Christmas in cold climates involves snow that covers rooftops and streets. It deadens noise and yet has a sound that defies reasonable description. Perhaps the closest is when in olden times and at funerals of kings or queens, the drums and sticks would be cloth covered and the rolls became muffled. This gave somberness to the occasion fitting the importance of the procession of the uncontrollable grief sobbing of thousands following the coffin. Not that I can actually remember ever having followed a queen or king to a grave, nor having witnessed grief sobbing of thousands, but it reads rather nicely, don’t you think?
For me the Christmas was the time for our dad installing a real Christmas tree which was always a prickly spruce bought a few days before. The tree would be decorated with candle holders that had to remain reasonable upright having to carry the weight of the candle. This was always tricky, especially when the tree aged and dried out and branches started to hang. The tree was supposed to last till the three kings met the fallen star. Now, my religious memory might be a little hazy or unsteady, but was this a period of 30 days? Anyway, in our family the tree would be exploited till the very end of festivities. This was usually when snow had melted, the toys either lost, eaten or broken, and we had to go back to school.
Going back to the candle holders and hanging branches. It was inevitable that we would experience a dying dead and tinder dry spruce on fire. My dad in his pyjama and early in the morning got up out of bed and without a word, grabbed the burning tree, opened the window and hurled it outside from three stories high. The burning tree ended up in the chicken coop belonging to the tailor living at the bottom floor, much to the consternation of the chickens. Those living at the bottom floors were always the envy of the neighborhood because they had a garden and could keep chickens. We had been playing with matches and had lit the candles, one of which had sagged and started licking the dry branch and needles near it. I think that the burning Christmas tree might well have been the catalyst for my parents’ idea of migrating elsewhere.
After the ensuing migration and settling in Australia’s Revesby our first Christmas was different. The spruce morphed into a pine with long needles and for us less gracious looking. My dad went about decorating the tree, but now very wisely, changed to electric lights. Instead of snow (and muffled drums) there was heat and flies. The congregation in the church smelled of beer and there were huge moths flying about the size of small birds. There was a hellish noise coming from the bark of some giant gum trees in the next garden which, at that time still had an old farm house on it. At night we were bitten by mosquitoes. We missed the snow!
Later on, and after some years, we learned to associate the noise of cicadas, the giant bogong moths and the smell and cheer of beer and prawns, the glass of a chilled Barossa Pearl with mum and dad, the friendly neighbors with the pouring of foaming beers from brown longnecks and the sticking of Christmas cards through venetians to be part of a Christmas just as joyous as the ones left behind. As kids we soon got tents and started to discover beaches and Blue Mountains, 22 rifles and rabbits and some years later, motor bikes and sheilas with concrete ‘lovable’ bras. Dancing lessons from Phyllis Bates and The Trocadero in George Street. My first ‘dipping of the wick’. The Christmases’ became associated with all that and more.
It is just different, that’s all.