It’s edging closer to Christmas and I’m well and truly getting into the spirit of the season – which didn’t start back in October as most department stores and supermarkets would have you believe.
Like most vaguely Christian families in Australia we celebrate Christmas in a reasonably big way.
Kiki.K founder Kristina Karlsson said she believed “the anticipation and countdown to Christmas is just as exciting and rewarding as the day itself”.
And while this quote is ripped from an email promoting their Christmas wares sent in late October, my role in the Christmas preparation has gradually grown and now I’m starting to see where she’s coming from.
From the pre-Christmas shopping, baking and decorating, to work break-ups and extended family get-togethers there’s as much to enjoy in the weeks before Christmas as on the actual day.
Christmas in also the time when, if your family was ever going to have a tradition, it’s practiced. Aside from a family dinner on or around your birthday, all of my family’s traditions centre around Christmas.
Making the Christmas Pudding
For many years, sometime about November my younger sister and I would travel the long 500 metres up the road and visit our Gran and Pops to help make the Christmas pudding.
I have been apparently helping with this since I was six weeks old, when a little girl neighbour of mine would help out too. My contribution (when I was old enough to have proper control of my limbs, that is) involved combining the mixture with my hands, licking off the batter that stuck to them, then pressing old coins into the pudding (after I’d washed my hands again!).
When my sister came into the picture she did the same. The formed pudding was divided in two for the coin-placement phase and we each had an even number of coins to put in: pennies, sixpences and thripences ranging in date from the 1930s to the 1960s. Why the coins? Well, when the pudding was served on Christmas Day, in addition to avoiding swallowing any coins, the game was to check the year of the coins in your slice of pudding, with the owner of the oldest coin the winner. We each put the coins on a plate in the centre of the table for next year.
My sister and I loved to help make the pudding, especially as our involvement grew to cracking the eggs and pouring in the pre-measured ingredients. We wore special aprons our Gran had made for us and watched as she wrapped up the pudding, placed it in a pot of water and left it to boil for 6 hours. Over the next few weeks we’d spot it hanging in the laundry – the best way to enrich the flavour is to make it weeks before serving of course.
I’m now 24 and the tradition has continued, with this year the pudding made impressively early – in October. However, it’s now my Auntie Tracey and I carrying on the tradition. When my Gran passed away in 2011 the pudding-making responsibility fell to my aunt. Then my little sister’s social life stopped allowing for as much family time. It’s not the same event as it once was, but there’s still something very special about visiting Auntie Trace, slipping on one of her aprons, and remembering her mother and my Gran as we prepare a dessert for our family.
Decorating the tree
For every year under my parents roof, the time to begin decorating was the same: the weekend after my sister’s 6th December birthday. Occasionally, this got pushed back to the weekend after that, in which case emphasis was placed on the event: We HAVE to put the Christmas tree up this weekend.
For the first 15 or so Christmases of my life, the fact that our tree was plastic was never questioned. Then one year, influenced by images in American holiday movies no doubt, my sister decided we needed a real Christmas tree. The browning pine needles shed and spread in the loungeroom, ensuring this was a one-off event. The next year it was back to plastic – a newer, slightly nicer, plastic tree through.
When we were younger, Mum assembled our tree and threw on the lights, tinsle and nearly all the decorations, leaving us with the sole task to hang our own collection of decorations. Our Auntie Tracey gave us each a matching decoration every year. For instance one year Beth got a wooden angel holding a trumpet, while mine held a violin. This continued for 21 years when in 2012 Auntie Trace presented me with my “last special decoration” – that was, until the following year when she gave me another.
We each have a Christmas tree at our own homes, of course, but Beth and I still come ’round to Mum and Dad’s sometime in early December each year to help put up the tree – and Mum pretty much leaves us to it.
Pretending Santa is real
At a guess I would say I was about 7 years old when I stopped believing in Santa (sorry, kiddies). I had already figured out the tooth fairy wasn’t real. One morning I was looking at the glass beside my bed where I’d left my baby tooth the night before and a gold coin should have been to see… my tooth still there. Mum and Dad told me the tooth fairy had “forgot” and maybe I should check back later, but I was not that silly. The jig was up.
I knew that Santa wasn’t real, but fearing the presents in the stocking on Christmas morning might stop, I didn’t tell my parents I knew the truth. (Oh, and I also had a little sister’s innocence to protect – let’s say that was the reason I didn’t let on.)
So I humoured Mum and asked her to pass on my wishlist to Santa sometime in November, just as I had each previous year. And when Christmas morning came and being the polite little girl that I was, I went to thank Mum for the presents, I instead looked up to the sky and said, “thank you, Santa”. This had to have looked suspicious, because I don’t think I’d done that any other year. So maybe my parents knew that I knew, but neither of us said anything.
The charade continued next year – me playing my role perfectly and Mum the same – acting as Santa’s helper and passing on my wishlist dutifully. And then it went on the following year… and the year after that… and the year after that.
I don’t know at which point my sister also realised Santa wasn’t real. I’m sure we must have spoken about it, but the memory hasn’t stuck. As I approached 12 and my sister 10, Mum’s attitude changed a little bit. She knew we knew, but neither of us said it out loud, so we kept playing the game, but she relaxed a little bit.
Sure, the presents were in the stocking on Christmas morning, but Mum started to talk about how she found the presents, correcting herself jokingly with “how Santa found them, I mean”. Santa stopped needing a glass of milk, slice of Christmas cake and carrots from his reindeer. A carefully worded and creatively decorated letter addressed to Santa and was replaced with five items scrawled on a scrap of paper.
Fast forward to 2015 and neither my, nor my sister live at home, but we will still go back to Mum and Dad’s house on Christmas eve to hang out our stockings and return in the morning to check what “Santa” has delivered with Mum and Dad.
I have, however, been warned that this might just be the last time Santa visits me at Mum and Dad’s house… but I’ll believe that when I see it.
It wouldn’t be Christmas day without two things: Auntie Tracey’s chocolate ripple cake, and Bing Crosby’s heavenly singing voice. Three albums play on rotation on Christmas Day: Bing Crosby’s White Christmas album, The Love Actually soundtrack and a compilation CD that must be from the 70s I don’t think I’ve ever learned the name of.
It’s also obligatory that I will watch at least ten minutes of Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve – a throwback to when my sister and I would stay up until abut the time High 5 finished singing to Santa and then toddle off to bed.
While these traditions might seem fairly banal or common to at least a million other Aussie families, to me they are special. Performing each ritual brings back special memories and above all the presents, prawns and Christmas ham, is what makes the holiday season the most wonderful time of the year.