Joy to the World? Christmas 2019

I remember the turning point vividly, that year when I decided that enough was enough, which in reality, was far too much. It was the beginning of my awakening about Christmas Day, an ongoing change of mindset, involving rewriting tradition and re-evaluating family, place and gifting.

It was my turn to host the Christmas family lunch in 2016, a rotating event shared by my three siblings. As my mother, the matriarch, was ( and is ) alive and well, an annual Christmas lunch was taken for granted, but it was a tradition that we all began to feel uneasy about as the logistics of hosting and catering for the day became a nightmare. At the age of 93 that year, and still living independently in her own home, it was a grand event involving her four children, their partners, her grandchildren and partners, and her great grandchildren, a cast of 32 people or more. Despite discussions about simplifying the day, it never happened. Along with cleaning, house sprucing, decorating and shopping, preparation involved finding 32 sets of plates, cutlery,ย  and glasses suitable for water, wine and beer, 32 assorted chairs, six tables, and tablecloths to cover them, clearing a room large enough to hold the tables and guests comfortably, the assembling of serving platters, table napkins, and the emptying of fridges to store food on the day. Eskies full of ice were strategically placed around for drinks, extra bins ready for recycling. On that occasion, a pissoir for outside male use was erected so that at least some of the 30 plus people wouldn’t flush away our essential tank water supply. Long lists began in early December, the whole month dedicated to planning the lunch, with inside/outdoors options considered, subject to weather conditions.

On that Christmas day, like so many other years in Australia, the weather turned hot and windy, the north wind blowing at gale force through my property perched on a ridge in the country. The temperature was 39ยบc, and along with strong wind gusts of over 50 kmph, an outside garden event was definitely out of the question. The day was declared a Total Fire Ban day, which meant no barbecuing could take place. The day was categorised as Severe under Victoria’s bushfire rating codification system, introduced after the Black Saturday bushfire of 2009. Part of the preparation for the day always involved this unnerving uncertainty about the weather- could we have a BBQ, maybe a picnic outside, what about a buffet on the veranda? None of these options were suitable for a blustery, terrifying total fire ban day.

On that day in question, three Christmases ago, I watched my mother sit quietly, sometimes with eyes closed, on a couch in the only air- conditioned room of our house, which wasn’t functioning very well given the constant door opening by excited children and desperate smokers. On phones and computers, others nervously watched the CFA ( Country Fire Authority) information site and weather reports: my brother received a barrage of anxious calls from his partner about her bushfire fears for her area. The happy young children opened an obscene number of gifts, someone forgot to bring their KK gift, a second- nephew didn’t know our names, younger generation partners said very little and you just knew they would rather be somewhere else, but that invisible hand of tradition forced them to attend. And I cooked, stood on my feet all day, ate very little, orchestrated and at times delegated, spoke to no one much, checked fire reports and found it hard to smile. I should have cancelled the day, my mother was struggling with the heat. One of the most unnerving aspects of the day was the fear of evacuating a large group of city dwellers who had no experience or theoretical knowledge of what to do if confronted with an imminent bushfire. The day did not make sense.

Pistachio amaretti. Much lighter than hot plum pudding. Rewriting tradition.

After the guests left, we sat among the mess and debris and breathed a sigh of relief. Slowly regarding the waste of leftover food and paper, discarded tissue hats and bits of plastic landfill from bonbons, dishes and cloths to be washed and furniture to be re-arranged, I realised that I felt deeply upset and exasperated. Never again. On that day, I made a firm resolution that our Christmas traditions needed to change.

Amaretti Siciliani di Agrigento. Perfumed with orange, spices of the Orient.

Since then, I’ve found some peace and no longer practice self flagellation about Christmas Day. As I was using my last piece of Christmas paper last week, one stashed from years before, I did so with real joy. The empty cardboard roll symbolised the end to another wasteful practice. I turned to my fabric stash and cut into a colourful Indian Sari to wrap a gift. I also discovered another stash of op-shop rolls of ribbons suitable for tying gifts. I assembled a small bag of assorted fabric oddments dedicated to this purpose, tucking it into the linen press. Like the Japanese gift wrapping, Furoshiki, I am pleased to send my fabrics and ribbons on their way- they’ll be reused, they’ll travel, they might even return. I’ve made a few batches of Amaretti biscuits, the spice reminiscent of a more ancient tradition of gifts, perfumed with the scent of orange. My adult children ask what food they should bring and I answer, whatever you like, something simple. Mr T now spends his pre-Chrismas days doing essential maintenance for our survival in the Australian bush, removing piles of fallen leaves and twigs from the front of our house, an ongoing task during bushfire season, a season that now stretches longer than in years gone by. Sadly, the season coincides with Christmas. We’re slowly getting our priorities right.

