CHRISTMAS came early to schoolchildren in Prudhoe as they embarked on a journey to understand the real meaning behind the festive celebration.

Before they broke up for their Christmas break, groups of children from six schools – Wylam First School, Prudhoe West Academy, Prudhoe Castle First School, Adderlane Academy and St Matthew’s Catholic Primary School – headed to St Mary Magdalene Church to become immersed in the story of Christmas.

This was the first year the Christmas Journey project had been run, and while it was hosted by St Mary Magdalene Church by vicar Rev. Daniel Freyhan and his wife Samantha, who brought the idea with them from their previous posting in Stevenage, the project is a joint effort between volunteers from all of the churches in Prudhoe.

The project sees children travel back in time to meet the main characters of the first Christmas story.

Children travelled through passport control to go back in time, where they were able to visit different stations where they could meet the likes of the three wise men and a group of shepherds – all played by volunteers from local churches – and ask them questions.

The youngsters from each school were split into small groups and completed a craft activity at every station they visited, before moving on in their groups to the next station.

To make the experience as engaging as possible, the project was designed to be multi-sensory, with the children able to get involved and use their senses through experiences such as smelling frankincense and feeling the weight of a heavy gold block.

“It’s a real chance to learn in an interactive and stimulating environment,” explained Samantha, who co-ordinated bringing the project to Prudhoe.

Dan added: “We love being able to tell people the real Christmas story and, through this, we can do that in a way where the school children can enjoy the whole experience.

“We love the way it helps the churches to work together to produce something of real benefit, too.”

Across the week, more than 70 volunteers from different churches were delivered the project to over 200 children.

While the work was aimed at youngsters in Year 2, some schools chose to bring along children from other year groups too, with work material provided by the Bridge Builders Christian Trust, which runs helps deliver the project in Stevenage.

Grants were also given to support the project by the Newcastle Diocese of the Church of England and Prudhoe Town Council’s mayor’s allowance.

Samantha said the churches hoped to continue delivering the project in future years, having had a positive response from the schoolchildren and teachers who had taken part.

“The hope is maybe we will be able to expand the project in the future and send the resources to schools so many more children can be going on a Christmas journey and building links with their local churches,” she explained.

“The great thing about this is no one church would be able to put this on – it’s about them all coming together as a massive project for the town’s schools.”

To end their journey, the children come together to to visit the characters of Mary, Joseph and their new baby – played by a real baby – and sung a Christmas song before returning through passport control to the present.

“Meeting baby Jesus and seeing that it’s a real baby is so exciting. It is just so fun for them,” said Samantha.

“They go in there and think “this story is about a real baby”. That’s what we hope they will take away from this – that this is a story about a real baby that people really thought was special. That’s what Christmas is all about.”