HOW TO ENJOY CHRISTMAS STANDING ON YOUR HEAD!

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CHRISTMAS DOWN-UNDER

John O’Grady once wrote a best selling  book called, They’re a Weird Mob.  It was about Australians and yes….we are a bit strange.  What do you expect when we live in an upside down world?

Our fair country  was  described in Alice in Wonderland  as being;

WHERE PEOPLE WALK WITH THEIR HEADS DOWN WHERE THEIR FEET SHOULD BE. THE ANTIPATHIES! 

That’s right Alice,  everything is topsy  turvy here, including  Christmas.

upsidedown-tree

 

We do get to celebrate it first (well except for those Kiwis across the ditch).  But oh dear, there are so many extra problems to deal with. Chocolates  melt, live Christmas trees wither, and Santas almost expire in their suits and fur lined boots.

My childhood festive season was a complete paradox.  At the beginning of December, cards would start arriving; far, far  more than I receive or send  now.  Virtually every  one  featured  a snow scene, a skating rink, or a Christmas tree beside a burning fire.  We adored them.  In reality, the most physically distant relatives who sent us such cards were from tropical Queensland.  Bizarre eh?

My siblings and I  decorated our school books with cut up greeting cards.  In the new year  we set off  for the bus in sandals and summer clothes,  but  with  snowmen or reindeers plastered on  our brown paper covers.

Mind you, all  this  duality was accepted by us with consummate ease. I think it just added to the  magic and mystery of the  season.

Of course there were   attempts  in colonial times  to make Christmas cards more appropriate.

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And an article in a  Queensland newspaper in  December 1907  highlighted the  impracticality of ‘old world’ festive foods.

CHRISTMAS WITH MIDSUMMER HEAT

Christmas presents in Australia are entirely different from what people in England are accustomed to.  Sunshades, parasols, summer hats, Indian muslins, panamas and the like are thrust upon one’s notice as suitable presents for friends. In one case a novel Christmas present was the gift of a beautiful summer-house, which a generous  friend erected on the recipient’s lawn. But the turkeys – what of them?  Turkey at midsummer is a simply ridiculous dish, while plum pudding is a deliberate tempting of providence.  Midsummer heat calls for light dishes, fruits and ices, but tradition is hard to alay, and, hence Australians of the first generation, and Englishmen who have not forgotten the old land,  rigorously adhere to the ancient diet of the old century on Christmas Day.  Of course there is no exhibition of turkeys for a week or ten days prior to Christmas, as there is in England.  Imagine what would be the last state of a turkey exposed for 10 days in a heat that varies from from 85  to 110 degrees Fahrenheit!

Somehow  that nostalgia for the  food traditions of a freezing  northern Christmas scarcely waned.  Certainly there are those  of us who now  opt for seafood and pavlova,  but in our hearts we know it’s just  not  the same.

We even tried to replicate snow in our festive foods. White Christmas slice was made by women around Australia every year. And yes, it  still is. The recipe below appeared in the Tasmanian Examiner on December 17 2016 (thanks to my friend Jen Eddington for this)

 

examiner17thwhitehristmas

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Naturally there had to be some  concessions. Visions of sugar plums  may have danced in our heads, but it was fat, ripe  cherries we left  out for Santa on Christmas Eve. And  Christmas dinner?  Well as a perpetually hungry child, I coped  alright with the  roast turkey, baked vegetables  and trimmings.  As that 1907 article suggested, it was  the plum pudding that defeated me. I would simply mash it up to find the threepences, which I spent at the beach  next day on iceblocks.   It’s worth remembering that Aussie kids have the benefit of weeks of summer holidays following Christmas.

On one occasion about thirty years ago my husband and I spent Christmas with my sister and her family. It was so intensely hot that we ended up having lunch in the downstairs garage.  Yep, it was roast turkey and plum pudding.

 

My late mother managed to enjoy her Christmas lunch in an unconventional setting.

My late mother managed to enjoy her Christmas lunch in an unconventional setting.

All very Mad Hatterish, Alice.

I'll just sit here for a bit.

It’s all madness.

emu-xmas-card

 

Australia is  very multi-cultural country, which is why this poem struck a chord with me. Oddly enough the poet is American, but her words are so relevant;  It is called;  JINGLE BELLS IN THE CAFE

 

Poem by Phibby Venable about Christmas

I especially love the second stanza, which also reminds me of my mother, even though she was fourth generation Australian.

Poem about Christmas by Phibby Venable

 

Here is my main ‘snail mail’  Christmas card for 2016. If you receive this, or something similar, please don’t judge me.

Nothing like a roaring fire in a heatwave.

Nothing like a roaring fire in a heatwave.

