Besides the heat, the landscapes, leagues of people headed to the beach, cricket on the television instead of football, kangaroos outside instead of squirrels, I think the thing that sets Australian Christmases aside for me is the attitude.
It is pretty chilled out.
You see, the holiday has all the significance of love, families, sadness or memory, but it is also the Memorial Day of Australia. The official gateway to summer. Let the vacation begin!
In northern climes, the holiday season is often that bright spot among the short days and dark, cold nights. Down here, the celebrations add to the already light heart carried into the season for relaxation.
It’s seafood, ham, backyard cricket, thongs (that’s flip-flops for you non-Aussies) sitting outside after a meal, pavlovas and Christmas puddings.
I am excited for the Boxing Day test match which begins tomorrow. It’s Australia against India in the five test series. The Aussies have won the first two tests, but I think India is in with a chance if they can be more consistent.
Yes, I am a cricket convert. Got to be the test. I can just about handle one-day, but the 20/20? No, it’s just too much slogging for me. No finesse or grace.
My first Australian Christmas was 2003, spent at my mother-in-law Marie’s home in Mosman, an eastern suburb of Sydney along the harbor. Now a swanky spot, the Jacobs had lived there for nearly all their lives from when it was a community of middle class families. Marie lived above a shop on Avenue Road with my sister-in-law Joanne half a block from Military Road, the heart of Mosman.
Christmas at Marie’s was a gathering of family, and pop-in visits all throughout the day by extended family and friends. I felt sometimes overwhelmed by all the people I didn’t know, but by the next year, I looked forward to the new family I had inherited.
The first Christmas meal was an education. Lobster, prawns, oysters, ham, roast vegetables and my sister-in-law’s delicious salad and homemade Christmas pudding. The second year I was there, I went with Joanne and Ross to the Sydney fish market to choose the food.
Even better was sitting above the street, looking down on the traffic, people popping in and out of cars in only their bathing suits for chicken and chips, people waiting along the sidewalk for a table at the Avenue cafe. I spent early evenings going for long walks, down to Balmoral beach, the ferry wharves at Taronga Zoo or Mosman, and watching the start of the Sydney to Hobart.
Marie left us a few years ago, and the immediate family dispersed. Now it’s just my husband and myself, and we have a few traditions. We started the day with some cards and presents.
Today was very humid and hot ahead of a few days of showers and cooler temperatures. Then the mercury is set to rise far over my comfort zone. I took out the bike for a few miles to get the day started and tire out Spud, the bionic dog.
Then I cooked for a few hours, a spinach and tomato frittata, Swedish meatballs for Ross, salad and parsnip puree. I made the pumpkin pie yesterday. When everything was close to done, I showered to cool off and we were ready to eat.
Some was consumed, most has been wrapped as leftovers. We watched It’s a Wonderful Life, me for the 40th time or so, and I cried again.
Rain seemed imminent and the light was terrific, so I put the camera in my bag, and took the dogs out for a walk in the woods. It wasn’t until the thunder cracked above me that I decided it was time to hustle home.
The night here is sticky and full of crickets and frogs croaking in the vault of the water tank outside my bedroom window. There is a light drizzle pattering on the metal roof.
It’s the end of Christmas for me until a phone call home tomorrow to hear all that has happened in Chicago. I do feel homesick for the holidays of my past, but someday, I will have a white Christmas again.
– The headline photo is of the Christmas decorations on the gate at Myall Valley, a property about four miles down the road from us. I rode my bike up there on Christmas Eve for this photograph.