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Gretel Killeen and Christmas

Gretel Killeen and Christmas

As shared with her daughter Epiphany Morgan 

EM: What was Christmas like for you when you were a child?

GK: I remember all the kids were very excited about Christmas when I was little. It was a different time then, not just because the summers seemed hotter, the cicadas louder and the days longer, but the children also weren’t indulged like they are now. Even ‘fizzy drinks and party food’ were saved for very special occasions and, unlike today, NO ONE we knew was ever given a gift just because they wanted it. Daily life was fun but bare boned and gifts or treats were saved for unique occasions like a birthday or Christmas. In between those times, if you really wanted something you simply saved up your pocket money, which at 20 cents a week meant you could pretty much be saving for a lifetime before you could even afford a tennis ball.  At Christmas time we were all allowed to ask Santa for one present in particular, so Christmas Day itself was a time of heightened excitement as we anticipated that gift.

EM: How did you spend Christmas morning with Nana, Papa and your 3 sisters?

GK: Christmas Day for our family actually started on Christmas Eve. We’d gather grass from the front lawn and place it in a little woven basket for Santa’s reindeers, put some cheese and biscuits on a plate for Santa, and leave it all with a can of beer on a coffee table in the living room. We’d then lie awake excitedly waiting to hear Santa and his reindeers arrive, then sleep fitfully until Christmas morning. We’d wake at ‘sparrow’s twit’ then we’d run into the living room to see if our wishes had been granted. 

We always had a synthetic Christmas tree. Under it would be the present Santa had left for each of us, and the presents we were all giving each other. Then beside the tree would be a row of Santa sacks (otherwise known as pillow cases). Mum would organize one of these for each of us and fill them to the brim so we had lots of presents to open. We loved all this, but the truth is that the present in the Santa Sacks were never lavish and usually things we actually just needed… like a tooth brush or a pair of socks. One year I even received a can of beetroot.

EM: Do you remember a favorite present from Santa

GK: Yes, one year I received a cricket bat and I was thrilled to bits. But I really have no idea now why I asked for this because I never actually liked playing cricket. 

EM: Did you want to have a Christmas like that for your children, Zeke and myself?

GK: Christmas for you guys was quite different. You were born into a time when children were really indulged by their parents and given everything they not only asked for but things they’d never even dreamed of. Some kids seemed to be given entire toy stores.

But I was a single mum so I couldn’t afford to indulge you two and I also didn’t agree with the implied sentiment of all of that indulgence. i.e. that Christmas was a time of greed and wastefulness.

And so I bit the bullet and told you two that instead of lavishing you with gifts we would give the money to charity. And that, other than some funny pressies from the $2 shop, is pretty much what we did year after year. On top of that, as we decided not to fall for the commercialism of Christmas, even our Christmas tree became a tennis racket draped in tinsel.

I know it might sound surprising to people who don’t know us but you two actually embraced this alternate attitude to Christmas. I think, that like all of us, you would have liked a present, but you never complained. You didn’t mind being different and I think you were actually rather proud.

EM: What does Christmas mean to you today?

GK: I love Christmas not because of it’s religious perspective, but because it’s a time of coming together to celebrate relationships. I’m not in the least bit interested in the exchange of gifts because I don’t think any of us should think that a gift can in any way symbolise the affection we have for each other. I think Christmas is one of many special days in a year that can remind us to give to those in need, to say thankyou and to take a moment to enjoy the celebration of life, no matter what our race, creed or religion.


Epiphany Morgan makes documentaries to influence social change by exploring  previously unchartered human stories.

Epiphany Morgan -
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Gretel Killeen -  
Twitter - @gretelkilleen

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