The magic of an Aussie Christmas in Warwick
CHRISTMAS is a time for loving, giving, fun and family and, in the Benz household, it's a tradition and a time they hold dear.
Growing up in the Crown Hotel at Maryvale, Belinda Benz remembers Christmas as one of only two days of the year the pub was closed.
Mrs Benz, then Belinda Bardsley, spent 16 Christmases in that grand old venue.
"The pub had a proper open fireplace, so we'd hang our stockings up there in expectation of Santa's arrival,” she said.
"We'd wake up to find sooty footprints leading away towards the things we'd left out for him.
"I loved Christmas as a kid and I still love it today.”
Today, Mrs Benz is married to Westpac business banker Dom and has three kids, Alicia, 7, Ryan, 5, and Logan, 2, and Christmas is just as special as it always was, maybe even more so.
"I love watching the kids' faces light up on Christmas morning,” Mrs Benz said.
"It's that magic of Santa, the unique magic of Christmas to children and I get to experience it all through them again.”
As with many families, Christmas for the Benz family is a shared affair.
Christmas Eve is spent in Allora with Mr Benz's family at the home of his parents, Andy and Ingrid, a Swiss couple who immigrated to Australia in 1982.
"We all meet up out there, 10 adults and nine grandchildren and head to church,” Mrs Benz said.
"After that it's back to the house for dinner, drinks and presents.
"The kids love it of course, they get an extended Christmas party over two days.”
Mrs Benz said her father-in-law had a quirky Christmas tradition all of his own.
"He buys all the kids a box of cereal,” she said.
"It's pretty funny, and I guess that's why he does it, but I wondered what was going on the first time I saw it.”
After dinner and dessert, the Benz family heads home to Warwick.
Then it's action stations.
"If we haven't done it already, we'll put the kid's Santa sacks at their doorways and leave
something out for Santa,” Mrs Benz said.
"He likes a beer and some rum balls and a few carrots for the reindeer.
"Then it's bedtime for the kids and I put all of the presents underneath the tree so they've got that huge surprise in the morning.”
Another Benz family tradition is the Advent calendar.
It's not all lollies though, instead a daily Christmas-related activity.
"We'll go to the Carols in the Park, we always do a tour of the Christmas lights and there's other things we do, some baking, watch a Christmas movie or do some craft and if I run out of ideas, then it's a lolly.”
Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without decorations, so the tree goes up on December 1 and the Christmas lights get switched on.
"We go all out, but I'd like some more lights I think,” Mrs Benz said.
"Either way, Dom has a busy weekend coming up.”
Crack of dawn Christmas Day, the kids are up and into their Santa sacks.
"It's the best, the kids think it's the greatest thing in the world,” Mrs Benz said.
"Not long after my brother, sister and partners and mum arrive and it's time for more presents.”
Pretty soon the house is floor to ceiling in presents and wrapping paper.
"It's mayhem from then on, but the best kind,” Mrs Benz said.
"We have a late breakfast, then a traditional Aussie Christmas lunch of cold meat and salads, a few drinks and the afternoon is spent playing funny games.
"I always buy something silly that we can do for a good laugh, this year will be hilarious.”
For Mrs Benz, Christmas is a time for family, for laughing until you cry and for the sheer joy on her children's faces.