Building resilience – Santa style
500 Words: Cringe
In the corner stood the aluminum Christmas tree, silver foil needles looking both menacing and mesmerising.
Colourful electric lights were strung through the metal branches, no heed paid to the possibility of an electrical short circuit and a family tragedy.
We all gathered there every Christmas Eve, at my aunt’s semi in an inner suburb of Sydney.
My aunt’s children were much older than us and had families of their own, so her tiny house was full of adults and kids, girlfriends and boyfriends, extended family and a friend or two.
We were a cosmopolitan bunch and the trestle tables and bench tops covered with food reflected our varied ethnicities. Maltese, Italian, English, Greek and Australian dishes were paraded and shared by all with great enthusiasm.
The space age tree, laden with glittery baubles and tinsel, took pride of place in the lounge room. Around its base, exquisitely wrapped parcels and decorated boxes were piled high, Christmas presents for my aunt’s side of the family.
Later in the evening, before we all started on dessert, Santa Claus arrived. Heralded by the tinkling of bells and much cheering and shouting from the adults, one of my older cousins would stuff a pillow into the waist band of his trousers, don a jolly red suit complete with white beard and black boots, and become the centre of attention.
My brother, sister and I, together with our 6 cousins, were required to sit and watch as Santa handed out presents to everyone else, except us, over the course of an hour or more.
I cringe now as I remember how hard it was to sit quietly and watch everyone else getting presents. We weren’t allowed to leave the room and the house was so small that there wasn’t anywhere else to go, so we sat with our parents watching Santa call name after name and hand over gift after gift.
This gift giving was my aunt’s family’s actual Christmas Day – celebrated on Christmas Eve – but as a child I couldn’t get my head around that – and I kept wishing we might get a present, too.
A couple of of years ago at a family reunion I spoke to my cousin who, with his siblings, had to endure this Christmas gift giving with me. I told him how much I had hated it and how I cringed now remembering it. I told him I felt it was cruel to do that to young kids.
He matter-of-factly told me it helped to make us strong and resilient. He didn’t think much of it all these years later. It was what it was.
I came away wondering if I was a total wimp and whether I had got it wrong all those years ago.
In this age of helicopter parenting and participation awards, I now realise that those many Christmas Eve encounters, which I found so cringe-worthy and almost unbearable, did help to make me a stronger person, just like my cousin had said.
Whether I would want to go through that type of resilience building experience again with my own children…well, that’s another matter.