/22 December (must be booked in advance; and a free performance of the Welsh tradition, Y Fari Lwyd and Hunting The Wren. See the website for full details.
Having loved St Fagans Christmas nights event the last couple of years, we weren’t sure how this would compare. On one hand it didn’t have the extra activities such as carol singing and brass bands playing, but on the other, it was not as busy and crowded, meaning it felt more relaxed. With four activities on offer and each bookable separately, it means families can plan their own day out. We bumped into friends who had planned to see Father Christmas somewhere else but were doing the Baking with Mother Christmas and Letter Writing activities at St Fagans, for example. It’s also a great Welsh language option, with all activities bookable in English and Welsh. At both of our Welsh activities, the elves asked if any parents didn’t speak Welsh and were accommodating to those who didn’t. We left St Fagans in such a festive and happy mood. It was such a lovely way to spend the first day of December.
Father Christmas and Friends continues on Saturdays and Sundays 7, 8, 14, 14, 21 and 22 December. See the website for booking details.