The Ghosts of Christmases Passed

I loved Christmas as a kid.  The whole day was one big present.  The weeks of excitement and anticipation were fantastic and the memories are powerful and sunk deep into my psyche.   When my own kids were born we tried to make it the same for them and only they can answer whether it was or not and this post is about my reflections of my childhood Christmases.   The good times that lurk in the shadows and seem probably much better looking backwards than they did then, although they were pretty special.

Decembers were the time when the days warmed up and the north winds sometimes blew so hard they could suck the moisture from you as soon as you stepped outside the door.  This was the herald of Christmas in our part of the world.

The tree would go up in the early days of the month and it was a family affair – those very same decorations that lived on that tree year after year for more than half a century were lovingly wrapped in tissue paper each year by Mum and packed away, and this year when we were cleaning out her place after her passing we again unwrapped them and shared them amongst the three of us.  On my tree this year is a bird, one of three, that were the favourites of my two sisters and I, that we used to argue about who would put them where.

And with the winds and heat would come the Christmas cards.  Each of us kids received them from aunties and uncles and cousins, and how exciting it was to rush to the letter box after hearing the postmans whistle to see what he would bring.  They would then be hung across the windows on bits of wool and it seemed like there were always 100 or more each year which we would also reply to.   That appears to be one of the lost arts of Christmas, I guess social media, texting and emails have bumped that tradition aside.

Each year we would visit Father Christmas at Myer.  In those days the only store was in the city because it was well before any of the shopping malls were built in the suburbs.    Mum would dress us in our Sunday best and we’d trek into the city in her old Vauxhall, line up to see the magic in the Myer Christmas windows and then make our way to the toy department to see Father Christmas.  I was sometimes confused that he looked a little bit different each time I saw him but I knew that he would be visiting me on Christmas Eve.

We would then go and do most of our Christmas shopping in Coles and walk up and down the aisles picking out stuff we thought our cousins would like, because we would buy something for every one of them.  Guns for the boys, dolls for the girls, Enid Blyton and Biggles books, California poppy hair oil or brylcreem for those who were a bit older and for the oldest ones the old chestnuts socks or hankies.

And when the night came we’d leave out biscuits and cheese and Dad would insist on leaving him a bottle of beer, not sure whether it was for Father Christmas or the reindeer, but each Christmas morning it was standing on the hearth of the fireplace bone dry.   I remember the year we had the briquette heater put into the fireplace cavity I was really worried that he wouldn’t be able to get down the chimney so I insisted that Mum leave the front door open.

The sacks would be placed side by side on the hearth and we also found them at Mum’s place recently, faded and somewhat tattered but lovingly folded and kept as the echoes of our childhood continued to resonate with us.

Oh the excitement of Christmas Eve was unbearable.   I’d toss and turn for hours thinking I would never get to sleep and then suddenly it would be time to wake up.  I’d creep into Karen’s room and later Debra’s wake them both and rush up to the loungeroom.  Before we touched anything though we’d rush back down to Mum and Dad’s room yelling at the tops of our voices “He’s been!  He’s been!”

So what did we get?   Well it’s a little too long ago to remember these things in chronological order but some of the things I remember are a triang train set, a fort with cowboys and indians, a scalextrix car racing set.    Each year their would be a book and I still have two Tarzan and two Eagle Annuals that turned up in my sack on various occasions.   Always there would be some clothes, usually some sort of short sleeved shirt and shorts that I wore on Christmas Day and most years new bathers because on Boxing Day we’d be off on a camping holiday.

When the sacks were emptied we’d exchange our own gifts and then rush outside to see if the rest of the neighbourhood was awake.  There would always be kids out and about on brand new bikes or scooters.  Then we’d do the rounds of the neighbourhood with gifts for the other kids and collecting more presents ourselves.

Some time late morning after a few drinks with neighbours we’d be in the car and off to Merlynston for Christmas with the Joyce’s and then onto the Smith’s for dinner in Brunswick.   By the time we’d get back home on Christmas night we’s be lugging home a boot full of presents and be exhausted.  Usually Mum would be driving because Dad would inevitably be under the weather.

As Grandparents aged, and the days became to hard for them to host, we would have the lunch and dinner at our place in Box Hill, but as the cousins got older and partnered up the numbers coming gradually dwindled until the cycle began again with our own children.  And now I wait with some anticipation for the time when I too will be graced with Grandkids and have the wonder of Christmas rekindled.

