I’ve just finished wrapping a couple of extra presents for tomorrow and have been thinking about Christmas Eve as I remember it…so different from the cold, grey weather and busy, flustered Christmas day I expect tomorrow, until – meal over and replete – we lie sluggishly on sofas watching Christmas specials on TV.
Christmas for us, growing up, began on Christmas Eve. I think maybe because my Mother grew up in Namibia and was influenced by the German tradition, we had our Christmas meal on the 24th. In my memories it was always hot and the smell of slightly rotting plums from beneath our over-burdened plum tree competes for space in my mind with the high-pitched whine of cicadas. We would have started cooking the turkey in the afternoon and the kitchen would have got hotter and bulbous bottle flies might have crept in through the open back door to fly buzz around when the turkey was being basted.
Accompaniments to our turkey would be ham, roast potatoes, butternut squash and beans – called Blue Peter and which were a deep purple when growing on the trellis in the veggie garden, and bright green once plunged into boiling water. Mom and Dad would have had slippery yellow-green tinned asparagus as a treat for a starter and pudding would have been a traditional heavily fruited, brandy-soaked Christmas pud and creamy custard for everyone except me – I would have home made condensed-milk ice-cream into which my Mom would have slipped a coin so I wasn’t left out when the others found their treasures.
After dinner, the sun having set late, we would put out the presents under the tree and maybe watch a little TV until bed – Father Christmas would get a mince pie, a beer and maybe a home-grown carrot for Rudolf.
On Christmas Day all that remained was to open our presents while eating toast and drinking tea and getting dressed (often in new clothes we had received as gifts) and going to church. My brother and I would stifle our giggles as the ex-pat Welshman a few pews back sang louder than the rest of the congregation put together. We would head home for tea and shortbread or mince-pies and lunch would be a leisurely and relaxed cold leftovers with salads. No hassle and stress for the cook trying to get dinner onto the table for a hungry rabble! We might even have gone for a swim after our obligatory rest after lunch.
Nostalgia paints a rosy tint over such memories and traditions are only traditions as long as they last. And now, held dear in the bosom of my wonderful in-laws, who make me feel like a beloved daughter and sister, I’m homesick for heat and flies and quiet Christmases reading the inevitable book-gift in the shade.