As a kid growing up in country NSW, we would spend Christmas at either my paternal grandparent’s house in Tumbarumba (in southern NSW) or in Sydney with my mother’s family.
Mum would pile all four kids, two dogs, the cat, the expertly hidden Christmas presents, a couple of loaves of white bread she’d made up into devon and tomato sauce sandwiches, ice cream containers for when the middle sister got sick, and one of those foam flasks made up with cordial into the station wagon. Once Dad was on the road, he didn’t stop – except for petrol.
When we were living in Merriwa (in the Hunter Valley), the hot ten-hour drive to Tumbarumba was dreaded, while the Sydney run on the alternate year was less daunting. When we were in Bombala (in Southern NSW), it was the opposite.
I don’t remember much about the Christmases we spent in Sydney. As a kid I was asthmatic and my throat would seize up from all the cigarette smoke in Nan’s house. We slept on the floor and I would spend most of the visit wheezing and struggling for breath. I loved Nan but grew to dread those visits.
The Tumba years I’m clearer on and have much fonder memories of. I remember the dry heat, afternoons at the town pool and the Boxing Day cricket test on the ABC as the portable air cooler tried vainly to do something other than making a noise. I remember the year a cold snap came through and it snowed at Laurel Hill just outside town. It was the closest to a White Christmas I’ve ever had.
I remember the ham salad suppers, and the time all my illusions were shattered when I saw that the trout that Poppa had said he hit over the head with a piece of 4 b 2 when it came up for air in the Tumbarumba River, had actually been purchased from Snowy River Fisheries.
On the way home, we’d buy boxes of cherries at Young and spit the seeds out the window, red cherry juice dripping down our chins. Dad would warn us not to get the juice on the fabric seats. When we got home we’d have to help Mum pit and bottle the rest so we could enjoy preserved cherries all year round.
There was no air conditioning in the car, so the windows would be wide open and we’d argue about who got to sit next to one. Inevitably someone would throw up – usually the middle sister. Then we’d all get in trouble because Dad couldn’t hear the cricket on the radio.
Regardless of where we spent Christmas, the Christmas morning ritual remained the same.
We’d go to bed early, with a red plastic hessian Santa sack on the bottom of the bed. Sometime in the middle of the night we’d wake and feel the weight on our legs as Santa had crept in while we were asleep and filled the bags.
Dad would start patrolling the hallway from about 5 am looking for the first sign that one of us might be waking. Mum would tell us not to eat any of the chocolate before breakfast because apparently, that’s how you get worms.
These days we’re all partnered or kidded up, but Santa still brings a stocking of chocolates for each of us – four get left at the front door of Mum and Dad’s Sydney home.
For many years after we as a family moved back to Sydney – the year I was in Year 12 – Christmas lunch would be at Mum and Dad’s for whoever didn’t have to spend it with in-laws. For the last few years, it’s been at my sister’s with everyone pitching in and bringing something. My husband is in charge of the trifle. As the kids got more numerous, bigger, and noisier it made sense.
Our day would start with potato scones, champagne and carols at our house as we opened pressies. We’d then head over for Christmas lunch, returning late in the afternoon for prawns and more bubbles on the deck with our next-door neighbours. Round two we used to call it.
This year it’s different. We’ve moved to Queensland and want our first Christmas here to be here. I’m looking forward to the preparations and the cooking. I’m even looking forward to lining up just after midnight on Christmas Eve morning to get the prawns and smoked salmon. We have friends over from NZ to spend it with us and while I’ll miss family, it’s exciting to be doing something different in a place we love with people we love.
And I guess that’s the whole point of it – spending time with people you love.
What about you? What are your Christmas memories?