In this month’s post, I share how my childhood Christmas story was and continues to be shaped by intergenerational trauma.
On Christmas Eve 1963, Alexander and May were coming home from a party with friends when the car they were travelling in crashed. Soon after the accident, they succumbed to their injuries.
The pair had not long arrived in Whyalla after landing at the docks in Brisbane after the long sea voyage from the United Kingdom. A journey shared by many families as “Ten Pound Poms” descended on Australia. After their initial landing, they relocated to Melbourne before heading to the Steel City in search of work.
They had made friends with other local Scots, and Alexander had helped establish the Whyalla Pipe Band, taking up the role of Drum Major. The pair, with thick Scottish accents, had gravitated to the comfort of familiarity found in music and shared experience.
After their death, their children initially stayed with neighbours. Then began an unwelcome relationship with the mid-century welfare system of the south. Without resources like social media, connection to family back home was severed. Their children never saw their family again.
“Your mum is here”, said my husband as I stepped out of the shower one Sunday morning. This wasn’t unusual as we lived next door to my mum. His voice didn’t give away any reason for concern.
When I dressed and came out to greet her, I saw mum was pale and shaken. “What’s happened?” I said, worried there had been bad news about my siblings, who were both away travelling. She couldn’t speak initially, so I hugged her instead.
Once she had found her words, I realised why I had barely recognised the usually stoic woman in front of me that morning. It was because I had been looking at a thirteen-year-old child.
Earlier that day, police officers had appeared at her door looking sombre. After confirming her name, they came in to tell her they were sorry to inform her that her sister had died. Somewhat relieved, she said she didn’t have a sister and told them they must have the wrong person. Apologising profusely, they left, not realising they had triggered flashbacks to an occasion some 50 years earlier.
Because it had been a similar scene in Whyalla when my mother was barely a teenager, and the police arrived on Christmas Eve to say her parents had died.
The Christmas Eve of my childhood was not especially cheerful. Our traditions included watching my mum consume Phil Collins ballads and cheap red wine as grief crashed over her in waves.
However, by Christmas morning, presents had arrived from Father Christmas, and preparations had begun for Christmas lunch. Because, like many, my single mother had to get on with it.
And so, this is how I came to appreciate that Christmas is not always the Hallmark experience it’s made out to be in our consumer culture.
Many people find this season heightens tensions within their family of origin, grief over people lost, and money not forthcoming.
Therefore, I invite you to practice self-compassion and go easy on those around you this season.
“Oh, praise the Baby Jesus, have a Merry Christmas
I’m really gonna miss it, all the treasure and the trash
And later in the evening, I can just imagine
You’ll put on Junior Murvin and push the tables back.”
How to Make Gravy – Paul Kelly
If this post caused you distress – Lifeline’s 13 11 14 crisis support service is available 24/7. Anyone in Australia can speak to a trained Crisis Supporter over the phone, any time of the day or night.