I’m a holiday season phobic. Just call me Anti-Christmas or Scrooge. There are more things I dislike about Festivus than I like. See, I can’t even bring myself to say the word! I sense readers dropping like flies as they read this- another holiday reason misery rant.
I come from a small family. It was the three of us on Christmas Day trying to make an effort. Mum would cook a chook and roast potatoes in lard. Our fake tree looked like a toilet brush that had been dipped in bright green Pine o Kleene. In the afternoon, dad who had been morose all day would get on the phone and ring friends from all over Australia to dissect the year. His voice would go up an octave and he would be hale and hearty and jolly. He would hang up and stare off into space—his beer untouched.
On occasion, we’d join up with our British friends and have an English Christmas with them. The high point was the year we went to the Cuckoo a German-themed restaurant, famous for its gargantuan buffet and floorshow. Dad refused to go. Mum and I set off with glee and loved the food, the corny jokes, and the German band. In the early evening, full of strudel and goodwill we drove home and saw Dad walking in the front gate looking dejected. It transpired he’d gone to get fish and chips and was surprised that the shop was closed. Mum said nothing, but the following year she declined invitations out and cooked the usual chook and potatoes and Brussel sprouts.
As an only child, I longed for the hurly-burly, noise, and camaraderie of a big family celebration. The Kris Kringle, the backyard cricket, the family traditions, and in-jokes. Yet when I did this, I always felt on the outer. I was a guest, but not part of the clan. These were other people’s Christmases, not mine. I came to dread the inevitable inquiry and plotted escapes. Some of my most memorable have been away from Melbourne; at our farm on the bank of the Murrumbidgee River, watching the Queens speech in London at a Wandsworth flat, after dinner walks around the lake in Trentham with the screech of cicadas battering our eardrums. As expats in Hong Kong, we’d spend the day with friends, who had become our family. Christmas day in Vietnam was a normal working day, but that night our hotel in Hoi An put on a party, decorated the lobby with fairy lights and plied us with potent mulberry wine.
I remember the last Christmas before my mother died and the first Christmas with my daughter in Sydney. In the morning, we drove to Rushcutters Bay to look at the Sydney-Hobart yachts and in the evening nibbled at salmon, drank a lot of beer and waited for the southerly buster to blow in. My 11-month-old daughter scooped salmon into her mouth and a foodie was created.
Last year at Cape Conran we ate our lunch in 3 minutes flat due to the flies. And then hot-footed it back to the beach where we looked out on the Southern Ocean and read. We were creating our own tradition of an unconventional beachside Christmas. And today, it was a marathon cooking session, a late lunch and the Cards Against Humanity game. A long way from charades and carols around the fire.
As I’ve grown older and mellowed(arguably) the fuss and bother of Christmas has simplified to a get together around the table and drinking champagne. The religious aspect of the season may not figure largely in my house, but the spirit and goodwill and humanity is all there. As is the washing up, the arguments and the inevitable criticism of recipes. To borrow from Jo March in Little Women Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without any of these things.