Christmas is coming. We will celebrate with a gift for each child and one for each helping adult too. And for the children who are away, they’ll go to their extended families with gifts for all those numerous related-children too. In Auckland Park and possibly in Pinner, we will have a Christmas tree with candles because candles are beautiful and traditional. But they will be positioned carefully, matches kept far from children and a fire extinguisher will always be close at hand.
We’ll have fairy lights along the terrace. An Advent wreath wrought from yew or cedar branches, with red ribbons and four red candles for the four Sundays 4th 11th 18th 25th December 2016. Angel chimes rotating their shadows on the ceiling. A gingerbread house. There will be Advent Calendars from 1st December with windows to open each day for the spirit of anticipation. Maybe a little shoe or boot on the windowsill on Advent evenings or at least on 6th December, St Nicholas’ Day – the patron saint of children.
On 24th December carols will be sung, nuts will be cracked, maybe a delicious fish supper eaten. Then a nap for the children before Midnight Mass and returning to stockings or pillowcases hung at the foot of each bed. Father Christmas works late that night, which is tough as he has an early start the next morning. On 25th December we fill Louis’ small truck high with presents and delicious things to eat. Then Father Christmas and numerous little helpers leap on board and it sets off, up the hill and down the hill until Brixton Fire Brigade. There the children deliver a cake for the firefighters who still have to work that day. Usually they then join us and Father Christmas dismounts to change steed. He sits atop a fire engine, sometimes with a cheerful firefighter on the microphone singing carols to passersby.
Another stop at Brixton Police Station and another cake is delivered, because the police, too, have to work on Christmas Day.
Finally we arrive at Joe Slovo squatter camp. The children are waiting. The camp is unusually clean. Many people have gone to visit extended family in brick-built housing or the rural areas. Shebeens today are silent; not thumping music boldly, coldly, inconsiderate of their neighbours. The dusty carpet paving has been swept. People sit on plastic crates, a beer in hand, calling out "Happy, Happeeee!" They see our sacks of presents over our shoulders. Sometimes we even manage a large Christmas Tree. They ask "Where’s our Christmas?" meaning, "where’s our gift, our present?"
Depending upon what we’ve collected and what we’ve been given, particularly if there is perishable food to share, we call them to the gathering place outside Madiwors’ ols shack. It has been Children of Fire’s place for close on 20 years. A small plot of land where rain or shine we teach children to read, where we hold concerts, where we share toys, food, wash things and health-education-legal advice, throughout the year.
But for Christmas Day we try a bit harder. Because it is Christmas. A time of giving, of sharing. If people have provided information correctly, we have a named gift for every child there.
The list is always imperfect, so one has to have extra gifts for the infants in arms who were never mentioned before. Little Emmanuels just-born into corrugated iron stables because there was no room at the Inn. And then there are the frail and old who have nowhere else to go; who have no one who wants them. They look expectantly, yearning, for a bit of Christmas care.
From bags of maize meal to fresh fruit, we hand out juices, snacks, sometimes meat or fish, but mostly a thoughtful present for children called a Happy Healthy Christmas Pack. That contains school things, books, learning toys, fun toys, maybe an item of clothing, yummy treats – but only things that can survive the blazing heat of a December day under metal roofs, in shacks without fridges.
When the kindness is completed, Father Christmas with his band of burned-face golden-hearted elves, sits on the truck and trundles home. Home to stuffed turkey, cranberries, Brussel sprouts, roast potatoes, apple-juice-with-bubbles, pulling Christmas crackers, ice cream, swimming in the pool and steamed pudding in the evening when it’s cooler.
The gate is closed as we hope that for one day of the year there will be no phone calls about shack fires, no phone calls about children just-burned and needing admission to hospital. We hope that on Christmas Day you’ll be peacefully, safely, with your families so that the nurses, doctors, firefighters, policemen and all the other essential services are just on standby but not having to rush to any calamity anywhere.
We are not a religious organisation because we are open to all faiths and pacifist philosophies. But our kids enjoy Christmas! Real Christmas on Christmas Day.
If you want to help them to have fun and if you want to make the charity’s future more secure, please donate to our Just Giving Page http://www.justgiving.com/ChildrenOfFireChristmas2016 If you are a UK taxpayer, by ticking the GiftAid section, you can provide an extra 25% for the charity at no cost to yourself.
Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!