– What day would suit you for the second interview? I said, and opened my work calendar.
– Monday would be best.
I wrote the time she gave me under ‘Monday 24 December’. Something clicked in my head, but I didn’t know what it was until I came home again. Then it came to me:
Where I come from, the 24 December is The Day. Christmas Eve on the 24th of December is the shining Utopia that all of December orbits around; the whole year if you’re a young kid (albeit a distant dream for most of the year). The magical bright light in the middle of the long, dark and cold winter time.
Now this is Australia, and winters are neither dark, nor cold (although some Aussies may think that; only because they don’t know what cold weather means). Christmas is in the middle of summer. And it isn’t even on the 24th of December, but on the 25th in the morning (or something). So the scenery isn’t quite on.
Then I walked my dogs in the neighbourhood, and met a neighbour from a few streets away with his daughter. They were walking his big, fat, somewhat cranky and not-so dog-social Labrador cross. My dogs adore the Lab and were all kissy and puppy-like. The Lab-owners are lovely people, and I have a good relationship with them. The daughter said:
– What are you doing for Christmas? to which I replied
– I don’t know yet. My husband and I haven’t actually talked about that.
She said – Your husband must be very busy.
Christmas – doing it wrong?
My husband is busy, but not that busy. Christmas time always seems like a limbo because it is a time meant to be spent with the closest family, and our families live far away in Europe.
Potential Christmas plans are complicated further by… me. A key objective of dinners and other social events is to get people to chat with each other, and I’m not chatty and don’t like noise and crowded places. I struggle to cope with even my own family’s family dinners, but I do like to spend Christmas with my dad’s little family and youngest brothers (and oldest little brother, if he shows up too) on the hobby farm which I’ve known all my life. Christmas Eve out there is small, calm, and familiar, and I know my role* in it, having done it every year for many years.
But that’s far away. Here, I expect dinners to be somewhere between mildly stressing and nightmarish.
Last year, our neighbour across the road (in the old place where we lived before) invited us over for Christmas dinner with her friends. That was nice of her. I didn’t really like being there, but at least is sounded OK when my family asked me how we had celebrated Christmas and seemed less looser-like.
The year before, we realised on Christmas Eve that we did not have anything in the house to eat, and all shops and restaurants were closed, so we ended up buying take-away from McDonald’s, which was the only detectable food outlet that was open. That sucked. So, this year we’re better prepared? Nope**.
The mystery of family traditions carrying on through generations
When I was a kid, December was all well structured and laborious, filled with Christmas preparations and activities and the Chrissy smells of candle lights, cinnamon, spruce twigs, glue, deco paper and spicy cookies. There was the Christmas Calendar TV for kids and Christmas Calendars on the wall, counting down the days to Christmas Eve.
It wasn’t just a few people who knew what to do: the whole big family was buzzing of Christmas activities, lead by steady female hands, and there were Christmas decorations in every room. I enjoyed the magic of Christmas, but it didn’t occur to me that I was supposed to, one day, carry on the logistics of it.
Christmas survives generational changes by being handed down from parents and grand parents to kids, and the kids somehow learn how to build and maintain the scenery while they grow up. As usual, as with most of the expected woman role stuff, I obviously forgot to pay attention when the know-how was handed down through the generations.
That was enough sentimental whining. Now to Our Christmas. I asked my husband today how he feels about Christmas, and he said ‘Horrified… because of you’. He said that he knows our Christmas doesn’t live up to my expectations about what Christmas should be, and that stresses him.
He also said that he doesn’t really care about Christmas. It is fine as it is, with no decorations and all that. He misses his family back in Europe, but not more in Christmas than in any other time. What he will say when people ask him what his Christmas plans are? ‘Go to bed early’. So we decided to ditch the traditional expectations and just enjoy our time together as if it was any other time. Hm. I guess that solved it. That was easy.
* It varies slightly and may involve being Santa Claus if they can’t convince my dad to do it
** Except we do have a big ham this time