Sunday, 11 December 2016

Presents on the Tree

The year 1953, the first year I have vague memories of Christmas. It was also the year of our first Christmas in Australia. My family was small, just Mum, Dad and me. We had no extended family to celebrate, except for Mum’s brother and his wife who we lived with at the time.

Dad particularly missed his family and the traditional English Christmas. He recalled Christmas’ past of aunts, uncles and cousins joining together in badly sung carols; a wondrous feast, cold weather, open fires and presents, often hand made with love.

My aunt and uncle decided to take a holiday leaving just the three of us to celebrate on our own. Mid December had been exceptionally hot and, of course, nothing like my father’s fond memories of home. I believe this was the time he felt the most homesick for his beloved England.

Money was tight because he had not long found work after months of difficult searching.  Evidently, he couldn’t get a job because he wasn’t a member of the union and he couldn’t join the union because he didn’t have a job. Finally, he got work in a non-union factory.

But, homesickness and lack of money was not going to stop the pleasure of Christmas. He wanted to make sure his little family enjoyed a full day by introducing some new traditions.

The first was a stocking waiting on the end of my bed on Christmas morning. It was partly to keep me (and 11 years later also my brother) quiet for a short time. It didn’t work because we would head into Mum and Dad’s bedroom and jump on the bed to share the toy, fruit, nuts and other small items our stocking contained.

There were no big presents first thing. The stocking and its contents kept us happy while Dad cooked a traditional English breakfast. Only after breakfast could we open our ‘real’ presents. Like most other baby boomers we generally only received one present although there may have been small parcels from overseas sitting under the tree.

We didn’t look for more. We happily played with our new gift until lunchtime which was always a full roast dinner with all the trimmings, regardless of the weather. Having crackers with our dinner gave us more trinkets to amuse us while Dad slept off the meal and Mum cleaned up.

But it didn’t end there. After a light supper of leftovers from lunch, Dad announced his second surprise. There were presents on the tree for us! At the time these little novelty gifts would have only cost a couple of shillings but in future years they became the most eagerly anticipated part of the day with constant requests of “Can we open the tree presents now?”

My immediate family now consists of husband (Italian) and grown up children (son, stepson, daughter in law)

My family’s traditions, at son and step son’s requests are included in the combination of English, Australian and Italian traditions we now observe.

I still put together stockings with treats, toys and trinkets for everyone. They are still the first things we receive and we still exchange “tree presents”. They remain the highlight of our gift giving. Sometimes they are handmade; mostly they are humorous; occasionally they will bring a tear to an eye and often they won’t even fit on the tree!

They are always there and always given in fun and love.

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