The Nicklebys: A Story for Catholic Children
by: Sue Felton


It is the last day of the year. Tomorrow it will once again be the feast of Mary, Mother of God. One year is ending. A new year is beginning.

Dad decides they should spend the last night of the old year together. "We should have a special family evening," he says.

The children love family evenings. "Can we play games?" asks Kate.

"And have chocolate?" asks Joe.

"Of course," answers Dad.

Mum says they can make homemade pizza for tea. She sets out large rounds of pitta bread on baking trays. Celeste spreads the bread with tomato paste, making sure it goes right to the edges. Joe is cooking the bacon and Lizzie is chopping pineapple rings into smaller pieces. Kate is grating the cheese. Edward is in charge of the oven. Annie's job is to find the plates and the napkins.

Soon everything is ready and Mum says they can eat in the family room for once. "There is no need for cutlery," she adds. "You may eat with your fingers." The children all cheer. It always seems more exciting to eat away from the table. They won't have to lay out the mats and knives and forks. They won't have to sit up straight and mind their manners. Best of all, there won't be much clearing up to do afterwards.

Dad licks the last gooey strand of cheese from his fingers and says, "Time for games!" He suggests they play team games so Lizzie and Annie can play as well. Mum has made up a trivia quiz. She has added a few questions from the ABC of Camping. Edward and Joe are good at answering these. Dad is not bad either. There are also some questions about bushfire safety. Mum has remembered to include some questions that Lizzie and Annie can answer so they don't feel left out. "Are there any cooking questions?" asks Dad.

The next game is animal, vegetable and mineral. But Lizzie is not very good at deciding whether something is an animal, a vegetable or a mineral. She gets into a muddle several times. Before everyone gets upset with Lizzie, Mum suggests a new game. "It's time for charades. I'll have the first turn," she says.

Mum's charade is a book and a movie. It has two words. Mum spreads an imaginary mantle over her head and tries to look very holy. Dad guesses straightaway. "Mary!" he shouts. Now everyone is giggling because Mum looks like she is going to pop. Of course, the answer is Mary Poppins.

Everyone has lots of fun. Mum has a big bag of prizes. But she doesn't just give prizes to the winners. She gives prizes to the losers too.

After a while Dad looks at the clock. "It's time for a drink and some chocolate," he announces. "Edward put on the kettle. Kate, go and get the chocolate."

Kate returns with an enormous bar of chocolate which Dad breaks into pieces. It's Mum's favourite sort: fruit and nut. The bowl of chocolate is passed around and there are lots of sighs of contentment.

"The next game is called, ‘What I liked most about this year'," says Dad. "Everyone has to have a turn. You can start Edward."

Edward thinks carefully for a minute. "I liked going camping with you and Joe and Father Brown. I enjoyed all the Bush Boys books too. I am glad Father Brown told us about them."

"Yes," agrees Joe. "Camping was great fun. So was going fishing on our beach holiday. I liked learning carpentry with Mr Gregg."

"I liked getting Poppy," says Kate stroking the cat. There are lots of murmurs of agreement.

"Going on our beach holiday was wonderful," says Lizzie.

"I have lots of things I liked," says Celeste. "There was my birthday and being promoted. Then there was my First Holy Communion and wearing Mum's special white dress. I enjoyed that snowy day in winter too."

"I liked Christmas," says Annie.

"Mother's Day was very special." It is now Mum's turn. "I liked my little holiday in the city with my friend Jane but I enjoyed coming home again even more. Midnight Mass was wonderful."

"I enjoyed the neighbourhood dinner party," says Dad remembering the fun he had cooking the Indian feast.

There were some parts of the year no-one really wants to remember. Edward doesn't want to think about Jeremy. Nor does Kate. She still feels a little sad when she thinks about her lost friend. Mum would rather not recall the disastrous day when Joe broke his arm or the day of the Passion play when Annie got lost. Joe still feels bad about Celeste's tooth though she has forgotten all about it.

"Do you remember my New Year's resolution?" asks Dad.

"The first resolution or the second one?" asks Celeste.

Dad smiles. "The second one. The one where I resolved we would spend more time doing things as a family and having fun. Well, I think we did lots of great things together. I think it has been a wonderful year, don't you?"

Everyone agrees. They have shared many special moments. They have lots of good memories.

"I wonder what the new year will be like," says Kate. "I wonder what we'll do together next year."

"There will be the birth of the new baby," says Mum. "And the baby's baptism."

"Will we go on another holiday?" asks Lizzie.

"Perhaps," replies Dad. He is wondering if he will cook any more big dinners.

"Father Brown has promised to take us on another camping trip," says Joe.

"I bet a lot of things will happen which we can't even imagine," says Mum. "You never imagined you'd get Poppy this year, did you?"

Everyone is getting very excited. It is always sad saying goodbye to the old year but a whole new year of adventures will soon be beginning.

By now Mum and Dad have finished their tea and all the chocolate has disappeared. "I think we will finish the evening with a decade of the Rosary," decides Dad. "Here we are, all safe and happy together on New Year's Eve. We have a lot to thank God for. He has looked after us all year. He has sent us many blessings. And we must ask for God's protection and blessing for next year."

"Let's start with the hymn, Holy God We Praise Thy Name," suggests Mum. Mum looks at the children as they sing the hymn. They are all so beautiful. She feels very fortunate to have her family. As the last notes of the hymn fade away, everyone falls to their knees and Dad leads the decade of the Rosary.

"Time for bed," announces Dad when they have finished praying.

"But can't we stay up until midnight?" asks Kate.

Mum shakes her head. "I think everyone will be asleep long before midnight," she says, noticing that already several of the children are yawning. "Anyway, we have to get up for early Mass."

"And have you forgotten Mrs Perkins' New Year's Day party?" says Dad. "You don't want to be too tired to enjoy that." Mrs Perkins has invited the whole street to celebrate New Year's Day with her. It promises to be a very special day.

After the children have gone to bed, Mum and Dad sit together for a time enjoying the quiet. At last Dad pulls himself out of his chair. "Come on," he says to Mum. "Time we were going to bed too."

The Nickleby family is snuggled down in bed fast asleep. Suddenly, Mum and Dad are dragged away from their dreams by the sound of an enormous cheer. Then they hear fireworks exploding. Dad leans over and whispers in Mum's ear. "Happy New Year, dear!"

"Happy New Year!" replies Mum sleepily before she drifts straight back to sleep.

A new year of adventures has begun.

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