The Backpage: My recollections of childhood Christmases 30



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There is this one childhood memory of Christmas and it is forever stitched into my mind.

The family had bought a record player – a big deal back then – and when my grandfather arrived at our place for Christmas lunch, his Irish accent still strong after 50 years in this country, someone played “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”.

I don’t know that he particularly cared for the song but he smiled anyway. I still remember the smile.

And there was the watermelon. My father had gone to the trouble of carving a watermelon into a basket shape that year, complete with handle, and had filled it with cubes of melon flesh.

I was overwhelmed by the ingenuity of it all and thought how brilliant Dad was to have hit upon such an idea.

Dad passed away eight years ago after announcing every Christmas for the previous 10 years that this would be his last Christmas.

“Keep it up,” I would tell him. “One of these years you’re going to be right”.

There wasn’t a lot he needed in those last years, apart from a new body, so I’d just buy him fistfuls of lottery tickets.

He promised to cut me in for a share if he ever won The Big One, the same big one that had shimmered before him like a mirage throughout his life.

His time ran out before he cracked The Big One.

This year’s Christmas shopping, thanks to my wife, is all but done.

This contrasts with my gift buying pattern of years gone by which was to spend much of Christmas Eve in the pub with my mates and then go shopping.

It made for an interesting time on Christmas morning as I tried to wrap the presents and remember what I had bought for whom and why.

This blurred approach to shopping meant that I was often complimented on my generosity. “It’s nothing” I would say, seeing little point in confessing that I had little or no recollection of buying the present in question.

As an exercise, try and remember the gifts that you have been given at Christmas over the years.

Three stand out in my mind. One was a huge water pistol given to me as a child by my grandmother, another a plastic kit of a World War II bomber which I had to assemble and the third a red Cyclops scooter.

The rest are lost to me apart from some of the truly awful gifts I’ve received, chief among these being a coffee mug of the sort sold by discount stores for 50 cents.

“How lovely” I said as I beheld it. “It’s just so Christmas-like!” I enthused as the distant relative with the million dollar house who had bought it for me smiled hugely and I thought un-Christmas-like thoughts.

The cheap undies with the waistband elastic that resembled a tired piece of string after one wash and the calendar which someone had been given by an airline and thoughtfully passed on to me also stand out in the Gift Hall of Cheapskate Infamy.

Had the Good Lord realised that one day his birth would be celebrated by people giving each other 50 cent coffee cups, I doubt if he would have bothered going through with the whole business.

I once became so cynical in my regard for the festive season that instead of attending the family lunch in Brisbane, I spent it at Noosa with a couple of friends.

It was a mistake and I still regret it. I’ve also spent three Christmas Days overseas, one freezing my butt off in Vancouver and two others in Los Angeles, a soulless city on any day of the year but depressingly so at Christmas.

I’ve now come to realise that one of the reasons that we gather on December 25 is to provide our children with the memories on which they will dwell in their later years.

At Christmas we are characters in a movie, I think, playing our roles as parents or uncles, aunts or friends, a movie which our children will replay in their minds as they in turn assume our roles.

My recollections of childhood Christmases remain among my most treasured.

Mainly, however, I am reminded of my grandparents enclosed verandah, its hardwood boards polished to a deep sheen by my grandfather.

At the end of the verandah was the tree, the gifts for our extended family piled at its foot, the whole scene bathed in an innocence long gone.

Merry Christmas.


Share your thoughts below.

Mike O'Connor

Mike O’Connor is a Brisbane-based motoring writer, travel writer and columnist. He’s driven hundreds of different cars, travelled widely and mingled with famous people, none of whom, he confesses, can remember meeting him.

  1. My best childhood memory was being give a shiny pink bicycle with a basket in the front, it had trainer wheels and my dad and Grandad took me out the front of the house on a gravel road and taught me how to peddle it. They gave me a push and off I went peddling hard, I went around the corner and down the street, the Swansea Channel was in front of me. Unfortunately they forgot to tell me how to stop the bike so I rode onto a jetty and straight into the channel. My dad and granddad were running hot on my heels I was about 5 years old at the time

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  2. My best memory was Our Uncle always stayed with us for a week over Christmas, he would come with so much food as times were tough, I was one of our children and that was his way of helping Dad and mum.
    We made all our streamers out of crepe paper and covered the kitchen ceiling ,then Dad and Uncle Alan would take us to some bushy area on the farm and we chose a Christmas tree

  3. My dear dad used to say you will miss me went i am gone, he was so right. He was killed in the Box Flat mining disaster in 1972. I was so blessed to have such an amazing dad. I remember childhood Christmas celebrations with Aunts and Uncles plus cousins. My grandfather would put on a Santa mask, we would have threepences in the plum pudding. We would be so excited if we got one. We would only get one Christmas present form Santa. We would play cricket. I now have Christmas with my 3 daughters and their families, I have 5 grandchildren. I so love Christmas and always spend it with family 🎄

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  4. Great blog Mike! Grandparent Christmas’s for sure! My father was one of thirteen , so we rotated breakfast, lunch and dinner. My grandmother was amazing , that makeshift table was always full of food, and she buzzed around making sure all of grand babies were happy and content. With so many cousins there was always a game of cricket, plenty of watermelon, endless water fights and always an uncle asleep under a tree! We only missed a couple of years whilst living in Perth. Once I married we would go for breakfast every year, and did so until they both passed. I am one of five and we all go to my Mum and Dads Christmas night. We have a family trophy that is given to the family member of the year. My grandchildren are striving to be the proud owners. This lump of wood and rusty nails has been in circulation for over 24 years. I’ve made my children promise me to continue this tradition until my parents pass. It’s just a given that every one will be there and what food they bring. No communication is required. So my best present is the tradition of family!

  5. I do think “Christmas” is not so special now as we mostly seem to get what we want/need soon after that idea comes to us so nothing is special nowadays. I am 68 and it was certainly a much better time when were young and did not have much – only necessities.

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  6. There are so many happy memories around Chtistmas I remember with great love at my Grandparents as we always went there (I’m an only one ) not so much at home as my mum was divorced . I have 2 children one of each . I have made a really big thing about Christmas so now they come to me with the Grandchildren and I hope that they will remember me like I do my grandparents. No BBQ for us I have to do the Turkey and all the trimmings so we eat late as it is too hot during the day , a far cry from our cold winters in the UK .

  7. Decorating the Real Christmas Tree…..Dad always managed to find one We carefully selected our precious trinkets stored away each year to re hung Today we live in a disposable world Christmas trees are plastic most disguarded to charity after the event Years ago we recycled everything. My most cherished gift was a Lavender perfume set from Coles….my Sister got Rose To this day l love both these fragrances….it transports me back to my childhood and great memories

  8. Just before Christmas the local community used to organise a Christmas Tree night where all the families would gather and Father Christmas would arrive on the back of a trailer with hay bales or other years on a fire engine. The air was electric as we all waited for his arrival. There would be lollies and icecream for the children and tea, coffee and supper for the adults. The whole community would attend to wish each other a joyful Christmas.

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