Christmas was easier this year.
I did less, expected less. Wrote no cards. My friend of 23 years comes over, flourishing a bottle of pink champagne, begs me to make her card, as I have done each year, for the past 10 years. She doesn’t even send me one in the mail. I make no online Christmas profiles, not even for me, until the digital card.
Sent it out and received only 2 responses. I expected less. My mind was caught daydreaming: between walking to the South Pole with Cas and Jonesy, and planning dinner parties that didn’t happen. Blowing the dead leaves from the courtyard, and watching possums hang upside down in the starlight, when I did have friends over for dinner. They spend 30 minutes photographing it. Mostly, the images don’t come out, their cameras cannot focus in the semi-darkness, so I aim my little Canon *snap, *snap, and there, job is done.
I fall into the habit of eating Jaffas after breakfast, my treat for the day.
This year has exhausted us all; it is enough to simply be here, in the present, accounted for. No floods nor cyclone nor earthquake or tsunami has stopped us yet. Slowed us down, sure, but we are still here, survivors. Tireder, older, somewhat wiser - and here. There is little joy this Christmas, no kisses, no hugs, no exclamations of gift giving. In fact I had to ask if my husband even received a particular gift from me. He had. Little joy, but we are here and accounted for.
I wash my lead crystal champagne flutes in the dishwasher, and don’t even flinch when they come out cloudy. I am grateful to have used them, grateful to find an excuse to drink champs with friends and family over breakfast bowls of fresh fruit; gleaming strawberries and purple blackberries against the gold of mangoes and red blushing watermelon. The sweet tang of passionfruit coats each mouthful. The cat sleeps at my feet, follows me around like a faithful dog. I cook fresh chicken, stuffing its cavity with dried apricots, pine nuts, grained bread pulled apart roughly, basting its skin until golden. We don’t eat it until the next day, but knowing it’s there, gives me comfort. Roasting pans of baked potatoes and pumpkin cooked in duck fat line our stomachs. It’s all we can do to flick the remote control. Mostly, we lay on the bed, radio off, reading. No need for conversation, we are alone in our thoughts and only a brushed hand away from each other.
We are content.
This year, without consultation, my husband decides we are to spend Christmas here in the city. For a man that has spent every Christmas covered in sand and heat at the beach since he was two years old, this is a huge leap. I don’t mind, I’m grateful (that word again!) for the change, and the air conditioning. Although our beach house was built for sea breezes and not air conditioning, over the years buildings and development have choked our lovely easterly night breeze, and we usually lay on top of the bed, listless with heat, lacking energy, the whirr of the fan our only company.
Another new change this year was meeting my dear old Rockhampton school friend Sue for morning tea, and some light Christmas shopping. We buy a bird bath, walking around the plant nursery inspecting the various designs. A carved column or a twisted stand? Deep with a rim or shallow and embossed? Finally, decision made, we hump it puffing from the car to her guest room, giggling like schoolgirls - hiding it beside the double bed. Shopping again, I park underneath the centre, in case of rain. We buy so much our arms struggle to hold the bags, stuffed with last minute panicked buying. Grog. Food. Santa stuffers for my 25 year old son.
Standing at Myers, I buy two pairs of earrings; white pearly drops for me, and sparkling blue sapphires for her, to match the intensity of her eyes. ‘Look surprised’ I joke, and she feigns mock shock as a rehearsal. We both laugh, kids again, students in our daggy drab grey uniforms and moppy ties around our necks. Outside the rain belts down, and my stomach tightens, just a little.
Christmas Eve champagne drinks in our front courtyard, only the second time it has ever been used. Years ago I hosted a party for my sister for her 50th birthday there, hovering between the guests and scanning the road for expected Thursday Island Dancers, who never showed. I have slaved over the garden for this night, this Christmas Eve, and our friends and neighbours arrive with bottles to be opened, and plates of food to share. Carols sing out from the new CD player we have bought, and not once does it jump or scratch or repeat. Heaven! The humidity threatens to sap us of all energy, the occasional spot of rain sending our eyes searching skywards. Friends from Innisfail arrive and we feast on glazed ham, Bangalow roast pork, salads and vegetables, sparking Shiraz. In the morning we’ll drive his car back over to the house they are staying in, and admire the view over Brisbane, and the elegance of a freshly renovated home for a single professional woman. She’s done well for herself, I try to push the envy urge down and be happy for her. It’s Christmas Day; I am happy for her, for us all. New ideas, new customs for us this year.
My brother in law arrives with his family, having flown from Cairns at 5.30am. It’s been a long night and an early start for them all; they are exhausted, and sit slumped in the chairs, catching up on family news and events. We are so happy to be together and chatting that I totally forget to put out the Bon bons. No matter. We feast on fruit salad and champagne and my offer to cook salmon scrambled eggs will have to wait until tomorrow. Now it’s almost lunchtime. My mother in law shuffles off to join other family members for Christmas lunch, coughing and hacking so badly we advise her to take some antibiotics. She stays with us for the next two nights so we can keep an eye on her health. We eat so much it’s as much as we can do to shovel shortbread into our mouth for dinner. In the morning I wake with a heavy head cold, courtesy of my mother-in-law.
Our city Christmas has been a great success. Hope yours was too.