A good question: What were your childhood Christmases like?
One question, four answers
‘We would all wear our new clothes for the whole week’
Advent still brings those childhood memories that I cherish so much, because they defined my growing up in a rural area of Chief Mataruse in Mberengwa district, Zimbabwe. I lost my mother while I was still young but still have fond memories of her, particularly preparing us as family for Christmas celebration. She would invite our extended families from my mother’s side and from my father’s as well.
The weeks leading up to Christmas, my mother would go to the local grocery store and place an order for a dozen loaves of bread, one kilogram of red jam, 500g butter and two crates of assorted soft drinks. These would be collected from the local store on Christmas Eve. I always looked forward to Christmas because this is the time we would get new clothes, new shoes and new life with friends and family. My father continued with the legacy and that became a way of life for us during Christmas time, year after year.
What I enjoyed leading up to Christmas was the nativity play we put on as Sunday school children on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning we would all go to a church that was worshipping in a classroom at the local primary school called Mbirashava. (see page 34.) We would all wear our new clothes, putting on all that was new on Christmas Day for church and wearing them for the whole week after Christmas…
Naison Hove is Minister of Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Worthing; St Andrew’s URC, Rustington; and Littlehampton United Church
‘To get a good seat, people came very early’
I am from Mizoram in northeast India and I spent all my childhood there. The most exciting thing about Christmas for the Mizo is the church service on Christmas Day. Children and adults put on their best clothes and most people have new clothes and new shoes for Christmas. It is a busy time for dressmakers so that everyone can wear their new clothes on the day. As a child, I remember going to church proudly on Christmas Day always with a new set of clothes and often wearing my new tights and carrying a bag Father Christmas gave me on Christmas Eve.
We placed a big plate near our beds on Christmas Eve in the hope that Father Christmas would come. And he always did! I often woke up many times in the night and checked if he had already been. The gifts would never be anything expensive, but might include toys, balloons, coins, sweets and chocolates.
During my childhood, we did not give presents to friends and family. But lots of people donated money, food, and other things to the NGOs, to hospitals and the destitute homes. This continues to this day.
Mission Veng Church, my local church, usually started its service at 11am on Christmas Day and was always packed. Each year, the youth would set out in advance extra chairs outside and in the church hall to accommodate around 2,500 people. To get a good seat, people came very early. Before the service started, the congregation sang hymns to celebrate the birth of Jesus…
Rebecca Lalbiaksangi is Mission Enabler in Mid-Wales and Border Presbytery for the Presbyterian Church of Wales
‘We celebrated the birth of Jesus with magnificent harmonies’
One of the highlights that I cannot forget about Christmas in Korea was the ‘Christmas Cantata’ from Handel’s Messiah that the joint choirs of our home church sang as a finale at the Christmas Eve service. There were around 200 people in the choirs, including both children and adults, and it was so great to celebrate the birth of Jesus with such magnificent and wonderful harmonies as well as being part of those voices at that young age.
I was so busy at church with many exciting events throughout the Christmas season. Our youth church had a student committee with support from a pastor and teachers, and I was always on that student committee. Throughout the Christmas season we prepared the decorations with a Christmas tree and candles, and our youth choir sang carols and participated in the nativity service. Our church was also involved with lots of charity works. On one Christmas, our church offered to arrange Christmas lights on the big tree in front of our local police station. Our youth committee, including myself, worked hard, climbing up the tree and putting on lots of lights, which took around five or six hours, but I was so happy doing it.
At another Christmas, we went out to offer hot drinks with a little snack and a Christmas card for those who needed to work on that night. We met several policemen and other people passing by. It was nice to see such a big smile on their faces. Then we visited some of our teachers’ houses for carol singing. It was exciting to greet them on that special occasion and to eat some special snacks they had prepared for us…
Barnabas Shin is Minister of Billericay, Brentwood and Ingatestone United Reformed Churches
JOHN AND ANNE SAMSON
‘Singing “Frosty the Snowman” in 30C heat’
Christmas in Britain has many similarities to the ones we grew up with in South Africa, except we did it all in 30C heat and under blue skies. The imported European traditions ran deep within the white population. Eating hot Christmas pudding and singing ‘Frosty the Snowman’ along with ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ did not seem odd, despite the total contrast to the weather. We were, however, saved from hearing Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ as that was not a hit there but one year we did see a cover of The Smiths’ ‘Shoplifters of The World Unite’ included on a local Christmas compilation CD.
Christmas Eve often involved listening to the service from King’s College, Cambridge, initially on radio and later on television, technology which was only introduced in 1975. Christmas Day would begin with an early church service at 8:30 (sunrise being around 6). Living in a manse, John’s family were never sure whether to answer the early morning phone calls by saying ‘Happy Christmas’ or ‘half past eight’ as they were either family bringing Christmas greetings or people wanting to know what time the service started…
John Samson is the United Reformed Church’s Chief Finance Officer. Anne is a historian and publisher
This is an extract from an article published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of Reform