Some of our best writers share their Christmas memories. (Listed alphabetically)
My best Christmas ever is a difficult one to establish however the best Christmas in recent years was in New York City. Many of us have families where the so-called 'children' head off on their OE. My family has been no exception. My husband died and the children had gone. A true empty nest feeling hung over me like a dark broody cloud! Christmas... I was hardly feeling joyous at the prospect.
Then my two sons suggested we should all meet in New York City. With great excitement I flew to the USA and found myself in The Big Apple with my family. This is one of the peak tourist times in Manhattan. People travel from all over the US to see the beautiful Christmas decorations in the shop windows on 5th Avenue - and they are worth travelling many miles to enjoy. Excited children fill the air with their laughter and squeals of excitement, and one cannot help but be caught up in the euphoria. Macy's has an annual Christmas Parade, Saks 5th Avenue adorns the exterior of their shop with illuminated flashing snowflakes! Everywhere you look there are Christmas trees and decorations, Santas and Elves. People laden with shopping bags. Atop the Rockafella Center on New Year's Eve marriage proposals occur and people wear Santa hats... there is a buzz in the air!
But this was not the real highlight for me, having my family together was so special and all the glitter was just a bonus.
My American daughter in law shouted us all to the famous Rockettes Christmas Pageant at Radio City... take a glimpse here: http://www.radiocitychristmas.com An amazing show where we wore 3D glasses and Santa flew in on his sleigh, throwing beautifully wrapped presents at us all sitting in the audience. All an illusion but a wonderful up-lifting performance.
On Christmas Day we headed off to the Four Seasons Hotel for a traditional Christmas Dinner, my two sons, one American daughter-in-law and one New Zealand girlfriend. We were all together in this beautiful happy city reminiscing over childhood Christmases and looking forward to a wedding in the family and grandchildren. (All have since happened.)
This was my most joyous Christmas in recent times... being together meant everything to me.
Christmas, more than any other event I can think of on the social calendar is, above all, a ‘theatre of the nervous system’, featuring frenzied shopping, clamouring commercials, fretful kids, mangled music, prolonged food and drink bingeing, blown-out budgets and depressing aftermaths.
One year we decided to opt out.
With the bemused permission of the Auckland City Mission, we dressed up as clowns and headed off to their Christmas Day dinner, held annually in central Auckland.
A trickle of early arrivals gradually swelled until by midday, there were well over a thousand ‘guests’, jostling happily and expectantly around the auditorium, vying for the best seats in the house.
The general plan was to interact rather than entertain. Our only ‘props’ were ‘sticky stars’, which we offered to plant on foreheads (or wherever they chose) in exchange for a story, a joke, a song, a hug or a kiss. It worked like a charm. Kids big and small just loved it and so did we. Smiles and laughs erupted wherever we went , along with countless camera clicks.
By two-thirty it was all over. We headed out the door, exhausted but elated. Hungry too. No-one had offered us dinner, and we had been too happily engrossed to ask.
So we enjoyed a belated Christmas dinner at home.
Baked beans on toast never tasted so good!
Best Christmas ever? You bet. We had played our parts in the ‘theatre of the heart’, which staged simple exchanges, fun unlimited, making friends with strangers, self-forgetfulness, a lean repast and sweet rest afterwards.
This is surely where the real drama of Christmas belongs.
My ‘best ever gift’ was not under the Christmas tree, nor in my stocking hung hopefully at the end of my bed: in fact it’s not something you can touch, see, taste, or smell. It’s a memory and gift that has lasted 20 years, the setting – the Abel Tasman walkway.
On Christmas Eve my daughter and I were on the celebrated walk, and with the weather clear, slept under the stars, on the white sand beach, leaving our tent-fly set up under a tree in case of unexpected rain.
When we woke, Santa had found us. A stocking, in the form of new hiking socks, was pinned to my 23-year-old's sleeping bag: among other things, tinned turkey, chocolate, dried peas and even two delicious new potatoes were inside it. She was most impressed at Santa’s continuing ability to find her no matter where she was – a great Christmas gift and memory. But why is it my ‘best ever’?
