Happy Christmas from JTH

We’re back in Queensland, sitting in a house in Tennyson overlooking the Brisbane River. Across the wide expanse of water is the par 5 twelfth fairway of my old golf club, Indooroopilly. I hit plenty of balls into the river on that hole, many landed exactly where we  look from the balcony – although I hit many more in at the thirteenth (what a tough hole).

The kids are running around – as happy as kids. Santa (who is just surviving as a concept) has nailed it with a couple of hoola hoops – of all things – and a rainbow lorikeet figurine each (for their school bags – yes, Evie is off to school in 2016). The main presents will be opened later.

It’s muggy here, but mild. Overcast. A shower soon and possibly an evening storm. Last night it rained as we made our way to the Christmas Eve service at St Peter’s Lutheran College chapel. It’s good to be back. I first came to the chapel in 1980, as a child-like uni student, walking the few kilometres to church each Sunday morning. I was still in my child’s life.

I recognised some of the faces, worshiping in the same place, and in the same way. Pastor Rheiny Mayer, now nearly 90, still sings tenor in the choir.

Ric Strelan and his family were in the next pew. Ric was the Lutheran chaplain at uni during those 1980s. A man of tremendous intellect, Ric took on the responsibility of easing students raised on the simplicity and confidence of Sunday School explanations of Being into the huge and complex world of Ideas.  Many old Lutherans were suspicious of universities. Darling Downs grain farmers with German and Polish names – good people, humble people, unfailingly people of the best intentions (as Ingmar Bergman termed them in his film about his clergyman father), expressed their concern about these secular institutions by describing them as hotbeds of Communism. I became part of that searching world and Ric understood exactly my restlessness and hope that some day all would be revealed. He had the restlessness as well. I reckon a man as honest as Ric, a man who acknowledges the complexity of language,  still has it. But I’d have to ask him.

I sat with Susan and the kids. Ric didn’t see us. He was engaged by the choral service; a service of literature and music, where the Christmas readings, taken from the Old Testament and the Gospels, were punctuated by traditional Christmas hymns and carols, and arrangements by Bach and Handel – the music of my childhood home. The stories of my childhood home.

I find Christmas Eve very moving. I am reminded of that old self, that simple time. I am reminded of my late father. On Christmas Eve he was my father and my pastor. Pastor Harms. He did a good Christmas Eve service. I will never forget Peep Hill, a little church on the edge of the Australian desert heading from Eudunda towards Morgan. He was at his finest one night late in his ministry.

I think of the life my father has given his family, and the values we can only aspire to maintain.

I am always brought to tears by the music of Christmas Eve. Sitting with my family trying to sing ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’, I find myself moving my hand like a conductor – as my father did. Singing the bass notes – as my father did. Glancing at our children – like my father did.

They are complex tears which I hope I can continue to explore, and to find the words to contemplate. They are very powerful: in the same droplet, yearning, the deepest sadness, the deepest joy. Tears of guilt?  Tears of life.

On this day, I hope you feel, however fleetingly, the deepest sense of connectedness, of contentedness, of joy and of peace, in whichever manner is yours, and in the light of whichever understanding is yours.

With affection and gratitude to all,


About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Andrew Weiss says

    Merry Christmas to the Harms family as well. Thanks for all you have done this year to allow novice sports writers like myself to have a voice and even be published. Looking forward to a very happy and merry Almanackery New Year

  2. Happy Christmas to you and the family Johnny. I’ve just packed the car up and will head off to Mum’s soon. You’ve made me shed a tear as I think of my Dad who, like yours, loved this time of year, particularly after we all moved away but came together at this time. I also regret I no longer can get an author’s dedication to him in the annual Almanac for his birthday or Christmas. However we’ll all raise a glass tonight to those who aren’t with us and be happy for the great memories like the one’s you’ve shared and the one’s our own families are making.

    Cheers … TG

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Youngest Swishter was born on this day 17 years ago, so we make sure that she doesn’t miss out. Mrs Swish always says that #3 owes her a Christmas, as she missed out in 1998. Still, the elder two will always remember the day that they went to hospital and watched The Wiggles in the waiting room while their sister was born. They saw her when she was 10 minutes old.

    This morning, using technology was wasn’t generally available back then, we said hi to our eldest who had just spent the day wrangling snarky tourists at the happiest place in Orlando, Fla. We miss her greatly, but are glad that she is confident enough to experience the world at her tender age.

    The turkey roll is hopefully well on its way, my salty spuds are crisping up a treat and the reject shop bonbons are all lined up.

    Whatever your spiritual flavour, we say ‘joy to you all’, always.

  4. Hear hear TG. Safe travels.

    Thanks for all your support this year Swish. One of my brothers was born Dec 21. He got so fed up wih the combined Christmas-birthday present he started to celebrate every 1000 days of life. Lateral thinker, my brother David.

  5. Keiran Croker says

    Merry Christmas JTH.
    Thanks for your support this year.
    Spent the day, as has been the case for over 30yrs, at my brothers at Rye, with extended family.
    Took my Goodesy print and signed Swans jumper down to show off the fruits of my writing labours this year. Back at Mum’s now in Ringwood East.
    All the best for the new year.
    Cheers, kbc.

