I love Christmas.
I am sitting here looking at the palm frond we have decorated as our Australian Christmas tree. Looking down from the highest stem is the Christmas fairy that looked down each year from my childhood Christmas tree, in Zambia where I grew up. A little plastic doll with a crooked blond wig, her body now held together with elastic bands and her wings a little limp, but still flying over 65 years later. No glitz about her, just a simplicity which tells of the joy and magic of Christmas.
It is that magic which I remember, waking before dawn to stockings full with clothes Mum had secretly sewed, nuts and oranges in the toe, the house decorated with paper chains we had made together, Gloriosa lilies which when the rains came, appeared like miracles in the bush when the parched earth greened.
There was always a parcel from my Grandma in England, filled with pink sugar mice, hankies and simple toys, always smelling of the Bramley apples which had travelled for months on ships and trains to reach us.
Mum created this magic, and now I wonder whether she too needed to do this for her children because there was an ache in her heart for the family she had left behind when she went on her solo adventure to Africa, leaving behind the little village in Lincolnshire where the church bells would have rung in the cold air at midnight heralding in Christmas day and those she had loved and lost in the war, only a few years before.
I too had wanted to create magical memories for my children, establish traditions that they could look back on – making chocolate truffles to take to my elderly patients, always a bit sticky in the December heat by the time we delivered them, the beach early on Christmas morning, home-made presents a tradition we started after feeling sickened by commercialism, I needed to abandon over-shopping. That was very joyful, all busily working, sewing, hammering, painting and then the laughter in the sharing.
I have loved Christmas wherever I have been in the world and whatever I have been doing.
In the hospital I worked in New Zealand, it was a tradition that all the male doctors visited the wards dressed as fairies and fortified by pink “fairy petrol”. One poor patient woke after having a tooth pulled to a dentist Father Christmas and a fairy anaesthetist.
Twice when working in New Guinea, the 3 doctors had to leave the party to remove a spleen between the main course and the pudding. I had persuaded the local trade stores to donate presents for the children on my ward. One year I was given a bale of second hand clothes which almost made it impossible to move in my small office, but we had gifts for each one of the 80 patients and their mums.
I never really minded working at Christmas, it seemed to give more meaning and joy to the day.
Christmas later in Australia came with a tinge of sadness. As it had been for my Mum, my family were far away, my parents had died when I was in my thirties and I have always needed space at Christmas to remember them, and honour them for the love they gave me, whether it be in church listening to those familiar carols I had sung with them or taking a few moments at the beach to reflect on the love that Christmas is all about. I miss my sisters, being first immigrants, and while I have my husband and adult children and my special friends, somehow Christmas for me has always meant family.
Christmas can have that effect on people. For some it can feel lonelier than at any other time, feeling acutely the absence of family and friends who are not there to share, perhaps saddened by what has been going on in their lives.
It is easy in our busy world to forget that we all do need love and connection, that in a world so apparently buzzing with communication, people can be made to feel more alone, more isolated, if they don’t feel that connection with others.
Perhaps the greatest magic of Christmas is that it somehow gives us permission, as if we should ever have needed it, to thank those who have supported us during the year and to share a smile and Christmas joy with perfect strangers, to feel the love that is always there, within us and within everyone, waiting to be shared.