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Christmas heartache: It’s about the time - not money - you spend

William Sangster

OPINION: Christmas is not about the gifts you get or how much you spend.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


I had just left the hospital at age 5 when I realised the significance of the holiday season.

It wasn’t about the gifts I wished for on my Christmas list or the presents I got on the morning of December 25.

It was a Christmas stuffed with Tongan fare such as lū sipi, crab salad, roasted puaka tunu [pig], and my father’s special European ham.

As a Tongan, Christmas is being surrounded by 30 cousins, uncles, aunties and grandparents.

It’s like that scene in Home Alone - a million different things going on in the house.

Before every yearly Christmas feast, my grandpa Taniela Kama says a speech and a prayer.

He constantly reminds us to be grateful for the time we had together, and he personally thanks each of us.

“Be present and appreciate the people here; family is the most important part.”

Our Christmas Days have always been filled with laughter, food and my grandpa’s jokes.

“Thank you for anything.”

We know he means “thank you for everything”.

The smile on his face at the end of his 15-minute speeches always warms our hearts.

My grandpa is the epitome of what Christmas is all about. He always invites everyone to come over for a feed. No matter who or when, you know it will be a great time.

William Sangster's grandpa Taniela Kama, with Sangster's mum Lonili. Photo / Supplied

My mum was only 2 months old when she was given to her aunt to be looked after.

She was 4 years old when her aunty married Taniela, and he has been a wonderful father and grandfather.

Growing up, he always said to my brother and I: “I might not be your real grandpa, but I am your grandpa by choice and love”.

He was there to pick me up from primary school, buy me lunches or take me to events. He was present at everything and was my biggest supporter.

The past few years have been tough to celebrate, what with Covid and my grandpa being in and out of hospital for dialysis treatment as part of his battle with kidney illness.

I was looking forward to seeing him and celebrating with him this Christmas. He cheekily told me the last time I saw him, “Bring your girlfriend next time; see you soon. I love you.”

Two weeks ago, he died suddenly from a heart attack at home.

It’s a hard loss, and Christmas will forever be different.

This year will be filled with grief, but also with good - and funny - memories of him.

Christmas is not about the gifts you get or how much you spend.

It’s about the people you spend it with.

Hero image: James, Lonili, Karl and William Sangster with a photo of William's grandpa Taniela Kama. Photo / Supplied

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