I’ve had some great replies to my post ‘What makes your Christmas special?‘
With the writer’s permission I am posting one here and will add others when I hear back from their authors.
A wonderful story from Cynthia Cunningham Shigo
An African Christmas Memory
That first Christmas in Togo I recall—
A potted palm served as our Christmas tree,
The presents piled beneath it seemed so small—
We’d had no box of gifts from family.
We rose before the dawn on Christmas Eve
To drive all day on dusty red clay roads;
I told my father I could not believe
In Christmas wonder when there was no snow.
“The road to Bethlehem was much the same
As this,” he said,” so long and hot and dry.”
Just then ahead three men on camels came
Over the farthest eastern hill, and I,
Exclaimed, “Look, it’s the wise men from afar!”
My mother laughed and looked up for the Star.
What makes your Christmas special?
Here are some Christmas stories. Have you got your own to add?
In Letters from Manchuria Marion Young writes of a Christmas birth:
Faku, 25th December 1936
Christmas morning – grey, dank at 10 to 5 – I shot up in bed, wakened, I was sure by running feet outside my window … Nothing more happened and I was just dozing off when I heard Fish [the cook] dash in through the back door and down to Mamie’s room. I was out before he had her door opened and heard him say, “Gow’s wife is in the well.” [Gow was the compound caretaker.] I nabbed my flash light and rope, which I had brought for skipping, and Fish disappeared. I had bought about 30ft of rope in a hank – couldn’t get less, and thought it would come in useful for roping my boxes later – thank goodness! There wasn’t as much anywhere about the 2 compounds.
Mamie and I pulled on knickers and Chinese gowns over our nightdresses and fled across to the other compound. The rest is a muddled picture of nightmare and comic effects. She had fallen into a well – must be over 100ft deep – 40 before you reach water, and they had thrown down the bucket to her. We heard her groaning and moaning – the mother-in-law, husband and Fish were shouting encouragements to her – I suddenly realised someone would have to go down to her – the husband was too big for the well mouth – sick feeling in my middle as I decided it must be me – but it wasn’t!
Thanks be – Fish was busy getting off his gown, tying a board to the rope end, sat on it, twisted it round his shoulders, between his legs, around his waist and then we started to let him down – flash failed, candle brought, went out – Mamie and I trying to hold the girl up on well rope – Fish shouted he had her and then we started to haul – what a haul! Ivy was there by that time and she, Mamie and I hauled the well rope; two men hauled Fish’s rope – wet rope, hands blistering – God’s will, make the old rope hold! – what a weight, ice slipping under our feet –hey Ivy keep back – you’ll be in on top of them! they’re up – Hey! Stop hauling! One man at the end of Fish’s rope trying to haul both through the wee hole at once – Fish shoves her up – then is nearly drowned himself when some fool empties the whole bucket full of water on top of his face. Girl into the house – back to ours in the darkness for blankets and hot bottles, knocking up the hospital for the nurses and the drawing breaths of relief sitting round a stove in one of our bedrooms trying to sort out what happened.
She – Gow’s wife – is only a youngster – 18, and got very sick in the middle of the night – the mother-in-law, a decent old soul really, got sick of her groans and moans and told Gow to hit her – he didn’t, but said he’d go over to the hospital for medicine – he started out and the mother-in-law said something crossly and the girl, hysterical between pain and bad temper, screamed she was going to kill herself, lifted up her son under her arm and made for the well – fortunately she dropped the kid at the well mouth and jumped in herself. It is quite a small hole, a round lid on the top – Gow had just got his big compound gate open, heard the yells and came racing back – she had decided she preferred to live – Gow dropped the bucket down and got her hauled up a bit, but she dropped back – the mother-in-law held the wheel so that the rope was long enough just to keep her out of the water and Gow ran for help. It must have taken him several minutes to get anyone knocked up to open our compound gates, several more to run a 4 minute walk across our compound and get Fish knocked up – think what water 40 feet down on Christmas day here must feel like! The girl must have been 15 minutes in the water in all – and she’s alive and well.
I don’t know how the ropes held – mine was only a fairly thick skipping rope, and the well rope has been three years in and out of water and lying in the sun. I won’t forget the honour of having them almost up and wondering what under the sun we could get if either rope went and they fell in again. The comic moments – I said there were some, were provided by the mother-in-law – the moment Mamie and I appeared, “The chiaoshihs are here, what are you making that noise about?” went down the well to encourage her. Then, on a fresh outburst of howls, “What! Still shouting! Look at all the trouble you’ve made, getting the chiaoshihs out of their beds on a cold winter morning.” Fish tackling the job of getting himself ready for going down as if he were used to doing it once a week at least – hat and gown off, another small bit of rope tied into mine – that was another of my horrors, I’d seen the knot tied and I couldn’t remember whether it was near his end of the rope or ours – fortunately, we got past it in the first few feet of pulling. Then when he hauled out of the well and the cold air hit him, capering like a mountain goat and asking for his own home shouting, “Ooo! Cold! Cold!” with thirty feet of rope trailing behind him. And the final reaction as I saw Gow passing my window an hour later with the water for breakfast – thank goodness it wasn’t our well she went into!
