A Christmas to remember

I am neither here nor there about Christmas. My favourite time in the summer break is after Christmas is done and after New Year; we often go away camping and I find it the most relaxing time.

Our whānau and I are at an Anglican church so we try and include Jesus in our Christmas. We attend some of the Advent services, we normally attend a Christmas Day service, we talk to the tamariki about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Our Nativity scene is potentially the best toilet roll Nativity action scene in Aotearoa.

I’m listening to Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sing “Christmas we love you” but I know how hard it is to feel Christmas. If there is a Christmas miracle it is the person who is filled with joy, innocence, laughter and love as they walk the Warehouse aisles.

So let me offer a few Christmas prayers for us all.

 

I grew up with a mother who is passionate about Christmas and Santa. We woke up with stockings stuffed with gifts at the foot of the bed and a Christmas tree surrounded by gifts. Our table was laden with the best of European roasts, plum duff, pavlova and scorched almonds.

The night before, we would always leave out a glass of milk and a biscuit for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. My mother has been known to be chewing carrot in the middle of the night and spitting it on the driveway so we’d think the reindeer had visited.

And always guests. Always someone else at our table and a few who are still coming 30 years later. We grew up rich in resources, in love, in joy, in friendship.

 

A prayer that the rich may experience joy beyond what can by bought and always put another seat at their table.

 

I recall with shame a Christmas, perhaps prior to college. I don’t recall my gift, but my brother received an adjustable drafting table. It was the biggest thing in the lounge. For the rest of that morning I was sullen and nasty, not a word of thanks to my parents.

Eventually I remember I argued with my Mum out on the driveway. I brought her to tears with my complaints of how unappreciated, unloved I was. It was a monstrous act, a hurt only your own child can inflict.

 

A prayer for the selfish whose jealousy of others prevents them seeing the blessings they’ve received.

 

One Christmas my Nana’s second husband joined us for Christmas. He wasn’t well loved and trusted and our whānau tends to wear its disdain openly. After one too many sherries, he regaled us at the table with stories of World War II.

With relish he told us all of his time as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp in South East Asia. He described in some graphic detail the beheadings he was forced to watch.

He lied. A little research and inquiry provided the facts. He lied.

 

A prayer for all those who feel compelled to be what they are not for the love of other people.

 

For five wonderful years my wife Jo and I were part of the Stillwaters community in central Wellington. Every Christmas, our long communal table was filled with our friends. Many of them were without family or friends for Christmas because of broken relationships, homelessness and isolation.

These wonderful resilient people were served by our team. Most of us who served had received a lot in our own lives from fantastic parents and caring whānau. We’d dance around this crowded table of cracked crockery and mismatched decorations. We were energised by songs and smiles and the joy of giving.

 

A prayer for those who serve others and for those who have nothing.

 

One year my mother had a bright idea that we all work together as a whānau in a restaurant in Rotorua serving Christmas lunch. I was the busboy, Dad was on bar, Mum acted as the Maître D’, others in the kitchen.

It was madness. A crowded restaurant with food of doubtful quality. We were on our feet the whole time, never stopping, going hard. By the end I recall we were all a little short with each other. We now all agree it was fine but not a way we want to spend another Christmas.

 

A prayer for those working on Christmas so others don’t have to.

 

Now I’m a parent, a chair at our wharekura, a board member for our iwi and hapū. My Mum, Dad and most of our whānau are coming here Christmas. So Christmas today feels like a list of jobs to complete and rooms to spring clean so Mum thinks we are tidy.

It seems like on all of my boards people are running to the End of Days. Everyone wants their projects and priorities complete now, and it is a fate worse than death if it is left until after New Year.

 

A prayer for those for whom Christmas is an inconvenience in a busy calendar.

 

Like most of us at this time of year, at times my thoughts slip away to those who can’t be with us anymore. Just prior to Christmas is a busy tangi season at our marae. So many leaving us.

I was in the emergency room of the Whanganui hospital many years ago at Christmas time when I watched my wife’s grandfather Baz start to leave. It had been an exhausting few hours and Jo and her whānau had stepped out for a minute. I said I was happy to stand sentinel.

The nurse had popped out, the doctor was gone. And then his heart rocketed over 220 bpm. In those moments, the whole body becomes a resource that the brain tries to use to keep maintain life. Sinews, ligaments and muscles stand in stark relief; the world holds its breath.

A few seconds was all it was until everyone arrived. But a few seconds I will never forget. A man I loved leaving us. I wept.

He was touch and go then for the next 24 hours. We were told to say our goodbyes. We ate the Christmas turkey in sandwiches in the whānau room at the hospital.

The next day he woke up and asked what had been happening. The nurse said he was a Christmas miracle.

 

A prayer for those who die and those for whom drawing breath is the miracle.

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