Letting go of the snowy Christmas so often seen on postcards has been easier than I originally thought it might be. On days where the barometer soars over 90 during holiday time in our new Australian home, I think about Dean Martin singing “White Christmas” and daydream of a snow-covered ski lodge in Colorado. Then I think about shovelling walks, gritting driveways, scraping windshields, broken heaters, busted pipes, pale, dry skin and the scratchy wool sweaters (that I haven’t looked at in ten months since being packed in boxes last March) that have yet to be unpacked. This Christmas we all got new camping gear, swimsuits, barbeque supplies, sun dresses, and replacement small appliances with appropriate plugs and 220 voltage. Plus, we’ve got another good five months to use them before the weather turns even slightly sour. Another jolt to former Christmas memories is the realization that I’ve never in my life spent Christmas at a serene snowy ski lodge in Colorado and was instead more likely to battle traffic caused by a jack-knifed tractor-trailer on sloppily-plowed Interstate 81 somewhere between New Jersey and Tennessee.
So, after experiencing my fifth Christmas in Australia, I now have the time to notice more subtle differences in food & drink, festivities, even decor. The reversal of seasons causes some of the more obvious, like barbeques in the backyard instead of turkeys in the oven, hanging out at the beach instead of going skiing, and the replacement of ugly Christmas sweaters with ugly Christmas Hawaiian shirts. Not that this is a revelation or anything, but Australians rarely miss an excuse to get together with friends and family and have a good time, and their laid-back attitude is ever-present at the holidays. Almost everyone gets a week or more off from Christmas to New Year’s – various tradespeople seem to get almost a month. I’ve found the amount of time they take is directly related to the probability you might need them to do various repairs around the house.
Regarding tree decoration techniques, the laid-back attitude persists. Because pine trees are not native to Australia, live Christmas trees are rare. And since a snowy pine tree would look absurd in this half tropical/half desert climate anyway, many Aussies embrace the oddity and have reusable Christmas trees in pink, red, or blue festively adorned with over-the-top glittery tinsel. (I guess if you’re going non-traditional, best not be half-assed about it.) In the food department, I’ve found an odd mix of the very traditional and the very strange. Ironically, the foods Australians choose to keep are traditionally English and, to an American like me, monumentally gross. Things like fruitcake, plain shortbread, Christmas pudding with heavy cream or pork crackling just hang around on platters all day, looking at me. Some Australians even have the audacity to take an old frozen fruitcake, crumble it up, and mix it with strange candy bar pieces with gooey cherry-flavoured centres and (otherwise perfectly good) ice cream. They go crazy over this monstrous, stomach-ache-inducing ‘ice cream cake’ and even tend to serve it again to anyone unfortunate enough to have his or her birthday remotely near holiday time. Conversely some other mild-mannered foods get the boot. Turkeys are small, rare and expensive, and therefore not popular, so we’ve had to change our traditional Christmas main dish to local leg of lamb with roast pumpkin and homemade mint sauce; I’m not complaining about this one at all. I have become a fan of the Jarrahdale, or Queensland blue pumpkin. Sickly gray on the outside but gloriously orange on the inside, its taste is similar to butternut squash. But the best part is that these pumpkins are so hardy they can not only grow easily in a backyard garden, but can be picked and stored outside for up to six months! The long growing season in a climate like this also means more fresh produce is in season for longer, and having the Christmas holidays in mid-summer means that seasonal summery fruits, veggies, and herbs are aplenty, as are good local wine and cheese. So with all this, I miss stuffing a bird’s ass… but not that much.
No matter where you are or where they are, you miss your family when you are apart at Christmas, and Marcus and I knew when we married each other that every subsequent Christmas would mean missing one family or another. Luckily, Skype has allowed far-away grandparents to have a virtual face-to-face chat and even watch Lily opening presents on Christmas morning. I literally propped the iPad up on a couch corner and let my parents watch the pressies being opened, making the occasional random comment, as wrapping paper went flying. If you can’t be together, be virtually together. So rather than just a tropical Christmas vacation typical of previous Australian Christmases, our holiday was be a celebration of being near this part of our family permanently for the first time. The kids splashed each other with water pistols and played in the baby pool while we enjoyed fresh food, good wine, and relaxed company while watching the sun set behind our bedazzled pink Christmas tree. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi.