Making Christmas Memories…

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 and my Sydney family but grew to dread those visits because of the asthma.

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?


Friday Five – The Christmas Songs Edition


I have such fond memories of Dad playing Bing Crosby’s White Christmas on the record player at home. The only other Christmas songs record we had was Frosty the Snowman. My younger sister knew just the line “Frosty the Snowman had to hurry on his way.” To this day I think of her when I hear that line – even when Michael Buble is singing it.

The thing is, I’m not really a carol loving sort of girl. Sure, I have a Christmas songs playlist – I have a playlist for most occasions – but traditional carols? Yeah, not my type of thing. I have a few absolutely personal dislikes – “The Little Drummer Boy” being at the absolute top of the most disliked list – carols that aren’t even made tolerable when sung by Michael Buble or Kate Ceberano.

Which brings me to Christmas albums – I have two…yep, you guessed it, one by Kate Ceberano and the ubiquitous Michael Buble aka The Bubbleman. He does a version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home” that I adore.

So, given that most Christmas songs make me want to go running for the hills, I’ve come up with a list of exceptions. Five, in fact…fancy that…and they’re on repeat on my playlist…alongside the Bubbleman and Kate.

1.Do They Know It’s Christmas?

The original Band Aid version, of course.

This came out at a time when I was discovering my political leanings. I remember hearing about the food surpluses in the West, and was appalled. It was only many years later that I really began to understand the complexities of the situation.

Anyways, I can still pick the voices of each artist. I do have the new one as well, but it doesn’t have the same power of the original. Perhaps it needed George Michael, Bono, Sting, and Simon Le Bon. Just saying.

2. Wham’s Last Christmas

Daggy but true. And before you suggest it, Taylor Swift’s cover absolutely doesn’t do this fabulous song justice.

3. All I Want For Christmas is….

This is the only song by Mariah Carey that I can not only listen to without wincing but actually really like.

I also love the version in Love Actually, which is, actually, my favourite Christmas movie. I even like…and promise you won’t tell anyone…Justin Bieber’s duet of this with Mariah. Sad but true.

There’s the little bell bit at the start that’s perfect for a good, satisfying boob shimmy, and the high note at the end which I attempt to hit every time – and which, so my daughter says – makes me sound like a howling cat…or those singing goats on that episode of The Good Wife…but I digress.

4. Happy Xmas (War is Over), John Lennon and Yoko Ono

To me this is the quintessential end of year, end of cycle song- and says it all.

5. It Doesnt Often Snow At Christmas, Pet Shop Boys

Ok, so this isn’t a traditional carol, and the lyrics are far from traditional…

Christmas is not all it’s cracked up to be
Families fighting around a plastic tree
Nothing on the TV that you’d want to see
And it’s hardly ever snowing
The way it’s meant to be

…but I love it.

What about you? Christmas songs – love them or hate them? Any faves? 

Friday Five: The Christmas Edition

It’s back – the Friday Five –five things that have taken my fancy or piqued my interest over the week. It was replaced by That’s A Wrap, but I missed the five. It has a ring to it that the wrap doesn’t. So I’m bringing back the five – at least until I get bored again. What better way to start than with a Christmas edition?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Actually, it’s beginning to sound and feel like it too. Although the store decorations start to go up in November – after Melbourne Cup Day is perfectly acceptable – December 1 is the reminder that Christmas really is just around the corner.

This year will be weird for us. It’s our first Christmas in Queensland and our first in our new home. It will also be the first Christmas in the whole of our together lives – this will be our 28th Christmas together – where we’re having the whole shebang at our house. We’ll be away from family back in Sydney, but have friends coming over from New Zealand to share it with us and I can’t wait.

Despite the change of environment, house and pretty much everything else, for our little family, these five things mean Christmas to us:

The Tree

Our tree usually goes up on the first Sunday in December. We have champagne and nibbly things, pop on the carols and generally make a big thing of it. This year as Miss 19 will be in Sydney this weekend, the tree went up early. And yes, there are presents under it. I’ve finished my present shopping and it’s all wrapped – well, everything that can be wrapped, that is.

Why am I so organised? It’s partly because my work schedule is all over the place so I wanted Sarah to take the family pressies back with her, and partly because I loathe shopping centres and wanted to ensure that I wasn’t forced into Sunshine Plaza after December 1.

