Long time readers of this blog will know that I grew up in southern Africa (what was Northern & Southern Rhodesia, now Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively)--so no Victorian snowy Christmas memories*. Instead, my Christmas memories are of summertime celebrations, with Christmas and summer holidays all being wrapped into one time off from school. School in this case also meant boarding school (as the mission station where my parents were was at least a half a day's travel from the nearest government school). With a school year that ran from January to December, the summer break fell in December. So of course that meant the boarding school closing, and my coming home.
It is difficult to convey to someone who has never boarded away from home for any length of time what coming home means. Off and on, in this blog I have written about boarding school--mostly my memories are pleasant. I recall one or two friends' names. I recall good times with school activities--participating in sports, drama productions, as well as classroom work. But what I most remember is how Christmas festivities in the city of Bulawayo helped set the mood for Christmas. I particularly recall the carol singing that was held in a municipal stadium--all of which helped me amass a vast repertoire of Christmas carols. One of my favorites was "Good King Wenceslas" with men and women singing alternate verses--men taking the parts of the king, and women the parts of the page. Oh, my--memories flood back. But, I digress somewhat.
When Christmas holiday and summer vacation began, all boarders returned to their homes for a 6 week vacation. That time was filled with many little bits of activity that still resonate in my mind. I previously wrote about the Christmas picnic adventure--of course, Christmas in the summer means picnic.
Caroling was not confined to the Bulawayo municipal carol sing. Many missionaries were quite good singers, and of course we sang in four part harmony (still my favorite way to sing...). I do recall getting up early in the morning, on Christmas Day, and going out caroling singing "Christians Awake! Salute the Happy Morn). As a young adolescent, I found it highly amusing to be serenading with a Christmas hymn early on Christmas morning.
Christmas also meant that missionaries from nearby missions would gather at one of the missions. The emphasis was not so much on exchanging gifts as enjoying time together. However, there was one year when some missionary (I don't know who, but it sounds as though my mother--who could be mischievous--had a hand in it) decided to give everyone a gag gift. Now, I acknowledge you would need to know the missionaries in question to appreciate the humor. But here are some of the gifts given. One was a small planter with a bean plant sprouting in it, along with ceramic PIG salt and pepper shakers. The missionary receiving this had frequently lamented the blasted pigs who always got into the garden and consumed the beans, or at least broke the budding plants. Another gift was a straw man--a shirt stuffed with straw, and trousers likewise, with a cloth head and a placard that read "a good man." That was given to an unmarried missionary woman who kept hoping--and expressing that hope--for a husband. At least that's what my childhood memories say we did.
This time of year does prompt us all to reflect and revel in memories. If those memories--and certainly my hope for you is that they are--then we return to them again and again. I am reminded of that fact when I realize how many times I have written about Christmas here, even repeating some of the same stories. But that's what we do, isn't it? We recall and share.
*Oh, my little opening comment about no snowy Victorian memories--I have a theory that many of "our" Christmas memories are shaped by "A Christmas Carol" or by Currier and Ives prints. We see gaily decorated Christmas trees, complete with "candles" which Prince Albert from Germany helped popularize in England. And we talk about a white Christmas. When it snows, it immediately kicks us in celebratory gear. But these associations do NOT happen when it's Christmas and it's summertime.
Merry Christmas to all--whether near or far, whether north, south, east or west.