Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas report

We had a lovely Christmas.

The strangelings are still operating on Adelaide time a little, so I didn’t hear the first stirrings until just after 6am, and even then, I turned over and went back to sleep until 7.30am. The girls danced in and showed me their end-of-bed gifts (a hangover from the days of Santa-belief), and then we made coffee and everyone shifted into my parents’ room to exchange gifts. Mostly books and CDs and DVDs. And chocolate.

Breakfast was warmed croissants filled with peaches and topped with maple syrup, with bubbly wine, follwed by eggs benedict, and more coffee. We had a light lunch, and then, the real celebration began in the evening. My lovely uncle was with us, and my brother and his partner and their children joined us, and so did my brother’s partner’s brother, and his partner, visiting from Melbourne. 15 of us sat down to dinner, all gathered around the long dining table, which had been augmented for the occasion. Mum lit the candelabra, and then lit two more candles, for my absent brothers and their families. The lamb and ham and newly dug potatoes and kumara and salads were delicious, but the real magnificence was the dessert table. This year, Mum had 13 items on offer: chocolate terrine and raspberry semi-freddo and two cheesecakes, and mixed berries, and strawberries, and icecream, and cream, and rhubarb summerfruit pudding, Christmas mince pies and black doris plum spoom and brandied fruit salad and Christmas cake. I had three helpings, and the girls had four helpings each.

What made it all so special was the shining look in the children’s eyes. Mum and Dad, with the assistance of my uncle and I, worked hard to put it all together, but for the children, it was all a magical feast, something to savour and remember. I think that when they are old, they will look back on this Christmas, and say, “When I was a child, my grandparents gathered everyone around the table, and we had a feast, and my grandmother served 13 desserts.”

It was a wonderful occasion.

As for exactly what we gave the strangelings for Christmas – one child got a drum pad and drum sticks (‘though no packet of Jaffas*), another was given a Sylvanian cottage, which she loves, and the third was given a remote controlled toy that she had been coveting for months and months.

This remote controlled toy.

(Description: large, hairy, greebly toy spider, scuttles around the floor, and then comes closer and closer to the camera, until the camerawoman disappears in a scream.)

I spent the day being terrified of that wretched thing. The younger Miss Nine was delighted with it. She tormented us all, but her best ‘gotcha’ was during dinner, when she sat innocently and quietly at one end of the table, and waited for her elder cousin to scream. Which she did, very obligingly, when Miss Nine steered the spider underneath the table and onto her toes. Ms Elder Cousin shrieked, and then laughed, all in very good grace, while Miss Nine laughed and laughed and laughed with glee. What a triumph!

What would you do when your gentle, fine boned, delicate little nine year old asks for a remote controlled Mexican red kneed tarantula for Christmas?

* My brothers and I have long had a ritual threat, to give the other’s child a drum and a packet of Jaffas.

Friday Christmas Eve beauty

Cross posted

As you probably know, I am not a believer, but I do sing religious music, because so much of it is so very beautiful. Here is a small piece of exquisite singing for Christmas Eve – Gounod’s Ave Maria sung by Kiri Te Kanawa.

Ave Maria, a setting by Gounod of Bach’s Prelude in C, sung by Kiri Te Kanawa

Mary occupies a difficult place in feminist thought, especially for someone like me who was reared in the Catholic tradition. She is pedastalized, set above women as someone we should aspire to be like, holy and pure and eternally giving, with no thought of herself. Yet these magnificent words of social justice are placed in her mouth in the gospel of Luke, in what we know as the Magnificat.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy

I know that some of my readers celebrate Christmas as Christians, some as a secular festival of family, some don’t celebrate it at all. Whoever you are, wherever you may be, however you mark 25 December, may your day be happy.

The compleat pageant experience

Adelaide is really just a giant country town. Everyone knows each other, everyone goes to the show every year, and everyone goes to the annual Christmas parade, or pageant.*

The pageant is a long, long parade, making its way from one side of the old city to the other, and taking about an hour to pass. In our first year here, we headed down town about half an hour before the parade was due to start, and stood in the back row. The girls were entranced. Last year I flatly refused to go: the overnight low was about 25 degrees, and it was due to reach about 30 by the time the parade started at 9.30am. But this year, our last in Adelaide, I thought that I ought to take the girls to see the parade.

