Like many families with FIFO shift workers, It’s rare we get an actual Christmas Day which falls on Christmas Day.
This year, it fell on the 20th. And this year, as I didn’t have a 42 square metre flat to hide behind, I volunteered to play Nigella.
What started as eight people, turned to 15, then a solid 20. Which is a cinch if you’re a Duggar, but forget 19 kids and counting… I don’t even have 19 people in my immediate family.
Not only did this mean me running through the house like Macauley Culkin in Home Alone, it also meant I could finally put my stashed Christmas editions of Delicious and Donna Hay magazines to good use – oh who am I kidding, I could only surface a couple of old free Coles in-store magazines and one Family Circle Christmas special from 2002 that I picked up from a Kalgoorlie book exchange in 2007 – focaccia and semi-sun dried tomatoes really were huge in 2002, weren’t they?
I love Christmas Day. Except when it’s Christmas Day.
As the lead-up to Christmas is usually a long one (tinsel hitting the retail floor as early as August is evidence of that), the day itself can be pretty anti-climactic.
When you’re single – and live in a tiny apartment – no one really expects you to do much more than turn up at another’s place with a bottle of bubbles and a green salad for ten – it least in my experience. It wasn’t until I was coupled-up did it start becoming a day which was mostly spent in a hot car, travelling between families, remembering which of the designated potato salads (or was it the bag of rolls?) went to which gathering and taking on-the-road orders for more ice for drinks that only one of you were going to neck.
My reasons for putting on Christmas were pretty selfish – I didn’t want to drive anywhere, I wanted to be able to make sandwiches with leftover ham for an entire week afterward and I didn’t want to have to rethink that second shandy.
And what I’ve found with putting together this intimate late-lunch for 20? It’s kind of like organising a mini-wedding.
Finding a date that suits everyone in mid-December is like trying to get Sam Frost to go out with Blake Garvey for one last date just for shits and giggles. Actually, scratch that. Let’s try that again. It’s more like trying to get Jess to go out with Blake one more time. While unlikely, it COULD happen. Anyway, just like a wedding, there is a whole lot of back-and-forth and rustling of rosters and work Christmas parties (and birthdays, hinty hint hint).
Then, just like a wedding party is given a bunch of jobs to do, your guests for Christmas end up being your bridesmaids (yes, even you Uncle Rod) to whom you delegate all the stuff that you can’t see yourself doing. For me, I’ve never done the meats. That’s top-tier, maid-of-honour-level stuff. For a long time, I’ve been kind of the less-cute flower girl that was asked at the last minute, as a favour. Yep, I’m the green-salad-and-bread-roll bringer.
This year, I’ve kept with those traditional roles in our family, especially as some people, like my brother Emerson, over the years, have totally nailed their dish. I am now known as the Queen of Salads (better than the Bread Broad I suppose) and mum handles fish and prawns like a pro. If you made something completely delicious one year, it suddenly turns into your ‘famous’ dish. Even if you made it once, it’s in. Forever. My Uncle Rod always brings his ‘famous’ two chickens from Red Rooster.
Another way Christmas is like a wedding? Fruitcake. Christmas cake is basically wedding cake. Christmas pudding could pass as a wedding cake – thermonuclear-style. A couple of years ago, my Nan made the traditional wedding cake and this year did the same, and really the only difference was that it was wrapped in tinsel instead of topped with fresh flowers. It’s times like these that make me wish I liked fruitcake.
The other phenomenon when you sit down to begin planning a wedding or a family Christmas at your place, is that it all starts with The Big Picture of the day and you constantly run through what’s going to happen and when – which is great for troubleshooting, bad for micro-managers.
The Big Picture gets swallowed up by those things that make people go barmy: details.
I was standing in IKEA the other day thinking, do I buy new ceramic white plates or am I happy with the paper Chinet I already had at home? Do I really need two mini Christmas trees as centrepieces? Are gingerbread houses really a thing and why was I suddenly looking at buying a Billy Bookcase?
The importance of what I was doing was started to get misplaced with all things shiny and red, which is why I had to go back to basics – I needed a theme.
OK, I know, I know, a theme? Der, it’s Christmas. How about a Christmas theme?
I think what’s problematic is calling a theme a theme – which reminds me of either a wood-panelled Irish pub or a high school ball. A theme can actually be a really helpful way of setting some boundaries in your mind about what you want, but also what you don’t. Instead of The Big Picture being overwhelming – setting boundaries, a plan, a theme, can make a wedding, a dinner party, or Christmas soiree more manageable.
At least when you nail down a theme, or set boundaries like French vintage or Hong Kong street food fiesta, you can decide pretty quickly what goes and what won’t. The theme I set in my mind about Christmas was pretty simple: Sunday market-style picnic. Easy. It meant I could bypass a lot of the stuff that was strictly red, white and green.
One way I knew I was on the right track for my get-together was when I checked out some of the material for making a tablecloth for my three-metre long table (no, no, no, I wasn’t going to sew anything, I just needed a long strip of material that could pass for a tablecloth) and the Christmas-themed bolts of material were, well, I ended up getting a trendy geometric-patterned piece that was dotted with heaps of happy colours. It was definitely more me. It was how I felt when I found my wedding centrepieces: white dinosaurs.
What wasn’t surprising at all was how I was on the actual day. Which, guess what? It was not perfect. Just like a wedding.
I didn’t use the mini milk bottles I bought specifically for the homemade mojitos as my brother didn’t bring the ingredients, people didn’t sit at my quirky-looking table until the last minute, instead they pulled all the chairs and the wooden benches closer together and, to my initial protestations, used some scaffolding and made a makeshift table for the dips and crackers. Then, later on, my multi-coloured solar-powered party lights didn’t turn on until it was totally pitch dark outside.
What I realised is that I loved the process of having people over, fawning over the detail and making myself a bit mad doing so… I think it’s better than not giving a shit. But as long as you can realise pretty early on that delegation is the key and that the day will probably not resemble a Marie Claire December pictorial, much like, no matter how hard you try, Margherita Missoni’s wedding simply refuses to be replicated, the better you’ll approach it and deal with the inevitable disappointment.
Another big realisation was that I could never go on My Kitchen Rules with my mum. While she was preparing prawns, I went upstairs to get ready, when I was checking my potatoes roasting in duck fat (yes), she was socialising. She even said that my entertaining style was opposite to hers and that she admired that I could just chill and roll with the punches on the day – something she is still learning to do.
And the best thing I realised while singing along to one of the quintessential Christmas/wedding crossover performers, Michael Buble and turning on the dishwasher before wiping down the kitchen counter…?
Turning around and opening the fridge.