When I was growing up there was usually insufficient money to celebrate Christmas the way most other families did.
In spite of that, I loved Christmas. I loved the colour of the lights, the dazzling decorations but most of all the spirit of generosity, joy and love that seemed so much more prevalent and tangible during this season.
When I married and had my own family, Christmas became a significant part of our calendar. A lavishly decorated Christmas tree dominated our living room, surrounded by beautifully wrapped gifts. Delightful squeals of joy filled the house each morning as my two children unwrapped a carefully selected gift to represent the 12 days leading up to Christmas. Christmas Day was filled with family, food and festivities.
When my husband and I began working at the Salvation Army's homeless youth shelter, now known as the Oasis Youth Support Network, in the heart of inner-city Sydney, our idea of Christmas was turned upside down. For the young people we worked with, Christmas was a period marked more by despair than joy.
Drug and alcohol use escalated and the constant media images of presents, families laughing together, celebration and connecting reminded them of the things absent from their lives.
Christmas Day in particular was a sad day for these young people. Everything was shut, everyone was with family - but in most cases the young people of Oasis had no family to go to.
So we decided to do something about it - to put on a day filled with fun, great food and opportunities to connect. We hired a venue, found a team of enthusiastic volunteers, cut ham, cooked turkeys, put up decorations, wrapped presents and opened the doors.
In the first year, about 200 people turned up - it was chaotic, we didn't have enough plates and so a team of volunteers washed them as soon as each person had finished their meal so they could be reused for the next guest. There were unrecognisable renditions of karaoke Christmas songs. But laughter and joy filled the venue.
That was 13 years ago. The Salvation Army's Sydney Christmas luncheon has grown to more than 1200 people. I don't run the event any longer, but these people have become family, and supporting this amazing community celebration continues to be the way our family celebrates Christmas.
So what led me to change the Christmas traditions that I treasured so much?
As a follower of Jesus I believe we cannot sit in the face of pain, poverty and isolation such as we encountered at Oasis and do nothing. My faith, if it is genuine, demands that I respond.
I had no special experience or skills to put on a community event for 200 people, but we did what we could, and somehow out of that willingness to do something, a life-giving event emerged.
Christmas has therefore changed dramatically for me and my family. It is now shared with hundreds of our most vulnerable, troubled and disadvantaged members in the community. And I have also discovered another surprising truth - with sacrifice comes unexpected joys and rewards.
So this Christmas I encourage you to consider establishing a new family tradition - something that is of special significance that can be passed from generation to generation - something that reflects the true meaning of Christmas, which involves giving, connection, thinking of others. Invite a neighbour home for Christmas lunch, place a present under the Kmart Wishing Tree, volunteer at a local homeless shelter or community centre or buy a coffee for the homeless person you pass every day on your way to work. There are so many possibilities … it just takes a willingness to do something different for the first time, and to begin the process of creating a new and life-giving Christmas tradition.
Major Robbin Moulds is the social inclusion co-ordinator for the Salvation Army.