Christmas is an interesting time of year.
It seems to bring out the best and worst in people. You see random acts of kindness and you see the most incomprehensible pieces of idiocy. It puts a dent in one’s wallet but fills the heart with happiness as families come together to celebrate.
When one is very young, the time from one Christmas to the next seems so very long. I can remember waiting and waiting for the November page to be torn from the calendar – the signal that Christmas was just around the corner.
Here in Australia Christmas is hot and often steamy, not the Christmas weather one sees depicted on Christmas cards. These days Christmas lunch at my house consists of a variety of meats, some hot, some not, seafood and array of interesting salads. But my memory reminds me annually of the holiday seasons of my childhood.
When my Nanna was alive, the whole family would arrive at her place for what she called a proper Christmas. On the way from our place to Nanna’s, Dad would call in at the ice works to buy some bags of ice. These would be used to fill the laundry tub into which the beer bottles (and some bottles of lemonade too) would be placed to chill.
Nanna and my mother and aunties would spend the morning in the kitchen preparing baked ham, roast chickens (and once even a goose!), roast potatoes and other assorted vegetables and the most delicious gravy ever. Nanna would have already made the mince pies, Christmas cake and the plum pudding complete with sixpences hidden in its yummy centre. The men would arrange themselves on the verandah in squatter’s chairs with glasses of beer close to hand. My cousins and I would be left to climb the mango trees in the backyard in search of the treasured fruit or to add tinsel and handmade decorations to our treehouse. The oldest of the boys would be set to work mowing a strip of grass in preparation for the post-lunch cricket match.
At one o’clock, Nanna would tell my Uncle Herbie that dinner was ready. He would announce the good news to the rest of us by way of a piercing whistle. Never have so many children moved so quickly! The race to get a drumstick was a very serious event. We were greeted by a table (two tables end to end actually) groaning with bounty….yummo….it was a sight to behold. Nanna would stand at the head of the table, her face flushed from the heat of the day and the effort of cooking for the multitude, and say “We give thanks for all that we are able to enjoy this day. May God bless us this Christmas and in the new year with health and happiness, friends and family and love and laughter. All these in abundance.” To which we would chorus a hearty “AMEN”.
There wasn’t room for us kids at the table so we sat on the floor or on the stairs with our plates of goodies. My brother would have Vegemite sandwiches. He was not an adventurous eater. Nanna tried every year to tempt him with some delicacy from the feast but he would never relent. “Vegemite sandwich please, Nan.”
When we had cleaned our plates we were allowed to distribute the gifts from under the Christmas tree. I usually received some clothes, a book or a jigsaw puzzle and one of the items from the long list I had sent off to Santa. There was usually a stocking with boiled lollies, noise makers and paper hats etc. as well.
While we played with our new toys, the men of the family would clear the table and begin the washing up, while the ladies sorted the leftovers into bundles to be taken home. Nanna would be told to put her feet up and relax.
Then the cricket match would begin. The usual backyard rules – over the fence is six and out etc.- applied and there were certain allowances made for the little kids. One by one, the men would claim injury and retire to the verandah for a medicinal beer or spirit, and soon it was just us kids playing. We played until the light did not allow us to see the ball. We kept ourselves hydrated by sucking on lumps of ice pinched from the laundry tub.
Finally we would all sit on the verandah and enjoy the mince pies and plum pudding served with custard. My Uncle Harry always seemed to find the sixpence in his pudding. We were sure he slipped one out of his pocket and onto his plate.
We would go home tired, laughing about the day’s events and our tummies full. We would sit in the back seat of the car surrounded by bags and baskets loaded with gifts and leftovers.
Every year as I decorate my home for the season, these memories flood back and I hope that my family go home on Christmas day filled with similar feelings. I hope that when they look back on our family Christmas celebrations they too will remember them fondly.
We give thanks for all that we are able to enjoy this day. May God bless us this Christmas and in the new year with health and happiness, friends and family and love and laughter. All these in abundance.
Christmas circa 1956