26 December – Boxing Day

Wrapping it up

So here I am on Boxing Day, my second favourite day of the year, kicking back with a cup of tea and a cherry tart, thinking about what went wrong yesterday (which was quite a lot, but nobody cared) and what went right (which was that we were a happy family, celebrating together on a happy day), but I haven’t forgotten you, my dear readers. I was intending to finish this blog with multiple choice questions to test what you learned about Christmas during the year but I will instead list what I learned myself:[1]

  • Christmas is indeed for everyone but, even more importantly, Christmas should be by everyone: everyone should have a say; everyone should have a role; everyone should be part of the preparation. Let there be no spectators.
  • And this means that you can’t be dogmatic: Christmas should include all of the things that the people around you care about, even if they don’t fit your decoration scheme or menu.[2]
  • Planning is good, but be flexible.[3]
  • And make your crackers later in the year: you really don’t know in April how many people you’ll have for Christmas in December!
2016-12-26
The party’s over. (Till next year.)

Stop press: Hannah and Lachlan just came around to tell me that they’re getting married. Oh my goodness! I have a wedding to plan!

[1] Yes, I humbly concede that you can be an expert on Yule logs and Santa Claus and plum pudding and still not know everything.

[2] So pierogi are definitely in for me but I’d still like to draw the line at Brussels sprouts!

[3] This may be an excuse for over-catering (not that anyone in my family needs an excuse!)

23 December

Fridge work

Today’s the last delivery day for the year, so leave the postie’s Small Present in the letterbox. (Clearly labelled – you don’t want them to assume it’s to you rather than from you.)

2016-12-23
Jam packed (and not just with jam).

Now you really need to get the fridge ready. Toss everything that you don’t need,[1] carefully consider what you’ll be storing and how you can fit it in and plan where everything will fit on Christmas Day. (I’m making extra room for a pre-cooked rolled pork loin and a supermarket quiche because I no longer have time to cook everything from scratch!)

Also fine-tune your Christmas Day food safety plan:

  • How will you cover food? Will you serve it in containers that have lids? Will you use plastic wrap and foil? (Put them on your shopping list for Christmas Eve if you don’t have enough.) Do you have your ham bag ready?
  • Remember to get all that food back into the fridge pronto and out of the danger zone.

You can cook frozen desserts and cheesecake today. Personally, I’m getting stuck into an ice cream plum pudding because there won’t be enough actual pudding to go around and no-one’s going to feel like waiting two months until something I whip up today has matured properly!

Wendy rang from Tullamarine and she said that they flew with a nice family who had also abandoned ship and don’t know what to do for Christmas because they were expecting to be on a cruise and now they’ve come home to an empty larder and an undecorated house so she invited them to my place, knowing that I always have plenty of everything!

So that’s twenty-five people for Christmas dinner! I’m going to have to buy some extra crackers and more wine and find some extra presents!

“Wendy,” I said, “do you think Gertruda would have time to cook a really big batch of sauerkraut pierogi for Christmas dinner?”

“I’m sure she’d love to,” she replied. “I’ll let her know straight away.”

“And something for dessert too?”

“Count on it,” she replied.

Then Gemma rang, checking if there was anything she could bring.

“Well,” I said cautiously, “how are you off for china?”

“We got a big dinner set for a wedding present that we hardly ever use!” she gushed. “I’ll bring it around!”

And she did. She’s got my sixteen-place white and gold plates and has added her twelve-place white and silver service and she’s currently bustling around, working out how to mix them together in a stylish way. She says she’ll bring glasses and cutlery tomorrow and now she’s talking about serviettes and centrepieces.

“I was going to do conifers and baubles,” I mentioned, “and I have big gold bowls for nuts and lollies.” (Note to self: will need more nuts and lollies.)

Gemma looked at me with my apron and oven mitts and said, “Please can I do it? I love this kind of thing and it was feeling so wrong to be sitting around on Christmas Eve Eve with nothing to do. I can do conifers and baubles and I’ll wrangle punch cups and serving spoons too. I promise it will look lovely.”

And that’s an offer too good to refuse.

By the time Hannah rang, I went to speaker phone straight away so that I could keep stirring.

“You need twenty-one crackers?” she asked.

“It’s twenty-five now,” I said. “Probably thirty tomorrow, the way things are going. And if you ask again on Christmas morning, I expect it will be a hundred.”

“How many crackers have you got?” she asked.

