Our family has never just been about our family. Our Dad has this incredibly big heart and Mum has this incredibly big capacity to care for whoever his heart brings through the door. And Christmas is no different. We have always had ‘extra’s join us on Christmas Day. Dad would not stand for someone to be alone, on this day so special to our family. One of our traditions (or event planning skills) is asking Dad if there will be any ‘extras’ this year.
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I’m slightly mad about Christmas and it’s all Mum’s fault. As long as I can remember Mum’s decorations extended far beyond a Christmas tree and started in late November. The official epic build-up season would begin with someone taking the first Mintie off the family advent calendar.
There would be streamers hanging from the ceilings, boughs of pine decking the windows, wreaths on the doors, garlands on the banisters and treats ready for the unsuspecting visitor – baskets of selections of nuts, home made mini Christmas trees with after dinner mints as leaves, popcorn balls. And candles. Everywhere. And Christmas carols playing. All night. Shortbread and Irish or toffee rum coffee were always in strong supply. Baked treats would be wrapped in cellophane and ribbons for friends and neighbours.
But our favourite family tradition was making very large gingerbread cookies – one per cookie sheet. Mum would pump them out of the kitchen just as quickly as we could decorate them from the bowls of multi-coloured icing, lollies and cake decorations laid out before us. When we started having our own kids we realised Mum had set the gingerbread bar so high we began to encourage this tradition to take place at ‘Nanny’s house.’
Christmas Eve was pure magic. Everything was prepped and ready to go for the morning. Gifts were secretly wrapped and burrowed away in bedrooms. The last of the ‘extras’ would make it to the head count and Mum would adjust the tables and menu accordingly. Christmas stories were read and if you were old enough, the Baileys night cap would send you off to bed.
Except for Mum. Once we were all asleep, she would sneak into our rooms and place our ‘stocking’ on the end of the bed. The ‘stocking’ was really a pillowcase filled with small things like pencils, erasers, packs of cards, chewing gum, chocolate, socks, hair ties, and a new addition to whatever collection we were working on at the time. And a small note. “Merry Christmas, darling. All our love always, Mum and Dad xx”
No matter what was under the tree, it was this delicious feeling of waking up, seeing that stuffed pillowcase and diving into it in private that was most treasured. To be personally loved on, in detail, knowing Mum had been collecting these items throughout the year.
We’d get dressed up in our Christmas best and emerge ready to share a pancake breakfast together as a family. Then our ‘extras’ would begin to arrive. The table would be decorated to theme (more candles) with the feast laid out before us and carols belting out good tidings of great joy in the background. Gifts were placed under the tree, including for the ‘extra’s too. Then the coveted role of ‘gift hander-outer’ would be appointed and we’d open our gifts.
It’s no different now. Christmas is still a time of year when Mum’s Irish-ness and Dad’s Māori-ness come together and unite in their full splendour. Manaakitanga – enhancing the mana of others. Irish hospitality and a leaning into and delight in things magical and wonder-filled.
Christmas, for us, is not about lavish gifts. It’s about being lavishly loved and pulling others to join in the madness. That’s the Christmas story too – that little baby pulling us into the madness of lavish love.
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