Christmas in Mackenzie’s Basin 1867

From ‘Three Cedar Trees’, Book 5 of the Applecross Saga.

Lizzy pulled back the tissue paper to reveal a dozen beautifully carved wooden bobbins for lace making, fashioned in the same style as the ones given to her in Fremantle during their voyage to New Zealand. Each one was slightly different, each one weighted down by three coloured beads strung on a wire loop. 

“Goodness,” she gasped. “Thank you, Samuel, they are just wonderful.”

Carefully taking one of the bobbins from the box, she held it up to the light so that the three red beads glistened as if they were rubies. “How did Samuel have the time to make these?” she thought to herself.

“Oh, Samuel, you are so clever,” said Sophia. “I am sure Lizzy can’t wait to use the lace cushion you have made too. Perhaps we can all expect lace handkerchieves soon?”

“I will need to practice a bit first,” replied Lizzy.

“Come on, Aunty Sophia,” said Caroline. “It must be my turn next.”

Everyone was sitting in a circle in the Combe parlour, taking it in turns to open their Christmas presents. It being an unusually large group of people this year, Combe had been chosen to play host to the Christmas Day celebrations. The day had begun early, at least for the younger children, who had woken to find a stocking hanging at the end of their beds. Sophia, Nancy and Lucy, along with their extra helpers, Amelie and Lizzy, had been hard at work secretly organising an appropriate toy to fit into each stocking. Each child also had a book to read and a handful of precious nuts saved from the autumn harvest. Bertie, John James and young Sam had spent all morning pushing their toy trains around, getting under the feet of the ladies preparing lunch, while Polly, Grace and Lily played outside with their new spinning tops. Even Vicky and Nancy’s youngest, Ezra, both too young to appreciate Christmas yet, had new dolls to play with. Vicky’s a rag doll wearing a pretty blue dress stitched by Lucy, while Ezra’s toy was a soldier wearing a bright red jacket and smart black trousers.

The older children insisted on still having their stockings, although the toy was replaced by a new pair of long socks for the boys and stockings for the girls. It had become a tradition that the older girls received a diary for the following year. Even though they knew exactly what each stocking would contain, they still held on to the childish excitement of dipping into it to see what had been left for them. This year, Freddie and the twins had found a small notebook in their stockings, with a tiny pencil that fitted down the spine.

In all honesty, the presents placed in each stocking were cunningly designed to keep the children occupied for the morning while their mothers worked in the kitchen. Following their traditional pattern, luncheon was eaten outdoors sometime after midday, regardless of the weather. Neither Sophia nor Nancy had ever been able to adjust to Christmas in the summer. Even though it was normally a hot day, they were still inclined to prepare the traditional roast dinner followed by heavy plum puddings, which nobody really wanted to eat in such warm weather. As was usual, a wind had blown up as the feast came to an end, requiring a sudden rush indoors carrying plates and serving dishes into the kitchen before they got blown away.

Nobody minded coming indoors because they all knew that the next stage was opening their presents. Chairs were hastily arranged in a circle and the children given the task of distributing the parcels from under the tree. Of course, the youngsters found it really hard to wait their turn, especially Bertie and John James, who had spent a great deal of time under the tree that morning, feeling each parcel in order to guess its contents. Lizzy had been given the privilege of going first, mainly because the ladies knew exactly what was in the box, Samuel having been encouraged to give them a peek at his handiwork last evening. Caroline came next, followed by her brother and sister, then Samuel. So it went on, round the room, each person carefully unwrapping their parcel, exclaiming the contents to be just what they wanted, even if it wasn’t!

The older folk had not been forgotten either. Betsy Franks had come up trumps with a selection of handkerchieves for James senior, Job Nicol and Atewhai. Sophia had Atewhai’s ready to deliver the next day. The old Maori woman refused to join their party, but would, no doubt, be happy to accept a small gift, protesting, as she did every year, that Christmas was for pākehā, the white man, to celebrate.

There was no doubt that Lizzy’s lace bobbins were the star of the show, and Sophia was pleased to see Samuel’s obvious affection for Lizzy. Poor Lucy was the odd one out this year as her beloved Ned had reluctantly joined his brother in Marytown for the day. Sophia wondered briefly if there would ever be a Christmas when Lucy would find joy. It may be a few years ago now, but nobody could forget that dreadful year when that man Drummond had come to stay, shooting Lucy’s precious pheasants as if they were fair game. It had been a rather strained Christmas Day that year.

2 Comments on “Christmas in Mackenzie’s Basin 1867

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