It’s Christmas Eve. You’ll spend your day thinking about a visit from Father Christmas, or as you have come to call him in your prematurely wise way of finding compromise, ‘Santa Christmas.’
Tomorrow Cadence and I will share lunch with you, Mummy and Daddy, your Adelaide uncles and, later in the afternoon, other friends and family. We’ll watch as you open your presents, refuse to taste the prawns Cadence will offer you, enjoy ice cream at the end of the meal and devour the after-dinner chocolates. It all sounds rather ordinary, doesn’t it, much like the Christmas I enjoyed sixty years ago, when I was four years old.
There will be differences though. You’ll talk to your Grandpa, Uncle and Aunts in Perth via Skype or Facetime, something I could never have imagined in 1956. The love your family feel for you will beam across Australia and through Daddy or Nannie’s devices. This will show you that families use any means possible to connect with each other, no matter the distance and circumstances.
I think, Velvet, that the Christmas you have when you’re four years old may well be your best Christmas; when you’re three the noise, the bright wrapping paper and so many unexpected gifts can be overwhelming. When you’re a savvy five year old, expectations can be heightened which could lead to the first of many small Christmastime disappointments that gather as the years pass. So, enjoy this special Christmas my darling, but there is something I think you need to know, maybe not this year or even the next, something important about tomorrow and how other little boys and girls across the world might spend their day.
Many children, who are as smart and as kind as you, won’t have a very happy time tomorrow. Some of them, like you, know about Father Christmas but he won’t leave them any presents. Others might find lots of presents under the Christmas tree but their parents will leave their children in a corner and expect them to be quiet and grateful while the grown-ups drink too much wine and end the day screaming at each other and the children, frightening the little ones so much they will grow up to hate Christmas.
There are other little children just like you who don’t know anything about Santa Claus but they do have a Mummy and Daddy and grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins who love them as much as we love you. All families want their children to enjoy a happy, peaceful day tomorrow and everyday, but some of those mummies and daddies will have to use their bodies to shelter their children from bombs and bullets. There will be other children, too many children, who will spend tomorrow hungry and tired and scared. Too many children will spend tomorrow alone because their parents have disappeared and too many children may not see tomorrow’s sunset.
I am grateful, Velvet, that you will not spend your tomorrow worrying about this. I pray your innocence will continue for another year or two more but I am also concerned, as are a lot of adults, about what 2017 may bring. It is sad to think that you may learn too soon how people can do terrible things to each other and you will be perplexed and maybe a little afraid. That’s why tomorrow is so special; your family will show you how important love and compassion is. We will teach you how to be tolerant towards every one you meet, we will help you understand that lots of people in the world think being kind and compassionate to each other is better than being mean and cruel.
There are many people who work hard everyday to change our world. Those people are good at imagining what it feels like to be another person. Here’s a game you can play one day to help you do this: pretend you are walking around in another person’s shoes; pretend you are that person; pretend their fears, their dreams and their memories, are yours. If you can do that you will understand everyone else, and yourself, better.
This, then, is my Christmas wish for you; on that terrible day when you learn other children suffer while you prosper, you won’t ignore their suffering. When you learn other children play with different toys and enjoy different celebrations than you, you won’t laugh at their games or beliefs. When you discover other children wear different clothes and don’t look like you, you won’t judge them and ridicule them, but respect and learn from them, you will play with them and, if they need it, or when they ask for it, you will help them whenever you can.
But that is a wish for your future, dear Velvet. It is not your task, this Christmas Eve, to wonder how the world can become a better place. You can leave that to the grownups. When it is your turn, I know your compassion and resilience, your resourcefulness and your magnificent imagination will help you create a world where all children feel as safe and as cherished as you feel today.
Do you remember your fourth Christmas? What important lessons did you learn around the table at Christmastime?
Finally, my dear readers, wherever you are and whatever you are doing on the 25th December I hope you will be with your loved ones, that you feel safe and cherished, and may peace sit lightly at your shoulder.