“In many ways, Christmas 1940 was the first war-time Christmas of World War Two. Celebrating during heavy rationing and restrictions – whilst surviving heavy bombing and coping with the threat of invasion – was a battle in itself” bbc.co.uk
I typically decorate for the Christmas season in the middle of December. It has absolutely nothing at all to do with honoring our veterans, but more to do with my own personal choice to not be pulling tinsel off my socks for more than two weeks. And I will admit that I am no fan of the consumerism of the season beginning the week of Halloween. There is a huge line between personal freedoms and the exploitation of the same to increase the bottom line. But I digress.
On November 10th of this year, the children of my city will be standing on the roadside eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa at the end of a long and colorful parade. There are some that are very upset about this. As the floats begin, and the marching bands tune up we will see these kids as they lean their toes just off the curb edge, dancing, smiling and laughing. I love these moments. I enjoy the parade but I far more enjoy the little ones who are oblivious to the hardships that our veterans and our ancestors endured in a time not that long ago from now. I said it. Oblivious. And I would like to thank our veterans for this. I would like to thank my granddad Clifford for this.
My Grandad was a WW2 veteran and a prisoner of war. And his grandchildren meant the very world to him. Far before November 11th each year, huge packages would arrive in the mail filled with “choccies”. Each child would get a card with the note inside wishing us a “Very Happy Christmas” He loved this time of the year. And with very good reason. Because for him, there were several Christmas seasons that did not offer the opportunity for chocolate but instead nothing more than stale bread which he was lucky to get if the rats didn’t get to it first. The memoirs he wrote are painful at best yet they finish with a wish that all generations of his family to follow enjoy the beauty of the freedom that he fought for.
And so each year until his death, he celebrated the season well before the season began. And he did so to serve as a reminder that there was something to celebrate. And every single Christmas morning the phone would make the telltale ring; one long two short, that would bring his voice over the line, excited to speak to each and every one of us as we lined up in the kitchen waiting our turn and getting tangled in the long curly cord as we handed off to the next. He lived for these conversations. He fought for these conversations. And that’s how we remember him; excited to be sharing a celebration with the family he fought for.
Not once do I recall his phoning through on the telltale ring on November 11th. He chose instead to reflect on this day in his own way. And we chose to reflect on his service in our own way. With the simple act of adorning our jacket with one red flower.
Most veterans are humble humans. They did not go into the line of fire with the expectation of anything less than to provide freedom and peace to the generations that would follow. I can say this with absolute certainty, having spent many years caring for our veterans in the long-term care environment. Each November 11th we would honor them and they would stand so proudly in their best suits, sometimes just a pair of sweat pants, but a little red flower would sit over their heart. And they would often be seen pushing one single tear from their cheek.
They were the first out of bed on tree decorating day just a few days later. Every year. Patiently waiting in the lounge room, those with little physical limitations would jump up to help us bring in the boxes. Those that could not help physically, sat and smiled at the anticipation of twinkling lights and a Santa shaking his hips to “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree”.
They would have been no less exited for this experience had it taken place the week before we stood in solemn silence. Once or twice it did. And there they were. Ready and willing to top the tree with the star. Because for them it wasn’t about what they DID. For them it was about what they accomplished. And if that meant that we could begin to celebrate the beauty of Christmas on November 10th, then they were all set to do so. This is what they fought for. To allow us the freedom to choose for ourselves.
To those who struggle with feeling a disrespect in welcoming Christmas before November 11th, I understand your choice and encourage you to fully embrace it.
To those who wish to herald the celebration of remembrance with a tree sparkling through your front window, I understand your choice and encourage you to fully embrace it.
The veterans fought for freedom to choose. The veterans fought for peace.
And fighting over a Christmas Parade isn’t reflective of their intention at all but disrespectful to what they achieved for us.
My children and grandchildren understand the significance of the poppy. And in quiet respect they will drop their heads for a moment to honor those that fought so hard to give them a life free of the discomforts of war. And whether they do it in front of a tree full of candy canes or in front of a war memorial is insignificant. All that matters is that they remember.
And all that matters is that we all remember.
I have been blessed. I have shared stories with our veterans. I have been kissed on the cheek under the mistletoe more times than I can recall by members of our forces leaning heavily on a cane or reaching up as I bent over a wheelchair. They lived for these moments. They died for these moments. They gave us these moments.
And that twinkle that they talk about Santa having in his eyes?
It’s reflected in the eyes of the men and women who fought to keep it there.
Celebrate as you will. Because the intention of that soldier buried deep into a trench, his head low against the bullets…
Was to give us that very gift.
In love. In light. In remembrance of our freedoms.
Thank a veteran today.