Three authors’ most memorable Christmases
Christmas can be moving, magical and poignant all at once. Here, three authors share their memories of a wonderful celebration
So many years have gone by since I was a first-year student nurse, yet I can still smell the hospital disinfectant and hear my black shoes tapping a rhythm on the polished floor of the corridor as I walked to the ward that morning – my first Christmas away from home.
I brushed past the Christmas tree before going up the polished wood staircase that led to my ward, arriving at the ward office just in time for the report from Sister.
When Sister was finished she would always say with a stern glance at us students, ‘Now girls, get on with the work and let’s make sure the patients have everything they need.’
But that Christmas morning she smiled as well. Sister never smiled! ‘Merry Christmas,’ she said, ‘and when you’re ready for a break, we’ll go into the side room for mince pies and coffee.’
‘Thank you, Sister,’ we mumbled, glancing at each other. Out on the ward, there was plenty of work to do – people don’t stop being ill just because it’s Christmas. It was business as usual and, for me, that was good.
Once we were busy, the heaviness that I’d felt about being away from my family on Christmas morning, disappeared. Our patients needed us. They were in hospital – and back then visiting hours were very limited, so they were also separated from their loved ones. Some of them didn’t even have any family. But they all had a gift that day, Sister made sure of that.
There were plenty of smiles and jokes, and when the work was done and all the beds were made according to Sister’s instruction, we were ready.
That’s when the Salvation Army band started to play at the bottom of the stairs.
The sound of Once in Royal David’s City came flooding onto the ward and into our hearts. I felt goose bumps on my arms as the music swelled and I stood still, seeing the faces of the patients. Women who’d lived through at least one World War, taken back to Christmases long ago, to loved ones, lost times. Even Sister wiped a tear from her eye.
My own tears flow now every year when I hear a ‘Sally Army’ band play. Instantly I’m there, a girl of 18 in a nurse’s uniform, standing next to Sister on the ward at the Infirmary. Sharing that special moment with those women one Christmas morning, long ago.
✿ Kate Eastham’s miss Nightingale’s Nurses, published by Penguin, is out now
‘I felt goose bumps on my arms as the music swelled’