What makes Christmas?

By Bill Pugh

For weeks the shops have been telling us Christmas is happening.

Father Christmases abound in the shopping centres, with long waits for a photo. Stores are overloaded with gifts. Charities sell Christmas puddings and cakes. Bottle shops are booming. Patient queues shuffle by Myer windows to see this year’s display. Children write wishlists for Santa.

But does all of that make Christmas?

Growing up in the Depression and WWII years, we had a different experience of Christmas. Those were drought years for farmers, with many out of work and banks selling up homes of families who could not repay loans.

The war brought rationing of food, petrol and clothing. Farmers put the family car on blocks to save petrol for farm use. The horse and buggy became the family vehicle again.

Many could not afford presents. Bicycles, pedal cars and toys were repaired, repainted and passed down the line. Billycarts were manufactured from packing cases and old pram wheels.

Food parcels were packed and sent overseas with letters and cards to soldiers at the front. Many prayed for sons missing in action, or POWs.

Darwin was bombed and Sydney shelled. My father, a WWI Sapper, built an air raid shelter in our backyard.

Still, there was Christmas.

Christmas dinner included a homemade pudding with coins for the kids, bottled fruit and cream from the farm. There was no ham; aleg of lamb took its place. A chook disappeared from the backyard, upsetting the kids, and re-appeared disguised by gravy and surrounded by roast potatoes.

There was no beer, but we made do with homemade drinks such as rhubarb lemonade and ginger beer which sometimes exploded in storage.

Still, Christmas happened. We celebrated and remembered absent loved ones. Growing up during the war made me realise how fortunate we were to have parents who sacrificed much to bring us through those difficult times. Many were not so fortunate.

So what makes Christmas?

In all the busy-ness and celebration, we must not lose sight of how and when it all began. It’s a simple story, yet profound in meaning.

At the first Christmas, the scene was a stable and an inn. Outside was a bright star, shepherds caring for sheep in the hills and angels singing in the heavens.

Three kings approached, guided by a star in the east, hoping to visit someone special – a promised king. They journeyed until they came to that stable with Mary, Joseph and a newborn baby inside. They bowed down and presented him their gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. There all was safe and warm but that holy family was soon to be refugees.

Christmas is above all about families. It is also about the world family, the helpless, desperate and refugees.

Around our Christmas tables let us not only celebrate but also resolve to act and treat others with generosity, giving what we have received here in this safe and blessed land, Australia. The spirit of Christmas is love and generosity freely spent, in thankfulness, for all we have, even when that’s not all we would want.

May we find much room in our hearts for those who have no table, no food or no home.

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