So now we have arrived at our final day for these 12 Days of Christmas. I hope yours was a real joy and a delight.
I am absolutely buzzed to have my dear friend, the award winning Jackie French sharing her Christmas memories. This is longer than many others but it is full of gorgeous Christmas reflections, of dinners, of presents sent by post, of Christmas feasts, of Christmas smells, of the Christmas chook and oh so much more. It’s very beautiful and all Australian — chook, ute, Sao bisquits, garboes, dunny and hot … how Australian is that!
I believe in Santa Claus. Literally. None of this symbol of Christmas stuff or myths of childhood. I believe in Santa Claus like I believe in the bunyip who lives in the dark casurina haunted corner of the creek. The pools are dark and deep and the edges murky and you hold your breath when you walk past at night. If you mind your own business the bunyip will mind his. I never took to the Easter bunny. He was something you accepted to get the goodies, but the biological details were hazy and he never had much personality anyway, just this bit of fur who pranced about at Easter, dropped his bundle and bounced off.
Santa Claus is too emphatic to be unreal. Ask anyone. We probably have a clearer idea of Santa’s character than of our own grandparents. He’s kind; he’s deeply understanding; he loves children and animals and obviously has a deep love of the environment or he wouldn’t live at the North Pole. He’d move to Manhatten or Tokyo instead and really be at the heart of the Christmas industry. And there is no question where Santa stands on the arms race or whaling or destruction of rainforests. You can’t condemn someone like that to non existance.
Edward, at five, is steadfastly ignoring the inconsistancies in the lore of Santa. It’s not just cupboard love. It’s an instinctive knowledge that Santa is real, even if most of the games we play with him in department stores and Christmas parties are not. A thousand imitations doesn’t mean he’s not real.
Around here Santa comes in a white ute, a bit dusty, with a strong smell of sheep (Santa doesn’t shear that afternoon). He’s already been to the Araluen Christmas party. On Christmas Eve he’ll be hovering with the sea mist above the valley. Christmas will be a good day, it always has been, no matter what disasters have danced on either side of it.
There’s a smell to Christmas. Here it’s hot grass and algae threads in the creek and the scent of the sea mist lifting. The sea mist always rolls in after hot summer days, and drifts back up the gullies with sunrise till by the time the Shrike thrush is pecking at the window in the fisrt flash of sunlight it’s evaporated and the heat is closing its fingers over the valley again. Christmas smells of pudding (boiling of course) and Pimms with cucumber, and chocolate and muscatels. When I was a child it smelt of roast potatoes in the dripping that my mother reused from roast to roast till it had a vintage mother’s-cooking smell. The dripping was finally disgarded after perhaps twenty years when my mother moved into her flat, and no other scent has matched it. There was the smell of tea and Sao biscuits and cheese too, with parents slowly nibbling trying to keep awake. And there was the smell of brown paper too, still covering the Christmas wrapping. Most of our relatives lived elsewhere and gifts were posted, bundled round the tree still in string and stamps, then cut and torn and wrestled with on Christmas morning. Do organised homes exist where someone gets the scissors BEFORE they start opening presents?
There were other rituals too like the beer left out for the garboes tied up with Christmas ribbon or calling out Christmas greetings to neighbours as they hobbled down to the dunny in the backyard in their dressing gowns (the one day of the year you aknowledegd each other’s existance on the way to the umentionable). There were phone calls to grandparents where each kid said “Merry Christmas” (and dad fretted over the long distance phone bill) and then “thank you” for whatever it was they received, a present invariably too young or too old. Those were still relatively untraveled days, and we mightn’t see our grandparents for several years at a time.
Breakfast was an anticlimax at Christmas, a nothing in particular between one excitement and the next. Then potato peeling and wrestling with the pumpkin and surrepticiously watching the lemonade bottles in the fridge till Mum had to yell at us not to keep letting the cold air out.
When I was very young Christmas dinner was a chook decapitated by my father. One year I tried to be helpful and drowned it first in a bucket on the front lawn, but my father refused to be grateful and sent me to my room. I discovered that I remembered what chook really tasted like when I started to kill my own, chook without the slighly spongy frozen texture; chook that has been fed on a wide and happy diet; but most of all a chook that has been bred for eating, not the multi purpose sad white denizens of bright lighted sheds, bred for eggs as well as meat and neither with much flavour.
Christmas also meant the wonderful shock of shops’ air conditioning, billowing out of their doors into the baked Christmas streets. Few shops had air conditioning then and the Christmas displays in the window were all northern hemisphere snow padding onto Charles Dickens lanes and kids with overcoats and lanterns.
A friend used to decorate Christmas windows in those days. He remembers his first major department store with pride. It was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White laid out on her bier with the dwarfs sobbing in the background and Prince Charming bending gently over to kiss her. Snow White’s bier traveled round and round so the kids outside the window could get a good look at her and the Prince’s pedestal went up and down as he bent to kiss and rose again. He got a phone call from the police on Boxing Day. A crowd had gathered putside the store. They were becoming unruly. Could he please come do something about it? Mystified, he abandoned the Christmas leftovers and wandered down. The Prince’s pedestal had broken. The Prince was now lying face down on Snow White, but the mechanism was still working – up and down, up and down. There was a similar incident a few years later when Baby Bear fell on top of Goldilocks but he says smugly that wasn’t his fault. The exploding Good Fairy was though. She was mostly made of light bulb. He was called into the manager’s office to explain and comfort the small boy, still howling, who had been watching this vision of lovliness when it blew up in front of him.
There’ve been dry Christmases here, when the ground was too hot to walk on in bare feet and the wombats huddled in the damp sand of the creek. There was the Christmas after Edward’s birth when we debated earnestly whether his life would be warped if Santa didn’t come to him at six weeks old. There was the Christmas when an elderly relative had a heart attack (mild) but even that was held to be good news openly by us kids and secretly by the adults: Christmas could proceed without her disapproval.
Christmas has always been perfect. Just perfect.
Jackie French, author of Dairy of a Wombat, Christmas Wombat, Hitler’s Daughter, The Girl from Snowy River and 150 others including the wonderful title that came out for Christmas 2012 … Queen Victoria’s Christmas.
She lives in the beautiful Araluen Valley of New South Wales, Australia.
More on the Carolinas later but Pam Vaughan (official photographer for the New England conference last weekend) has just sent me oodles and poodles of photos … so if you don’t want to see piccies of me in action – then look away now! There are photos of me with friends, of me panelling, photos […]