A Barossa Christmas in the 1800’s – Part 3 – Christmas Eve

Christmas tree at old Strait Gate Church

It’s Christmas Eve. For the final time we are going to take a few minutes, step away from the Christmas that is happening all around us, and step back in time to Christmas Eve in the Barossa in the late 1800’s. To the play, the service, the carols, the gathering of family and friends, and the feasting. And to the exquisite beauty of the Christmas tree, revealed in all its shimmering glory tonight.

And it’s so exciting! As a young child, you could hardly keep still, as Mother tried to wet and comb your hair down and fit you into your clean and pressed Sunday clothes. Tonight is the night of the Sunday School play, when you present the story of the birth of Jesus to the congregation. You’ve been practicing for weeks. As a shepherd, you have only one line – “Come, let us see the child that the angels have told of” – but you don’t want to get it wrong. The church will be full, there will be music and carols and readings. Afterwards the children will all receive a paper bag of lollies.

On entering the church, you gasp as you see the altar, flanked on one side by a large nativity scene and on the other with a towering Christmas tree. It is festooned with beautiful decorations (some brought from all the way from Germany, made of handblown glass), and draped with paper chain garlands. The church has never looked so lovely.

After the service is over you will go home to see your own tree for the first time. It has been in a room with the door locked, and only Mother and Father could go in. Everybody has tried to peek, to see how it’s coming along, and the house has smelt of pine since the tree was brought in. After church, Mother and Father hurry home to light the candles, and your oldest sister tries to distract you and your siblings and visiting cousins, pretending that she has seen Father Christmas down by the chook shed.

Waiting outside the living room door, you literally can’t keep still. The excitement is too much for one small child! At last, the door opens. You all gasp. Inside the room, the lights are out, and the tree stands, shimmering and beautiful. The tiny lit candles, held on with brass clips, flicker in the darkness, and illuminate the ornaments adorning the tree. There are some special ones Mother brought with her, and others she has made by hand. The biscuits she has been busy baking hang temptingly on the branches. Underneath the tree, you can see that Father Christmas has indeed been, and left a present for each child.

But before the presents are opened, Father says a prayer, and then you all join hands and walk around the tree, singing carols. Later, there will be more singing around the harmonium, Christmas Eve treats of honey biscuits, prettily coloured meringues, streusel cake and herring salad. There will be laughing and telling of stories, and eventually, too tired to keep your eyes open, you will be taken to bed. Tomorrow is Christmas Day, with more celebrations. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

Wishing you and your families a very special and joyful Christmas.

PS: Christmas Eve was the only night the candles were lit. As the tree began to dry out, it became too much of a fire hazard. Often one person was designated to stand by with a bucket of water on Christmas Eve, watching out for stray flames!