Within the Home Missions collection there are a series of letters acknowledging the generosity of members of the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union (PWMU) who contributed to the Children’s Christmas Gift project. The letters, dating from 1929-1947, hint at personal touches of a family Christmas that are not necessarily found elsewhere in the collection.
We learn that a very small sum of money in 1929 from our 21st century perspective went a long way. One family managed from $3.00 to purchase Christmas crackers, a ham, strawberries, chocolates and preserved fruit, luxuries which they would ‘otherwise not have indulged in’. There was enough money left over for them to ‘motor to the Nukutawhiti Gorge for a picnic on Boxing Day.
Another family explains a tradition which had fallen to one side in previous years due to lack of funds. With the arrival of ‘unexpected pocket money the children proceeded to the local store in relay to purchase tooting and squeaking toys which Santa unaccountably omits from his list, after which ensued much mysterious rustling of paper, and many tentative tootings before the triumphal outburst at 5am on Christmas day.’
Joy, wrote describing her Christmas day. ‘We woke and hurried to the sitting room fire-place we found that we each had two stockings, one of our own and a net one… At eleven o’clock we followed mother out to a young fir tree behind the water shed. It was covered with lovely presents such beautiful ones! … After a nice lunch we decorated the house with red paper for our Christmas guests and then prepared tea with pretty cups and Christmas cake and fancy crackers. We had such a nice tea of boiled ham, tinned fruits, jellies and strawberries. After a jolly time with the crackers we read the story of Baby Jesus together then went out to the veranda and sang some Christmas Carols with Daddy playing the violin.’
Out in the backblocks of Taumaruni the home Missionary held ‘something like a garden party, as it was one of the hottest days of the year , and every shady tree sheltered a family group. An ice cream man who came along at the right moment must have wondered what was afoot, as from the obscurity of green hedge, the multitude streamed forth and nearly emptied his containers. “Shut off the engine,” he said to his assistant, ‘there’s about five thousand in here!” Evidently he used to read about miracles at Sunday School.’
The Home Mission Children’s Christmas Gift organised by the PWMU was partly influenced by the Busy Bees Christmas project and the post WW1 Save the Children Fund. Home Missionaries did not receive the standard stipend and the families sacrificed much to go out into isolated areas of New Zealand to establish a church. The women of the Church supported the Christmas Children’s fund until the Home Missionary scheme was abandoned in the early 1960s.