I must confess to not understanding the whole ‘Christmas in July’ thing, or why people go ape over it, trundling themselves off to the coldest climes to celebrate something that has no relevance here whatsoever. This is Australia, and Christmas means heatwaves, bushfires and flies. If you are an American, or English, it kind of makes sense to want to have snow for Christmas, but if you’re an Aussie, and only ever associate Christmas with summer, it just doesn’t work. And apart from that, it is hard to imagine Christmas happening in the middle of the year – snow or no snow.The whole Christmas thing in Australia has always been too tied up with English and European traditions, and catering to our climate at this time of the year never seems to be something anyone used to consider. I remember my mother slaving over hot stoves months before Christmas even started to get the cake and pudding done on time for it to mature before being reheated and eaten with hot custard in steamy 30-odd-degree heat. Everyone sweated in the hot house, just wanting it to end so that they could kick back with a cold beer. When I lived with my stepfamily back in the 70’s, I remember my poor sister-in-law catering a hot lunch for twenty people every Christmas day. Her reward was a stinking headache, and near dehydration. You have to query if this is the right way to celebrate Christmas day in Australia, especially with our tradition of breaking traditions, and our usual irreverence for anything considered over-the-top.
When I lived in Darlinghurst, I used to cater a orphans Christmas lunch on Christmas day, for anyone who had nowhere else to go. I used to do the full traditional thing for anywhere from 12-15 people, with glazed ham, pork, turkey and pudding. I used to get to bed at about 3am on Christmas Eve, to be back up again at 7am to finish all the prep work. After my last of these – many years ago now – and finding myself with a migraine, I decided it was time to change my approach to Christmas eating.
My partners mother was quick to realize the advantages of having a chef in the family. She swings a couple of hundred dollars my way, and I do the whole thing – but not the old way. I have started a tradition of fresh oysters in the half-shell, with various toppings arranged in small bowls, as an entrée. Everybody in his family – bar his Grandmother – loves them. We go to the fish markets about 10pm on Christmas Eve to get them – take this as a time hint. This is followed by cold ham, cold lamb and cold chicken with a range of salads, and finished off with an ice cream fruit pudding. On a hot day, this is a really refreshing meal, and no one has sweated themselves into oblivion to put it all together. I still do mince fruit tarts, a cake and shortbread but this is all easy to do, and involves little stress on my part. If you are still doing it all the traditional way, I suggest you consider a rethink, and start your own Christmas traditions.
I hope everyone else can enjoy a stress-free and refreshing Christmas day.
Tim Alderman (C) 2015