Tradition and Change. Rewriting Christmas.

I once owned many histories of Renaissance and Medieval Europe. Most of them mentioned the words Tradition and Change somewhere within the text, if not in the title itself. That period, perhaps more than any other in history, encapsulates this historical concept so well. Things don’t change suddenly. Old ways continue side by side with the new, traditions and beliefs endure, long past their relevance to the society practising them. A clashing of paradigms might take a century to resolve, only to be followed by a reactionary movement, another turn of the wheel, bringing about upheaval and further revisions to practice and belief, whilst simultaneously drawing legitimacy and cultural validity from older traditions. History is usually written and re- written from the perspective of the current paradigm: facts alone stand for very little.

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Daisy adding nutmeg to the pudding.

Now what’s all this got to do with Christmas in Australia, I hear you ask? Some traditions keep dragging on, despite their increasing irrelevance to a largely non- Christian society. Most Australians recognise, and are comfortable with this basic fact, embracing Christmas as a secular holiday. Or many see it as marking the beginning of summer and a long holiday for families. But before being let off the hook, before descending on beaches and rivers to play in the sun, certain archaic traditions must be followed. Shopping takes precedence over all others, with a slowish start in early December, building up to an insane frenzy as the weeks march by, as glossy supermarket magazines extol the virtues of catering for a family, with visions of excess, not unlike those Renaissance feasts of old. Catering for large numbers is not something that comes naturally to most, so Curtis or Jamie or Nigella can show the fashionable way. They make it look so easy.

I’ve observed mothers going slowly mad with stress, bent on purchasing more and more each year for their children. Bucket loads of plastic crap, or designer labelled clothing, or the latest gizmo, or a better version of something that they already own, helps to create yet more landfill for future generations to deal with. The consumer obsessed are still shopping at 11pm on Christmas Eve, still hunting for the unattainable. It’s the season of sadomasochism, as those indulging in these pastimes gloat about their pain, yet are unable to disengage.

Stores ship in mountains of wooden tasting prawns from the frozen bowels of somewhere, grown especially large for the holy day/holiday occasion, costing twice as much and tasting unlike a prawn should. Prawns on steroids, no brine from the sea or sweetness of flesh. Decapitated legs sawn from Alaskan crabs now grace the window displays of our supermarkets. What happened to their bodies? Slabs of smoked salmon unfreeze before greedy shoppers’ eyes, cheap manufactured mince tarts and puddings appear two months before Christmas, only to be replaced by Hot Cross Buns in the New Year. Easter is similarly meaningless and just around the corner. Here are the large bright cherries, gassed up to artificial ripeness, yet more cheeses, more Pavlova, more hams and prosciutto, pigs, baby goats, lambs, chickens and ducks, and especially that Imposter, the Turkey, followed by more and more mountains of food, in search of new tastes and more waste.

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Lisa’s Cardamom Shortbread, Tradition and Change in one spicy mouthful.

I  pulled the plug on excess this year. Gifts were still purchased, and a few lists were made. Simple little biscotti studded our pre- Christmas gatherings, as well as Lisa’s cardamom shortbread.  A large Christmas cake, made early in December, was given to my mother, the keeper of our old English/Irish traditions: she has more use for it than I do . A last-minute pudding was made for my daughter, who catered for her in-laws this year. I tasted some of the left over pudding: it wasn’t like my mother’s, it didn’t have the taste of tradition, that secret ingredient, nor the advantage of slow aging in a cloth. The children rejected it: it didn’t contain any silver coins. My mother keeps old sterling coins and generously studs hers at the last-minute before serving, a tradition she has kept but one that I am happy to see die with the next generation.

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A large Christmas Cake can last for 6 months. Foolproof recipe in link above.

The leftover coin-less pudding has been returned to my house, like a Christmas boomerang, reminding me that some traditions can’t change that quickly. Now it’s time to convert that fruity brandied reminder of times past into something that might be pulled out once again, renewed and reinterpreted, into something that is more suitable to our summer climate.

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Under a shady tree on a hot December day. Freshly picked peaches, furry and sweet, the juice running all over my clothes, and a glass of chilled Prosecco.

The following  recipe is the traditional Australian way to deal with that left over Christmas pudding.

  • 1 litre tub vanilla ice cream, slightly softened.
  • 200 g left over Christmas pudding.
  •  Amaretto to serve

    Whizz the ice cream in a food processor until smooth, fold in the  crumbled Christmas pudding and scrape into a freezer-proof container. Freeze for at least 2 hrs, or stash for longer. Scoop into bowls and top with amaretto.

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    Kids, fresh picked berries, and swimming during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

    My favourite Christmas read this year comes from Roger at Food Photography and France.

  •  https://stowell.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/what-i-really-really-want/

Postscript. After microwaving my plum pudding and serving with some brandy cream, I have to say it tasted dam good, so it will not be put into ice-cream after all, but stashed well in the freezer for a winter treat.

27 thoughts on “Tradition and Change. Rewriting Christmas.”

  1. Francesca – a very sincere ‘thank you’ for making me feel ‘normal’, whatever that means these days. Reading this with a growing smile you have just made me feel good as did Roger some days ago . . . . I knew I was not the only one here or elsewhere on the globe who felt and felt’ the differences. You so accurately portrayed what ‘Yule in Oz’ is all about, and that without fear or favour. Phrases to remember: ‘shopping takes precedence over all others’ and ‘of the latest gizmos’ – is that meant to denote Christianity or Christmas – hardly? This I have to say and I’ll go out on a limb and hope just one or two of your readers have appreciated Prince Charles’ Christmas Day message, so ill understood and maligned: how can we ever achieve understanding and peace in the world if ugliness and paranoia are there from all the people who found it necessary to ‘comment’ in sickening ignorant negative . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Season’s greetings Eha. I didn’t see Prince Charles’ message but will now follow this up.
      Real peace has descended on our house, the little ones are all going away for a bit, the pool is sadly empty of its human acrobatic seals.
      Time to be lazy.
      Cheers, my friend.