In a second Christmas Day letter addressed only to her mother, Marion added:
Thought there was no use adding the details in a letter for general family consumption – but the ‘illness’ the young wife was suffering from was a baby! Mamie had been telling me about 2 months ago that with the birth of the girl’s first child they had a terrific time – two days labour up here and then 30 hours by cart to Tiehling where Dr Brown saved both of them by some miracle. She suffered appallingly and the thought of going through it again must have been driving her crazy …
After we had hauled her out of the well and had left her in the hands of the nurses from the hospital, I again said, “Well, if the baby lives after that, it will be a wonder!” But during breakfast the cook said, “Did you know a daughter was born to Gow’s wife half an hour after you got her out of the well?” We heard afterwards the girl hadn’t even warmed up before the child was born – just over 8 months old. New way of having twilight sleep – freeze the patient stiff! Both mother and baby in excellent health thank you!!
Perhaps a less extraordinary Christmas Day, 43 years earlier in China, is described by Constance Douthwaite in Letters from Chefoo:
Chefoo, Sunday December 31, 1893
My dearest Papa,
I think you would be interested in hearing about our Christmas day, so I will give you a little account. We all met at the [Chefoo] Girls’ School for dinner, about 45 in number and over 20 of them children. After a grand Christmas dinner it was quite a sight to see how the little folk thoroughly enjoyed the rare treat of almonds and raisins, dates, toffee, oranges, chocolate, etc. I returned home and, wrapping our little maid well up (it was a bitter day, snowing hard and fast) her father carried her over to the school, and to please the children we all had games together till it grew dusk about four o’clock. Amah held baby on her knee and both quite enjoyed the fun. Then Arthur and I retired and I dressed him up as Father Christmas, in a long scarlet dressing gown, trimmed with white wadding, and his head covered with a great white wig and flowing beard and surmounted by a crown of mistletoe. He stuck some wadding eyebrows on and was so transformed I should not have known him.
Meanwhile they had lit up the splendid big tree which was loaded with presents and the children were all sitting, wild with excitement, waiting for Father Christmas to appear and strip the tree. Pearl sat on my knee and was so excited and delighted with all the “pitty sings” and the “lickle boys and girls” she quite forgot to be shy and frightened. I think everyone got at least half a dozen presents each and all; I had two aprons, a capital match holder, an antimacassar, one of Anna Shipton’s works, a silk tie and numbers of cards. Pearl had a little fluffy dog on wheels which barks when pinched, three dolls, two chocolate boxes, two bibs, a harmonicon, a box of bricks and bags of sweets. She trotted quite bravely up the long room when her name ‘Pearl’ was called, and returned with beaming face, hugging her presents in her arms to shew them to Mother.
Christmas at sea, described in Strangers in Chaotung by Winifred and Frank Tovey
Christmas Day, 1947, on board TSS Empire Brent:
It is a Christmas Day such as one never dreams of seeing at home. The sun is shining brilliantly and the sea is quite smooth and calm, and such a deep blue. Winnie and I are sitting out in the sun in summer attire and trying to imagine what you are all doing at home. Early this afternoon we passed Malta … At 6a.m. some brave people arose and went round singing carols. At 7 o’clock we went to a Communion Service, then we had breakfast – just an ordinary breakfast as served aboard, but a wonderful one – grapefruit, cornflakes, fish if wanted, fried egg and bacon, hot cakes and syrup to follow if tummy permitted, scones and toast and marmalade. It isn’t fair on you for us to enlarge upon the wonderful meals we are having. [Food was still rationed in England.]
After dinner, we plan to have a special little party of our own when we are going to cut the wedding cake and play party games. Last night, the ‘carol party’ sang carols on deck and the crew gave a concert. At dinner, all the children (there are 200 on board) came around and sang carols as we ate.
A White Christmas:
In Cor Blimey! Where ‘ave you come from? Winifred Tovey describes the cold winter of 1961 when the family were on furlough in Ockbrook, Derbyshire, England.
The children only knew life in Mysore, South India, where Christmas was warm and usually dry.
Snow fell that winter, causing great excitement because it was the first time that the children had seen snow. They dashed out into the back yard with their mouths open to catch the snowflakes. As usual they forgot to close the back door and Mother called out, “Close that door, anyone would think you were born in a barn!”
Keeping with the India theme, Natalie Wheatley in her book Tobacco Wife writes about Christmas 1967 in Guntur, S India.
Natalie and family were staying with the Pritchards …
We met up with Kamala, our borrowed ayah, in Guntur and the children soon took to her. Getting them to bed was not so easy.
“How is Father Christmas going to bring our stockings?” Susina was genuinely worried and Simon soon picked up that he might be missing out.
“I want Pa Kissmass! Pa Kissmass!” he jumped up and down on the springy bed, almost falling onto the polished terrazzo floor.
Looking quickly round the room, I said, “Air conditioner.”
“Con-dish-ner?” they chorused, “Where’s that?”
“Up in the wall, see,” and I pointed to the square box blowing out cool air and a soft hushy noise. “Father Christmas will come through that.”