Christmas seemed so much more fun when you were a kid. Will our children and grandchildren look back at their Christmases with such fondness? I hope so.
My Mum was the youngest of seven and no doubt as the spoilt youngest child, managed to avoid doing Christmas dinner until I was about thirteen years old. Until then, every Christmas was the same with lunch and dinner over at Auntie Flo’s and it is these Christmases that I think back on.
Father Christmas would come as he could always be relied to do, leaving presents in a pillow case at the end of the bed. He was an orderly Santa- along with larger presents there would always be a rectangular box of assorted lollies that included Fruit Pastilles (both multicoloured and blackberry), a Choo-Choo bar and a Kit Kat. There would be a glass jar jar of puce-coloured candied peanuts: the jar itself bore a very strong resemblance to a jar that might once have held Vegemite or Kraft Creamed Cheese spread, and I’m almost sure that it did. Among other presents, there was always a book for me, sourced from a large box of remaindered children’s books that my parents bought at auction somewhere. As a result, the book itself was pretty hit-or-miss, although one year it was Charles Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare , another year a collection of Greek myths. One particularly memorable year there was a wooden paddle-board that obviously didn’t fit in the pillow case which was maneuvered into my room by Santa with much un-Santa-like giggling and muffled laughter. On another earlier Christmas, Santa brought my doll Debbie in a pink dress in a proper doll box. There was always, always an orange at the bottom of the pillow case.
Then over to my Auntie Flo and Uncle Ted’s for Christmas lunch. They lived in Waiora Rd Heidelberg Heights in a house with huge gardens, overlooking the Yarra Valley right across to the Dandenongs. I always loved going there. Although I was a little scared of my uncle’s very dry sense of humour and bristling moustache, I loved my Auntie Flo, my favourite aunt and my godmother. Girl cousins were fairly rare in my family- four girls to eleven boys. Auntie Flo didn’t have a daughter, and I always felt very special with her. My cousins Wayne and Paul held all of the attraction of older male cousins: they were handsome, funny and big and very affectionate to their little girl cousin. The Christmas I can remember most clearly was a very hot day, so the canvas awnings were all pulled down, bathing the inside of the house in a green, almost underwater light. The house smelt of Christmas pudding that would have been bubbling away for hours: I now make the pudding for my own family to the same recipe, amused every year at how much alcohol is in this pudding that was eagerly eaten by a family of teetotallers (3 tablespoons of spirits; 200 ml beer). After lunch, more presents- always something special from Auntie Flo, and once even a doll’s house WITH STEPS made by my cousin Wayne in woodwork, all decked out in curtain and carpet scraps from their own decorating and my initials JL in gold paint over the front door.
After lunch, the other cousins would come over- all older than us- and loud and funny and boisterous. Auntie Flo and Uncle Ted had a fully tiled inground pool, which was rare in those days, complete with a changing room up the back, and footbaths set into the concrete to wash the grass from your feet before going in. Once the obligatory and scrupulously kept hour for our “dinner to go down” elapsed (does anyone do that these days?), it was into the pool. They had inner tube tyre rings in the pool, and there would be a rough game of pool basketball, races up and down the pool and pool-wrestling perched on top of my cousins’ shoulders. Once our fingers were corrugated and our lips blue with the cold from being in for so long, we’d play shuttlecock on another terrace of the lawn, with the shadows from the trees lengthening around us.
Yet more food- cold meat brought by my butcher Uncle from Geelong (and maybe the butcher uncle from Reservoir?), salads, my mum’s famous pavlova and my Auntie Flo’s shortbread. I once announced that I prefered Auntie Flo’s shortbread to my mother’s: I was not popular. Another family of cousins had joined us by this stage, and then there would be the third round of presents, although often smaller ones by this stage.
By now, there would be much rubbing of little eyes and we’d head off home. We travelled out of our way to see the Boulevard lights in East Ivanhoe- strings of multicoloured globe lights and decorated gardens. There would be one or two illuminated houses, then a few more, then the main display, concentrated in the middle of this long, curving street. Crowds would cluster around these main houses, and the traffic would slow to a crawl. Little did I realize that some 15 years later I would marry the little boy who then lived in the house on the bend with the most spectacular lights, and that 20 years later the week-long display of “the lights” would be an integral part of my own children’s Christmas.
But gradually the gaps between the displays would get wider and wider, until there would be just one or two outlying houses and the car would finally reach Burke Rd. It was then- and only then- that I would know that Christmas was over for that year.