YOU GUYS, IT’S CHRISTMAS! I mean, it’s the Christmas season. And while I used to be quite grinchy about the whole thing, I’ve given in and admitted that I love the tinsel, the food, the drink and Billie Piper’s cover of “Last Christmas“.
I mean, it probably helps that Christmas is a religious holiday for me, so in addition to the general secular cheer, the season has another layer of meaning. Hell, Christmas has lots of meanings, some of them contradictory.
And some of them are pretty localised. Christmas is a beacon of hope in the darkest time of year! It’s a time for families to huddle together against the cold! Why, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without snow!
Christmas, in Australia, takes place in early summer, just a few days after solstice. Most years, if a church has air conditioning, it’s running full blast through the Midnight Mass. The Christmas Eve vigil Mass is often held outside. (Well, it was in my home town, where “outside” meant a nice, empty field, not a busy inner city street!)
Mulled wine is just the starter for sangria. (No, seriously, you know that vile glögg sold at Ikea? A third of a bottle, a third of a bottle of cheap shiraz, some soda water and some orange. SO GREAT.) My mother only drinks at Christmas, so we drink a bottle of fizzy, cheap Lambrusco with lunch and then have a siesta as the afternoon gets hotter.
Oh, the food. Even if I became vegan tomorrow, I’d have to make an exception for Christmas. Sure, we have our turkeys and our chickens, but one year, Mum baked fish and served it with a vast array of salads. Most years, she roasts a lamb on Christmas Eve, and we eat it cold for lunch the next day. (If it lasts that long. “Elizabeth, stop picking at the lamb!” is the annual Christmas refrain.)
I haven’t been home for Christmas for a few years, and this year I’m feeling really low about that, so forgive me if I become nostalgic.
In fact, all this festive nostalgia drove me to Pastures of the Blue Crane by H F Brinsmead, one of my favourite books as a kid. It’s the story of a lonely, snobbish girl whose father dies, leaving her a grandfather she never knew, property in northern New South Wales, and a bunch of family secrets. For a book with an explicitly anti-racist message, it’s also amazingly racist, but that’s the ’60s for you. Here is the heroine’s new next door neighbour describing her Christmas plans:
‘Now, I’ll be very hurt if you and your grandad don’t come over and have Christmas dinner with us! I’m counting on you. I’ve got a turkey – we’ll have it cold – and avocado pears with french dressing and stuffed peppers. I feel really inspired over tomorrow’s dinner.’
And it’s taken me this many years to realise that “avocado pears” just means avocado, not some unholy combination of avocado and pear.
The event itself:
It was eaten on a trestle table under the great Moreton Bay fig-trees at the edge of Clem’s lawn … Clem’s new brick house was not large and would never have contained the eighteen diners whom they managed, without any trouble, to muster. These included two very old aunts, a married daughter with three small children, the married daughter’s husband and parents-in-law, Clem’s father – who was about Dusty’s age and universally known as Butch Bradley – and various other people claiming connexion. This assortment of people seemed to enjoy each other’s company with gusto, drawing the newcomers into their circle as though they, too, were part of the country and its life.
The meal was such a major affair that it trailed on well into the afternoon, finally merging into a cold tea.
That, to me, has always seemed like the ideal Christmas: outdoors, with lots of food and even more family and friends. Which is kind of weird, now I think about it, because mine is a rather small, isolated, indoorcentric sort of family. We have never gone to the beach on Christmas Day (too crowded) to play beach cricket (too crowded, also, cricket is a team sport, and therefore something we do not do). I have vague memories of my grandparents hosting a barbecue in summer once, but whether that was for Christmas, I have no idea.
Things we don’t do for Christmas in Australia:
- Holly. Doesn’t grow here. You can buy plastic holly, but … why?
- Mistletoe. It does grow here, but it’s a noxious exotic parasite. Except for native mistletoe, obviously, which belongs to the local ecosystem, but no one kisses under that. (Do northern hemisphere types really kiss under mistletoe? Seriously?)
- Hang Christmas stockings over a fireplace. Okay, we might do that, in houses that have fireplaces (mine does, and we done), but we also don’t…
- Have roaring fires at Christmas time. Apparently that needs to be pointed out.
Things Australians do do on Christmas Day:
- Dream of a white Christmas. IDEK.
- Roast stuff, leaving the kitchen a steaming oven of PAIN and HEAT. Why? I DON’T KNOW. But those baked fish were totally worth it.
- Drink a lot.
- Drink seasonally inappropriate beverages. I don’t know what it is about Christmas that has me saying, “Yes. Brandy. That’s what I need in my belly right now.” But there you go.
- Exchange cards and sing carols featuring snow.
- Write op-eds about how seasonally inappropriate traditions have to go.
- Eat at halal restaurants and lament that the shops are closed because of some damn Christian holiday, and it’s not like anything changes for Eid or Ramadan, does it? (Cultural variations may apply.)
CHRISTMAS. I love it. Even this year, when I’m probably going to spend the day by myself, playing Mass Effect and drinking cider. And I hope that everyone reading this has a happy, safe day.