We staggered out of bed at 6.00am, got dressed, had a hasty breakfast, gathered up the cushions and chairs and blanket we had organised the previous evening, and headed off at 6.30am. When I say, “we”, I mean me and the girls. Mr Strange Land stayed in bed.** By 7.00am I had parked in the Central Markets car park, and the girls and I had gone down to Victoria Square, and staked out a spot behind the blue honour line. This is a special road marking that exists only for the sake of the pageant, delineating paraders from paradees. Woe betide any school boy who elects to sit over the line; a passing police officer will hustle him back. I had thought that this would be a good spot on the parade route: easy parking, easy access to toilets, not too far from the start (the dancers and marchers and walkers and clowns always look very, very tired towards the end of the route), the chance to sit right on the tramlines, the possibility of excursions to find coffee. The pageant wasn’t due to start until 9.30am, but some people arrived at 4.00am to find a good spot, and by the time we arrived at 7.00, there were only one or two front row spaces left. We were just in time.

We set up our chairs and cushions and blankets, and then I went and got coffee and hot chocolates from the markets. Bliss! After that, the girls engaged in the fine pastime of defacing the streets of Adelaide.

Three girls, drawing on the street with chalk.

Defacing the streets of Adelaide

I thought that this was their best piece of graffiti.

My mum is the best, in chalk, alongside the tramline.

"My mum is the best."

Drawing on the streets with chalk has become part of the pageant ritual in recent years, so much so that the community aid tents hand out chalks to children who have come without. They also gave out water, and sunblock, and balloons. The girls queued for half an hour to get a balloon each. Of the three balloons, two were lost into the sky, and one popped, very loudly. Some children had brought bubble mix and bubble blowers, and hordes of children chased bubbles all over the place. Alas, one bubble popped right in Miss Nine the Elder’s eye, but a very young St John’s Ambulance chap helped her to wash it out. At 9am, we took part in an attempt to set a world record for the largest number of people singing Christmas carols at one time. Ms Twelve has become interested in world records, so she was pleased to have her name recorded as a participant. We listened to announcements, and interviews with pageant participants. I swear that the Pageant Queen must come from Taranaki: her nasal rising inflection as she said, “Hello” was a dead giveaway. Or perhaps it’s just the country connection. I chatted with the people next to us, and did some crochet. The girls asked, repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Is it time yet?”

At last, the countdown began, and at 9.30am, the parade started. 10 minutes later it reached us. Four mounted police officers led the parade, riding stately grey horses.

Mounted police officers

Mounted police

From then on there were floats and marching bands and dancers and clowns. Some of the floats were very hokey indeed. I liked the bands; I loved hearing the snatches of music, and seeing the different people engaged in making music. The girls liked the fairy tale floats, but they were disappointed that the snail float didn’t appear this year (the snail leaves a watery slime trail as it goes). Nipper and Nimble came by – two model horses, each ridden by a very small girl in fairy clothes. Apparently it is a great honour to be chosen to ride Nipper or Nimble, and the politics around the selection is intense. Those who miss out can go and sit on Nipper and Nimble in Santa’s Cave in David Jones, but it’s not the same.

I thought that the panda float was a highly accurate representation of the wretched beasts: the papier mache models did absolutely nothing, just like the real things.

Model pandas, static, of course.

Why is there a kangaroo in the middle?

The nativity scene was much more interesting, preceded by three camels.

Three camels, each ridden by a "wise man".

Camels and kings

After an hour or so, Santa Claus came by, and then it was all over. There was an enormous traffic jam as 300,000 people all tried to head home, but that was to be expected.

So we experienced getting up early, the wait, sitting on tram lines, drawing on the street, takeaway coffee and hot chocolates, getting balloons, losing balloons, getting first aid, taking part in a world record attempt, counting down to the start of the parade, seeing the parade go by, and long delays in the traffic on the way home. Later on that day, I checked the photo gallery on the local paper’s site, and there we are in the background of one of the shots. It was truly the compleat experience.

* About 300,000 people, or nearly 1/3 of Adelaide’s population.

