“Through the years, we all will be together, if the fate allows”
Christmas wrapped up for another year, and this Christmas again marks a change in the ever evolving tradition for me.
Christmas night as Michael (Did I say how much I love him?) and I walked along Beacon Cove after our Christmas Day he asked the question, “What is your earliest memory”. A question provoked as he recalled his return to Australia to the nearby Station Pier, he told me of his memory of standing on the deck of the Galileo. He was young.
The question is a good one that spun around in my head. Michael always manages to find questions to ask that generate a cascading effect. Earlier in the day he asked me if this Christmas was different, noting the change from this year to last year. He asked me how I felt about that.
Here’s my answers.
My childhood Christmas memories are of my family coming together on that one day to celebrate. I remember the excitement of Christmas morning. I would wake, often before sunrise, and find my Santa sack, a pillowcase put at the end of my bed the night before. I always tried to be as quiet as I possible could be, not wanting to wake anyone else! I would have been sharing my room with my younger brother and a couple of older brothers.
The pillowcase would be jammed pack full of goodies. It always had a Santa stocking in it. The stocking, very similar to the one pictured, would have some lollies along with cheap plastic toys, such as a whistle or a water pistol. This is a tradition that I continued on with my own children until recently. I do have a memory of feeling the sack in the dark and it being big and bulky, I’d give it a tug and pull out whatever I could without making too much noise. I can’t recall a single gift from it, apart from the stocking.
The next part of the day is the distribution of presents from under the tree. There was much anticipation for me. Our Christmas tree was always a real pine tree and often placed between a couple of the lounge room couches. I would be sure to have the best seat in the house. I would actually pick the seat the night before and when the announcement for presents was made I would be the first in the room and sitting as close to the action as possible.
I would have to wait for my older brothers to come home with their new families, my nephews and nieces. Dad would come into the lounge room and there would be a lot of chatter. He would start to distribute the gifts by calling the name of who it was for followed by who was giving it. “Gregory from Mum and Dad”. There were always a great big stack of gifts to give.
There are two presents that stand out in my memory. One was a cassette recorder. The other a Dolphin Torch.
The cassette recorder was probably one of the best gifts I ever received. It would have been in the late 1970’s and fed directly into my desire to be on the radio. I was able to pretend I was a real radio DJ with it! One of the first songs I ever recorded off the radio was Flash N the Pan’s Hey St. Peter. I remember that it broke, possibly a day after I got it, and I had to wait until the shops opened again so we could replace it.
The dolphin torch was something that I asked for. I needed it for camping, big, bulky and waterproof. The real reason I remember it however, was that it marked a change in my thinking on Christmas. I guess I was may 15 or 16, and that year the only gift I got from Mum and Dad was the torch. I felt a great deal of unhappiness about that! The Christmases of Plenty had passed.
As the family started to expand we all bought gifts for the new additions. We also bought gifts for each other. So, that’s 11 children, two parents and an ever-expanding growth of grand children and partners. There would be laughter, squeals of delight, the rustling of paper and a big mess everywhere. This tradition went on for many many years, all the way into the ’90s. That’s at least 20 years.
I’ll come back to this point in time, the mid 70s. Let me just explain this video of the presents under the tree. I took this in 1990. I’m 27 years old, my first wife (ok, my only wife) is the first adult through the door, she’s preceded by some of my nieces, a steady stream of children and adults come into the room. Finally in what seems like a TARDIS space we’re all in their and my Dad begins the handing out of the presents. You can see my Mum and Dad under the tree, bums up in the air, handing out the gifts.
This isn’t all of us either! By 1990, some of my older nephews and nieces, along with my brothers, didn’t come to this part of the day. We’d already started changing the long-held tradition and celebrating Christmas in our own way with our new families. This is one of the final times that we gathered in the family home at 9 McIntyre Street, Hamilton. My parents moved to Queensland and that changed Christmas forever.
Back to the 1970’s. Once the presents were over and done with we would then be getting ready for lunch. The size of our family meant we didn’t go anywhere. People came to us. As the years rolled on and we had my brothers wives and there children, we also had additional grandparents, uncles and aunts. We often had two sittings, and somehow my mother prepared both meals. At a guess we’d have about 30 for each meal, lunch and dinner.
Specific memories are a little faded, and all sorts of celebrations roll into one, I imagine that it was all very traditional. Two things about the food stand out, White Christmas Slice and Christmas Pudding.
The Christmas pudding was made by my mother’s mum, Grandma. I have a fleeting recollection of it hanging in a calico bag from the kitchen ceiling, months before Christmas. It was boiled in a special aluminium steamer pot and served with lashings of cream. I recall my Dad’s mother, Nana, being responsible for putting the sixpence in the slices. Yes, sixpence, even years after the move to decimal currency, she managed to use sixpence.
That was my Christmas day, full of family, laughter and good times.
Christmas is now much different. When Mum and Dad moved to Queensland that was the end of our family get togethers. By then I had children and we spent Christmas visiting my in-laws. That was nothing like my childhood Christmas. They were full of stress and anxiety. I got out of them as soon as I could when I separated, then I would spend Christmas day with my sister, Angela, much more relaxed.
This year, Christmas was lunch in the city with some good friends, followed by Christmas dinner with my children, Caitlin and Tomas, future son-in-law, their mother and my husband. For the first time Caitlin wasn’t here on Christmas morning, Angela and her family were in Queensland and I took a train ride to the city to have lunch in a restaurant.
Things change, my memories fade. All I’m left with are a few snippets and glimpses of how things once were. Christmas will continue to change.