Yes. I know that this is a few days late. Over the Christmas weekend I decided to take it easy and not do too much writing. It is good to have a little break from writing every now and then. Instead, I focussed on relaxing and reading. Over recent months I have read some very interesting books, and I will review the best of them here on this site as time permits next year.
This Christmas was unusual in our household. Usually it is a time of gathering the family together for a meal or two (or more) and a time of catching up with relatives we do not get to see very often. This year it was just my wife and me, so our celebrations were very quiet. Our son and his family live in Sydney and that is two days’ drive away, so it is not practical just to ‘pop in’ for a meal. Our daughter is usually home at this time of the year too, but she is teaching in Ethiopia at present. It’s not the easiest to ‘pop in’ from Ethiopia, either. She has escaped for several days with colleagues, enjoying a break at the beach at Mombasa in Kenya.
Late on Christmas Day we had a lovely phone call from our grandchildren in Sydney. They were in a local park trying out their Christmas presents – new scooters. I have many fond memories of Christmas as a child. The celebrations began a few weeks before Christmas with the school concert in the local hall. Here the children in the small town in the South Australian mallee rehearsed and then performed plays, musical items, and gymnastics displays on the small stage.
All the parents came along to this concert, the highlight of the school year. We proudly showed off our best school work for the year on tables and display boards set up around the walls of the hall. At one of these events, I can still remember nervously playing several musical pieces on the piano, my only public musical performance ever. The supper at the end was worth all the hard work in preparation.
Another event I always looked forward to at Christmas time was at the small, local Lutheran church where my family worshipped every week. For the weeks leading up to Christmas we would rehearse the carols and readings to be included in the Christmas Eve service. The Sunday School children would all be seated out the front of the church in front of the large decorated tree in the corner. This was always a native pine from somewhere in the district. It was probably a Callitris preissii, common in the region. It was decorated in the traditional way with tinsel and baubles. It also had little bags of lollies hanging all around, and the children were able to take one each after the service. The tree also had many candle holders with real candles in them. I was always terrified that the whole tree would catch on fire! It never did.
The programme on Christmas Eve always told the story of the first Christmas. This retelling year after year was always something amazing to me. As I grew older the special nature of the story of the Christ-child remained precious to me. We had readings from the well-known accounts of that coming of Jesus, plus soul-stirring renditions of the old familiar hymns and carols. The evening ended with the giving of prizes to every child in the Sunday School. I always looked forward to adding another book to my growing collection.
After the service the adults would gather outside the church in the cool of an Australian summer night. Many of the men gathered here had just a few hours earlier come in from paddocks and the hot, dusty work of reaping wheat or barley crops. They always enjoyed a yarn and telling each other the joys or frustrations of the latest crop, depending on what kind of season they had endured – or enjoyed. While I waited quietly – but always impatiently – for my father and older brothers to be ready to go home, I remember gazing into that great expanse of sky above, star-bright against the black depth of the universe.
Star of wonder, star of night,
Star of Royal Beauty bright.
(See here for all the words to this carol)
I was always impatient to get home after the Christmas Eve service. we had a tradition in our family that presents were to be opened on Christmas Eve after the church service. We changed that to Christmas morning with our own children, and the same applies to our grandchildren.
I would eagerly unwrap my presents, hoping all the time for even more books to add to my library. The next few days were blissful; heaps of delicious food, family visiting often and plenty of time to read, read, read.
May you have a happy and blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year.