Surviving Christmas

The author next to the Christmas tree

The author

Because I’m the son of a minister, people have always assumed that Christmas was my favorite time of year.

To tell you the truth: it wasn’t. 

In fact, every year I was glad it was over.

In the weeks leading up to the celebration of the birth of Christ, our home became a very stressful place where kids had to walk on eggshells.

My mom was responsible for Sunday School, and for the inescapable Nativity Play. Every year she had to deal with parents harassing her because their son or daughter was selected to be an ox, an ass, or worse, a tree.  

My dad was crazy busy writing too many sermons on the subject of world peace, hoping to make an impression on those who only came to church at the end of December. His calendar was dominated by one social function after another. He was often asked to bring the whole family to singalongs, nursing homes, hospitals, and countless receptions. 

During those hectic weeks, my sister and I got an idea of what it must feel like to be part of the First Family. We had to be on our best behavior, as we were getting stuffed with sugary treats from sweet old ladies. It gave us tons of energy, and we had nowhere to put it. 

At the end of this grueling marathon, we visited both sets of grandparents in Friesland, all the way in the north of the country. By that time, it became harder and harder for our family to keep up appearances, especially when familial buttons would be pushed. And believe me, around the holidays those buttons only needed to be touched lightly to have maximum effect. It was only a matter of time before one of us would either explode or collapse. 

“Thank God Christmas is over,” my dad used to say, and he meant every word of it.

When he left his congregation to become Head of Pastoral Services at a university hospital, Christmas became a bit more relaxed for all involved. I learned to play the cornet, and I joined a local band. It was one of those marching bands that -thank goodness- did very little marching. We did have a special Christmas tradition.

In the early hours of Christmas Day, a select group of musicians would go to different street corners, and play a number of carols. We did that for an hour or so, and then all of us would have breakfast at a nursing home. This had been going on for so long that most of the people in my town felt like it wasn’t really Christmas until the caroling band had woken them up at the crack of dawn. 



Getting to as many street corners as possible with a bunch of brass players was not as easy as it sounds. We used to arrive in separate cars to do our thing, until two brothers offered to help. One played the tuba and the other French horn, and both drove what was known in Holland as “SRV-vans.” These vans looked like huge motor homes or bookmobiles. They were actually supermarkets on wheels, and miracles of technical ingenuity.

Almost anything a local supermarket would stock, was for sale in these vans. They sold only one brand of peanut butter, coffee, or laundry detergent, but for many customers it was very convenient to have these goods arrive at their doorstep. On top of that, these vans were electrical, and thus very environmentally friendly.

So, imagine a group of musicians arriving on a cold and dark winter morning. The streets were usually slippery, and driving conditions were hazardous. Our lips would nearly freeze to our mouthpieces, but we were determined to fulfill our mission. Moments later, the two SRV-vans would arrive, filled to the brim with all kinds of groceries.

When the whole group was ready, we split up into two teams to cover different parts of town. One by one, you’d see trumpets, trombones, euphoniums, and basses get into the vans. Inside, we tried to find a safe space in between heads of lettuce, orange juice, cheeses, bread flour, milk, and the Holiday edition of Playboy. It was a very tight fit.

SRV van inside

Inside the van

From the very beginning, it was clear that these vans were not made for public transportation, especially if the roads were covered in snow and ice. Those inside had to hold on for dear life when these vehicles rounded corners. That wasn’t easy with a brass instrument in one hand. Everything inside would start to shift, and I vividly remember round Edam cheeses falling off the shelves like cannonballs. 

Because there were no side windows, we often had no idea where we’d stop, if we’d stop at all. Thanks to the added weight, the vans would slide a couple of extra meters on a frozen road after the driver had stepped on the brake. With so many passengers on board, his windscreen was all fogged up, and it was a miracle that we never collided with anything dead or alive. 

If my cornet would survive the Christmas ride without bumps and bruises, I’d be a happy man. If I’d survive the ride, my parents would be extremely relieved. 

Looking back, it was a crazy thing we did, and yet I didn’t want to miss it for anything in the world. We knew how many people were counting on us, and we were willing to take the risk.

There still are about three hundred supermarkets on wheels in The Netherlands, serving rural communities and the elderly. They’re long gone from the town I used to live in, but the last time I was there I heard a persistent rumor.

If you happen to wake up early on December 25th, you may hear the faint sound of a brass band playing carols in the cold.

Merry Christmas!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg via photopin cc

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles

12 Responses to Surviving Christmas

  1. Curt Ehly

    What an enjoyable read… Thank you for sharing your Christmas childhood memories. The SRV-vans bring a whole new definition to Food Trucks. We could use one of those in Easton. 🙂 Warmest regards to you and your family. Enjoy the Joys of this Holiday Season!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    What a lovely surprise to see your comment, Curt! For those of you who don’t know him, Curt is my mentor and co-announcer at the Easton Farmers’ Market.

    Wishing you a warm and wonderful Christmas, and a New Year filled with laughter, joy and fresh produce!


  2. Kevin Scheuller

    As 1/2 of a clergy couple,who returned home from Chicago (where I grew up, and where my mother and brothers still live) earlier this week for our post-Christmas vacation, I can relate. Our poor daughters are exponentially pastors’ kids, and fit the stereotype most of the time. Fortunately, we’re Lutheran Christians, so most folks don’t expect them to be perfect (but we have had calls where that was decidedly not the case for some people). Grace abounds.

    Perhaps I have a thick skin, or maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I still love Christmas and still never like to see it end. Now, about 14 lbs. heavier (due in large part to a few too many Oliebollen), it’s on to resolutions! OY!

    Many blessings on the year ahead, Paul!
    Thanks for the very picturesque blog.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Kevin. Like you, I still love Christmas, and I don’t like it when all the ornaments have to be put away. Without the lights, the streets are a little bit darker and less colorful. In Easton, the Peace Candle is once again dismantled to reveal the statue of the bugler.


  3. Marlene Bertrand

    I hear you, Paul. I am the daughter of a pastor’s daughter. Wherever Grandpa went, so went his daughter (as support and representation) and wherever his daughter went, so did her children. As you mentioned, the experience is rather like that of the first family. We had to be on our best behavior at all times and, like your dad, it was somewhat of a relief when Christmas was over. I enjoyed reading your story. It brought back some memories that I had forgotten. In spite of having to “act” like the perfect child, some of those memories were of some really fun times.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hey Memo, my apologies for making your eyeballs leak at the coffeeshop. Are you sure it was my blog, or were you perhaps influenced by the price of the drinks they serve?

    Thank you for reading my story, Laura. When all of us are off work, our clergy (among others) soldiers on. They indeed deserve an extra prayer!

    Marlene, you and I know that having a member of the clergy in the family isn’t always fun and games. Living in a glass house can be challenging, yet very interesting.


  4. Laura Mireles

    What a wonderful story, Paul! Also, it’s a wonderful reminder for me to say a little extra prayer of thanksgiving for our clergy every holiday season. Sounds like they need it!


  5. Memo Sauceda

    I don’t like reading your blog at a Starbucks!
    Because once in a while it’s like this one, and my eyes start watering and I feel like everyone is thinking: Why is that man crying watching his laptop computer?
    Thank you for sharing the magic Paul!
    Warmest regards


  6. Marishka Michener

    I so enjoyed you memories of Christmas….your a wonderful writer…..


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Marishka. Merry Christmas to you!


  7. Ted Mcaleer

    I can see the cheeses flying about like cannonballs! And “lightly brushing the button” would cause max effect, loved that. Be well over the holidays, thank you for everything.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you for your friendship and support, Ted. You’re always welcome in Easton!


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