Last year was the first ever Christmas in more than 45 years that I did not have to cater and cook for the family on Christmas Day. Christmas 2018 saw my partner and I escaping the family home in order to do a spot of house and puppy sitting in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. We don’t usually stray from home over the holiday periods: too many cars on the road, too expensive and public places are too busy with schools across the nation taking their break. Home in the holidays is safer and at its most comfortable, especially in a hot Australian summer. You can watch movies, read books and just lounge in the heat without any guilt.
Our month in the Hunter Valley was delightful and we loved spending time with the Labrador while my daughter and her husband flew overseas for their annual holidays. As a thank you, the young ones gifted us with Christmas lunch at the local five star hotel.
After a lazy morning walking the dog we smartened up for a buffet lunch at the very swish and renowned establishment. Platters of fresh seafood, cold meats and beautiful fruits and salad were laid out on long festive decorated tables. The dessert bar, honestly, was to die for and I proudly confess to being so strong willed that I declined seconds. We were entertained by a soloist singing carols in the background with our glasses being regularly refilled by the wait staff.
Although the food was perfect and we both departed for home with full bellies the whole experience was soulless. Lovely, but not, if that makes any sense.
I wondered why. Was it the impersonal experience as a couple in unfamiliar territory and knowing no one? Was it the expectation that we placed on ourselves to dress and behave smartly in this high class establishment? Were we not our authentic selves?
It’s interesting in that I’d been grizzling about being chief cook and bottle washer since stepping into my mother’s role after she died when I was in my early teens. Although it was never discussed, my sister and I took it upon ourselves to continue the annual rituals that my mother had instigated for the festive season: windows were washed, wooden furniture was polished, linseed oil was rubbed into window sill, and vases were filled with the neighbour’s blossoming NSW Christmas Bush. I gift wrapped boxes of Oil of Ulan for the aunts and the sixpences were washed ready for the pudding. Christmas cards were stamped and posted and even the oven was spic and span for the onslaught of visitors from interstate.
In those early years my father was adventurous in the kitchen and any cooking skills I gained were from him. I even managed to serve up individual spatchcock in the basket for entrees just as my mother had always done.
I seemed to have spent every holiday season cooking ever since. And grizzling. Each and every year I would experiment with new recipes, which were rarely anything but an epic fail. Cous cous, pumpkin and feta salad? Fail. Smashed Brussel sprouts in Parmesan cheese? Fail. I soon learned that homemade potato salad using my mother’s recipe from all those years ago was the preferred dish of the day.
Each and every year I would whip myself into a lather dusting, polishing and ensuring everything sparkled for the big day.
I’m a bit slower these days, and not everything sparkles. It’s too hot to wash windows, and ice cream and mangoes have replaced the Christmas pudding. And that’s okay! I’m going to listen to Bing Crosby while I whip up a batch of my mother’s potato salad and await the family.