While perusing a magazine in early December wearing shorts and a T-shirt, I come across an ad for Christmas dinner – two little girls smiling and wearing brightly coloured summer dresses decorating a Christmas tree….now for anyone from the Northern Hemisphere you will recognise immediately what doesn’t seem right. For Australians of course this is all very normal. At 38 degrees on a normal summer’s day in Mildura you could hardly expect people to wear Christmas jumpers and hats.
My first Southern Hemisphere Christmas began at Carols by Candlelight along the Murray River. I love carols and couldn’t think of a better way to put me in a Christmas mood. In my head I pictured a winter affair with people huddled around candles wrapped in blankets and winter jumpers; the reality was a summer festival scene with a Christmas theme. Everyone sitting in camping chairs or on picnic blankets wearing summer attire and Santa Hats while listening to the Christmas story. We set up our blanket, bought our cans of pop and waited. The evening was filled with school and an adult choir, soloists – one whom was a very sweet 8 year old girl whose dream was to be on The Australian Voice and a very talkative MC but the turning point of the evening was the 8:30pm visit from Santa. I don’t know whether it was Santa’s arrival with the rush of excitement from the children in the audience or the lowering of the sun but either way the Christmas atmosphere began to grow. Slowly but surely a slow warm glow began to appear throughout the audience as the candles were lit and the sun disappeared below the horizon. I lit my mosquito repellent candle and got out the songs booklet. Silent Night filled the air and I closed my eyes and imagined everyone in Christmas jumpers and wooly hats.
It was 22 degrees when I arrived into Melbourne on Christmas Eve and with the “cool” weather I couldn’t help but feel I was getting a little closer to Christmas as I pulled my fleece on over my T-shirt. Slightly city shocked I manoeuvred the trains while eating my packed watermelon (perhaps not so Christmassy) and landed at Sarah’s house to begin my Christmas with her family. As Sarah stated, her family loved taking in the strays for the holidays and Nina (a German friend who had booked the wrong dates into Melbourne) and I (a wandering Canadian) fit the bill; so on Christmas Eve we began part one of the Australian Family Christmas. Champagne, a delicious and light seafood dinner with smoked trout, cream cheese and capers with crackers for starters and mango and watermelon salad with prawns for main. After that course we retired to the couches for ice cream cake and Melbourne’s Carols by Candlelight. A very different affair than it’s Mildura counterpart. The gowns themselves worn by the singers were enough to mark a difference but the performers were backed by a full choir and orchestra and as it was “chilly” everyone dawned jumpers, Santa hats or reindeer antlers and of course everyone had candles – I finally felt like I had walked into Christmas. The cast of Les Miserables did a very Les Mis sounding rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and the cast of Once made me feel at home with their version of So This Is Christmas. I could have been on Grafton Street had I closed my eyes. I watched a Melbourne Sweetheart, Marina Prior get the whole crowd involved in Hark the Herald Angels Sing. The concert came to a close with the annual cymbal crash at the end of the Hallelujah Chorus and all the guests for the evening cramming onto the stage to sing We Wish You A Merry Christmas. It was finally felt official, Christmas had arrived.
Christmas Day was a gorgeous sunny day, not too hot, a nice breeze and royal blue skies. We arrived early at Sarah’s brother and sister-in-law’s home again and got stuck right in; helping to set up the living room for the 21 guests who would be dawning their doors and prepare bits of the dinner. They discovered pretty early on the night before that I was a foodie so I was given every opportunity to take pictures of the food being prepared for the occasion. Three meats – Roast Turkey, Ham with marmalade, brown sugar and rosemary and Roast Pork with succulent crunchy crackling done on the BBQ. BBQ’d sweet potato and pumpkin, roast potato, roast apples to go with the pork, a spiced cherry sauce to go over the turkey (which I would choose over cranberry sauce any day), green beans, baby carrots, roast cherry tomatoes, stuffing balls and of course gravy. A feast for kings! Somehow I managed to eat responsibly or grow a second stomach and left room for dessert which was just as indulgent as the main. Mini pavlova’s, truffles, rocky road, fresh fruit, Christmas pudding and trifle. Everything was perfectly scrumptious. We finished dinner and lounged at the table or in the sun outside eventually all saying our goodbyes and see you tomorrow’s for the next celebration.
Thankfully Sarah likes to match food with a Christmas walk so we wandered around her neighbourhood Christmas Eve looking at Christmas lights and befriending a wandering puppy. Wattle Park was the following morning before her Grandmother Joyce’s 94th birthday and consuming the next meal which included a rich chocolate mud cake.
It was three full days of amazing food sided with a sprinkle of bubbles, a whole lot of Christmas cheer, Australian hospitality and warmth at its best. I couldn’t thank Sarah and her family enough for letting me have a truly Australian Christmas and help me feel a little less far away from home.