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The Ghosts Of Many Christmases
by [?]

Did you ever trace back your Christmas days?–right back to the days when you were innocent and Santa Claus was real. At times you thought you were very wicked, but you never realize how innocent you were until you’ve grown up and knocked about the world.

Let me think!

Christmas in an English village, with bare hedges and trees, and leaden skies that lie heavy on our souls as we walk, with overcoat and umbrella, sons of English exiles and exiles in England, and think of bright skies and suns overhead, and sweeps of country disappearing into the haze, and blue mountain ranges melting into the azure of distant lower skies, and curves of white and yellow sand beaches, and runs of shelving yellow sandstone sea-walls–and the glorious Pacific! Sydney Harbour at sunrise, and the girls we took to Manly Beach.

Christmas in a London flat. Gloom and slush and soot. It is not the cold that affects us Australians so much, but the horrible gloom. We get heart-sick for the sun.

Christmas at sea–three Christmases, in fact–one going saloon from Sydney to Westralia early in the Golden Nineties with funds; and one, the Christmas after next, coming back steerage with nothing but the clothes we’d slept in. All of which was bad judgment on our part–the order and manner of our going and coming should have been reversed.

Christmas in a hessian tent in “th’ Westren,” with so many old mates from the East that it was just old times over again. We had five pounds of corned beef and a kerosene-tin to boil it in; and while we were talking of old things the skeleton of a kangaroo-dog grabbed the beef out of the boiling water and disappeared into the scrub–which made it seem more like old times than ever.

Christmas going to New Zealand, with experience, by the s.s. Tasmania. We had plum duff, but it was too “soggy” for us to eat. We dropped it overboard, lest it should swamp the boat–and it sank to the ooze. The Tasmania was saved on that occasion, but she foundered next year outside Gisborne. Perhaps the cook had made more duff. There was a letter from a sweetheart of mine amongst her mails when she went down; but that’s got nothing to do with it, though it made some difference in my life.

Christmas on a new telegraph line with a party of lining gangmen in New Zealand. There was no duff nor roast because there was no firewood within twenty miles. The cook used to pile armfuls of flax-sticks under the billies, and set light to them when the last man arrived in camp.

Christmas in Sydney, with a dozen invitations out to dinner. The one we accepted was to a sensible Australian Christmas dinner; a typical one, as it should be, and will be before the Commonwealth is many years old. Everything cold except the vegetables, the hose playing on the veranda and vines outside, the men dressed in sensible pyjama-like suits, and the women and girls fresh and cool and jolly, instead of being hot and cross and looking like boiled carrots, and feeling like boiled rags, and having headaches after dinner, as would have been the case had they broiled over the fire in a hot kitchen all the blazing forenoon to cook a scalding, indigestible dinner, as many Australian women do, and for no other reason than that it was the fashion in England. One of those girls was very pretty and–ah, well!–

Christmas dinner in a greasy Sydney sixpenny restaurant, that opened a few days before with brass band going at full blast at the door by way of advertisement. “Roast-beef, one! Cabbage and potatoes, one! Plum pudding, two!” (That was the first time I dined to music.) The Christmas dinner was a good one, but my appetite was spoilt by the expression of the restaurant keeper, a big man with a heavy jowl, who sat by the door with a cold eye on the sixpences, and didn’t seem to have much confidence in human nature.