I may have finally got the hang of an Aussie Christmas. But it took time. I came from a place of festive lights in the shops, reflecting off the wet pavements in November. Christmas parties to be negotiated and aligned with your partners. Office dos, finger buffets at acquaintances and endless festive and boozy pub lunches. My favourite was my last employers in London – we whistled and a drink’s trolley appeared. For free – anything you wanted. Except advocaat – no one could get the lid off.
The really strange thing was the boyfriend (before he became the husband) used to disappear pheasant shooting in Northampton on the very day I had booked to trudge around Richmond (Surrey) snapping up Christmas presents for both our reasonably large families. Dickens and Jones, Next and Marks and Spencers. By the time I’d made it to Whittards (connoisseurs of fine tea and tea related-products) I was loaded with carrier bags and damn near in tears, I was straight. It was cold out but over-heated in every shop. I was simultaneously sweating from the armpits while any dribble turned into an icicle.
The food list was enormous – even just for us. Turkey, three veg (not including those horrible brussel sprouts). Ingredients for bread sauce, cranberry sauce and single cream for the mince pies.
Christmas day involved the two of us, cavorting on the wrapping paper, watching an old fashioned Christmas movie – (‘Father Christmas, Father Christmas, he’s the greatest man in the whole wide world’ in a Cockney accent). Me sweating over a stove while Mr C shouted out the good bits from lounge room.
Next day we visited my parents and did the whole thing again (except the cavorting). The day after that it was his parents turn to host. Both sets lived in the country – one west and one south. We drove back into London watching the tide mark of smog in the sky. Suddenly noticing the traffic outside our door and feeling several kilos heavier. Three days of turkey, the occasional goose.
There usually followed a trip to Northamptonshire for another pheasant shoot – not for me. Terrified of birds, I hung around with the girls, trying not to get plastered before the menfolk arrived back smelling of game.
New Year was spent in our local. Everywhere else you had to get tickets. We did win the worst dressed couple one year. On purpose.
You’d think after all this excess we would welcome a simple occasion in our new home. Australia. But after over 30 years of traditionally eating ourselves into a lava, cold fog on the night air, it took a while.
The food I changed immediately once down under. Seafood extravaganzas, sushi, and when the boys came along different roasts. Never turkey. Until this year. First time in nearly 20 years since I cooked a turkey, but food was never the issue.
The problem was getting that Christmas-feel in a hot clime. In the lead up to our first Christmas, backyard cricket on a steaming lawn, a friend turned round and said, “oh, it’s getting all Christmassy.” Well, not for me girlfriend.
We started playing Christmas songs earlier and earlier. Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Buble and Dana. Even Deano didn’t do it. Endless watching of Love Actually, Scrooged and Miracle on 34th Street’. Snow scenes and Robins on Christmas cards from the old country. Tinsel blowing in the dragon’s breath of humidity.
After almost a couple of decades, we’re starting to let our ideal of the festive season shift. It’s a summer holiday. We have a family lunch out, a trip to the beach on Boxing Day and a cinema date to escape the heat between Christmas and New Year.
We’ve almost let go. This is the year of the Televisual Christmas Special, courtesy of the BBC and the ABC. Doctor Who, Miranda, The Moody’s. We’re not giving up the telly.
New Year’s Eve we’re in bed by 10pm. The party invites have dried up but they are starting to open up for Son No. 1. As he used to say as a toddler ‘everything is up-ways-downside’. In more than one way.