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Royal Christmas trees and a realistic mouse

Children test new Christmas activities

‘The Queen gives the Cathedral three Christmas trees every year – for a present.’

Seven-year-old Amelia’s mouth opens wide in amazement. ‘The Queen? WOW!’

Amelia is one of three brilliant volunteers who have agreed to stay behind as a packed Cathedral empties after the annual Family Carols service.

St Paul’s Schools and Families Department have produced a stunningly-illustrated new activity leaflet to accompany the Cathedral’s busiest time of year. A Christmas Journey is fresh from the printers and in need of a pilot outing.

The colourful leaflet guides families around the Cathedral and highlights significant works of art to look at and discuss. A Christmas Journey offers fascinating facts, from a former Dean’s wife’s dog featuring in the famous crib, to those three Royal Christmas trees from Sandringham.

There’s space for children's own drawings, lots of festive stickers, and the chance to win a free school visit.

Parents and a grandmother join the trail as Amelia, her brother Leo, 5, from Stoke Newington, and cousin Livy, 8, from Crouch End, find all three trees and make their way to the crib. They spot the dog, and guess which shepherd was given the face of the Master Carver.

‘You can see they’re really excited,’ says Alice, Amelia and Leo’s mum. ‘It’s caught their imagination.’

Amelia and Livy move on to study an icon of Mary and Jesus. ‘Do you think he looks like a real baby?’ asks Amelia’s dad, Kenny. ‘What might they be thinking?’

‘He’s wearing sandals!’

‘They look all old fashioned!’

‘They could be thinking that they love each other.’

They children take a while to find the Virgin and Child statue which once formed part of the reredos behind the High Altar. Once they’ve tracked it down, they decide that its former gold decoration meant it depicted someone special.

‘Can we light a candle?’ asks Amelia. All three light candles for an aunt and grandparents, and stand solemnly in silence for a few moments. Then it’s time to track down a Henry Moore sculpture before going off piste for a special trip to the Quire. The girls take advantage of their VIP status to try out the seats reserved for Prebendaries for Hampstead and Hackney.

There are some searching questions about how Santa fits into a celebration for Mary and Jesus.  The family head downstairs to the Crypt, and Josefina de Vasconcellos's Madonna and Child sculpture - which proves the biggest hit of the trail.

In the spirit of honesty and managing expectations, it’s time to admit that the trail hasn’t been a hit with Leo. He may be a little young for the questions involved, or he may – as Dad Kenny says – just not be in the most cheerful mood.

But he and the girls love the sculpture. ‘There’s a mouse!’ Leo says. ‘Just like a real mouse!’

‘I like the way it’s so realistic, Livy says. 'They didn’t have to put in the extra detail, like the mouse - but they did and it’s just very good.’ 

‘She [the Madonna] looks like Mum,’ says Amelia.

Thanks to Amelia, Leo, Livy and their adults, and to The Friends of St Paul’s Cathedral for funding the Family Trail.