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Christmas Reflections

By Alistair Gray 

I always remember waking early on Christmas morning with excitement for the day ahead. One of Dad’s socks lying at the foot of the bed - a heavyweight chocked full of small goodies. An orange pushed down to the foot of the sock, wrapped Macintosh lollies, maybe a small book and a matchbox toy, playing cards and maybe one or two other Christmas goodies. None of the gigantic, oversized sacks that many kids seem to have today.  


Life was very simple then. Even though money was scarce, I remember a home filled with love. We attended church with Dad dressed in a suit and tie, Mum in her Sunday best, my sister in a pushchair and my brother and I smartly dressed in heavy-weight grey woollen shorts, knee-length socks, a jumper and tie—the church choir dressed in blue cassocks and white surplices alongside magnificent flower arrangements - lots of formality. Christmas had arrived and All Saints Ngaio in Wellington was filled with eager churchgoers. This was early post-war New Zealand, a different time.  


After church we would rush home to sit around the Christmas tree and exchange presents. The presents were simple, no flashy toys, mainly clothes or a book. I still remember the smell of the pine from the tree and the efforts made to decorate it. These were the days of the Sunday roast, yet I remember we ate chicken as a treat, not turkey and we didn’t then have a ham. Instead, Mum used to add small pork sausages wrapped in bacon to the meal with bread sauce and roast veggies. We used to fight over the wishbone and look forward to Mum’s homemade Christmas pudding and tarts. On the sideboard sat a white, traditional, heavily iced Christmas cake including marzipan, which we cut at teatime. And at the appointed time, we all stopped, gathering around the radio to listen to the Queen’s message.  


Yes, Christmas was simple yet very special with so much appreciation for Dad being home. He was a manufacturer’s representative agent who was away six weeks at a time travelling the length and breadth of New Zealand – at a time when many of the roads were gravel, with his car swung on board the inter-island ferry to travel to the South Island. Holidays then, as we know them today, were rare, yet with Dad away, we used to stay on a rural property at Manukau, then a couple of hours north of Wellington and help pick raspberries and catch whitebait. 


By the time I had reached 12, I remember life being significantly better; we had moved to Auckland and Dad had a new job running an aluminium company. He had brought a boat, a small 12-foot open dingy with a seagull and every weekend we would be out fishing and enjoying the best of life. Christmas holidays then meant camping. Dad had brought this giant old canvas tent with its heavy wooden poles and pegs, a far cry from the lightweight camping of today. This would all be piled into the back of the boat with the seagull, heavy pots and pans, ground sheets and sleeping bags. Then, we four kids with Mum and Dad would all pile into the car, the kids squabbling in the back seat as we travelled for hours to some remote part of New Zealand to camp right on the beach. No facilities and no camp fees. It was idyllic, the sun, the fresh air, the clear water and sandy beaches for swimming, fishing and snorkelling. Until it rained and a fine light mist would come through the canvas, everything became damp and we would be out digging trenches and being stuck inside playing Monopoly and cards. Yes, that was our Christmas, our holidays. I wouldn’t change a thing. It built a strong, close, loving family. Happy Christmas, everyone. 

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