Christmas eve is always good fun in Australia. The parents play Santa and normally have to stay up late to put the presents out for the kids. We kids take advantage of that and want to stay up late as well. We all knew that we had to be asleep by 11.30 as Santa always came at 12 midnight. The funny thing was we were never asleep. Just pretending.

At midnight we would see mum, or dad, drop our pillowcases next to our beds and quietly walk out the room reminding us to “not get out of bed and open your presents until the sun comes up.” They would close the door and we would lay there looking at our pillowcases stuffed with wrapped presents. We did not have stockings. In Australia, my family would use pillowcases. These pillowcases would last 4 to 5 years and be kept in a cupboard to be used just one night each year.

Laying in bed just looking. Wondering what was in the pillowcase. My older brother was always first. He would get down from the top bunk and grab the present on top of his case. Jump back up on his bed and you would hear the paper rip as he opened his first present for that year. I remember one year his first comment. “Great mum, you put my underwear on top.” We would get new underwear every year for Christmas. In our pillowcase would also be pens, pencils, school shoes and many other things required for the next year of school.

I remember my first words, after opening my first present another year. “Marching Mickey” I always wanted a marching Mickey Mouse and it was my favorite present when I was around 6 years old.

The pillowcase also had small toys and lots of lollies as well. A good mix of things we needed and things we could have fun with.

We would grab one present every 20 minutes or so as we knew if mum and dad heard us the pillowcases would be taken away so as you can imagine we were very quiet and took many hours to empty the bag of fun.

As the first light would dawn on our little east-facing bedroom window we would stop being so quiet and start wandering down to the toilet. Flushing many times as we knew we were able to get out of bed at sunrise.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to go into the lounge room where our big presents were. We had to do that as a family. All 5 kids with mum and dad in tow. Going to the toilet made enough noise to wake mum and dad up. Well, we thought so. I bet they were listening and laughing at us kids giving not-so-subtle hints.

Mum and Dad would come out of their bedroom. All us kids would line up behind them and we would be able to go out to our big presents. The really expensive ones. The ones we had asked for but did know which one we got. I always remember my first remote control car. This was the early 1980’s and I was the first kid on the street to get one. Another year I received that racing bicycle that I had chosen. A bike so good that my friends tried to destroy it so I could not have something so much better than they had. In the end, I destroyed it by going so fast I crashed into a car. I survived but the bike did not.

After we had played with our toys in the morning it would be time to sit down for Christmas lunch. Christmas in Australia happens during summer. We would sit down to Roast beef, Roast pork, Roast chicken, Roast turkey, and roasted vegetables at 45 degrees celsius. It was ridiculous. Boiling hot English-style meal in the middle of an Australian summer.

Thank god we had a pool. We would have to wait 30 minutes until our dinner had settled, and then in the pool to cool down. Later in the afternoon Dad drank a lot of beer and fell asleep. Mum just fell asleep. Us kids had eaten so much that we fell asleep. As the evening set in we finished off the leftovers from Christmas dinner and watched the Christmas shows on TV.

We all got a good night's sleep as the next day was always with our entire family. I picnic somewhere, often in our pool, with 30 to 40 members of our extended family. More running. More jumping and much more playing.

Good memories from childhood so long ago. Today I am estranged from my family and spend my Christmas in other countries. With other cultures and other people I now class as my family.

Christmas is not about Santa or religion for me. It is about family. Whatever form that may be.

Have fun!