A personal diary about life in a country town, Bungendore NSW Australia

Thursday 25 December 2003
Christmas eve seafood barbecue outside in the cool of a summer night.
Christmas 2003

"In my experience, clever food is not appreciated at Christmas. It makes the little ones cry and the old ones nervous."  Jane Grigson

So, we tried not to be too clever, stuck to tradition and it went pretty well. Christmas has usually been a Melbourne affair, although we've had one here in Bungendore before, and another in Canberra at Jan's sister's with all Jan's side of the family. We usually haul ourselves down the highway on Christmas Eve, and drive back home after Boxing Day. Because my daughter Aurore lives with her mum in Melbourne, she's always had to do a lunch with her grandparents and then visit us at Jan's parents afterward. The split family routine is pretty common for all of you I'm sure, and in spite of the spirit of family togetherness at Christmas, it gets to be more of a logistical exercise for most of us.

This year with fewer nieces and nephews around, we decided to invite everyone to have Christmas dinner here. It saves Sheila, Jan's mum from the strain of planning the meal, and preparing beds for us as house guests (even though we all help with a traditional hot Christmas dinner without which, the 'old ones' do get nervous). 

It went pretty well, with real pleasure in having them all together and the few new faces changed the topics of conversation. Not having to drive 1400k was a pleasure for me as well and although we had a bit more work to get ready I think Jan was able to enjoy it. We cut a few corners, used a rolled turkey breast and a leg roast (for the darker meat) instead of the whole bird. Vegetables were roasted but from a bulk frozen pack or two but the rest (for the historical record) was a large leg ham (which we'll eat for weeks after), peas, gravy and a traditional Christmas pudding made by Jan's mum (with 1950s silver coins inside that her dad, Jack exchanges for decimal currency). That's served with cream and heavily laced brandy cream. We did have a couple of different things, Annette brought melon wrapped in proscuitto and Marg brought some herb stuffing as patties.

We got our need for clever food out of the way on the morning of Christmas Eve before the 'old folks' arrived. We had champagne and french toast made from panattone. The recipe came from the Canberra Times and involved heating milk, sugar and vanilla, letting it cool adding whisked egg yolks, soaking the thick panattone slices and then pan frying in butter. Served with King Island crme fraiche and the last fresh cherries from our garden we didn't have the maple syrup the recipe called for so added a topping of some of the runny batch of quince jelly I made a few years back that we call 'quince drip'. (Quite slimming really but nice enough that we repeated it after Christmas to use up the drying panattone.)

On the Friday before Christmas I did my regular ABC web spot and I talked about some Christmas related websites. There was the original 'Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus' letter, some Christmas traditions and origins (do you know that the American's don't have Boxing Day?*), and a great site called Mistletunes. I suggested that this was a site "If you fondly remember those Christmas songs by rock musicians who should have known better.."  but the site also reminded me of gems like the Chipmunks Christmas Album, or those dogs barking out Silent Night (a much more impressive editing job in the age of analog tape and razor blades). It's all part of the seasonal ritual and I never feel it's 'Bah Humbug' even now that the girls have grown.

I guess we'll keep on with Christmas celebrations as long as there are family around us and even if sometimes we're a bit tired and stressed and we say 'we should have known better'. In an age when extended families live so far apart, these occasions are often the only times we see each other.

* It seems that Boxing Day is a British tradition that didn't make it to the USA. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Britain all celebrate and call St.Stephens Day 'Boxing Day'. The Urban Legends site has a good explanation of the various ideas of why the day was called 'Boxing' mostly involved with the giving boxes of food and gifts to servants, employees, the poor or 'lower classes'.

Above: Christmas Eve 2003.The reflective end of the family barbeque dinner, outside on a warm Bungendore summer night.  Some of the candle lanterns on the cedar tree in the background had plastic string. After a while one of them would melt the string and the lanterns would fall with a soft thud, extinguishing the flame and embalming in the wax the small beetles that were attracted to the lights. They looked very pretty.

Yep that's a robot on the Christmas wreath, and some local fairies.

Max on one of the new chairs that were my present to Jan. You gotta sit by the open fire in something when you get old.

14 people just fitted in the room. This was probably the original dining room of our 1880's house. We've been using this room as a guest bedroom and because it's in the thick walled brick section of the house, it stayed pretty cool on a hot summers day.

However the hot day and big lunch got to Kate and 'Pebbles' the cat. Stretched out on the new chairs, sleeping in the detritus of present wrappers and drinks in ice that didn't fit in the fridge.

  Fred Harden 2003 <thinktag> After a few days, these entries are added to the Archive Menu

Bungendore Country Diary by Fred Harden