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Sock it to 'em Santa

Fancy a feel of Santa's socks? Then head for the National Museum of Scotland where the touch and go contest is part of a festive programme for all the family. Deedee Cuddihy finds out how other Scottish museums plan to mark the Christmas season. And because it's that time of year again (oh no it's not...) TES Scotland reviewers see what's on for pantomime fans.

What an inventive bunch they are at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Staff member Maureen Barrie says that when her eye recently fell on a pile of surplus folded white card, she immediately thought: "Christmas card competition!" Which is why, between now and December 18, youngsters up to the age of 16 can turn up at the museum, ask for a blank card and some crayons, get busy with a design (plus a Christmas wish to go inside the card) and maybe win a prize. There's the added bonus of perhaps having their work put on display.

Other Chambers Street activities include 20-minute, Edwardian-style slide shows of pantomimes such as Ali Baba and Peter Pan (twice daily from December 26 to January 5) and a Christmas tree trail, the Victorian doll's house trail and a winter's trail, all designed to encourage children to have a good look at what's on show.

A Santa's socks competition involves trying to guess what certain objects are by touch and feel with gift shop vouchers for the winners. Special storytelling and activity sessions are planned for Ne'er Day (Chambers Street is only closed on Christmas Day) and hundreds of people, adults included, are expected to take part in the museum's increasingly popular Christmas art competition which runs from December 27 to 30. Chambers Street will provide drawing board, paper and pencil but competitors should bring their own paints and pens. "Families love coming here at Christmas," says Maureen Barrie, "and it's great seeing people having fun."

Scotland Street School Museum of Education in Glasgow is going all Japanese during the holidays. "Discovering Japan", running from December 20 to February 27, combines food, writing, costume, gardens and Shinto shrines. Activities include visitors being able to smell, feel and taste ingredients found in Japanese kitchens; try on traditional clothes and create a miniature garden. Children under 10 must be accompanied by an adult, with a maximum of two children per adult.

However, traditional western Christmas activities have not been forgotten at Scotland Street, and Christmas cracker-making for children of all ages (20p per cracker and bring your own cardboard loo roll tube if possible) will take place on December 14 and 21, from 2.30 to 4.30pm.

Summerlee, the industrial and social heritage museum in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, is transforming its temporary exhibition space into an Enchanted Forest from now until the end of January. Children under 10 can play in Hansel and Gretel's house and a Mystery Tunnel. They can also dress up, make masks, cards and Christmas decorations, take part in games and competitions and listen to stories. Open seven days a week, 10am to 5pm (closed December 25 and 26, and January 1). A small charge may be made for materials.

The architecturally-splendid McManus Galleries in Dundee have a reputation for holding excellent Christmas workshops for all ages using recycled materials. A nominal charge will be made and places must be booked for Santa's workshop on December 13, 2-4pm (toys, games and sculpture making) and The Twelve Days of Christmas on Saturday, December 20, 10am-12 noon or 2pm-4pm (workshops, demonstrations and competitions for producing Christmas goods). For children, young adults and family groups.

An exhibition which should appeal to the whole family has opened at the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, recently named Scottish Museum of the Year. "Star tracking", which runs until January 10, shows how navigators in the pre-electronic age used the sun, moon and stars to help plot voyages and find their positions at sea. There are working models, replica equipment and numerous hands-on interactive opportunities. Learn about calendars, sun dials and the legends of the stars in a show which, as museum curator John Edwards points out, is "very appropriate for this time of year - provided the night skies aren't hidden by 300 metres of cloud".

There is plenty more on offer at Aberdeen's museums and galleries over the Christmas holidays including, at Provost Skene's House, the chance to see a medieval "pyssin pot" and shoogly film footage of Queen Victoria at Balmoral.

For a really traditional Christmas experience, it would be hard to beat Callendar House in Falkirk, where you get a huge decorated Christmas tree, classical festive music, a real goose roasting over the open fire in the Georgian kitchen (Wednesdays and Saturdays only), plus the opportunity to taste authentic recipes and look around an excellent display which tells the story of one of Scotland's most historic houses. On-site park, pond - with swans - and children's playground (closed December 25, 26 and January 1 and 2). Adults, Pounds 1.80; children 90p.

Built on a more modest scale but, to many, no less significant is Burns' House Museum in Dumfries, where the poet spent the last years of his life. Open Tuesday through Saturday (closed 1-2pm and December 25, 26 and January 1 and 2), a discovery trail around the museum helps families fill in the Burns House activity sheets.

* National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh: 0131 225 7534 * Scotland Street School, Museum of Education, Glasgow: 0141 429 1202 * Summerlee Heritage Park, Coatbridge, Lanarkshire: 01236 431261 * McManus Galleries, Dundee: 01382 432020 * Aberdeen Maritime Museum: 01224 337700 * Callendar House, Falkirk: 01324 503770 * Burns House Museum, Dumfries: 01387 255297

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