When I was about 12, my Grandma died just before Christmas. I was just old enough to begin understanding death. I remember that Christmas being very difficult – the news of her death and the hastily arranged funeral so that it could be “over” before Christmas Day. How do you celebrate and do all the fun stuff with the sadness and grief that swallowed you up? Every Christmas since has been “tainted” by that memory. In the lead up to Christmas I find myself remembering her and the grief is still there.
A couple of years ago, my Mum died on my wife’s birthday. Again, this has changed how we celebrate. I want to remember my Mum and the amazing woman she was. We want to love, honour and celebrate Vicki. And because of the timing there is this dark cloud of death and grief that creeps up in the days leading up to Sept 17. I’m sure the pain will dissipate over the coming years, but the day will be difficult for me always.
As I think of these two events in my life I know the pain and grief I feel pales in comparison with the pain and distress I hear when I listen to the stories from my aboriginal brothers and sisters about how the dark cloud of death and grief surrounds them in the lead up to January 26th. We have to face this as white Aussies. How callous it must seem to celebrate with beer and cricket and lamb and flags when doing so increases pain and reminds our indigenous people of their traumatic past.
I can’t change the date of Christmas (even though Dec 25th is not the actual date of Jesus’ birth). I can’t change the date of Vicki’s birthday. But we can do something about the date that has been moved around many times, started as a fundraiser day for the war effort, and has only been a fully national holiday since 1994!
I am all for celebrating God’s great blessing of this nation. I just think we need to find another day to do it. A day we can celebrate the things that bring us ALL together.
I know it’s complex. I know there are many views. I don’t have easy answers, other than to really start listening. But surely the hugely symbolic act of changing the date says something about us. That we are willing to be inclusive, to seek justice and to have mercy!