Funny how little snapshots are appearing in my brain as I write this – the year I told Mum that I knew who Father Christmas really was and how I cried when I told her and she held me and said that it was OK there would always be a sack on the hearth for me as long as I wanted one, and there was until my little sister Deb finally fessed up to knowing the truth when I was around 17 years old.   I remember dropping my dacks and showing off my leopard skin jockettes, the first adult undies I had after years of white Y fronts and arguing that it didn’t matter who I showed because they were just like bathers anyway.    I remember the year Nana and Grandad Smith gave us Mark 10 guns, complete with spring loaded rocket launchers and grenades and how we ran around the back laneways of Brunswick.    One really hot day when a bottle of loys softdrink sitting in the sun outside exploded and a shard of glass cut my chin.   I remember waking to the news of Cyclone Tracy wiping out Darwin in 1974.

Mostly I remember how lucky I was to have been in a time and place when we lacked for nothing, when even the hardest times still saw plenty of food on the table and gifts under the tree.   I lived a privileged life.

I wish all of you who read this a very Merry Christmas and hope that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we also celebrate the birth of a special person who changed the world for the better more than 2000 years ago, and irrespective of what beliefs you hold you should remember that.

Christmas Day

I’m actually writing this one on Tuesday but I’m setting it to post on Christmas Day.  May I wish everyone of my diminishing band of readers all the best for the season and hope that your wishes come true.   Provided of course they aren’t meant to harm anyone.

This year marks another change in what Christmas has been and if I look back over the past 4 I can see each one was very different.   2005 was the last of my old family Christmases.  2006 was marked by me spending Christmas lunch alone.  Last year was the first with my new partner and the last time I will go to the home of my old family for Christmas mornings.  It was also marked by my treatment as a ghost by a number of people who didn’t acknowledge my presence on that day.  That experience continued during the year with old friends deciding to terminate contact with me for reasons they know but I fail to understand.

This year, probably by the time anyone actually reads this post, my kids are coming to my place for breakfast.  My new partners family is arriving for a mid morning breakfast, after which we will eat alone again.  Last year we actually took the dog for a walk on Christmas Day, this year with an extra dog we may do the same.   And later in the afternoon my family will arrive for dinner, for the first time in my new home.

So new traditions begin and the old can go their own ways.  Maybe paths will cross again some day.  Maybe not.  But if I’ve learnt anything over the past few years it is not to take things personally and not to make assumptions.  To do either simply leads to that old familiar bitter and twisted sort of feeling and life is way to short to dwell on the past.

Merry Christmas everyone from this person who was once a ghost and who is now prepared to live again.

Christmas Day

I’m actually writing this one on Tuesday but I’m setting it to post on Christmas Day.  May I wish everyone of my diminishing band of readers all the best for the season and hope that your wishes come true.   Provided of course they aren’t meant to harm anyone.

This year marks another change in what Christmas has been and if I look back over the past 4 I can see each one was very different.   2005 was the last of my old family Christmases.  2006 was marked by me spending Christmas lunch alone.  Last year was the first with my new partner and the last time I will go to the home of my old family for Christmas mornings.  It was also marked by my treatment as a ghost by a number of people who didn’t acknowledge my presence on that day.  That experience continued during the year with old friends deciding to terminate contact with me for reasons they know but I fail to understand.

This year, probably by the time anyone actually reads this post, my kids are coming to my place for breakfast.  My new partners family is arriving for a mid morning breakfast, after which we will eat alone again.  Last year we actually took the dog for a walk on Christmas Day, this year with an extra dog we may do the same.   And later in the afternoon my family will arrive for dinner, for the first time in my new home.

So new traditions begin and the old can go their own ways.  Maybe paths will cross again some day.  Maybe not.  But if I’ve learnt anything over the past few years it is not to take things personally and not to make assumptions.  To do either simply leads to that old familiar bitter and twisted sort of feeling and life is way to short to dwell on the past.

Merry Christmas everyone from this person who was once a ghost and who is now prepared to live again.

The episodes of Life

I must admit I had been dreading Christmas Day mainly because last year sucked so bad when I had Christmas lunch alone and for the first time I didn’t awaken in the same house as my kids. The lesson I learnt yesterday is that Christmas does change through time and that the phases whilst frightening in anticipation are perhaps simply a way of marking the episodes of life.

