Christmas Then and Now

There will be both a parallel and a difference between the Christmas I will experience in 2020 compared to the Christmas I experienced 71 years ago, back in 1949.

The parallel exists in several ways: I was in a Commonwealth country, as I am now; I lived in a private apartment, again as I do now; and I could choose to celebrate with my neighbours or enjoy the day quietly on my own. I was also very well fed, just as this year I know Iwill be fed a sumptuous Christmas Dinner.

The differences are in the outdoor temperature,how I will feel,and what I will be doing this Christmas, compared withthe temperature,how I felt, and what I did at Christmas in 1949.

This year I will remain in my apartment, because the Seniors Residence where I live is in total lockdown and meals will be brought to me.  Rather than spending Christmas Day with family in Gimli, and Boxing Day with my daughter near Birdshill Park, as I have done in recent years, this year I have paid attention to the COVID-19 warnings and have chosen to remain in my apartment in Shaftesbury Park.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I will exchange greetings with family by email, telephoneand, I hope (providing the communication systemsare not so busy I can’t get online), by Skype or FaceTime, which let me see and hear them, but it will be as close as I will get to being with them.

RAAF Base Amberley

In 1949 I was at Air Force base Amberley, 20 miles west of Brisbane in eastern Australia, where the sun shone relentlessly all day and the temperature hovered above 30°C.  In the southern hemisphere, Christmas occurs in mid-summer, which means the weather in Australia is like July in Canada, although even warmer. So military bases would virtually close down from December 22nd to January 3rd, which in a sense has become an unwritten national holiday.

We could exchange letters with families, but then it took 3 to 4 weeks for a letter to travel just one way between Australia and Canada. Telephoning was out of the question: it was far too expensiveand to find a telephone booth was next to impossible. So I re-read letters I had received over the previous two weeks.

Because there were ten bomber crews from the UK on assignment to Amberley from October to April, the cooks in the Sergeants’ Mess announced they would cook us a traditional Christmas Dinner, but would do so at lunchtime so they could go home to their families for an evening dinner.

In the morning I joined several other crew members on the lawn, clad only in swim trunks, and lay on a towel in the sun, totally unaware of the danger offered by unprotected rays. Then at noon we returned to our individual quarters and donned long pants and dress shirts for the upcoming celebration.

Can you imagine what it was like to be sitting at tables in an un-air-conditioned dining room at 30+ degrees? I happily ploughed my way through a mound of turkey and stuffing, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and thick creamy gravy, accompanied of course by a schooner or two of Australian beer. (I should explain that, because it is mid-summer, families in Australia and New Zealand are more likely to have cold ham and tongue, a green salad, and a potato salad on Christmas Day, plus an iced Christmas cake or ice cream. )

But I demurred when it came to a steaming fruit-filled English-style Christmas pudding and hot custard. “Could I take a dish back to my room to have later?” I asked.

“If you wish,” came the reply. “But why don’t we leave it out, ready for you to enjoy with your supper?”  Which is exactly what they did.

In the afternoon we retired to our rooms and napped, preparing for an evening in the bar of the Sergeants’ Mess.

The following day (Boxing Day), we were invited by local families to join them on a picnic, and to be sure to bring our swimsuits. They had an air force bus in which they drove about 30 of us to a hilly area where they not only settled down to a picnic but also produced large inflatable inner tires for us to float down a fast-moving creek that traveled for several meters beyond the picnic ground.

What an experience to lie back inside the rubber ring, arms and legs hanging over the sides, and steer oneself down the length of the creek!

I regret I won’t be doing that this year.

Ron Blicq, © 2020

Editor’s note: This is the seventh submission (and Ron’s second) to our Celebration of (Retired) Life series. Thanks again, Ron. We welcome any uplifting, funny, inspiring, or otherwise simply interesting story, profile, or bit of whimsy. To share with our other retirees, simply email your 500- to 1,000-word piece to HG-Editor@RRC.CA.

Categories: All, HG Life

2 replies »

  1. Loved this historical perspective on Christmas Ron. Much different from my memories. Thanks for this, always enjoy reading what you write. Les

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