It was just a little cardboard star. It fell out of a box when I was putting away the Christmas decorations. Nothing too remarkable, silver one side, plain cardboard the other, or at least it was, until my children wrote xxx's and ooo's for kisses and hugs on the back of it.
You see, that was for the Christmas Angel to take back to baby Jesus for his birthday. I had told them the story of Jesus and that we celebrated His birthday on Christmas Day. They were so upset that we didn't have a birthday cake and presents for Jesus. So they decided that they would
send him hugs and kisses instead and of course, if we had an angel at the top of the tree, then that angel would certainly know Jesus. So ever after, that little star has been near the Christmas angel, even though the angel is worn and now a large star tops the Christmas tree. The little star wasn't used this year as we had no room for a tree this time.
I began to remember Christmases past... back when I was a child. Back on my grandparent's verandah. No matter how many people were there, there always seemed to be room. I recall all the gifts from the various families being put into baskets or a large tea chest, well labelled, so that when my Papauli handed out the gifts, it was easy to tell which was for whom.
There were no decorations as we have now, nothing like the Christmas Wonderland I try to create normally. Instead, I remember the smell of gum leaves from the branches tied to the verandah posts. I recall the tantalising promises of roast chicken coming from the kitchen, the allure of roast vegetables, hot custard and Christmas pudding...and, what seemed to me, a giant Christmas fruit cake beckoning on the sideboard. There were piles of nuts and dried fruits, stone fruits and of course, boxes and plates of kourabiethes, baklava and liqueur figs.
Papauli. Nona, Theo and Chris c.1952
We would gather in the morning, each finding a place to sit and then the excitement would be almost unbearable for us children. Papauli would start calling out the names...maybe one of my cousins, or a friend, or an Aunt, perhaps an Uncle... then, unbelievably, Crissouli... I'd hold my breath, but it's not mine... my cousin.
More names, then Theo... but not my brother, rather our grandfather... then Crissouli... maybe, maybe... it's small, with a ribbon... is it for me? He hands it to my grandmother... she grins and then it comes to me... I can hardly open it. It seems everyone is waiting, and looking. The paper is soft and tears easily... I'm not yet five and I drop the small box that is held within. My older cousin lets out a deep sigh. I pick it up and open it quickly. Then I see the most beautiful bluebird necklace... my cousin is smiling... I can't believe it. She has a bracelet just like it and I've often admired it. Then I see the card... it's from my cousin.
I've completely forgotten to listen for the other names and my grandfather is standing, smiling at me, with a few things in his hand..."for you, little one". That Christmas I also got a pocket dictionary, which I still have and use, from my cousin's sister, and a lovely doll dressed in red and white gingham for me by my Aunt. I wish my memory was better, as I can't recall what my grandparents gave to me... how I wish I could, as that was to be the last Christmas with my much loved grandfather. He passed away the next year.
When my Dad was young, Christmases were the same in some ways... a large gathering of family and friends, on the very same verandah. My grandparents were the hub of a growing Greek community from nearby towns, called Auntie and Uncle by many, as a sign of respect for the elders of the community. They welcomed all with open arms.
Presents then were mainly clothing, always needed in a large family of nine children, and sometimes a wooden toy made by my grandfather. Dad recalled getting the old fashioned Christmas stockings a few times... that is the ones with a cardboard backing and a Santa mask on top, with little trinkets in them, sometimes lollies, and covered with red netting, similar to onion bags. I asked him what he remembered getting in them... he recalls what we called blowouts... a whistle with a tube of paper attached, that you blew out and it recoiled. Then they had a feather attached to the end. There would always be a small toy, maybe a plastic car or a tiny baby doll, a colouring book and either crayons or pencils.
The lollies were usually little musks or hard 'candy'. There were metal clickers in some stockings.
Dad's memories are that the emphasis was on gathering around the kitchen table, or on the verandah with family and friends, and the food and the company being the main attraction of the day. There were no large Santa sacks put out, but a pillowcase at the end of the bed. Somewhere or other, he learnt to make Chinese lanterns out of Christmas cards as he and Mum taught us to do when we were children. I also asked him what he would wish for at Christmas... did he ask for anything. He smiled and said "You didn't ask, ever, you were always happy with whatever you got."
Next year, I will find a place to put a Christmas tree, no matter how crowded our place is, and pride of place will be given to that little silver star, as a reminder.
Crissouli (c) Dec. 2007