My earliest memories of Christmas are of days spent at my Grandparents houses. Like most kids, my sisters and I would be up early creeping up to the loungeroom to see if Father Christmas had come. We would then run down to Mum and Dads bedroom to awaken them, not knowing that they were already awake and waiting for us. After exchanging presents there would be the visits to the neighbours to wish them Merry Christmas and to exchange even more gifts and then sometime in the late morning we’d jump in the car and head off to Merlynston for Christmas lunch with my Dad’s family. I’ve written before about how many of Dad’s Aunts, Uncles and cousins, as well as his brothers and sister all lived within about five blocks of each other in that mostly unknown suburb in Melbourne’s north, so after lunch there would be a lot of quick visits to half a dozen other houses in the area.

My memories of those lunches are of the smell of roasts taken from the wood fired oven mingling with that of freshly baked scones which I enjoyed with lashings of butter and vegemite. I know for those of you who like your scones with jam and cream that makes me a bit of a philistine, but that’s the way I like it.

From lunch with the Joyce’s we’d go to tea with the Smith’s and there was a fair contrast from the gentility of Nana Joyce to the loudness of Nana Smith and the teeming masses of Brunswick. The house was full of cousins and aunts and uncles

But those days changed when my cousins got older and got married then spending time with their in laws families. Mum decided that it was time that Christmases were held at our place and my grandparents then used to travel to our place each year until they passed away. The aunts and uncles then also chose to stay away so those large family Christmases with the extended family passed with my childhood into memory.

Things changed again when my sisters and I got married and had our own children. We still come together on Christmas night at one of my sisters houses and all of the kids still come but in the next few years will no doubt have their own family obligations that will intervene.

Yesterday I waited for my daughter’s phone call telling me it was now time for me to go around to their house and exchange presents – this year was also the first year they had moved out of the family home. So it was 8 am when I got the call went around, had a cup of tea, sat for a while and then came home to my own house. This year rather than eating alone, the lady I live with and I had a roast lamb dinner, then took the dog for a walk in a local park, before going our separate ways to family dinners. One day when the pain of separation eases we may be able to spend time with each others family on Christmas Day but till then I guess what we had will do. This year was not as bad as last year and I’m sure will get better as we all move forward.

And thus another episode of life moves from anticipation, or apprehension into memory never to be experienced again.

The episodes of Life

I must admit I had been dreading Christmas Day mainly because last year sucked so bad when I had Christmas lunch alone and for the first time I didn’t awaken in the same house as my kids. The lesson I learnt yesterday is that Christmas does change through time and that the phases whilst frightening in anticipation are perhaps simply a way of marking the episodes of life.

My earliest memories of Christmas are of days spent at my Grandparents houses. Like most kids, my sisters and I would be up early creeping up to the loungeroom to see if Father Christmas had come. We would then run down to Mum and Dads bedroom to awaken them, not knowing that they were already awake and waiting for us. After exchanging presents there would be the visits to the neighbours to wish them Merry Christmas and to exchange even more gifts and then sometime in the late morning we’d jump in the car and head off to Merlynston for Christmas lunch with my Dad’s family. I’ve written before about how many of Dad’s Aunts, Uncles and cousins, as well as his brothers and sister all lived within about five blocks of each other in that mostly unknown suburb in Melbourne’s north, so after lunch there would be a lot of quick visits to half a dozen other houses in the area.

My memories of those lunches are of the smell of roasts taken from the wood fired oven mingling with that of freshly baked scones which I enjoyed with lashings of butter and vegemite. I know for those of you who like your scones with jam and cream that makes me a bit of a philistine, but that’s the way I like it.

From lunch with the Joyce’s we’d go to tea with the Smith’s and there was a fair contrast from the gentility of Nana Joyce to the loudness of Nana Smith and the teeming masses of Brunswick. The house was full of cousins and aunts and uncles

But those days changed when my cousins got older and got married then spending time with their in laws families. Mum decided that it was time that Christmases were held at our place and my grandparents then used to travel to our place each year until they passed away. The aunts and uncles then also chose to stay away so those large family Christmases with the extended family passed with my childhood into memory.

Things changed again when my sisters and I got married and had our own children. We still come together on Christmas night at one of my sisters houses and all of the kids still come but in the next few years will no doubt have their own family obligations that will intervene.

