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.
We do get to celebrate it first (well except for those wretched 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.
A more recent effort that caught my eye:
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)
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.
As for Santa’s gifts; we had impossible dreams of ice-skates and sleds, but were chuffed with the reality of beach balls and buckets and spades.
All very Mad Hatterish, Alice.
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 very relevant; It is called; JINGLE BELLS IN THE CAFE
I especially love the second stanza, which also reminds me of my mother, even though she was fourth generation Australian.
Here is one of my main ‘snail mail’ Christmas cards for 2018. If you receive this, or something similar, please don’t judge me.
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.
Oh yes, and as it’s summer you can use Lavender as a fragrant gift card…..or a festive gum leaf!
Feel free to leave a message with your thoughts on Christmas. There is a comment box below. And an anti-spam sum to complete.
– I don’t know how to write it upside down…..backwards will have to do.