I look forward to Christmas at Granny’s every year. It’s at her house on the farm in Gippsland Victoria, where my Mum and her siblings grew up. There’s a lot of history there and a lot of beauty. At full capacity there’s forty-six of us; aunties, uncles, cousins and kids of cousins. We come together and talk, give presents, have a glass of wine or a cup of creamy soda, snack on some not-so-fresh lollies from the “go easy please” jar, bask in the country sun surrounded by green hills and the soft rustle of the trees. I love Christmas at Granny’s.
It starts off with the crunch of tyres on the driveway, cars rolling in. One by one the families arrive, arms heavy with presents, eskys or bleary eyed toddlers who slept on the way. Big smiles from everyone, “We’re here, we’re at Granny’s for Christmas”. Already the kitchen is buzzing with activity, bowls laid out, fridge filling up and kisses hello all round. The chatter slowly builds until we find ourselves shouting to be heard over the dozens of conversations all around, as we catch up with what has been happening in each other’s lives. It’s always interesting talking to my family. Happenings include adventures on the farm (snakes, bulls, tractors), studies, jobs, girlfriends, boyfriends, babies, bellies, health, houses, holidays, birthdays, boating, festivals, shows, bands, gigs and travels.
We wait as long as possible before the food goes cold for the stragglers to arrive. Then it’s lunch. Aunty Kerry is a lady with a loud voice and an ear-piercing whistle who lets us know the food is ON. We queue up with our plates and fill ‘em up with salads, veggies, cold-meats, hot-meats, relishes and gravy. The table is a loooong one (five actually), decorated with green cloth, some bon-bons and something sparkly. Christmas hats on, the chatter continues. When Grandpa was around, it was his self-appointed job to say grace. He had a quiet voice that was hard to hear over the racket. Uncle Mark would shoosh us all up so we could hear him. “For what we are about to receive...” with great effort we would pause, forks in the air, mouths open. “Shoosh, Grandpa is ….” But it was always too late. Grace is gone, the roast is eaten. Back to chatter then. I miss Grandpa’s grace.
The table is kind of split between kids and grown- ups. I’ve always felt comfortable at either end, as a kid and as an adult. I think that’s the best thing about our family, that we can all find common ground no matter what age. I love hearing the young one’s tales of “what Santa brought” or “my new teacher’s name” and the older one’s “I found a great wine” or “have you heard this new band…” The chatter goes on and it’s tidy up time. Some meander outside to talk more, digest, catch some country breeze. The particularly Christmassy are still wearing their Christmas hats. Aunty Rob’s Christmas pud is next; always rich, fruity, the cream packing a serious brandy punch. Delish.
Cue Aunty Kerry. “Christmas treeeeeeeeee!” The kids burn inside to get their spot closest to Granny with her Santa hat on; the matriarch/Mrs Claus of the family. With a booming voice she calls our names, one by one. Suddenly it’s chaos, it’s loud it’s frantic with paper tearing, exclamations of “Oh wow!” and “Oh. Wow”. It’s all a flurry. The presents are bit of pot-luck or unluck. The thought is always counted though and it’s all a bit of fun. I recall with fondness a floppy leather “sun-hat” and a fluffy detachable collar to “smarten up any outfit.” Ahhh Christmas at Granny’s.
The family photo happens if it’s a year we’re all there. It’s a little bit stressful, and more than a little bit annoying getting everyone in one place to look in one direction at one time. Kerry’s whistle gets a work out and yes it works, she gets us into gear, the photo gets done. Glad when that part is over, but glad to have the snap too.
The afternoon takes on a more relaxed pace. We spread out into little groups. The under-the-tree group, the doing-the-dishes-group, the still-at-the-table-group and the kids-running-around-group. There is usually a kick-to-kick or game of cricket happening out the front. The odd person disappears for a nap to sleep off a hangover or just recover from lunch. There is a much welcomed lull, helped along by the hot summer sun.
Seconds are served at around 6pm. We’re full from lunch but we pile up our plates anyway. The noise level rises again, as we squeeze out all our questions and conversation before the day ends and everyone has to leave. Tables get folded up, the vacuum comes out. The bench is crammed with washed dishes. Calls of “take some pudding home” and “who does this belong to?” ring out.
Goodbyes are prolonged. We’ve gotta say goodbye to this family, that family and that family again. Hugs and kisses, cars rolling out. We cross the little bridge and drive off into the night. The kids are already getting sleepy. Another Christmas at Granny’s, always as good as the last.
Our Christmas may not be particularly unique or different, but it is special to me and that’s why I felt the need to write it down. For Granny, for us. Because it will change. Families grow and divide, people pass on and people move. Granny will not be in that house on the farm forever. For all it’s splendour it can be lonely and isolating for a lady of 85. And when Christmas at Granny’s is no longer, I want to know that these moments did not pass me by. I want to know that I noticed how lucky we are.
What are your special Christmas memories?