Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year, and even more so now that my family has expanded by four grandchildren. Every year my Christmas countdown in Brisbane begins in October when the beautiful jacaranda trees are flush with blue-mauve flowers. Although not native to Australia (South American actually) we love them. As a matter of fact so loved are these trees that in Grafton NSW they honour them by holding a Jacaranda festival each year in October.
Blooming Jacarandas mean only one thing to me – Christmas is coming and it’s coming soon…
As my countdown to Christmas continues and the Jacaranda flowers are spent, now bordering many flower beds are the blue and white flowers of the agapanthus, aggies for short, a stunning flower with roots (pardon the pun) leading all the way to South Africa … Oh joy oh joy Christmas is coming.
Reruns of movies like The Polar Express, Santa Claus 1 through to 3, The Muppet Christmas Carols, The Night before Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street set the tone – you’d be right to say they’re not Australian but they sure bring in the spirit of Christmas for me.
I remember with fondness the white Christmases of long ago when as a little girl growing up in Europe I would smell cinnamon, orange, and nutmeg wafting through the air, and oh those delicious gingerbread biscuits – now sold Australia-wide in an Aldi supermarket near you, and remember eggnog being the drink of choice as the tree was decorated.
One evening as the snow glistened outside I was invited to go carolling with the neighbourhood children. With our lanterns lit and our best voices on, up and down the streets we trudged through the newly fallen snow. We’d stop outside each house sing then wait for the chocolates and sweets of appreciation to be thrown down to us. It was so much fun trying to find chocolates and lollies in several feet of snow…at night. Bet the adults are still laughing about that.
Sometimes I reminisce and think how wonderful it would be if I could experience just one more white Christmas, particularly whilst listening to Bing Crosby crooning “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” or “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Central Park in New York City at Christmas is on my bucket list, and keeping fingers crossed, it will be a white Christmas.
Okay now to some true blue Aussie Christmas traditions…
Our way of compensating for the lack of cold weather, snow or logs on a fire in December (apart from Melbourne where weatherwise, anything’s possible at any time of the year) is by celebrating Christmas in July. July’s Christmas includes all the trimmings of stuffed turkey, ham, roast vegetables, and plum pudding with custard. Venture to Australia’s snowy mountains in July and if luck is shining down upon you, the weather will be close to that of the northern hemisphere’s winter. Here in the ski fields at the end of the day, you’ll find people full of good cheer around open fires though the mulled wine might have something to do with it.
There are many of us who still write Christmas cards with snowmen, icicles, fir trees covered in snow, people ice-skating on frozen lakes, and pictures of Santa and cute reindeer pulling their sleigh through the snow. In the Land Down Under not only would Santa melt from the sweltering heat wearing his thick red winter woollies, his reindeer would die of heat exhaustion before the last sack was loaded onto the sleigh – seriously the reindeer union and the RSPCA would have a field day.
Nope, no reindeers and sleighs for us. Here we have ‘six white boomers’ (boomers: large kangaroos) a song made famous by Rolf Harris back in the ’60’s. I’ve seen our Santa pulling a surfboard and doing the right thing by slip, slop, slapping on that sunscreen, wearing boardies and hat, as he zipped across the southern skies. Yes – he’s our man!
It’s a far cry from the drunk Santa I remember riding in the back of a ute in a small country town many years ago. He was last seen swigging on a long neck bottle of beer trying hard to articulate “ho ho ho and a Merry Christmas to all” and stay upright at the same time.
Carols by Candlelight are a huge tradition here and originated in south-eastern Australia back in the 19th century. During the lead up to Christmas many families take their blankets, picnic dinner, and their best singing voices to the Carols at the many venues around towns and cities of Australia. It might not be the same tradition as carolling in the snow for sweets, but it’s near enough. Carols by Candlelight is a wonderful way to spend precious time with family and friends.
As Christmas Day closes in the temperature continues to rise as does the humidity in the more northern parts of Australia – here in Brisbane the humidity can be so high if I don’t put my makeup on in the cool of early morning, the makeup tends to slide off my face – this morning was a case in point.
You know Christmas is here when you start hearing the almost continuous, loud shrill sounds of cicadas on hot, cloudless days. Apparently The Australian Green Grocer Cicada can generate the loudest sound (120dB) in the insect world, and is actually louder than 120dB – the equivalent of standing next to a speeding train or the siren of an ambulance. So when I say ‘the loud shrill sound of a cicada’ here in Cicada country it’s loud.
There are still traditionalists who insist on cooking the turkey, other roasts as well as roast vegetables and gravy in the stifling heat (I used to), as well as have the fruitcake and custard. Not everyone has air conditioning here so a cool breeze is often at the top of one’s wish list.
So what’s on the menu for a traditional Aussie Christmas lunch? Well it’s come to pass that we’re quite sophisticated these days thanks to Master Chef, My Kitchen Rules, Good Chef Bad Chef, The Chef and the Cook, and the many different cultures, but at the end of the day the following menu items are pretty much part and parcel of Christmas lunch:
1. Prawns; either thrown on the barbie or presented on ice with lemon wedges, and tartar sauce on the side;
2. Fresh Fish from the market; arrive early (if you’ve never had this experience before you’ll know what I mean when you do);
3. In the old days it was tossed green Salad, bowl of beetroot with onion, and some asparagus, In this modern day and age it’s tossed green salad, fresh beetroot salad with goat’s cheese and mesculen, no asparagus unless it’s freshly grilled;
4. Snags and lamb chops – lamb cutlets if you can afford it; for barbie only except in places of total fire ban. While some still cook these, I prefer baked chook the Maggie Beer way, and thinking ham cooked a la Nigella style (cooked in ginger ale) will be on the menu next year;
6. For ‘afters’; Down the beach or backyard. Must haves are beach towel, togs, thongs (which have nothing to do with lingerie), sunscreen, cricket bat and ball, and maybe catch a little beach volley ball in action;
7. An esky full of beers; on occasion you may be lucky enough to find room for other items but don’t get too excited;
8. A few bottles of bubbles for the girls;
9. Still wine for the more refined;
10. Cocktails for the even more refined;
11. More beers for the esky;
12. A nap; and
13. A laid back attitude.
Christmas lunch done and dusted, Boxing Day can find many of us watching the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race (a firm favourite of mine), or there’s the Boxing Day Test Cricket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where Aussie pride always shows through and many prayers are said asking the Great Cricket God to help us give the English a sound thrashing.
It’s not all sailing, cricket and Frisbee throwing, scores of families use Boxing Day as the day to do nothing but get together again and eat leftovers, either at home, at an overcrowded park, an overcrowded beach, or by a friend’s pool.
When the spirit of Christmas is upon me it calls out to me to make time and connect more with my friends and family, to enjoy their company, to laugh with them, to remember how lucky I am to have what I have, and to feel that feeling of peace welling up inside me that I want to share with everyone. For me the spirit of Christmas has nothing to do with the big budget items placed under a tree or fancy decorations; it’s a feeling that’s available all year round but every day life often gets in the way, around Christmas time the feeling of the spirit of Christmas bursts through the roof and high into the stratosphere. Every Aussie Christmas I’ve experienced has been about the coming together of people, the magic, fun memories, the generosity of people, looking at life once more through the eyes of a child, and the making plans of a better year ahead.
However you spend Christmas, may it be all that it can be and more 🙂