It’s been a long time since we did the huge Christmas family gathering type thing. Back in my adolescence, when we were richfolk living in a giant house with a pool in the Eastern suburbs, we would host Christmas for the extended family. I seem to remember it as the four of us, plus my mum’s side of the family – my grandfather and step-grandmother, my aunt, uncle, their spouses and all their kids. There was lots of food, lots of noise, lots of alcohol (for the adults of course) and a sundrenched afternoon spent mucking around in the pool. That has always stuck in my mind as ‘what we do at Christmas’.
But it hasn’t been like that for years and years! It would be impossible to replicate now, anyway. We don’t live in a big house anymore. My parents are no longer married nor living in the same country. Papa and Rose have died. My cousins are spread out in different states, most now married, some with kids, and we don’t even really know each other that well anymore. I suspect it was enjoyable to me mostly because as a kid I didn’t have to do anything except have fun. But there’s that nostalgia, I guess, for what looked like a typical magazine-spread Christmas family gathering. It feels like the house should be full of people and conversation and bustling.
Our actual Christmases these days are much more modest and quiet affairs. It’s me, mum and Nick. Occasionally there is another guest or two as well, but we don’t have the space for a long laden table and many people. We’ve tried having Christmas at other peoples’ places, but it just doesn’t feel right. We appreciate others’ hospitality, but it’s hard not to feel tacked on to someone else’s family traditions. Even though our Christmas Day isn’t as big as it once was, we still have our own routine.
Mum and I go to church – it was great this year, actually, as Wild Street had a 9pm service on Christmas Eve for the first time, so we went to my church for Christmas Eve (and I led the singing), and then mum’s church for Christmas Day (where she read the Bible very beautifully).
After church, mum goes home to start the food and I go to pick up Nick. We treasure the time we get to spend with Nick, as we don’t see him that often, and we open our presents in the middle of the day and have some beer or sparkling wine while we chat and catch up.
Mum still cooks a lot of food – as she said this year, “I only ever learned how to do Christmas for lots of people”. This year we had turkey breast and roast pork and roast vegies and trifle and pudding. Yes, there were only three of us.
After lunch we often watch something to chill out in the afternoon (this year it was Guardians of the Galaxy, my choice even though Nick had already seen it twice and it wasn’t really mum’s kind of thing). Then Nick escapes home to hang out with his friends and mum and I usually crash.
I must admit, I don’t envy those of my friends who have multiple family shindigs they have to rush around to. It sounds quite exhausting! I love that we get to relax and enjoy the day. But there is a little melancholy that stirs each year for what used to be and what isn’t anymore, that there’s all this build up and then the day comes and it feels a bit…anticlimactic? I read Pip’s post about her Christmas and I realised that’s it – we’re all grown up now and it doesn’t have that same whirlwind excitement as it did when we were younger. It would be very different if my brother and I had spouses and children; we would be the ones having to visit multiple families and calm down crazy kids hopped up on sugar and presents. It would be nice to make a Christmas special for a child and pass on the things that delighted me as a child.
This morning I remembered kids all over the world would be getting their Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes (something I try to participate in most years) and I realised I did give that Christmas whirlwind excitement to a child this year, a girl aged 5-9 somewhere in Cambodia. And it filled me with gladness!