Yesterday I waited for my daughter’s phone call telling me it was now time for me to go around to their house and exchange presents – this year was also the first year they had moved out of the family home. So it was 8 am when I got the call went around, had a cup of tea, sat for a while and then came home to my own house. This year rather than eating alone, the lady I live with and I had a roast lamb dinner, then took the dog for a walk in a local park, before going our separate ways to family dinners. One day when the pain of separation eases we may be able to spend time with each others family on Christmas Day but till then I guess what we had will do. This year was not as bad as last year and I’m sure will get better as we all move forward.

And thus another episode of life moves from anticipation, or apprehension into memory never to be experienced again.

Merry Christmas

To all of my blogging buddies. Thank you all very much for your support and comments through what has been a very eventful year for me. I appreciate the time taken to read and comment and the advice given. May you all have a great Christmas with those who care for you and who you care about.

Merry Christmas

To all of my blogging buddies. Thank you all very much for your support and comments through what has been a very eventful year for me. I appreciate the time taken to read and comment and the advice given. May you all have a great Christmas with those who care for you and who you care about.

The last Christmas Tree

I didn’t know when I trimmed the tree with my kids last year that it would be the last time. If I had I would have taken more time about it and spent every second absorbing each bauble and ball as they were hung and each piece of tinsel wound around the branches. Enjoyed the laughs and the fights to keep the cat from climbing the tree and playing with the balls as they were hung. I would have cherished that last act of placing the star at the very top as I have done for around 23 years as a father. Sure the boys have generally not been around for the past few years to help or join in the family thing and the truth is that the girls are getting older now two with the youngest now fourteen.

Still, this year, for the first time since I have been a father I wasn’t around to do that thing that maybe fathers should do and it has induced a sense of melancholy. Not overwhelming, just the type that hides in the shadows and refuses to show itself fully. A slight sense of forboding like an ill wind, or the shiver that runs up and down the spine occasionally. An uneasiness that when you turn to face it full on, ducks away like a shadow in sunshine, still there, just less evident.

The best way to look at this is that it is simply another phase of life, not one for regret but one for pleasant memories and the forging perhaps of new traditions. The only thing I’m sure of is that I will be writing more about this Christmas as an absent father.

The last Christmas Tree

I didn’t know when I trimmed the tree with my kids last year that it would be the last time. If I had I would have taken more time about it and spent every second absorbing each bauble and ball as they were hung and each piece of tinsel wound around the branches. Enjoyed the laughs and the fights to keep the cat from climbing the tree and playing with the balls as they were hung. I would have cherished that last act of placing the star at the very top as I have done for around 23 years as a father. Sure the boys have generally not been around for the past few years to help or join in the family thing and the truth is that the girls are getting older now two with the youngest now fourteen.

Still, this year, for the first time since I have been a father I wasn’t around to do that thing that maybe fathers should do and it has induced a sense of melancholy. Not overwhelming, just the type that hides in the shadows and refuses to show itself fully. A slight sense of forboding like an ill wind, or the shiver that runs up and down the spine occasionally. An uneasiness that when you turn to face it full on, ducks away like a shadow in sunshine, still there, just less evident.

The best way to look at this is that it is simply another phase of life, not one for regret but one for pleasant memories and the forging perhaps of new traditions. The only thing I’m sure of is that I will be writing more about this Christmas as an absent father.

The last Christmas Tree

I didn’t know when I trimmed the tree with my kids last year that it would be the last time. If I had I would have taken more time about it and spent every second absorbing each bauble and ball as they were hung and each piece of tinsel wound around the branches. Enjoyed the laughs and the fights to keep the cat from climbing the tree and playing with the balls as they were hung. I would have cherished that last act of placing the star at the very top as I have done for around 23 years as a father. Sure the boys have generally not been around for the past few years to help or join in the family thing and the truth is that the girls are getting older now two with the youngest now fourteen.

Still, this year, for the first time since I have been a father I wasn’t around to do that thing that maybe fathers should do and it has induced a sense of melancholy. Not overwhelming, just the type that hides in the shadows and refuses to show itself fully. A slight sense of forboding like an ill wind, or the shiver that runs up and down the spine occasionally. An uneasiness that when you turn to face it full on, ducks away like a shadow in sunshine, still there, just less evident.

The best way to look at this is that it is simply another phase of life, not one for regret but one for pleasant memories and the forging perhaps of new traditions. The only thing I’m sure of is that I will be writing more about this Christmas as an absent father.