Baci di dama. Hazelnut and chocolate kisses.
The joy of red bottle brush ( Kings Park Calistemon) in flower at Christmas.

 

 

33 thoughts on “Joy to the World? Christmas 2019”

  1. After four days in hospital with a severe kidney infection and the rest I am lying at home in an almost evacuated gated community trying to get my act together. The fires on the edges of the Greenwattle Creek one are within a kilometre plus on three sides. The ambos bringing me home near midnight – they too are worked to the bone – drove us right through much of the fire zone – the still burning landscape presented a picture of which I have never seen the like in my many enough decades, And I have been through years of war !! One is grateful for life, and still having a home, and though there is almost no food in the house and none can get thru’, there is huge gratitude simply for being here, when over a hundred homes nearby a week ago are not ! Thus your writing is so understood and appreciated on all levels . . .I truly regard it as a Christmas gift . . . and I know you also understand the feeling-world here ! Oh Fran . . . do enjoy your Yuletide which you have fashioned your way . . . I wish I was that birdie who comes to visit . . . . bestest Eha

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    1. Dear Eha, I’m sorry to hear of your recent illness and hope that you’ll manage during this difficult season. I know it must be a relief to be back home and yet think perhaps a small holiday with family and friends might be a good alternative, given the fire situation nearby. Yes, burnt out communities look and sound like a war zone. Helicopters overhead, trucks, alarms, smoke, no birds, dead animals, blackened trees, burnt out homes…I wish I could give you more than my writing this Christmas , a parcel of amaretti or some fresh fish and salad from the garden… take care, I’ll be thinking of you over the next week.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your words, Fran, have and are doing an excellent ‘job’ as usual . . . as the rest cannot be on the cards for quite awhile . . . . thank you and thanks to Dale . . . .

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  2. I’m catering a simple festive lunch for 7 to tomorrow plus a visit to my in-laws aged 86.5 and almost 90 beforehand who don’t want any fuss or much food… so prawn sandwiches it is for breakfast! Plus oyster shooters and tarts for dinner at friends’ place tonight. I like festive cooking, did as much as I could beforehand but most of it today with a soundtrack of Christmas carols and a small Bloody Mary for lunch to get us across the line… but for 7, etc it is fun… 32 omg would break me and probably get me divorced. I like the idea of big family festive gatherings but in reality feel fortunate that our families gather at different times throughout the year, so much easier to enjoy their company.

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  3. Family obligations can really become tyrants, without any single person being the dictator — as you clearly describe. It’s really sad to think about so much work going into an event that wasn’t pleasing to many of the participants, and satisfying to read how you re-defined the celebration for yourselves. I think this happened more by evolution in my parents’ generation and the subsequent years.

    I hope your Christmas was very pleasant!

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  4. Such a great post Francesca, thank you for the wise words. My parents divorced years ago meaning that our Christmas Day never involves my entire immediate family. I often find myself looking at other ‘happy families’ gathering around enormous tables at this time of the year. But, as I have my own family now we are trying to create simple, thoughtful traditions that hopefully our children will remember. Happy holiday season to you.

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    1. Dear Jane, we got through the christmas events without lising our sanity. Glad it’s all over. Happy holidays to you and your family. I note you still have water and your posts show positive views of country life. It must be a worry.

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  5. Gorgeous photos as usual. I have cut back on Christmas which is quite easy here. We have little family nearby and there are no children. Without children Christmas is not much fun.
    I seem to have dropped off your email list. I will try to resubscribe.

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  6. A lovely read Francesca, yes we sometimes need to sit back and reset our priorities. But it does sound like you have many memorable family gatherings. And your Mum sounds awesome. Happy New Year ๐Ÿ˜Š

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    1. Buon anno Signorina. Thankyou for those thoughts, after 10 years, I can now watch flames on the tv and social media, my pain and loss is now distant. In fact, I find myself glued to these reports of national disaster up and down the coast, as Australia meets armageddon. It is the saddest of all times.

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  7. Happy New Year! I firmly agree with you downsizing cooking, present wrapping/giving, and anything else frantic about this time of year. Love the biscotti and the flowers – are they all Australian bottle brush? The white fluffy one in the first photo is stunning.

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