It seems that Christmas arrives earlier and earlier each year in Omaha. The interior of most department stores and shops, and even some houses, were festooned with Christmas decorations in the middle of November. Some stores were even decorating promptly after Halloween; maybe it’s just a Midwest custom. I am not really familiar with the traditional dates and origins of Christmas decorations and tree decorating but I thought convention suggests putting up the tree and decorating 12 days before Christmas day. I think my uncertainty over decorating dates is because as a youngster and teenager the days leading up to Christmas were always focused exclusively on what to do with the six weeks of school holidays. As a young adult, when I spent several years working in the Victorian Education System, I again focused on what to do with the six weeks of school holidays. Australian schools, colleges, and universities started their summer holidays usually the week before Christmas and recommenced at the end of January or early February; my teenager school holiday years were spent at the beach and not thinking about Christmas and Christmas decorations. It’s not that I was a disciple of Oliver Cromwell and wanted the good times of people just eating and drinking too much made illegal and traditional Christmas decorations like holly banned but Christmas was just not a hefty celebration.
Maybe it’s the early summer heat that causes a unique Australian Christmas and sways what northern Christmas traditions are celebrated. Many Australians spend Christmas out doors, going to the beach for the day, or heading to camping grounds for their Christmas holidays. A lot of places hold a Carols by Candlelight; the words about snow and the cold winters are sometimes changed to special Australian words and there are also some original Australian Carols. When Santa gets to Australia he gives his reindeers a rest and uses six white boomers to pull the sleigh; and he changes into less hot clothes. On Boxing Day it’s fire up the barbie at the beach with the mates, catch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, or spend the opening day of the Boxing Day Test between the Australian Cricket Team and an international touring side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Santa visited us on Christmas Eve and we would always leave something special and scrumptious for him on the kitchen table; sandwiches or biscuits that mum had made and sometimes a bottle of beer for the boomers. I remember the morning that my brother and I each found two wheel bikes at the end of our beds. It wasn’t the Malvern Star that we had hoped for but a refurbished bike; I know now that mum and dad couldn’t afford two Malvern Stars. I was excited to ride the bike and implored dad to take me and the bike outside to the nature strip and to hold the bike while I tried to ride it; dad let go of the seat early into my strange balancing performances. I and the bike fell down onto the grassy nature strip a few times and then I was riding; but turning successfully would take a little more practice. I soon mastered the length of Peel Street to Effingham Road. The more I road the bike the more the belief in myself surged and my doubts and insecurities about ever being a champion cyclist were silenced.
In the mid eighteen hundreds prison hulks were moored off Williamstown; the convicts quarried bluestone from Point Gellibrand during the day. Much of the bluestone was used as ballast for cargo ships returning to London from Melbourne but some was used for buildings and other constructions in Williamstown and Melbourne. It is romantic to think that the bluestones connecting Effingham Road and Eliza Street could have been quarried by the infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly.
I had to ride, and conquer the bluestone lane. The lane was a short cut between Effingham Road and nanna’s place. Mum always warned us about riding the lane and the dangers of the uneven bluestones; the most humdrum injury according to mum was falling off the bike and smashing your head open on the bluestone. Her warnings of the hideous trauma and wounds awaiting on the bluestones stopped us bike riding the lane for a short time. Unbeknownst to mum we started to ride the bluestones. The bluestones were lopsided and disproportionate and they formed an incredible cragged riding surface.
One day the bluestones claimed me, and mum’s forewarnings materialised; I went crashing onto the bluestones and my wrist collapsed onto the raised edge of a stone; my left wrist was broken and the u shape of the stone edge was molded into my limb. After the first setting Dr Long had to rebreak the wrist because it wasn’t knitting correctly. The second breaking was done without chloroform. I kept riding the lane; sometimes to nanna’s for Christmas dinner.
The family always gathered at nanna and granddad’s for Christmas dinner; we would all get to her place about an hour before dinner. Mum, her sisters Peg and Bet would head for the kitchen and my brother and I with our cousins Andrew and Peter, Bruce was to young, would play in the front yard by the fig tree or in the back yard in the overgrown grass around the sleep out. I never did know what Dad and our uncles, Ian and Ken, did. Some years the dining room table held crackers or bon-bons. A small string of garland dressed the fireplace mantel on which a small eight inch, artificial, conical pine tree was positioned. The table had a similar tree as a centerpiece. Even though the temperature was always in the nineties nanna would have the kitchen gas stove and the wood burning stove going flat out. We always had roast pork, her crackling was always perfect, roast vegetables, roast lamb, and plum pudding. She would start her plum pudding at least four weeks before Christmas Day; she mixed fruit, suet, treacle, cloves, ginger, sixpences, threepences, and other ingredients, and then wrapped the mixture. After boiling the pudding in the pudding cloth was hung in the kitchen bathroom doorway until Christmas Day.
After our Christmas dinner the pudding was reheated by steaming and served with cream. We ate our pudding double quick looking for the sixpences and threepences. In later years we had to give nanna our sixpences and threepences, and in there place she would give us brand new sixpences and threepences; the Australian government had changed the silver content of coins and it was dangerous to put the new sixpences and threepences into puddings and into your mouth. As soon as we had recovered the sixpences and threepences from the pudding we were back outside playing in the hot summer afternoon.
As the years went by Christmas dinner moved to our place; it was just mum, my brother and I, nanna and granddad, and Mavis. Mavis joined us after her husband died. Mum maintained the traditional roast pork and lamb but added roast chicken. And there may have been a strand of silver garland around the dining room window and one of nanna’s Christmas trees on the table. Nanna’s plum pudding was replaced with a trifle or something similar. After the feast granddad and I exhausted would head for the lounge room under the pretext of watching television but to sleep off the Christmas dinner. In later years I would go down to the beach.
Maybe I will ask Santa for a cricket bat, a few tennis balls and a couple of rubbish bins, for the stumps, this year so I can start the tradition of staging a twelve days before Christmas backyard cricket game; friends would then know when to start their Christmas decorating.