Upside Down Christmases…
Cold Christmases? Snow? Robins sitting on a yuletide log whilst carollers sing with lighted lanterns?
It’s such a perfect picture and one that I grew up with courtesy of books, Christmas cards and fledgling TV programmes.
I remember at primary school when we made our own Christmas cards and I couldn’t WAIT to get hold of the glitter to sprinkle around because the glitter would be the winterlight dancing off the snowflakes that I was contriving to design.
But our reality here in Australia is really so very different…
We’re in mid-summer and invariably it’s pretty warm around the nation. If there is anywhere that could be cool, it’s my own home-state, Tasmania, because we are at 40 degrees south latitude – halfway to Antarctica.
But every Christmas Day it’s blue and mild and genuinely summery and I began to tire of the faux Christmas-tide snow and the faux snowmen … everything faux, really.
I especially began to tire of the faux (or even not so faux) Christmas trees and red and gold tinsel.
Thus I started dressing our faux tree in the city with white and silver decorations (and which gave me a wonderful excuse to go shopping and to fill my decoration box all over again). My mother was not quite convinced with the end result, being very Old School. ‘But it doesn’t look like it should,’ she said.
And at the beach cottage, House, I spray painted a dead branch from a tree and hung my Twelve Days of Christmas upon it. For Mum, it wasn’t traditional enough, so the next year, I hung red balls over it.
Mum was a bit ‘Meh!’ about the finished product.
But Christmas decoration really became an issue when I asked my husband to make a driftwood tree for our little cottage by the sea.
Mum took one look, said ‘Huh!’ and lit up another cigarette.
For years I tried to persuade Mum to step aside from the accepted northern tradition for Christmas dinner and to make our own tradition – a table filled with the seasonal produce of our state. She agreed just once and we had a table loaded with fresh oysters, crayfish, fresh roasted lamb, glazed ham and salad upon salad of wonderful organic vegetables – Kipfler potato and pea salad, roast peach and feta salad, broadbean, beetroot and goats-cheese salad – oh, my mouth waters as I remember! We had a dessert of berry trifle and a pavlova groaning in fresh fruit largesse.
And whilst Mum enjoyed the fresh seafood, she went back to her own home and apparently tucked into a secret roast turkey and baked veg, because ‘it just wasn’t Christmas’ otherwise.
So from that day to this and no matter how hot it might have been, we have continued the old ‘roast turkey and trimmings’ theme because that’s what she wanted. Followed by Christmas Pudding (with real pre-decimal money in it) and brandy butter and lashings of whipped cream. Mum’s only concession to change was to eat it all at our house.
But lo! It was actually on our porch!
My brother would cook the turkey in his Weber BBQ at his and Mum’s house, Mum would bake the veg the way she liked them. I would do an enormous platter of roast veg and beans and feta, and steamed fresh greens and carrot straws. Then my brother would load the turkey and Mum’s roast veg and gravy and the ham into the car and they would speed up the road to our place and we would serve it all onto our table.
Just the way Mum wanted it all to be.
We’d pull the most expensive Christmas crackers we could find (because it was Christmas and they would have the most useful little things inside like shoe-horns and good keyrings, magnifying glasses and screwdriver sets), put on those ridiculous tissue crowns and groan at the awful jokes.
We’d eat the pudding and hold our hands across bellies straining with good food and wonder if we could ever walk upright again. And a tiny traitorous part of me would think, please let’s have a true Aussie feast next year … that wonderful table filled with the fresh light produce of garden and sea…
My Mum died five months ago.
And it’s funny now, how I cherish her tradition for what it was – her family surrounding her on the most important day of her year. Not the food, not the tree, not gifts nor faux sentiment. Just plain old-fashioned family get-togethers.
It took her passing and knowing we’d never have her with us again, to make me realise how complacent we had all become about little things like tradition.
But I do know this one thing … Christmas this year will be a little different, just till we get used to the empty chair and the unfillable hole in our lives. We might go out in the boat for the day, weather pending, with a picnic on the island adjacent to the beach cottage before coming back and sitting round on our porch and telling Mum stories and nibbling away at whatever is left from the picnic, pulling the crackers and perhaps making a new tradition.
We haven’t really talked about it much yet. I’ll let you know what we decide…
But in between times, here’s Mum’s recipe for her delicious shortbread – something she made every year for the Christmas pantry, along with truffles, Christmas Cakes and the best Christmas Pudding and brandy butter ever! Spookily, she had left a fresh batch of shortbread in the pantry, made the day before she died…
It was delicious. She’d even dipped the ends of the biscuits in melted chocolate.
250 grams softened butter
½ cup caster sugar
1 and 2/3 cups of plain flour
2/3 cup rice flour
Method: Cream butter and sugar.
Add flours slowly until all blended.
Place in a lined slab tin. Fork all over with pattern of your choice.
Cook at 150 degrees fan-forced for 40 minutes until pale golden on top.
Cool and then cut into lady-fingers. Dip ends into melted chocolate if you wish.
Happy Christmas to all readers, reviewers and writers involved directly and indirectly with Indie B.R.A.G.
And a big thanks to the Indie B.R.A.G team for the stirling work of publicising the excellent writing from independent writers across the globe!
May your 2016 be a wonderful one!
The next Hopper after me on the Christmas Blog Hop on December 22 is