** And later got up to carry on with the mountain of work he has at present.


The Liberal party theatre has been vastly entertaining to watch, but in the meantime, the end of the year is rushing up, and I have ‘Thank you’ gifts to make. As many other parents do, I like to give small gifts to my children’s teachers to acknowledge the work they have done during the year. But the list is long – three classroom teachers (my twins are in the same classroom, but I think they should each take something for their teacher), drama teacher x 3, music teacher. Then there’s my singing teacher, and my partner’s guitar teacher, and my hairdresser, and the school librarian who has been giving one of my girls some extra help, and the office staff at school…

In recent years, I’ve been giving people homemade sweets, wrapped in beribboned cellophane. I make chocolate fudge and caramel fudge, using recipes that came to me from my mother, and I think she got them from her mother. The measurements are all imperial, which gives you a sense of how old the recipes are.

Chocolate fudge

You need a saucepan with a thick base. I use an heavy old aluminium one. It’s quite heavy, with a thickish base. Going by proprioception, I think the base is over 0.5cm thick. It has a 2 litre, or 4 pint, capacity. If you have to use a thin-based saucepan, you should be okay on a electric element, but if you’re cooking on gas, it would be a good idea to use a simmer-mat to distribute the heat evenly.

Into the saucepan, put 2oz (50gms) butter, 2 cups of white sugar, 2 tablespoons of cocoa, 1 tablespoon of golden syrup, and 1/2 cup milk. (A cup is 250mls, and a tablespoon is 15 mls.)

Put the saucepan on a low heat, and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. Then gently, gently, bring the mix to a boil. Watch it like kahu (a hawk); sugar mixes can boil over very rapidly, and they are awful to clean up (this is the voice of experience speaking). My mum advised me to keep a large metal spoon nearby; if the mix looks like it’s going to boil over, plunge the spoon into it, to bring it off the boil quickly. You also need to be very careful not to spill any on yourself, because the mix will be exceedingly hot, and sticky. If you have children, I strongly advise banning them from the kitchen while you boil the mix up.

Then you need to boil the mix for a while. It will reduce in volume, and start to look thicker and stickier. While the mix is boiling, get a setting tin ready. I use a small 20cm square cake tin. Grease it well, with butter. You could use baking paper to line it if you like; I never have, but that’s no reason not to.

After about 10 minutes of so, test it to see if it has reached the soft ball stage. Get a small amount of the mix on a teaspoon, and drip drops of it into a cup of cold water. Hopefully, it will form into shapes looking like nothing so much as, ah, tadpoles, with a thick round head and a long tail. Leave the drops for a moment or two (maybe 15 seconds), then carefully press them with your finger. If they feel squidgey and liquidish, the mix is not ready. If they feel hard, then alas, you’ve over cooked it. If they feel a bit soft but also a little resistant to being squashed, then the mix is about right. It’s very hard to describe exactly what they should feel like, and unfortunately, the best way to learn the “right” feel is by practice.

When the mix has reached the soft ball stage, remove it from the element, and add a drop or two of vanilla essence. Then, get a wooden spoon, and start stirring. You need to stir the mix, and then beat it, until it thickens into a solid state. This takes about five minutes, and a strong arm. Enlist your partner or your house mate or your teenage child or whoever to help you with this if necessary.

Once the mix has thickened, tip it into the cake pan, and quickly press it out evenly, using the back of the wooden spoon, or your hand. If you use your hand, be very careful – the mix will still be hot, and if you’re not careful, you can get a nasty burn (voice of experience again). It’s probably a good idea to have your cake pan sitting on a mat of some sort, or you will end up with a heat mark on your kitchen bench.

Cut the mix into squares, and leave it to cool down and set. I usually cut my fudge mixes into 64 squares – 8 by 8. The pieces may look a little small, but they are so rich that smaller really is better.

While the fudge is setting, get a teaspoon, and scrape the remnants out of the saucepan and off the wooden spoon, and eat them. Don’t let your children or partner or housemates see you doing this, or they will clamour for some. When it has set (a couple of hours, or overnight), carefully lever a corner piece out, and eat it, for quality control purposes, of course. Then lever the remaining 63 pieces out, breaking them up as you go, and store them in an airtight container.

