Danielle Wright discovers the best Auckland City has to offer this holiday season

The first days of summer, a week's worth of chocolate advent calendar pieces already in your tummy and the official start of the silly season - the Christmas madness has well and truly begun. We've rounded up 12 ways to make the most of the festive season:

1: Department Store Day-Out

Helen McKinlay and Craig Smith's Grandma's Kiwi Christmas is inspiration for this year's Smith & Caughey's windows. Shoppers will see Grandma parachuting near a pohutukawa tree, wearing a pink tutu and playing the bagpipes.

Up on the sixth floor is the enchanted Christmas forest, lit up with thousands of fairy lights. There are also puppet stations including a North Pole bakery, a hair salon with Santa getting a haircut and a toy workshop.


Eve Sorenson, one of Santa's helpers this year, says she loves the Christmas rush: "The busyness is fun and working with Santa, the main man, is awesome. I love to hear the kids' stories too, they are hilarious."

Afterwards, stop at Bite cafe on the second floor for a Santa Snack Box. Catch your breath in between Christmas shopping and Santa photos while the kids look out of the big windows on to busy Queen S below them. The inside scoop on best time to get your picture taken with Santa? On a weekday around lunchtime.

* 253 Queen Street, see website for opening times. Enchanted forest and photo with Santa is $15 per child ($8 without photo).
2: Kiwiana on the Waterfront

For a more behind-the-scenes look at Santa and his elves, take a free tour through Santa's Bach at Wynyard Quarter. It's an interactive Christmas experience where children will be able to open a fridge door and the room fills with bubbles, or walk on a "farty" floor and into a room filled with sand and beach umbrellas. Don't expect anything to take home, instead, bring a present for the travelling jandalator, which will take it straight to the Auckland City Mission.

Silo Park will also be host to the ARTvent calendar and the Silo cinema sessions are Christmas- themed with The Nightmare before Christmas (Dec 13) and A Muppet Christmas Carol (Dec 20). Movies start at 9pm.

* Wynyard Christmas Quarter, Silo Park from Dec 6 - 24. Check website for Santa's visiting times.
3: A Time to Remember

Christmas is not just about shopping. It's also a time for giving thanks and remembering the people you love, especially those you've lost since last Christmas. For the most memorable Christmas mass, head to St Patrick's Cathedral in the heart of the city.

Choose from an early morning service with beautiful choir voices and dramatic organ music or a Christmas Eve Carol service followed by midnight mass. Monsignor Bernard Kiely is renowned for his gentle humour and inspirational words - he's worth driving long distances to hear. At this year's Christmas Eve family mass he will also have a real baby in his homily and a special nativity play.

Afterwards, kids take off their shoes, roll up their jeans and dip their feet into the terraced water feature in the square. There's also a Cathedral store with pretty Christmas decorations and keepsakes.

For 50 cents, light a candle in memory of a loved one or simply stop by for a moment of peace amid the seasonal rush. Don't forget to bring spare change to donate to the upkeep of this beautifully restored cathedral.

* St Patrick's Cathedral, 43 Wyndham St, Auckland City. See website for mass times and upcoming events.
4: Christmas Shows

For the 12th year, Tim Bray's delightful The Santa Claus Show is back at the Pumphouse to spread the true spirit of Christmas. Tim Raby is playing Santa Claus for the 10th time since the original production in 1991 and this year, four children from Bray's Youth Theatre classes will share the roles of Santa's tiniest elves: Twitty and Twiddly. Bray wrote the play 22 years ago for his nieces. The Santa Claus Show is always a favourite for my family and if you dress your kids up in festive gear they'll get to go up on stage before the show, take a bow and receive a poster. Afterwards, have homemade French pastries at Cafe French Rendez-Vous. My kids love to sit outside on the amphitheatre steps. Don't forget bread to feed the ducks on the way home.

A few blocks away, at the Bruce Mason Theatre, The Great Christmas Caper is running from December 20-23. It's bound to be lots of fun as Mrs Claus and her merry band of elves try to find Santa, who is missing in action. And if you've missed out on concerts during the year because of the high cost, head to Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park for free at the 20th anniversary of the event. Jamie McDell and Stan Walker are some of the stars at the event, hosted by Jeremy Corbett at the Auckland Domain on Saturday December 14.

* Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna, December 9-21.
5: Aotea Square: Unwrapped

Starting Monday, Aotea Square will come alive with theatre, live music and dancing. If you're in the mood for romance, head along to the bandstand under the stars and try out everything from salsa to swing dancing. If you like to see the funnier side, enjoy the outdoor circus. There's also Christmas markets, as well as Live at Lunch, with food stalls and live music by local artists.

* Aotea Square, Queen St, Auckland from 9-21 December, free.
6: Christmas Parades

There are still a few Christmas parades left on the calendar, such as the country Christmas parade and festive market at Waiuku (December 14, 11.30am-4pm).

There will be entertainment from the local country music band and spectacles from the Red Hot Cheerleaders, as well as the AKSamba percussion group. The parade includes Miss South Auckland Sarah Brodrick, local fishing and sports clubs and some creative schools. Afterwards, head to the Kentish Hotel or the Cosmopolitan Club.

"I remember coming to the parade as a kid," says assistant town centre manager Vanessa Newman. "It was all about the excitement, the lolly scrambles and the elves: it has a really neat community feel with some very creative floats."

* Go to aucklandcouncil.govt.nz to find Christmas parades in your area.
7: Christmas Tales

The local library is no longer just a place to borrow a book. Head down over Christmas and you'll find themed storytimes, craft sessions on how to make Christmas glitter globes and Christmas cake decorations, festive ukulele concerts, Christmas singalongs and even Mexican-themed Christmas parties for preschoolers. If you do just want to borrow a book, how about borrowing 12 Christmas picture books and wrapping them up as a bookish advent calendar for your kids?

* For times and locations visit aucklandlibraries.co.nz.
8: Oh Christmas Trees

There's nothing quite like the smell of a fresh Christmas tree to conjure up nostalgic feelings - even if it is just memories of how many times you swept up the pine needles around it. One of the most fun Christmas things we've done is to get the kids to choose and chop down a tree at Mount Gabriel Christmas Tree Farm in Drury. My son is still pretty proud of that day and will no doubt embellish the story and re-tell his own kids someday.

9: Christmas Carols

Carols in the Caves is on tonight and tomorrow night for the most unusual carol service in the iconic cathedral of the Waitomo Glowworm Cave. Tickets are available from the Waitomo i-SITE (if you're lucky) and the cost is a donation, recommended at $20.

And at the Auckland Town Hall tomorrow evening, Bach Musica NZ will present the Bach Christmas Oratorio, which features the award-winning young tenor, Henry Choo.

10: Santa's Wonderland

Catch the Glenbrook Vintage Train (GVT) to Santa's Wonderland in Waiuku every Sunday up until December 22. Travel with Santa on the GVT on Sunday December 15 and children can ride the train for free with a paying adult. You'll be rewarded with a snowy Christmas scene and a huge variety of animated Santas at the display - they'll be dancing, laughing, snoring, singing and skiing. Just make sure your children aren't scared of Santa!

* Waiuku Memorial Town Hall, Thursday - Sunday from 10am - 8pm. Adults $6, children $2. Glenbrook Vintage Railway times and fares also available on the website.
11: Christmas Art in the City

Look around you while Christmas shopping in the city. There are giant Christmas baubles in Aotea and QEII Squares, doves and globe lights in Durham Lane, decorative metal angels in Elliot St, good old Santa on the Whitcoulls Queen St building and our favourite - giant colourful "paper" chains in High St. There are also lighting installations along Queen St and there'll be a pop-up Christmas carnival from December 13-24.

* Check the Facebook and website page of heartofthecity.co.nz for details.
12: Lighten Up This Christmas

Next week, Weekend Life will be bringing you a round-up of the Christmas lights around Auckland - from Ponsonby's Franklin Rd to Pukekohe's Christmas Lights House.

You'll just need to stay up a bit later than your Northern Hemisphere friends to experience the light shows.