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Christmas Down Under

Being born and raised in Australia, Christmas for me is a stinking hot day, spent in the pool and lazing around the house trying to stay awake in blistering heat. My family heritage is Irish and Scottish, so of course all of that was done with a huge baked lunch of roasted chicken, ham, turkey, and all the trimmings.

Christmas in Australia shows none of the historic attributes you see in movies and on Christmas cards. I’ve never seen snow in real life, unless you count the time I was flying to Melbourne for work, and happened to glance out the window of the plane as we were flying over the Snowy Mountains.

I’ve never drunk egg nog, actually I’m not even sure what egg nog is to be honest. There’s never been a roaring fire, or reindeer prints in the snow on the porch.

I do remember when I was a child and Santa managed to spill talcum powder on the front balcony. That was cool. I would never have known he had parked his sleigh there if not for the powdery reindeer prints and the sleigh track marks. I remember thinking Santa was cool for doing that, particularly given how my father had to clean it up.

With the creation of the internet, and the ability for people to chat across the world in real time, I’ve been reading about winter excursions, cold noses and icy cheeks. Snow falls and the hunt for the perfect Christmas scarf. I’ve been reading all of that while sitting under my house in the shade, trying to stay cool on such a hot and humid day.

For me, as I’ve gotten older Christmas has been about fresh seafood, it’s not Christmas without prawns and icy cold Chardonnay. This year, now that I’m 4 and half months into a year of living sober, I need a new tradition. I’m sticking with the prawns though.

I remember a lot of noise at Christmas. Cousins by the truck load, Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents. My Grandfather was always so wrapped up in Christmas. 40 degree heat or not, there he’d be, sitting amongst the children on the floor handing out Christmas presents, a red and white Santa hat perched on his thick silver hair.

Whenever I look at Christmas now I see those days. Not the ones we have now. The family is long gone, the grandparents have moved to the next stage of their journey, my Grandfather has been gone for 22 years now, my Grandmother gone for 6. My Grandmother died a fortnight before Christmas. Since then, Christmas hasn’t really meant much in our house.

It’s just Mum, Dad and I now. Mum’s sister usually comes up a couple of days after Christmas and we go out for lunch. But Christmas is quiet. It’s not the loud manic days of my youth.

When I was a child I thought I’d have a family of my own by now. A new generation of children to buy plastic crap for. A new generation of laughter, of noise. It didn’t turn out that way. It turned out much differently then I had envisioned.

It was when I realised the dreams of my youth wouldn’t become a reality that I created the annual Boxing Day Hoot’N’Nanny. Over the years my annual Boxing Day gatherings have been quiet and they’ve been loud. It’s had 4 people and at it’s height 40+. It’s the Christmas I have with the family of my choosing.

This is the first Christmas since my Grandfather passed that I’m facing it sober. I used alcohol as an escape from the memories I couldn’t out run. The feeling of isolation, of loss. Facebook has brought about a slight reconnection with some of the family members but they’ve all been gone so long now, I just can’t feel anything beyond fond memories. They’ve raised families I’ve never met, they’ve lived lives I have no idea about.

I find myself today remembering the insanity of those long ago Christmas’. The weekend before, and my mother running from one end of the house to the other. Duster in one hand, vacuum wedged under her arm. Tinsel strewn all over the carpet as one cat or another attacked the Christmas tree and ran off with his prize.

My father mowing the lawn and cleaning the pool, and me trying to help but most likely hindering the process of “preparing for the family”. As I sit here today, foot up trying to get my body to heal itself from the gout I’ve enjoyed this week I remember those days and think “I wonder what my Grandparents would say if they could see us now.”

Mum is in the lounge room watching Downton Abbey Season 2 on DVD. The cats are strewn over the stairs, Millie is sleeping, Loki is hunting imaginary beasts, and Felix thinks he’s a puppy and keeps chasing a silver ball.

Dad’s online doing whatever it is he does, and I’m sitting under the house, blogging a memory that I don’t think has any point beyond being bitter sweet.

I was sitting in my room last night and I realised that while life changes so constantly, it appears to never really change at all until you force it under the microscope.

The pool is almost clean again. The lawns have been mowed. The house has been cleaned and the floors vacuumed. The kitchen is weighed down by chickens and salad and an assortment of munchies and in a couple of days I will have a house full of “Family” sitting under my house, drinking white wine, smoking cigarettes and catching up after a busy year.

The preparations – done with the utmost of care – are being done for a different family. Not one of blood and DNA but created through choice, but they are still being done. Christmas Day will be quiet. But on Boxing Day the people I love will be gathered in one place and we’ll celebrate another year well lived, another stage to the journey well achieved.

I guess the point to this post, while not about creative recovery or writing is that although life changes, the faces, places and people change, what I remember most about the Christmas’ of my past, and the Boxing Day’s of my present is the love.

My wish to whoever reads this post is that you find in this silliest of seasons the love, be it in memory of those who have gone, or in the presence of those who remain. May you find joy and laughter and light during your Christmas celebrations and may you find always a safety, a haven in the family you choose to surround yourself with.

Given the lack of time remaining between now and Boxing Day, and the joy of unexpected attack of gout that’s finally getting better, this will probably be the last post in Writing in Shadows until after the Christmas period – I could be wrong though.

To all who read this post, I wish you a Merry Christmas, and may 2013 bring you all much joy, happiness, laughter and love, and a hand to hold through the new journey that comes with a new year.

Thank you to all for being a part of the journey I’m undertaking in Writing in Shadows and I look forward to chatting with you in 2013.

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43 year old Australian writer currently working on the first of a planned three book Epic Fantasy series. When he's not writing policy discussions, or tales of swords, Gods, and magic, he can be found making a mess in the kitchen, and turning perfectly good ingredients into crimes against humanity.

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