Because this was the first time I had broken the family societal ‘rules’ about celebrating Christmas. I was not at a boring family dinner, exchanging gifts that none of us really wanted – I was doing what I wanted for the first Christmas ever.
The gift, ‘the ability to ignore the shoulds in my life’ had been given to me by my son Greg who had suicided a year earlier - I knew no-one would dare complain at me not doing as I ‘should’ on the anniversary of his death (29th December) . It’s a gift I continue to value and use.
© Heather Hapeta 2009
There were already four kids in our small house when I was born on the living-room couch on Christmas day 1940. By the time I was eight-years-old there were nine of us. My mother always tried to get me something special for Christmas. On my eighth birthday a train set. Not one of your cheap, tinny outfits but a well-made Meccano job. Much more expensive than anything my parents could afford.
Unfortunately, although I tried not to show it, I wasn’t in the least interested in trains. I wanted something to hit or throw or kick. But Bob, my older brother by 15 months, loved my train set. The details are hazy now but I think we privately did a deal; his cheap torch for my train.
And why my disappointing present was best: My mother had been working part-time in the Meccano toy factory. As time went by I learned that for months before Christmas she had been pinching bits of train-set. Piece by piece, day after day, she carried a rail or a signal or other vital piece in her bag out of the factory, past the security man on the gate, probably with her heart in her mouth.
Come the big day she had an engine, an oval track, a station and signals, all ready for my delight on Christmas morning. Kids. Who can ever please them?
I woke up, shuffled my feet at the end of the bed, felt the weight and heaved a sigh of relief. Father Christmas had remembered me. There wasn’t much light outside. I shook my two younger sisters awake. It was good to share the parental exasperation when mum and dad found out we had got up before 5am. This Christmas morning was full of suspense. For the third year running, I had asked Father Christmas for a ‘walkie talkie’ doll and couldn’t believe he was taking no notice of my letters. Last year I had go up early again on Boxing Day to check the end of my bed, in case Father Christmas had forgotten the right day for delivery. Surely he wasn’t going to let me down this year.
I reached for the small pile at the end of my bed. There was nothing big enough to be a doll. My heart sank. I felt the shapes – a book, something round and soft, and I could tell one was a bag of lollies. Not only was there no doll, but I had a much smaller pile of presents than my sisters did. It was so unfair. I lay down, buried my head in the pillow with disappointment, and listened to giggles and whispers as my sisters opened their presents.
As the sun came up, I had an idea. Maybe Father Christmas was playing tricks on me and had hidden my doll somewhere else - like in the garden. With renewed excitement, I leapt out of bed and out the door. After 10 minutes of fruitless looking amongst shrubs, in the garage and corners of the section, dejection set in again as I dragged myself back inside. Mum was up by now. “Father Christmas was mean to me this year”, I grumbled. She smiled. “Maybe Father Christmas knows you’re now eight and a bit grown up for having presents on your bed. Have a look under the Christmas tree”.
And there she was - Isabel! Twelve inches of perfection, flaxen hair, rosy cheeks, rotating joints attached with rubber bands, realistic cry when tipped upside down, and I could swear she smiled at me. Fifty years on, I don’t know what happened to Isabel, but she made Christmas the best-ever for an eight-year-old.
Maybe it’s something to do with having a selective memory, marginal ADHD and being generally abstracted, but I can’t recall one single Christmas present that stands out and says “Me, I was the best! Surely you must remember ME.”
My Christmases stick together like cards that have got wet. Pull them apart and there are the different eras like high school years and getting a pair of fancy knickers with a card that says “Love from Amber”. Someone told me later that Amber comes to school prepared with presents and cards that don’t have a name written on them, just the “love from Amber”. When she gets a present from someone she hasn’t got a present for, she whips out the knickers and card and says “Thank you - I’ve got one for you too!”
This wasn’t really a present but it was something I really liked: singing the greatest hits of the Anglican Christmas songbook over the phone with my friend Belinda. We were only nine or 10 and her mother was cracking up in the background, but we still remember it and laugh.
Her friendship is a gift that’s lasted over 50 Christmases.