Wake up. Time to get up. It is the middle of the night and I’m sleeping. Wake up. Why? The light in my bedroom has been turned on and I hear my mother’s voice calling me. Drifting, trying so hard to wake up, I am confused, then suddenly I remember –
It’s Christmas Eve!
I jump out of bed on the most exciting night of the year and begin the family tradition of walking to Midnight Mass at St Mary’s Church, South Mackay. It is early in the 1960’s when I was just a child. Before leaving home, I join my sister and brothers in preparing supper for Santa – a glass of milk and a large piece of Christmas Cake. Mum and us kids start the 10 minute walk and Mum assures us that Dad will be coming soon. I could never understand why Dad was the last of our family to arrive at Church every year. This was a magical time for me as I walked the deserted streets watching hundreds of shining stars interrupt the black sky; I know I am safe and happy. The church is a blaze of lights in the darkness of the night and is quickly filled to capacity so the faithful who arrived late, probably with a little bit of Christmas cheer in their bellies, are happy to stand on the steps and outside the church. Though I am only a small child, I know the words to every carol and sing loudly with gusto for the next hour or so.
Returning home it is still dark and my excitement is growing as I know that while we were out Santa would have delivered our presents and eaten the supper we laid out for him beside the tree. Our family Christmas tradition continues as us kids are allowed to open just one present from Santa before it is time to go back to bed for a few more hours sleep. It is impossible to sleep deeply for the anticipation of the presents still to be opened and soon we are all sitting around the Christmas Tree and impatiently wait for Dad who plays Santa Claus to give us our presents. Not all the presents were under the Christmas Tree and sometimes Dad would take us out to the back yard and that’s when I saw it – my new red bike! I was so thrilled, not realising that Dad had spent hours every night after we were asleep lovingly painting it red and covering it in Malvern Star Stickers so it looked brand new and not second-hand.
Now it is time for the traditional ham and eggs for Christmas Day breakfast, followed by chicken and roast vegetables for Christmas lunch. Ham was a luxury item we only ate on Christmas Day and even though it came out of a can, as kids we thought it was the best thing ever. Chicken was only eaten once a year at Christmas and poor Dad had to choose one of the chooks from our backyard for this special occasion. As an adult, I wonder how my Mum survived the summer heat of late December in North Queensland, standing for hours in front of the stove and oven to prepare three meals for our family of 6 people.
As a teenager, the family traditions of Christmas continued but by now we were old enough to stay up after we returned from Midnight Mass and we would sit on the cold concrete steps at the front of the house in the early hours of the morning and open presents, sing songs and tell stories. It was a time when fresh milk was delivered in bottles to homes by the milkman, usually at first light and it was so much fun being able to wish him Happy Christmas and offer a piece of Christmas cake.
These precious childhood memories of Christmas are etched into my heart and will always be treasured. In my innocence at that age, I only knew Christianity and probably thought that everyone was a Christian. The view from my childhood window has grown and constantly changed over the years as the window has been opened wider and wider. It has been enriched and challenged as I lived and worked in other countries and travelled to a variety of locations across the continents. For many years, I worked in the hospitality industry (hotels/serviced apartments and conference centres) and for organisations which were owned and operated by inter-faith groups. The reality is that at the end of the day each individual, regardless of ethnicity has the same desire – to be clean, to be fed and to be rested. Opportunities I remember from these years include a staff development day spending time at a mosque and a day spent with a work colleague who had invited me to join him at his Temple to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. In accepting and welcoming everyone, my window was continually pushed open and as I looked, I listened and I learnt.
Rejoice in the diversity of cultures, religions, beliefs, traditions, dress and languages.
Recognise the assortment of lifestyle options and choices available.
Realise that everyone has a right to their own opinion.
As Christmas approaches again this year, I hope that everyone will find –
Joy -try to be truly present in each single moment, having only a single thought or performing a single action and feel joyful;
Peace – be at peace with yourself and search to find a deep contentment and calm; Peace is the way;
Love – always choose love – love is the answer.