Most children experience Christmas joy in the fold of a loving family. But not all
children have families. MICHAIL RASSOOL looks at how Christmas is celebrated in Catholic orphanages and homes for children with Aids.
Christmas is a special time, a time of celebration and joy, particularly for children, who represent the sublime innocence associated with that of the Christ child. It is a time for receiving all manner of gifts—toys, clothing and sweets—healthy, safe and secure in the bosom of their families.
However, many children are less fortunate. They do not have the advantages of strong and united families. Many are not guaranteed sound health, let alone presents, this Christmas.
These children are abandoned, at birth or in the course of their childhood, many have been abused—physically, emotionally, sexually—or have fallen victim to what is fast becoming the country’s biggest killer, HIV/Aids.
They are compelled to spend their young lives in institutions. But these homes are a lifeline to them, due to the unselfish ministrations of those who care for them.
Many of these institutions are Catholic, or have been founded by Catholics. Mindful of the significance of this season of joy, many of these caregivers are doing special things for their charges, doing what they can to ensure that these children experience at least some of the joy experienced by more fortunate children.
This Christmas, as last year, children at the Love of Christ Ministries (TLC) in Eikenhof, south of Johannesburg, will be taking part in a nativity play at their local parish. TLC is a home for abandoned children, many with HIV/Aids.
TLC founder Thea Jarvis said that the whole family—by which she means her natural family as well as the children in her care—attends Christmas Eve Mass together. The time afterwards at home is family time, where the children put their gifts under the Christmas tree and sing carols before going to bed.
Continuing a practice set last year, TLC has organised the erection of Christmas trees in five parishes, with a TLC child’s name on each of the hanging baubles. A parishioner takes a bauble off the tree, and buys a gift for the child named on the bauble. This way, Mrs Jarvis said, each child will have at least five presents this Christmas.
Caesar’s casino and Shoprite/
Checkers stores have made the inhabitants of the homes of the Little Eden Society for the Care of Persons with Mental Handicap, in Edenvale and Bapsfontein in Johannesburg, very happy by sponsoring a party where presents were handed out, a celebration also attended by Little Eden founder Domitilla Hyams.
At St Philomena’s Orphanage in Sydenham, Durban, and St Anthony’s Children’s Home in Newcastle in the KwaZulu-Natal diocese of Dundee, many of the children will be hosted during the school holidays by families—a practice in many orphanages, which is sanctioned by official policy—to give them the experience of normative family lives.
If the experiment works, it is often encouraged that these be extended to more permanent arrangements. Occasionally orphans are adopted by such families.
During the holiday season, St Anthony’s principal Mbongiseni Nzuza and the school’s social worker pay a visit to the families to see how their charges are getting along and to assess the potential for more permanent arrangements.
The children of St Philomena’s that remain behind at the orphanage, said programme manager Carmel Gaillard, enjoy a Christmas Eve dinner, complete with turkey, and arrangements are made for Father Christmas to appear. On Christmas morning, everyone troops off to Mass. There is Christmas lunch in the afternoon, which is both relaxing and fun-filled because volunteers from St Joseph’s parish, Musgrave, come along to play with the children, Ms Gaillard said.
Of the 100 or so children of Holy Cross Children’s Home in Modderdam, in Cape Town’s northern suburbs, about 70 will be with families until the end of the holidays, according to the former matron, Holy cross Sister Rita Jordaan.
She said it was still too soon to know exactly how the remainder would be spending their Christmas. She remembered the success of last Christmas, when Standard Bank in Pinelands organised a party for the children, and gifts donated by Pick ‘n Pay and Checkers were distributed.
The same applies to the children at the Polokong Children’s Village in Vereeniging, many of whom will also be going away to stay with families. Those left behind will be given a Christmas party, “also an opportunity for games and a little fun,” said director Annette Ludeke-Marais.
Many companies, including Vodacom, Old Mutual and Shell, as well as various Christian organisations give treats to the children at Cape Town’s Nazareth House home for children with HIV/Aids.
Those who don’t go to families for Christmas are taken to see the Christmas lights in Adderley Street, said Sr Margaret Craig PSN. She said all the children have their Christmas stockings attached to their beds on Christmas Eve.
Because Nazareth House children often receive gifts, they are taught to appreciate what they have, by not leaving items of clothing lying about on the premises and giving foodstuff and money to poor people they see living outdoors.