Thursday, December 25, 2014

Childhood Christmas

I grew up in a small hamlet that had been part of Sydney's settlement in the 1800s. It had a place in the development of farming and transport in the Sydney basin.

Our hamlet was satellite of a larger township where was the railway station, the main post office, and a small shopping centre. Until my later high school years there was even a cavernous 'produce store' full of sacks of grain for local farmers and graziers and the smell of rural life. My parents told me that there was still a hitching rail for horses outside the very old post office when they arrived there as my father embarked on property development in the area, in the mid 1950s.

That's the setting for our village church, a Presbyterian church that itself was a small satellite in the larger presbytery.

The same crowd, in my understanding of our social life, the main crowd, turned up at church and at school. I doubt that all where believers in a real way, but I'd think that most were 'agreeable' to Christian faith. Some of the church members were of original settler families; they were our 'aristocracy', in a gentle way.

Unfortunately all the artifacts of that history are gone now, swallowed up by the march of suburbia; I think only one or two of the old buildings remain; most having been demolished, including the old tin sided produce store. However, the cohesiveness and stability I knew as a child remains with me. Social life, church attendance, school, our sporting clubs and community groups all knitted together: the same identities popping up in each.

Just an aside: one very pleasant part of this was that the local butcher, who owned one of the largest and oldest homes in the hamlet, each year hosted a Christmas party for we children of the neighbourhood. It was a great get together and about 20 or so of us turned up, with our mothers, each bringing a gift for one other child. Halcyon days!

Musing on this experience with my reading of Tudor history, and the convulsions that England went through as the dynamics of church and state adjusted, I can see why a unified church in the land under the Crown was so important. It was regarded as essential to the cohesiveness of society without which, I'm sure the monarch considered, the kingdom would be in danger of fragmenting. In those days of sluggish communications, limited education and few opportunities for most nothing else was regarded as able to do the work of religion in forming a cohesive nation.

Such things, and indeed 'religion' itself are not so important today for the community as a whole, so we look back to some of the horrors of that era and wonder. What we miss, is that they...the authorities...saw that they were fighting for their life, the life of their country. What happens remains grievous, of course, but it was not arbitrary or an eddy off the mainstream of society. It was at the heart of the societies' self-understanding.

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