Nothing on our tree matches. It contains ornaments that have been collected over the years. Some years there’ll be one new one, some years two. This year the ornaments reflect both our sea-change and the Kiwi element to our Christmas – a bauble with a pohutukawa on it.

The carols

Okay, I’m pretty fussy about my carols. I also have (according to my daughter) an embarrassing habit of doing a little booby shimmy at the beginning of the Mariah version of “All I Want For Christmas.” Naturally I tone that down if I’m in public. #havesomestandards

Anyways, we have a playlist and it’s turned on for the tree ceremony, the wrapping ceremony, the baking ceremony and the big day itself.

The tatty scones

My hubby was born in Scotland and his Scottish heritage comes through in our Christmas morning breakfast – potato scones with smoked salmon and crème fraiche. Yum. If you’re interested, the recipe is here.

Christmas Lifestyle Specials

Ok, it’s mostly the cooking shows I’m interested in, but I’ve even been known to watch things like Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas (hosted by Kirstie Allsop from Location Location Location).

Christmas isn’t Christmas without TV specials by Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay. I devour the shows and then fantasise about Christmas in London, shopping for produce in Borough market, and preparing sparkling drinks parties for my oh so fashionable friends wearing daggy Christmas jumpers, and feasts for my family and friends.

Christmas movies

Flying from London to Phuket in December 2015, Sarah and I were thrilled beyond words to see all three of our favourite seasonal movies on the Etihad movie list.

We coordinated our viewing and watched them in order – Elf and Polar Express in the London to Abu Dhabi leg, and our absolute favourite, Love Actually, between Abu Dhabi and Phuket.

Each year all three get pulled out and watched progressively in the days leading up to Christmas, with Love Actually being left for Christmas Eve.

What about you? Do you have any traditions around the lead-up to the big day?

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

Store display in Fortnum & Masons

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been playing the remember when game here in Chez Tracey. You see it’s two years since we were on our mega roadtrip around the UK, and every day another memory is popping up on the Timehop app on my phone.

One of the strongest memories we all have of that trip is just how much we enjoyed the lead up to Christmas over there. Especially in London. It was somehow more, I don’t know, how I’d imagined that Christmas would be.

It wasn’t just that it was grey and cold, or dark so early, it was also the smells, the lights, the decorations, the…you know what? I think I’ll need to list them all…

The Christmas markets

We were debating the other day which one we enjoyed the most – the one in Edinburgh with the carousel bar, or the one in London along Southbank…or maybe the one in Bath?

Edinburgh Christmas markets
Edinburgh Christmas Markets

One thing we all agree on is that the best part of the markets was the mulled wine and yummy things – and all the Christmas jumpers.

Christmas jumpers

at Notting Hill market

They really are a thing. There’s even a “wear your Christmas jumper to work day” day. Sarah bought 2 jumpers – which she actually does wear at Christmas…with the air conditioning going, of course. She really wishes she’d bought this one.

It’s not just about wearing Christmas sweaters though, check out this guy who had a whole suit made from Christmas themed fabric.

The ads

Oh how we loved the Christmassy ads. It wasn’t just the fabulous ads the major department stores do, but the ones you’d see on the Tube that would have you singing the tune with all the wrong words.

And my favourite? This one for Mamma Mia.

The store windows

So so so gloriously, luxuriously, decadently seasonal.

And then you step inside the store. Words and pictures just can’t convey how it feels to walk into these stores. It’s completely overwhelming.

As for the money that some people spend on things, well, that’s just ludicrous. We had a competition in Fortnum and Masons to find the most expensive pack of Christmas crackers. The ones in the pic below were 1000GBP – and not a paper hat or daggy joke in sight. Speaking of which, what do you call 50 penguins in Trafalgar Square? Lost.

The thing is, there’s only 6 crackers in this box and if you can afford to spend this on crackers, I’d like to bet that you’re having more than 6 people for Christmas lunch…just saying.

Then there was this heirloom advent calendar that for a ridiculous amount of cash you could pass down through generations of silver spoon-fed little darlings.

The lights and street decorations

Covent Garden

London does this well…really well.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of AgeLifestyle Fifty  and, of course, me.