My online, home made greetings are more sensible. I play around with summer flowers from my garden.  Yes, there are  some advantages to an upside down festive season.

foxglove-greeting

 

Feel free to leave a message with your thoughts on Christmas. There is a comment box below. And an anti-spam sum to complete.

  SNOSAES  SGNITEERG  – I don’t know how to write it upside down…..backwards will have to do.

8 Comments
  1. Ha Ha Pauline, your article brought back many memories…my favourite was looking for the sixpences in the plum pudding. :)I can still remember my poor mum in our house, perspiration streaming down her brow as she diligently baked and rolled and peeled and tried to keep our sticky fingers away from everything on the table. I remember one Christmas when she went outside to hang out the washing and left some food on the table…only to come in and find our rooster marching up and down in the middle of the table, calling for all his “wives” to come and partake of the feast he had found!!! Mother was NOT IMPRESSED!!! (I think we had roast rooster that year but I couldn’t be sure). Have a very Merry Christmas and an even better New Year! 🙂

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to leave a message, Cheryl. I can remember having to pluck the wretched chickens for Christmas, and poor Mum dressing them. I always vowed I would never do that…and I haven’t!!! Merry Christmas to you and Michael and your families. xx

      • Thanks Pauline, the same to you and yours. And may the New Year bring much joy and successes for you. xxx

  2. Love the image of you all enjoying your celebration lunch in the downstairs garage!!!
    I have friends in NZ. Have never heard the expression ‘Kiwis across the ditch’ – it made me smile.
    I think we here on the other side of the world to you, must have inherited all the snowy Christmas images from the time of Dicken’s Victorian Christmas Carol. We rarely have a white Christmas! Certainly religious images on our Christmas cards are still usually depicted in a setting of heat, camels, and sand from the original Christmas story. I found it quite bizarre on my first Christmas visit to Fremantle in W.Australia to see everyone’s snowy scenes on their cards or wrapping paper – while it was 26 deg in the shade outside. I admit to truly missing my usual traditional turkey roast with all the trimmings that year. On that particular Christmas morning, we stopped off at the harbour after our early morning swim down on the beach, to pick up a box of King Prawns – to go with our salad. I’ll sell my soul for a prawn ‘cos I love ’em, but for Christmas dinner? No thanks. My sister-in-law also waxed lyrical over her home grown tree (a dead seed head from some spiky plant out in the bush) with its bit of tinsel and the odd bauble, held erect in a bucket full of rocks! I made some non-committal noises of ‘approval’. On my second Australian Christmas with my brother, I was meeting up with my youngest son who’d arrived there a month beforehand during his back-packing trip around the world. That year we had ‘Christmas Ham’ and salad. Philip and I looking steadily at each other across the table, voices silent but our eyes speaking volumes.
    Really looking forward to my turkey dinner next week – and with a bit of luck, a flurry of snow!!!

    • Pauline

      Oh, yes…I can understand your disappointment, Marcia. Even novelty doesn’t make up for the lack of that special dinner.The only people who don’t seem to mind are the UK backpackers on Bondi Beach. I remember we had a gum branch Christmas tree one year when I was little, which at least had a lovely fragrance. We soon went back to pine though. xx

  3. I love the whole Christmas message you sent, Pauline. I make White Christmas every year and I find it doesn’t have the same taste as in Australia. I think a lot of their food products aren’t as flavorsome as in Australia. I miss our Christmas as here it can be quite cold. We have very little snow falling in Winter where I live, and I’m pleased about that. Shoveling snow off the drives and footpaths isn’t one of the better things to do in the snow.
    I love the Christmas lights and decorations that most towns and people hang to welcome in Christmas . We have the traditional Christmas dinner and the usual television programs aired for the ‘stay-in’ population.
    We have just arrived home from Mexico and it was a good trip by car each way. Now, I have to get into my Christmas pcooking. I’ve already made my rich fruit cake and iced it. Next, it’s White Christmas, Rum Ball and Christmas Plum Pudding time to make.
    May you and your family enjoy a blessed Christmas period. I look forward to seeing your messages in the New Year.

    • Pauline

      Hello Heather, you will be surprised to hear that it has been snowing down in Tasmania, just amazing.
      We had a holiday house in England for a long time, and I loved spending Christmas over there. It is my dream to have Christmas in New York one day, to see all the city decorations and lights.
      Sounds as if you will a lovely, traditional meal. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you and yours.
      Thanks for all the comments you leave, they are much appreciated. x

  4. Thanks for the insight! I always wondered what Christmas was like on the other side of the equator.

    While the traditional “White Christmas” still prevails in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere, in Southern California we usually ring in the holiday with clear skies, high winds, and the the occasional cooler temperatures. Though sometimes it’ll be just as hot as in the late summer. Those darn Santa Ana winds…

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