In December, 1948 my grandmother came to Brisbane, Australia from Minneapolis (US), where my mother was born, to visit our family just before daughter #5 (child #6) arrived. She helped out for several weeks before returning to the States as Christmas approached, writing this story about that trip home. My aged copy is type-written and covered with Grandma’s pencilled edits.
Three Christmases in One Year
“It was on the outskirts of Brisbane the first of my three Christmases in one year began. Here, in sub-tropical Queensland, it can be uncomfortably warm in December. Few homes have screened doors or windows, and at night the air is heavy under the canopy of mosquito netting. By Dec. 10, the schools and churches Christmas programs are over, for the exodus to the beach soon takes place.
Here and there, outside on school grounds or in churches are set up Christmas trees. Not graceful, well-proportioned balsam or spruce, but sparse eucalyptus trees, they are decorated with home-made decorations or small gifts. The bareness and gauntness seem accentuated to one accustomed to the lights and elaborateness of well-proportioned United States trees at Christmas. But happy children make merry, exchange gifts and sing carols, mostly of the English variety. Mothers at home make plans for Christmas dinners which always include roast beef and plum pudding, the meal sometimes served cold as a concession to the weather.
On Dec. 20 I left Australia and took the plane for Honolulu where I ran into Christmas preparations in full force again. Here there is a blending of races and all apparently love Christmas. In the suburb where I visited, they had decided to have the most elaborate community Christmas ever that Christmas Eve, and everybody had made donations to the fund. A large, well-proportioned deciduous tree was decorated with hundreds of lights, tinsel, and colored balls in true American profusion. People came from miles around and began singing carols while waiting for the dramatic event of the evening.
On a big automobile a sleigh had been constructed in float style, and, driving four reindeer (reasonable facsimiles thereof!) was Santa Claus, ‘dressed all in make-believe fur from his head to his foot’. Mrs. Santa distributed gifts and candy to the children. There were no speeches, just neighbourly fellowship and the singing of carols. Occasionally a coconut would plop down from the palms on the grounds, but no one was hurt.
The next day was Christmas Day and I ate a real Christmas dinner (the first one), turkey with fixin’s before boarding the plane for the States. There were few passengers. Toward evening as we glided eastward, we were served the airlines’ elaborate dinner. This was Dinner #2.
We landed next morning at Los Angeles Airport. Here everyone was taking advantage of the double holiday and were loath for Christmas to end. Exotic costly decorations, heavy with gold and silver foil, were still up. Crowds gathered in front of downtown Christmas windows with their imaginative and elaborate tableaux from the celebrations of other nations, loud speakers still playing carols. Another Christmas dinner, #3, awaited me: goose with proper accompaniments was on the menu.
So, under three different skies in one year I had celebrated three Christmases. One carol was easily the most popular in all three places. No, it was not Silent Night which we in the States vote as the most beloved of all. The one most often demanded in Australia I played with my fingers sticking to the piano keys. In Honolulu, the dropping of a coconut sometimes accentuated the same melody. In Los Angeles, the children and grown-ups sang it keeping time by tapping on their water glasses. It was Jingle Bells!
The majority of children in these three countries had never seen a real sleigh or ‘dashed through snow’. Although no verse has any mention of Christmas, we list Jingle Bells among our Christmas carols. Its simplicity, lilt, and joyousness appeals to children and makes them think of present or future joys. Perhaps it is one song that draws together, during one season of the year – in tropical, temperate, or Arctic zones – the world’s children.”
By Alice Jackson Wheaton