A White Christmas
My most memorable Christmas tree was a scraggly gum branch propped in the corner of my Grandfather’s farmhouse porch. It hadn’t even been cut – the splintered end pointing to the dusty concrete like a ballerina’s toe. The grey-green leaves back-flipped over the unnatural angle of its smokey-grey limbs, sparsely decorated with silver tinsel and baubles. I hadn’t even seen it go up. Just stumbled across it on Christmas eve and stopped, perplexed.
“That’s our tree,” said my Aunt nonchalantly, and kept on walking.
But I kept staring at it. It looked so odd to me, raised in domestic Canberra with a three-story pine tree in Belconnen Mall and a mother who toured the suburbs looking at the light displays and Santas perched on fake chimneys. All this amidst swimming pools and 113°F (45°C) heat, bushfires and daylight savings that kept me cruising on my bike until 10pm.
Seeing the irregularly shaped Christmas Gum made me realise two things: that we don’t need to conform to someone else’s traditions…and yet, how strangely we do try to meld our traditions to fit our new environment.
It’s a bit like Australian films. There is something completely edifying to see your own people and your own stories being told on screen (and equally horrifying when they cross the Pacific).
I’ve since seen the gleam in the eye of my American friends as they talk about waking to presents on a snowing Christmas day, putting their knits on to go tobogganing down the hill, returning sodden to fresh clothes, a glowing fireplace and mother’s Christmas roast. Since I am doing as the Romans do, I and five other orphaned Australians hired an SUV for the weekend and drove three hours upstate to Woodstock. We walked through the idyllic (and freezing) township to the Christmas tree float to have our photo taken with Santa, sipped on cider, brandied eggnog and mulled wine, ate an amazing roast and played poker and Monopoly by the roaring fireplace in our log cabin late into the night. We woke on Christmas morning to…well, the same barren brown woodland as the day before, but not to worry…drove our SUV up to Windham Mountain where man had made his snow for us to tube in!
On our way home we stopped by the original site of the Woodstock music festival – about an hour from the township itself. It’s just like any other field, but amazing to visualise 400,000 hippies converging for three days of peace and music. And bathing in the nearby lake…a caption I unthinkingly added to the photograph below when posting to my friends on Facebook, much to their disdain.