  6. All the very best to the Harms family. It’s great being part of the Almanac mob with a person like Harmsy at the wheel.
    Haven’t been down to Lorne so far, a bit of a problem with fires, but will be on our way when given the all clear.
    May 2016 treat everyone well.
    Take care, Rod Oaten

  7. Yes. Merry Christmas to all. If you are all feeling as tired as we all are, enjoy the next week of rest and occasional thinking. I fell asleep at 10 this morning. Without assistance. Bizarre.

    We have similar aged kids, almost 8 and almost 5, the younger starting kindy next year. So it is probably the end of innocence. Roller stakes for one and a new scooter for the other and it’s like a scene from Xanadu here. Better than the cricket.

    Bought myself Davo’s book and Keith Butler’s Howzat, when rummaging through Gould’s in Newtown the other night. Started with the latter. Brilliant. Will post something Tigerish in a thread in a tick…

  8. Frohe Festagge John and family. Thankyou for all the great work with the Almanac and the other worthy causes you are involved with.


  9. Cat from the Country says

    I feel you had a very Merry Christmas with your family John.

    Our son Marcus lives in Canberra and always travels south to join us in Central Victoria or Melbourne. This year, with our daughter Sarah, s-i-l Steve, Billy 6 and Max 4, my husband Terry and I drove to Canberra to have Christmas time with him.
    We have had a really great time together, the grandies getting too much and the adults having a wonderful time together remembering our parents who are no longer with us and our siblings who were unable to make the journey this year.
    Our family is very close and celebrate birthdays and Chrismas together frequently.

    Terry’s sister was born on 22nd and hates a joint present, so we make sure she gets one wrapped in non-Christmas paper.

    My friend Sue was born on 21st. A few years ago she decided to celebrate her birthday the following March. Her lovely hubby Dave booked a cruise for them and only told her she was flying somewhere. (Dave had her passport!) He said her face was a picture as she saw the ship!

    I wish you and yours a wonderful year filled with Good Health, Happinees, Love, Laughter and a Cats premiership.

  10. Thanks for reminding us what we really celebrate at Christmas John – the Birth of Humanity.

  11. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    I know the melancholy in Christmas JTH, no matter the weather, the feast, the pleasure and especially the excitement of children … I suspect that you are right; it is something to do with simplicity, a birth against the odds, the beginning of something, the acorn of a tree so enormous to map back.
    I wonder too if the southern hemisphere set up doesn’t collide the beginning of something with the end of things in a way that causes an extra bump in the soul. I recall childhood Christmases in France that seemed more a fleck or pause in proceedings. School was out for a week or two, just enough to unwrap and eat and ski and then the year continued. I wonder if the wrap of the calendar and working years somehow give extra weight and speed to the denouement at this end of the world, the festival accompanied by a summing and assessment of things – gratitude, regret, yearning, arming for another tilt.

    We spent Christmas this year on our Sydney rotation, some two dozen of us dotted around the copious verandah of the eldest sister-in-law, three generations with plates of the best Lebanese food titling in laps, our bare feet propped against each other’s, pulling crackers, talking, talking, laughing, talking until well into the night. Pure connectedness. The simple shine of my particular Christmas understanding.

    All good things to you and your mob.

  12. What a wonderful piece of work. I’ve often contemplated my own feelings on Christmas Eve – deepest sadness and deepest joy – and have often felt profound confusion. But I think you’ve just nailed it for me. I didn’t have those words in me. Christmas is just so powerful; things lost, things gained, things possible. I really miss that Liam’s teenage voice now prevents him from singing with the National Boys’ Choir. Their Christmas concert often resulted in salty droplets from my eyes that I disguised as adjustments to my glasses.

    Connectedness. Yes, that’s it.

  13. John, what a well written and heartfelt piece.

    I too find it hard to sing the carols, in what I consider to be the right context, a church service because like you my childhood memories come flooding back when life was simpler and my Lutheran faith one 100% rock solid. I never went to uni but soon found out after leaving the Adelaide Hills that what I thought to be a universally accepted truth wasn’t, either in terms of general acceptance or the truth.

    We, meaning Bev and myself, journeyed to St Johns Southgate, in Melbourne, for both the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. We were both mightily inspired by the 5 piece Melbourne Wind Ensemble (I think that this was the group’s name) which at first played a mixture of carols and secular Christmas music outside on a lawn adjacent to St Johns and then at times accompanied the lovely small but fabulously sounding pipe organ (which is an integral part of worship at this church) inside.

    As I said, I found it difficult to partake in the services at times as memories and emotions came flooding back. We will certainly be in Melbourne for this aspect of our life (and the Boxing Day Test) permanently from now on.

  14. Emma Westwood says

    I, too, find Christmas Eve to be a magical and heartfelt time, JTH. Sounds like yours continued a tradition that still burns brightly. All the best for the season to you, and even better for 2016. Onwards and upwards. Thanks for everything ~EJW

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