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  2. You already know I am in complete agreement with you. I enjoyed reading your explanation of outmoded traditions living alongside newer ones. It put some logic behind my frustration and this year’s rejection of most of it. Happy to say, I was pretty spot on with preparations and expectations from myself, and everyone seemed to enjoy it all. Am feeling mostly quite liberated, and loving getting back to normal, except for the twinge in my gut at having to farewell our daughter once again, for however many months… Enjoy your peace, Francesca.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Liberated’ is the word, and I am feeling that too Ardys. It must have been so good to have the company of your daughter and her partner for Christmas, also knowing that the time spent with you is a short one. I hope you can get down to SA more often.
      Although I feel a bit like a Christmas Grinch when I write stuff like this, I still love to see the family. My children and grandchildren, 12 of them- two were elsewhere, all came here on Boxing Day. They brought a ton of leftovers. I added a few salads, some lentil burgers, a trifle… and the kids swam all day and asked for a can of tuna and a radish from the garden. Some of the parents looked so tired. One just slept.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My sentiments exactly! After having a visiting toddler for 48 hours I’m totally done in. So glad there are a few leftovers, some new books and a lock in the door. I did enjoy champagne for breakfast however…

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  4. I really enjoyed your wise words Francesca. I really feel the whole Christmas business is completely out of control. This year we bought gifts, but not too many. I made lots of homemade food gifts which feels better than filling my trolley at the supermarket with manufactured things. Our day was spent playing, resting, swimming and catching yabbies in our dams. It was hot, quiet and peaceful without any plastic prawns or gigantic turkey. I look forward to more of your blogs in 2017 x

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    1. How lovely Jane. What a day you had- I can just imagine it. Especially the catching of yabbies in dams. I can also imagine how good your home made gifts are: I am in awe of your baking skills and the recipients of those gifts would enjoy them immensely.
      Yes it’s hot here too. All the gang have gone to the Murray or Porpunkah, we are off the hook for a while.
      I also look forward to reading your evocative posts in ’17. You encapsulate the voice of the modern country woman, with stunning morning photos that just take me away.

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  5. Hi Francesca, I just love everything you stand for. The energy you put into everyday life and your writing is amazing. I can see you doing tours of Brunswick street with the knowledge you behold, think about it! My NY resolution is to cook everything you post for 2017 ! BTW I am Kyles Aunty Suzie and look forward to meeting you someday. Suzie

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    1. Hello Suzie, it would be so lovely to catch up one day. We’ll get Kyle to organise it with Robyn and Kerry too.
      You are too kind. I’m glad you like the posts- writing seems to keep me sane. Now someone told me you make sourdough too, is that right?

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      1. Yes I do, from your recipe and on your recommendation I went out and bought The Italian Baker, so I have been following you for a while now. Sorry it has taken me this long to make myself known. S x

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  6. I so agree with all of this. We had a lovely low key Christmas and the children enjoyed every tiny second of it and no one was stressed! Hope you had a lovely Christmas too and enjoy the sun which is finally shining again here after a few very wet days! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I noticed from your lovely Christmas shots that your evening was not overwhelming with too much food or gifting. I did have a very pleasant Christmas Day, followed by a family filled boxing day around the pool. enjoy the sun Susan, while it still shines.

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  7. Hi Francesca. Great post. I just don’t understand how it came to this. My sister told me yesterday that my niece intends to take some of the toys her kids got for Christmas to the Op shop because they got so much. Why buy them in the first place then??? Societal pressure??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. They get swamped with stuff and begin to have unreal expectations. Put books back on the list for kids, assuming that they still read the real thing in their iPad dominated worlds. Pressure and madness.

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  8. What a thought provoking piece of writing. Not Grinch like, just real. Your love of family shines through but you are also cutting through the excess of this season. Finding a peaceful place amongst it all is no easy feat. I love the photo of my shortbread recipe and of your sweet granddaughter. We had an excess of peaches as well and Bellinis were the drink of Boxing Day. Hope you can keep cool in the next imminent heatwave we are all about to experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m revising that plan. After trying a bit of pudding on a fresh palate, with some brandy cream, I have to say that it is not going into some fake icecream but being stashed for later. Too good Miss Julie.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes, yes, yes to all of this. For the first time after many years of asking for no gifts, my husband’s family finally acceded to my requests and donated to charity. We buy each other token gifts and that’s really it. Our Christmas was very laid back with small get togethers with close friends and an afternoon on the SIL’s deck on Christmas Day. There’s some thought of starting a new tradition of breakfast at a family member’s house on Christmas morning but we have already decided not to encourage or join in that tradition. How about breakfast on one of the other 51 weekends of the year instead? ; )

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  10. What a fantastic post. Although Christmas is also my birthday I often find it is a stressful, hot and disappointing day. We made gifts this year and it was a little bit deflating when hours of labour with saw and nail was met with such little enthusiasm by the recipients. I think they would have preferred something from a factory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jo, interesting to hear that you made gifts this year.The recipients may think more about the gift later, I hope. I hope this trend continues all around. A friend gave me a Japanese card, hand painted with calligraphy and stamped with monkey masks. Nice.
      And yes, the day can be stressful and disappointing. I had a day like that last year and swore never to repeat it.

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