Caramel fudge

Caramel fudge uses exactly the same method as chocolate fudge, but the list of ingredients is slightly different. Use 2 cups of white sugar, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of golden syrup, and a small cup of top milk or cream. I have no idea what a “small” cup is, but I tend to use about 3/4 of a cup. “Top milk” is the milk that used to be at the top of a bottle, before the days of homogenised milk. These days, all the fat is evenly distributed through the milk, so there is no such thing as top milk anymore. I use 1/2 and 1/2 milk and cream, or even better, all cream.

I find that this mix takes longer to get to the soft ball stage, because it has more liquid in it. It makes a slightly smaller quantity than the chocolate fudge recipe, but still enough to go into a 20cm square cake pan.

Once you’ve spent an evening or two making fudge, and consequently are feeling just a little bilious because you may have sampled just a bit too much, make up cellophane bags of fudge, and give them away. Sadly, I have no photos of pretty bags of fudge to show to you… I must have eaten them all.

I love making special celebratory and gift-giving food. I’m not making my grandmother’s Christmas cake this year, because we are going home to New Zealand for Christmas, but Dr Cat has made one. What special food are you planning to make this festive season? For yourself, or to share with others?

Cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo

The cake that taste forgot and other joys of Christmas

I vaguely recall rashly promising that I would blog the process of icing our Christmas cake, provided I hadn’t been pouring too much brandy into the cake (and me).

The cake is now iced, and photos taken, but it’s Christmas Eve, and I’m busy running around doing this, that and the other thing. So the blog of the process will have to wait until next year, and all you get to see is the finished product.


The strangelings stood at the end of the bench in a fascinated row, and offered helpful suggestions as I iced the cake. I think that accounts for its appearance.

When I was child and a teenager, my parents would take us to Midnight Mass, and then we would come home, cut the cake, and drink a glass of sherry. We won’t be doing the church thing with our girls, but we will cut the cake this evening, and I will read “The Night Before Christmas” and then we will send them off to bed. Some of them are still believers, in Santa, that is, so later on, we will put stockings (pillowcases, actually) at the ends of the beds, and fill them with goodies. Not full to the top, you understand. Santa is always fairly modest in his gift giving around here – books, clothes, sweets and a small toy each. The girls are very excited, but we have issued them with strict instructions about not opening presents until 6am.

Because I am busy, and have far too much to do, I spent some time yesterday making my first ever batch of pickles.


This is Red Onion and Capsicum Jam – beautiful on crackers (biscuits for American readers), lovely with lamb and ham, and alongside vegetarian bakes. I am very proud of them, and having found out how surprisingly easy it is to make them, I think I will be making more. That’s my first resolution for 2009 – make pickles and chutneys and jams.

I made the pickles to give to friends as a Christmas offering. This year I have also been making chocolate fudge and caramel fudge to give to the girls’ teachers and our neighbours and friends. I promise to give you the recipes in the New Year.


And there you have it – my second resolution for 2009 – some more recipe blogging.

Thank you for coming by and reading my blog this year. My best wishes for a happy and blessed Christmas (if you do Christmas, that is) and a peaceful New Year.

Update: I’ll be adding The Secret Talent of Albert Otter to the Christmas Eve reading list, on what the girls are rapidly finding to be the longest day of the year.

“A feminist’s Christmas”

There is a wonderful post about Christmas with nuns and feminism on Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose.

Some extracts, but I do recommend reading the whole post.

It’s easy — especially for someone like me, for whom things like toughness and taking no shit are so identity constitutive — to forget that feminism is about women, not just about feminists. We’re all in this together, even the ones of us who aren’t in this, or aren’t in it to the degree we’d prefer. Someone who isn’t ready to embrace feminism or fat activism; someone who has never heard of fat activism; someone who has no desire to embrace her body or rethink the patriarchy: even if these people aren’t allies (yet), they’re not obstacles. They’re the reason we’re here making noise in the first place.

If I didn’t think this would be a better world for everyone without misogyny, patriarchy, and the beauty standards and lack of body autonomy that attend them, I wouldn’t be here writing your ear off. It’s not good enough to have convictions if you’re only fighting on behalf of the people who share them.

Activism for activists is gratifying but senseless. Activism for the reluctant, the uncertain, and the opposed: that’s a chore, and a mitzvah.

