13 Dec 2010

Ghosts of Many Christmases

Have you ever read Henry Lawson's The Ghosts of Many Christmases? Reading it aloud over the weekend it struck me what fun it would be to write Jeanne's Ghosts of Many Christmases, and so here I am. Perhpas you'd like to do it too.

First a short explanation in case you're confused. Lawson's short story/essay originally published in 1902 can be found on line here. It begins like this:
Did you ever trace back your Christmas days?--right back to the days when you were innocent and Santa Claus was real. At times you thought you were very wicked, but you never realize how innocent you were until you've grown up and knocked about the world.

Let me think!
From here he goes on to talk about Christmases past. It is a delightfully Aussie Christmas read. Do have a geek.

Now my Christmases have not been nearly as varied as Lawson's, who was only 35 when the essay was published, but that could be a good thing - a three page post would be rather a trial. Nevertheless, this indulgence is really more for me than you. These 'ghosts' of past Christmases have been all gathering together in my head for the last day or so, at it will be interesting to see what they produce.

So. Let us begin.

Christmas as a child. Old pillowcases packed with presents at the foot of each bed. The exquisitely agonising pleasure of awaking early and feeling the lumpy form all over to check that Santa had been. The ubiquitous 'Beep-Beep' toy hanging out of the top, his belly filled with delicious toffees and his foot long plastic legs filled with smarties. I could always ration my lollies to last until at least Easter, carefully prying each sweet from its home between the staples so as no to damage the cardboard Roadrunner body. I still do this with chocolate, much to Richele's disgust.

Christmas at Rosnashane. Christmas in my parents' catering business began in early November. For the last eight weeks or so of each year we'd host Christmas parties, big and small. Some weekends there would be three or four or more. Each would have ham and turkey and plum pudd with brandy sauce and cream. And so would we. Over and over and over. And over. By the time the 25th December arrived, turkey was as appealing to us as it was to the Woodlawn children in Caddie after they'd eaten their way through the unsold result of Mrs Woodlawn's turkey raising enterprise. We ate chicken.

Christmas with the cousins. My grandmother, Marga, presiding over the tables filled with Uncles, Aunts and dozens of Cousins. Aunts cooking dishes of tomato and onion topped with breadcrumbs. Yum. The serving-up assembly line. The way Uncle Tea always found a ten dollar note in his pudding while ours always had 20c. How did he keep it from getting wet and sticky? Two of my uncles preparing and then reading aloud humorous tales about each of us. Uncle Aitch's 'training tablecloth' - a crochet one where the little squares bored straight into your elbows if you dared rest them inappropriately between courses. They had a real pine branch as a tree too. It smelled divine. Ours was plastic.

Christmas in Gjøvik, Norway. My first white Christmas. Temperatures so cold that they warned about the enamel chipping off your teeth. -15°C, -20°C. Riding sparks around the streets. Cross country skiing and tobogganing. Watching the teens on the ski jumps. Finding the almond in the Julegrøt and winning the marzipan pig. Making homemade marzipan from egg whites and icing sugar and almond meal. Roast (radioactive) reindeer and Rødkål on Christmas Eve. The Christmas day dinner of Lutefisk served with a white sauce, melted butter, green peas, boiled potatoes, and mustard. Leaving a big bowl of risengrynsgrøt and a wooden spoon on the doorstep for the Julenisser. Hanging the longest football socks we could find at the end of the bed for Santa because my mother's cousin who I was staying with was Irish and he visited as well. Finding an orange in the toe.

Many many Christmas ghosts here. So many of my family's current traditions stem from this Christmas past.

Christmas at Craigelachie. While my parents were working Christmas was too busy to be properly enjoyed, but after they retired we pulled all stops. Turkey became desirable again with slices of baked ham. We were old enough to drink champagne served with baby radishes dipped in butter and salt. One year in a departure from tradition we ate antipasto in the veranda for lunch and left the turkey for dinner. The weather was perfect. So was the company.

Christmas in Chang Rai, Thailand. Missing my Mum and Dad who had just been to visit. Attending a Christmas church service with the local Thai congregation and hearing the ethereal singing of the Hill Tribe choir. Eating incredible Thai curries with everyone afterwards and speaking in sign language. Opening my Christmas mail alone in my room and missing everybody all over again.

Christmas Eve at my brother's. A new tradition - baked ham and boiled spuds and raspberries for dessert on Christmas Eve. Champagne too.

Christmas with my very own family. Creating our own traditions. Stockings by the chimney from Santa and presents from Mummy and Daddy under the tree. Drinking warm glögg while trimming the tree. Stir Up Sunday. Visits to Santa and the Myer Windows. The Basket of Delights and a Christmas story every day. Kissing under the mistletoe. Long summer holidays.

Christmas in July. My dear father was diagnosed this year with terminal mesothelioma on July 7th, four days before his 82nd birthday. We had the wonderfullest party you can imagine. Christmas in July. We ate turkey and ham and plum pudding. The table was decorated with candles and crackers. Carols were playing. Auntie Ai baked a great birthday cake and Mum decorated it. The children blew out 82 candles mounted in gumdrops on silver paper. Parsie gave each of us a gift from his tartan stocking and hugged each of us in turn. We took heaps of photos. We laughed and we laughed. And of course we cried. It will be hard to beat this Christmas. It was the grandest of them all.

The end.


  1. Oh, Jeanne, I loved reading these wonderful Christmas memories of yours. And they are such different (in some ways) traditions from mine, which seem prosaic in comparison. And your Christmas in July made me teary all over again.

  2. Beautiful memories Jeanne. Merry Christmas to you and your family. xx

  3. Tell me it wasn't really roast reindeer!

  4. It really was roast reindeer. Sorry, chooky one.

  5. Hmmph. Next you'll be eating chicken.

  6. ♫ Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer...♫

  7. To clarify, I was never disgustified by your candy and chocolate rationing. Rather, I was in awe at the amount of self-control you possess - though I now know it does not extend to raw shortbread dough.

    My dear Jeanne, Christmas in July will remain in my memory as one of the deepest expressions of love I've had the honor to witness.

    Christmas kisses,


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