My Father’s Childhood Memories of Christmas

Today, I took the opportunity to ask Dad what Christmas was like for him when he was young.

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I spent some time in the car with my father today, and as we travelled the presenter on the radio was asking people to call in and talk about family memories and traditions at Christmas time. This was a great opportunity to ask Dad what Christmas was like for him when he was young, so that’s exactly what I did! 

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My father grew up in Holland during the Depression and World War II. His family were not really poor, but neither were they rich. My grandfather worked very hard to provide for his family, and both he and my grandmother managed their resources carefully. 

The house was usually not decorated much for Christmas, but they did have a Christmas tree lit with candles. Dad also remembers the large fir trees that were put up in the churches, almost as tall as the roof.  Some were lit with electric lights, but most were lit with candles. As many churches were built of wood, this was a cause of many fires. I can understand how the sight of such a big tree, lit and decorated, in a church would imprint itself on the memory of a young lad. 

Christmas was a time when family would visit and often put on Christmas plays for one another. It was usually the children, but sometimes grownups too, who  would act out  the story of the first Christmas or plays about Sinterklaas and his companion, Swarte Piet.  A play like this was usually the only observance of the St Nicholas tradition in my father’s family, although for some Dutch families, Sinterklaas is almost as big a celebration as Christmas itself. By the time Dad was a teenager, it was more common for people to listen to stories or plays on the radio than to perform them at home for their relatives.

 

Gifts were generally not exchanged by adults, but the children received a book as a gift.  Dad also remembers that this was the time of year when children of a certain age – probably 11 or 12 years old – were presented  with a Bible of their own by the Sunday School of their church. 

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I can’t imagine how strange their first Christmas in Australia must have seemed to them in 1951. Even then, it would have been such a world away from how we celebrate Christmas now. Commercialism and materialism have seen to that.

2013-12-24-19-07-20.jpgHaving just turned 86, Dad celebrates Christmas on the other side of the world in the heat of summer, with trees illuminated by LED lights, a plethora of Christmas movies and ‘Carols by Candlelight’ concerts on TV . Family is still a focal point for all of us – my grandparents’ values have been firmly imprinted on us in that way, even if we do indulge in giving and receiving gifts that are generally luxuries. Dad, his sisters, and their families are spread across this enormous continent, so visiting happens via Skype and phone calls, while photos and news are shared on social media. 

I do like to think, though, that there is still a sense of wonder at a pretty Christmas tree being lit up at night, and I hope that people stop to hear and reflect on the story of Christmas that goes beyond reindeer, presents and “being good”.

 

How will you be remembered?

The first time I remember hearing that someone famous had died was Elvis Presley in 1977.  I was ten, and had already learned to love his music. I watched Elvis movies on TV on Sunday afternoons. I sang along with his songs. I cried when I saw on TV that he had passed away. 

I remember quite vividly the time I was watching TV and the newsreader told me that John Lennon had been shot and killed. Again, I loved his music and the magic of lyrics that touched my soul, even as a thirteen year old. I always was into poetry, lyrical or otherwise.

I remember when Princess Grace of Monaco died in a car crash in 1982. I was shocked, and felt deeply for her family, especially her daughter Stephanie who was in the car with her when it happened. I knew of her as the elegant and sophisticated First Lady of Monaco, but I had also loved her in ‘High Society’ and other movies. 

That same year, a friend of mine was killed while riding his bike to visit his new workplace. He was hit by a drunk driver. He was just a regular guy. He was funny and sweet. He had so much talent and his life as a young adult was just opening up for him. His horizons were bright. He was gone far too suddenly, too soon. 
The grieving among his friends and family was intense. There were no news bulletins, magazine stories or headlines. Social media didn’t even exist. But there was a large church packed full of people who loved him and wished with all our hearts that he hadn’t been taken.

There were things we all wished we had said. Moments that we had allowed to slip by without acknowledgement or appreciation. We would never get another chance. 

This was my first experience of death among my friends. It was followed by several others over the next few years. All of them were young men – healthy, talented, funny guys who were genuinely loved by their family and friends.  Even now, I think of each of them when reminders pop up in conversations, on Facebook, in places we used to know. 

I remember being in the car, on the way to church, when I heard on the radio that Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, had been killed in a car crash in Paris. I was incredibly sad – more so for her sons and her family than anyone else. I watched her funeral on TV. I watched Charles and his boys as they walked slowly in the procession to Westminster Abbey.  The image of the wreath of flowers from William and Harry on her coffin, with a note that simply said, “Mummy”, broke my heart. That was when I really wept. 

It is completely understandable that people get upset when a beloved movie star, singer or other celebrity dies. 
Someone they admire, respect or aspire to be like has passed away. Their unique blend of personality, talent and beauty, be that physical, intellectual or spiritual) has been lost to those who remain behind. 

Last night the news was that Paul Walker, star of various movies, had died as the passenger in a car that hit a pole and burst into flames. The driver, his friend, was also killed. 

There has been a huge outpouring of grief on social media for Paul Walker, but what of his friend?
There were two men who died in that crash. 
Most likely, there were numerous other young men who were injured or killed in car crashes this past weekend alone. They were important, too. They were someone’s sons, brothers, cousins, friends, boyfriends, employees, students, teammates. Surely their lives are just as valuable as the celebrity?

Many families grieve every week for these reasons.

It can happen to anyone.  It can happen to anyone’s family and friends.
Young men in cars are more likely than anyone else to be injured or killed on a weekend.  

Life is so fragile, even though most of us tend to live as though we are invincible. 

In your grieving for those who have achieved fame for their talent or beauty, please think about and acknowledge the others who remain faceless and nameless to most of us.  They are no less important.  Their families also need prayer, support, condolence and encouragement.

It’s really important that we learn to use our grief as a reminder to make sure that our family and friends know we love them and appreciate them. Create positive, lasting memories so that there will always be a legacy of love when someone is gone. The memories and love are invaluable.

Our legacy of memories and love to our family and loved ones is far, far more important than fame.