Christmas is entirely what you make of it

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Cartoon: Paul Dorin

“Perhaps this Christmas is the perfect time to come together and rekindle that collective spirit that fought the fires, tended the sick and the dying, and made common cause in the fight against COVID-19,” writes “The Gadfly” columnist ROBERT MACKLIN

CHRISTMAS, it seems, is what we make it.

Robert Macklin.

Aged four, Christmas Eve was wondrous. Instead of a stocking there was a pillow slip at the end of my bed, but try as I might, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open to see Santa arriving. 

Next morning that pillowslip was bursting. I wasn’t allowed to open the presents till mum and dad woke up. They took forever so I finally dragged it into their big bedroom. 

Dad was home on leave. He was tired from fighting the war, but mum was just as thrilled as me by the toy with tiny ball bearings that you tipped slightly so they stopped in the eyes of a clown’s face; and a cowboy hat, a cap gun in a holster like Hopalong Cassidy’s and best of all, a wooden cricket set!

“You must have been a very good boy,” mum said, “helping with the dishes and everything.” 

“You bet,” I said. I really must have been, even if I did whinge a bit at the time.

Graham Strachan up the street said Santa wasn’t true. I didn’t believe him. But next year I learned he was right. Santa didn’t drink beer, only a real person did that and made loud burping sounds. 

For a while I pretended, especially when my little brother came along. The saving grace was Sunday School where I learned that Christmas was Jesus’s birthday so we were celebrating by giving each other presents. I believed that till I was about 13. But that whole thing about God giving his only begotten son so everyone who followed the Apostle’s Creed could live forever when they died wasn’t making a lot of sense. 

What about all the poor people who lived before Jesus turned up? Then Mum died of cancer and that was the end of God for me. And Christmas pretty much went with it. 

A few years later I married a lovely girl from the Riverina. Nothing gave her more pleasure than choosing Christmas presents for our families and friends, especially the children who kept popping up. 

I was happy for her but I couldn’t share her emotional commitment. It really felt like we were pawns in a big commercial extravaganza. And I didn’t enjoy the way some kids fell upon all that “stuff”. There were also times when the liberal doses of “Christmas cheer” suddenly dragged ancient resentments over the groaning table of gluttony.

But then came 2020, the year that brought us the horrors of raging bushfires, killer smoke and deadly COVID-19, the forerunners of a world where the climate is racing out of control, where every month a new disaster threatens and our hold on the life we have known becomes ever more tenuous.

So far, we’ve survived. And while the way ahead is frightening, we know in our hearts that we and our loved ones will get through it only if we do what 2020 has taught us. 

Perhaps this Christmas is the perfect time for us to come together and rekindle that collective spirit that fought the fires, tended the sick and the dying, and made common cause in the fight against COVID-19. Perhaps then, all those terrible, lonely sacrifices would not have been made in vain; and Christmas will at last find a genuine reason for being.

I surely hope so.

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