Christmas present

We have never told our children about Santa, either his alleged existence, or his non-existence. The news of Santa first came into our family through our eldest daughter, who picked up word of his coming at her pre-school, when she was about four. She was a bit dubious about it, but on Christmas morning, when there were presents at the end of her bed, and at the end of her sisters’ bed, all in pillowcases as is our family tradition, she became an enthusiastic believer. She has always been a good empiricist.

By the next year, Santa-belief was in full swing in our household. So far, so good, all without us having to utter a word. But by the year following that, some doubts were beginning to emerge. Fortunately, Santa to our rescue that year. We don’t like Barbie dolls, and we had told our daughters that we would not buy them Barbie dolls. Our eldest daughter had bought her own Barbie dolls – it was her money, so I didn’t want to tell her that she couldn’t spend it as she wished – and our younger daughters wanted them too. So that year, Santa gave them Barbie dolls. “You see,” we said, when six months later our by then seven year old daughter mentioned the possibility that Santa was a sham, “we would never give you Barbie dolls, and your younger sisters got Barbie dolls from Santa last year, so Santa must be true.”

Belief shored up for another year. However, Miss Seven, by the time she became Miss Eight just a few weeks before Christmas, admitted that she knew it wasn’t true, and that really, the previous year, she had just been faking it. However, she promised to keep the pretence up, for the sake of the Misses Five.

But I goofed. Earlier this year, we visited my parents at Easter. We had a pleasant few days in Taranaki, and then got up early one morning to start the drive back down to Wellington – about four and a half hours if you are travelling alone, but about six hours on the road, minimum, if you are travelling with children. As we drove out of New Plymouth, a voice from the back complained. “Mum, why didn’t the Easter Bunny bring us any Easter eggs?”

While I happily go along with Santa belief, Easter Bunny belief is just one commercialism too far. So I told Miss Five that (a) there had been no Easter Bunny when I was young, (b) that people just made the Easter Bunny up to trick parents into buying more Easter eggs for children and (c) that in any case, they had eaten plenty of Easter eggs.


A few hours later, as well pulled out of Wanganui, after the obligatory stop at Kowhai Park, the same small voice came from the back. “But Mum, if the Easter Bunny isn’t true, and it’s just your parents telling you that it is true, then maybe Santa Claus is just your parents too.”


So Miss Eight admitted that she didn’t really believe, and one Miss Five expressed some doubts. The other Miss Five, a child who likes to make the world conform with her preferred visions, stoutly asserted that she still believed in Santa Claus, and in fact that she was going to keep on believing, and she would be getting presents and the other two wouldn’t.

As the big day grew closer, we went to visit Santa in the local mall. Miss Nine hung back, but the two Miss Sixes were very keen to have a chat to him about what they would like for Christmas. The previous year, when we had visited Santa, he had told them that they must eat their vegetables. That evening, at dinner, one Miss Five said, “Right, Mum. Which ones are the vegetables? I have to eat them, so Santa will come.” Excellent!

This year’s Santa was just as helpful. “Well girls,” he said to the Misses Six. “You have to keep your rooms tidy.” So as soon as we got home, they shot upstairs to tidy up their rooms. Miss Nine just left hers in its usual shambolic state.

By Christmas Eve it was very apparent that there were no atheists in foxholes. Excitement was intense, made even more so when my mother put a row of candles down the drive to light Santa in. I read The Night Before Christmas to the assembled children – my own three, and my niece and nephew. Empiricist Miss Nine decided to set up an experiment for Santa. Last year, she had tested whether Santa preferred milk or brandy. Santa rejected the milk, and drank all the brandy. This year, she refined the experiment, leaving out whiskey, and brandy. Which one would Santa drink?

As it turned out, Santa drank both. Clear evidence that he is a sot.

The children enjoyed this Christmas, with the trifles from Santa, and some more interesting things from us. In some ways, I dislike pandering to the rampant commercialism of buying more and more presents for people to show that you love them, and the even worse exploitation of the St Nicholas myth. But the children find it magical. And why shouldn’t they have a little magic in their lives, and just one day in the year that is about delighting children?

I hope you have had a pleasant Christmas. Thank you for reading my blog this year, and I hope to see you again in the New Year.