Antonia Prebble's family Christmas tradition

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Friday, 8 December 2017, 3:38PM

As told to Paul Little.

In 1993 my family started a tradition that lasted for several years, which in itself is a beautiful thing. All the kids from a group of Wellington families who were friends put on a Christmas show.

Production values were high. Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords was a member of one of the families, so we had a [future] Grammy winner as our musical director sometimes. His mother, Deirdre Tarrant, had Footnote Dance Company and was an amazing choreographer who had access to some extraordinary costumes.

We practised a lot and did different things every year. One year we put on A Christmas Carol.

Other times we did the Christmas story, and if a new baby had been born recently they would be Jesus in the manger. One year there would be three wise men, another year it might be three wise women.

For the first one, I lip-synched to Leader of the Pack. I had back-up dancers and I was in a leotard and fabulous skirt and had hardcore leather-clad bike riders behind me. My particular dance was this shoulder shrug, which was all I did the whole time because I had seen it done in a video.

So much went into these shows. I did a tap dance one year with my friends and a friend's dad had to bring in plywood to put over the carpet to make a tap stage. For that extravaganza, I got taken into Deirdre's wardrobe room and was allowed to choose whatever I liked. That was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

I can't imagine now how we got it done. Our parents would direct us but they were all busy and had big jobs. And we had at least 15-20 people involved. It was so much work and now I know how busy Christmas is, the fact that they made it a priority was wonderful.

My family weren't performers. My parents are both academics at Victoria University. My older sister, Becky, and younger brother, Ben, weren't particularly interested either, but I loved it. The Christmas show was an example of my parents providing me with opportunities to do what I love — providing fuel rather than putting on the brakes.

I can't overestimate the influence my parents had on my career in that they never said I couldn't or shouldn't be an actor. They didn't push me. They were neutral and allowed me to do whatever I wanted and gave me practical support.

My parents must have loved the Christmas tradition, otherwise why would they have done it?

We did other things every year too. There was always a big Christmas tree. We had an advent calendar with a democratic system about who would open it at Christmas. We'd go to church, come back and play carols while we opened our presents. We set up tables outside and had a big lunch, and there was one other big tradition, which was singing The 12 Days of Christmas, with people always forgetting their lines.

I feel very lucky to have had such a happy childhood and such an exciting and lovely Christmas. It's such a shame that so many Kiwi families don't enjoy that and so many people do go without.

Antonia Prebble is a Variety Ambassador. To donate to Variety and help make Christmas better for disadvantaged Kiwi kids, go to Variety.org.nz.