World Vision NZ is currently advertising on TV to donate Christmas gifts.  “Put an end to empty commercialism this Christmas, and give something life changing from World Vision…:      It is a timely reminder for us all that the gifts we give should be meaningful and ‘something that actually matters’. 

The Busy Bee [Junior Missionary Organisation] children in 1918 did just that.   They were encouraged through their magazine The Break of Day to give their threepenny bits (2cents) to their ‘brothers and sisters’ living in Presbyterian Orphanages throughout the country.  The information alerted them to the need to consider  ‘something special’ for the children in these homes and to do their best to get as many threpenny bits as they could. 


The previous year, 1917, the Break of Day Christmas Gift raised £155.18.7 for village children in India, in all 12,474 threepenny bits (and obviously a one penny coin!) was gathered; the aim for 1918 was to exceed that number of threepenny bits. 

‘ Boots! Boots! Boots!  Hampers of Boots for the Orphanages’  was the call to all.


‘Imagine’, they were told, ‘what a lot of little feet there are in these homes of ours.  There are hundred’s of them – every boy and every girl has two.’   The Busy Bees worked hard to gather their coins and to send them in on time.  Children’s efforts were reported regularly in the Break of Day.   A ‘young lady’ earned her threepenny bits by milking a cow twice daily,  others did chores around the home, while others visited neighbours and helped them with shopping, gardening and taking baby for a walk.  A group cleaned the church, another sewed items for ‘a sale of work’.  In some cases the girls made dolls clothes and the boys made kites to sell around the district.  Someone’s aunt had an ingenius means of collecting  money –  a system of fines.  One penny for every stone we threw at a cat; threepence for every dish we cracked;  sixpence for every dish we broke; and as we all [3] had balls the fine for losing them was one shilling.  The three boys sent in a handsome sum of 5/-.

But all good plans can often fall over due to no fault of the organisers.  Unfortunately the 1918 Influenza Epidemic which resulted in public places being closed for many weeks meant the Christmas gift cut-off was extended until mid March of 1919.  The amount raised £176.14.0 [$363.40] was divided among six homes with Dunedin receiving the largest amount of £45. [$90]


The spirit of Christmas hung on until the end of April 1919 when the children received their boots and shoes from the hundreds of friends throughout New Zealand who enjoyed gathering their threepenny pieces.  They gave ‘something that actually matters’.

One comment

  1. I discovered by looking in ‘Papers Past’ in the last day or so that shoes and boots ranged from 5 shillings to 18 shillings and sixpence a pair. If every child in the Dunedin Orphanages received a new pair of shoes they would cost around 4 shillings and sixpence each. Let’s hope they could get a good discount from the manufacturers.


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