I so love how leadership can show up in shiny and unexpected ways.
Last weekend, twenty five neighbours met for our annual Christmas get-together, this time to share stories of memorable Christmas rituals or gifts. I immediately knew I wanted to share magical memories of the Christmas Eve street parade at Riverton where I grew up, the wonder of seeing the lights on in the shops (many years before late night shopping became commonplace) and especially the part where Father Christmas arrived in a sleigh filled with gifts for all the children.
Our whole family would drive six miles (and it was ‘miles’ in those days) from our farm into town, me squashed between Mum and Dad in the front of the Ford Zephyr and my three older brothers lined up in the back. There were the shops open and brightly lit, with Peoplestores, the large two-story department store alive with last minute shoppers, happily greeting friends and neighbours as excitement mounted in the lead up to the arrival of Father Christmas.
After the parade, my parents would visit friends in the town for a Christmas drink before we drove home. This was always an anxious time for me, worrying that we wouldn't be home in time to get to sleep before Father Christmas came down the chimney with our presents.
In preparation for the telling of my story, I phoned my almost 99 year-old mother to see if she could add some details. To my astonishment, I discovered that she had actually started the Riverton Christmas Eve street party. It turns out that when she was growing up at a tiny town called Bute on South Australia’s York Peninsula, a similar Christmas Eve street party was an enchanting memory for her. So when I started kindergarten, she became President of the kindergarten and suggested Riverton do something similar. A neighbour had an old dray in his farm shed and this was modified to become the sleigh which she then painted and decorated. Friends on the kindergarten committee helped raise money to buy gifts for the town children and the rest, as they say, is history. Or herstory.
The Riverton Christmas Eve party with Father Christmas now arriving on the back of a ute, (the sleigh was stolen and never found) continues to this day, albeit held on the local oval, since increased traffic heading to Broken Hill can no longer be diverted through the side streets.
I was bowled over to realise that this wondrous event hadn't always occurred - she explained that during the war years there were total blackouts so night time street lighting and shopping was not possible - and that my mother had instigated this major, memorable and lasting initiative.
When I phoned her the day after telling my story to thank her for making my childhood Christmases so magical, she confessed surprise that I didn't know of her role. She obviously told her great grandchildren though because, collecting one from kindergarten a few years ago, she was amused to hear from the teacher that her great-granddaughter had announced to the whole kindergarten “My Nan invented Christmas”.
She certainly did!
PS That's Mother Christmas in the back row, third from the right. And that's me in the middle of the slide at the local kindergarten, with a bow in my hair.