“Fourteen,” I replied.

“Pixie and Poppet are bouncing off the ceiling so we’ll sit down and make crackers together this afternoon and that might calm them down a bit. I’ll drop into the shops on my way over and get eleven trinkets. They won’t be up to your usual standard but I’ll find something.”

“Could you make the crackers silver?” I suggested, thinking of Gemma’s table décor. “And do you think we could have the girls in charge of the punch on the Day?”

“They’ll love it,” she assured me. “Should we start on the punch ice today?”

“Yes, please,” I replied.

[1] Like the leftover pasta from yesterday you thought you’d eat today but actually won’t because you’ll be too full of mince pies.

21 December

Getting your act together

People planning Christmas concerts should be rehearsing their acts by now. Those accompanying carols should be running through their music.[1] And if you’re planning some other kind of afternoon festivity, prepare as much as you can today: find a cricket ball, gather some pads and pencils, get out the dress-up box; whatever you need.

2016-12-21

It’s just as well we weren’t planning a concert at my house (if you do a double act with only two guests there’s no audience) because things have changed again!

“Caitlin has thrown Dad out,” Hannah told me. “She’s done it before but she’s always taken him back, so I didn’t want to mention it, but it’s been four weeks now and I think it’s sticking.”

“She’s thrown him out?” I repeated.

“He’s an unfaithful bastard and he doesn’t deserve her.”

Ha! I knew those business trips where he goes away and we all have dinner together were about the wrong kind of business!

“So Caitlin’s still a mess and she’s not very merry and I was wondering if it would be okay if we all spent Christmas with you?”

Of course it is! Hannah will be here for dinner after all! And Pixie and Poppet too, and it’s wonderful to have little children around at Christmas time! (I’ll make rainbow jelly – they’ll love it, although it won’t make them feel nearly as excited and happy as I felt at that moment, knowing that I’d share Christmas with both of my children after all.)

“I can bring my turkey breast and my pudding,” Hannah continued, “but I wasn’t going to do ham so I don’t think we’ll have enough. Is it too late to order another?”

Well, we can try but I’m pretty sure all of Bill’s premium, free-range hams are already spoken for. I’ll check what they have at the supermarket (if I can get a parking spot).

And I’ll have to brave the mall tomorrow to get a present for Caitlin and it’s bound to be mayhem. But I know just what I’ll get her – some of those really good herb snippers – so I should be able to execute it as a lightning raid.

[1] Although Nanna could play anything at sight better than most people could after a week’s rehearsal. (She was, however, unable to play pop songs without making digs about the inferiority of modern music.)

25 November

Bottled up

Today it’s exactly one (calendar) month till Christmas and you’ve bought most of your presents, your cards are sorted and the cake and the pudding are cooked and waiting.[1] Other people are beginning to think, “OMG! It’s only a month till Christmas and I’ve got so much to do!” but you can rest easy knowing that you have it all in control.

The fruit mince is ready too: it’s had its month of sitting around, so now you can bottle it. (I took a jar of mine around to Hannah and she said she’ll use it in an apple strüdel she was planning to cook for a beach picnic with Lachlan on Sunday, which is a pretty classy thing to do with mince if you think tarts are dull.)[2]

2016-11-25
Strü-delicious.

I saw an elf costume in an op shop last weekend and it was well made, in good condition and a perfect fit. (Yes, I tried it on.) I stood staring at myself in the mirror, alternating thoughts of “I could make curly shoes from green felt,” with “I have never yet had an occasion at which I should have been dressed as an elf,” and I finally left it in the shop so that I could ponder more.[3] But today, I saw the answer clearly: Father Christmas may be venerable, the innkeeper in the nativity play can be a septuagenarian and the Angel Gabriel is older than Moses, but you never see a middle-aged elf, so the chances that I would look silly are too high. (Curly shoes or no.)

[1] My cousin Brian used to say that the pudding was lurking: Auntie Betty would hang it in the pantry and he was sure it was just waiting for the right moment to plummet from the ceiling and crack his skull.

[2] Auntie Margie’s baked potatoes with cheese and fruit mince are less likely to be crowd-pleasers. Her son Russell loved them though and so his mother gave him a blank cookbook and wrote the recipe into it for him. (That was twenty years ago, and I believe he’s only added one other recipe to the book since.)

[3] I decided to risk being gazumped by someone my size with a stronger desire to self-elf.