I always remember Christmas as a magical time. Back then we would have a certain build up towards Christmas Day.
School would finish a week or ten days before the anticipated event. In those ten days we would “harvest” and decorate the Christmas tree. There was no such thing as an artificial tree for many years in our family. Dad would often bring the tree home and we would wait till the next morning to begin decorating. We would make paper chains. There were the decorations we had made at school in craft, we would make silver stars and these were added to a few precious decorations that were bought out to ornament the tree. I recall that the tree would often look a little worse for wear before we would start but by the time we had finished it stood in pride of place in the lounge room in all its magnificence.
Then there would be the visit to Santa and the Santa photo. Mum would deck us out in our Sunday best and take us into either Winns or David Jones where we would line up to take our turn at talking to Santa to ask for our desired gift. Mine was alway a book of some kind or a doll when I was younger. I recall that Santa would never promise what he was not able to deliver. He would always say something like “I will do my best but you must remember that Santa has lots of boys and girls to visit and lots of boys and girls are wanting whatever” he would then say that he would leave something special for us if he could not give what we asked for, thus adding to the anticipation.
Then there would be the children’s Christmas Parties, for us, hosted by Dad’s workplace and the local R S L. Hundreds of kids and their parents would congregate in a local hall. There would be lots of party food, party pies and sausage rolls, sandwiches, cakes and lollies. Always make-up cordial to drink and cups of tea for the mothers. Santa would arrive much to excitement of the waiting kids. Silence would descend so we could hear our names being called. Santa would call our names in age groups and present us with an age appropriate gift. All the 10 year old girls for example would receive the same present. I remember when I was about 11 receiving a beach towel which I though was pretty special to have my very own towel different from the rest of the family.
Then there was the Christmas house clean. I do not remember my childhood home being anything other that meticulously clean and tidy when I was a kid. But because Christmas was approaching the house would be cleaned from top to bottom and we would all have a part to play in this ritual. There was no reluctance from myself or any of my siblings as this was an important part of the Christmas preparations.
There was also the yearly visit to David Street, Georgetown. Now this was a magical evening. Dressed in our pyjamas and brunch coats we would set out as a family to walk the short distance to David Street where every house in the street was decorated and lit by fairy lights. I longed for something like that to happen in our street but of course it never did. We would often see school friends on similar family outings and after checking out each house we would make our way home discussing the merits or otherwise of each display. We would always all agree however that it was always better that last year.
We would go to bed early on Christmas Eve. If we had daylight savings back then I am sure it would have still been daylight as we would go to bed early in any case. I remember I would be in bed feigning sleep and telling myself I would stay awake all night see Santa. I would soon be asleep and when morning dawned we would gather around the tree as a family to open our gifts. I don’t recall if Mum and Dad got presents as it seemed to be all about us five kids. After this off we would go to Mass where we would be keen to tell any friends present what Santa had brought us.
When we got home a quick breakfast and then Mum would begin lunch preparations. Always a hot lunch, baked chicken and vegetables followed by Plum pudding and custard. The plum pudding would always have threepence and sixpences in it and as a little kid I was always terrified that I would swallow one and be rushed off to hospital. Oh how carefully I would chew that pudding.
My Grandfather would always join us for lunch and this always made it a special occasion. As a very young child I used to worry about Pop as he lived alone and I did not like the thought that he would be lonely.
After lunch we would all help with the dishes and the clean up and we would be sent outside to play with our Christmas gifts while the adults rested. I remember I would generally receive a book so I never objected to this arrangement as it would give me a chance to get lost in a story. It seemed always to be a sweltering day except for the Christmas that I got a bicycle. That year it rained torrentially for two days and I had to wait till the day after Boxing day to try out the longed for bicycle.