Ghosts of Christmases Past: Prompts for Memoirists and Family Historians
How do you feel about Christmas?
For some people, Christmas beings great joy and anticipation. They can’t wait to decorate the tree, string the lights and hit play on the Christmas music.
For others, it stirs up painful memories, perhaps of family conflict, or loss and grief.
And for some, Christmas is just not part of their yearly rhythm, whether that be because they have a different faith tradition or have simply chosen that it is not for them.
Please use whichever of the following prompts are useful to you and ignore the rest.
If celebrating Christmas was/is not part of your family tradition at all, whether that be because of your own family’s faith background or choices you have made, then feel free to think of a different holiday season or special festivities that do hold meaning for you.
And if real Christmases are just a little too difficult to dredge up, then perhaps there is a fictional character whose festive season you can explore instead.
Your own (or a character’s) Christmases past:
1. Describe a particularly memorable Christmas, festive season or festival from your past.
2. Describe a special gift you received one Christmas or festive season.
3. What Christmas songs were popular when you were a teenager?
4. Describe a Christmas (or other special) dinner from your childhood.
5. If past Christmases throw up difficult memories, what new tradition might your start to invite new meaning into this time of year?
6. If Christmas is not part of your faith background, or you have chosen to reject it for some other reason, how do you spend your time as you end this year and transition into the next?
The Christmases of your ancestors:
7. Identify an ancestor who immigrated from one country to another during their lifetime. Imagine their first Christmas in the new country.
- How might they have been feeling?
- Who have they travelled with?
- Who have they left behind?
- What Christmas (or other holiday) traditions might they have brought with them?
- In what ways might be Christmas be different for them this time?
- How might they have felt if Christmas was not part of their faith or cultural background?
Alternatively, if you have ancestors who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, you may wish to consider/research what they would usually have been doing at this time of year, either pre- or post-colonisation. How might their own culture (and the seasons) direct their activities and movement? And what was the impact of the various traditions that arrived with immigrants from elsewhere?
8. Select a year of an Australian ancestor’s life prior to 1954. Head to Trove’s digitised newspapers:
- what is on the front page of the newspapers that Christmas?
- what advertisements are there in the paper that year?
- what movies are showing at the local cinema?
- what else was in the newspaper?
- who was the focus of the news stories, and who is omitted? Whose stories might you find in the gaps and silences?
You may also be able to find details online for the following:
- what Christmas songs were popular at the time?
- what movies were released around Christmas time?
- what were common traditions at the time?
- archival photographs online of Christmas in the town in which they lived
9. Consider a Christmas in which one or more ancestors were away at war:
- Where were they serving? What can you find out about how they spent Christmas Day? Are there clues in their service record (Australian First World War records are available through the National Archives of Australia. You can also look up battalion diaries through the Australian War Memorial website).
- What was the so-called festive season like for those who had been left at home? Again, Trove may offer clues to this, as might online images of a particular city or town.
10. Imagine one of your ancestors found themselves in 2022. What would they think of Christmas now? What conversation might you have about the similarities and differences between their time and ours?