Childhood memories of Christmas. Part 1.

The trouble is that both my parents have died, so I can’t ask them, and my elder brother doesn’t remember.  Well, it is the sort of thing girls remember, not boys.

At Christmas time expatriate mothers would get together, presumably with the help of their husbands and have a big Christmas “do” for the local orphans.  It usually took place in the school.

I don’t think the children had to be specifically orphans.  In fact I know they didn’t because the children of our staff used to go and we’d all sit on the floor giggling and being told to be quiet, clapping when the Christmas tree was lit and doing our best to keep our hands off the biscuits and the squash which were provided for the poor.

All the children, black or white, were given a present.  I assume the mothers sorted this out. I remember my mother leaning down to me and my siblings and explaining that our present would be “just a little something so that you have a gift to open” and that the proper presents were for the other children.

Even very young we understood this.  Both our parents, but I think especially my mother, were keen to instil in to us the importance of recognizing the difference between us, the “Haves” and them, the “Have Nots”.  We were not taught to pity them but to be grateful for what we had and to appreciate it.  Our mother also taught us to thank Jesus for it, though my father always kept notably silent about that aspect of things.

It has to be said though that we had virtually nothing in the way of sweets or ice cream ourselves – at least that was the case, most definitely, when we lived in Nigeria, and was more-or-less the case all over Africa and the South Pacific.  So biscuits and squash were quite exciting for us.  Some jelly was provided one year, though I have no memory of other treats.

And there was very little to buy in the way of gifts anyway.  Most of these children needed practical things like clothes and shoes, but the aim of the event was for them to have a special time, and the mothers would somehow manage to renovate and re-clothe old dolls and re-paint dinky cars … all the things we had got tired of playing with. Few toys were bought – there just weren’t any to buy.

One year my father made our toys.  We were living by a leper colony (my father was a doctor of tropical disease) and the nearest European shops were almost a full day’s drive.  I think that must have been in the Cameroon.  I just cannot picture the house.  I can remember the toys however – my older brother got a tractor, bashed together out of bits of wood and empty cotton reels – the latter being wooden in those days.  I don’t recall what my sisters were given, but I had a dolls’ house, ingeniously made out of a packing crate and with a roof that folded down over the front so that it could be used as a packing crate again.  And indeed it was, for many years, and it followed me all over the world until relatively recently when it disappeared on one of our numerous house moves.

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Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites.  Her sketches are on her web site .  Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores.

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Posted on 19/12/2012 by Catherine
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