Christmas Bits and Bobs

How on earth did it get to be Christmas time already? Of course, the stores put out their Christmas decorations in September, but chez Brooke we are not quite so organized. 

Happily, we’ve now put up our lights, the tree and all the trimmings. I’m hosting Christmas Day for our family this year and have begun to plan the menu with my mother’s help.

Christmas in my family has always consisted of my brother and me getting up at the crack of dawn, waiting with painful and hard-won patience for our parents to get up so we could open our presents. Of course, we’d already scoped the presents that were under the tree on Christmas Eve, but there would be new ones from Santa in the morning. I remember standing at my parents’ bedside staring intently at their closed eyelids, willing them to wake but not daring to make a sound that would actually do the job.

The present giving and opening took place when the ‘rents FINALLY opened their eyes. I remember chocolate Santas, books and toys. Sometimes, there’d be one large present, like a new bike or a swing set but mostly it was many little things, lots of packages to open.

Then there was helping my mother put the finishing touches on all the food she prepared for the day,  rolling apricot balls in caster sugar and setting them out on a plate with chocolate truffles and nuts and glace fruits and other goodies we only had once a year. I still remember the time my brother ate all 45 chocolate truffles in secret in the lead-up to Christmas! My mother was not happy to find them all gone.

Because my father doesn’t like to eat any kind of fowl, turkey was never on the menu for our Christmas. We would have a hot meal, though, sweltering over prawns Kiev or lobster thermidor in the 35 degree heat. The children would get liqueur glasses of wine, or a very weak mix of lemonade and pink Vok, which I particularly liked. My grandmother, who never drank any kind of alcohol, liked the ‘pink lemonade’ too.  She was inordinately cheerful on Christmas Day.

And every year, there was  ice cream cassata, a three layered ice cream cake with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, glace fruits, toasted almonds and toasted biscuit crumbs on top. My poor mother is the only one of us who likes plum pudding or fruit cake, which is traditionally served at Christmas, so for us  it was always the cassata.

The order of the afternoon was a siesta for the parents, perhaps followed by a swim and a game of cricket. Night swimming was always a great tradition at Christmas. We used to have these huge coloured lights strung around the pool and they’d always come on for that evening swim. Leftovers for dinner, if anyone could be brought to eat anything.  (My brother and I always could!)

Now that I have a family of my own, there are some traditions we’ve added along the way. The tree goes up on 1 December and is accompanied by a plethora of Christmas carols by everyone from The Seekers to Bing and Frank, to The Beach Boys and Neil Diamond.

My sister-in-law used to live in Georgia, U.S.A. and come home for Christmas so she’d often stay with us around that time. She is well-known for playing Elvis’s Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me at some ungodly hour of Christmas morning. No staring at people’s eyelids for her! When she’s not with us, she plays it down the phone. I have to say, I’d miss that tradition if she didn’t do it.

When we were in England last, we bought an Advent Calendar with an abridged version of A Christmas Carol divided into little chapter booklets and set into the calendar. My husband will read the boys a chapter each night. It’s a tradition my elder boy says he’s grown out of but I notice he often hovers nearby when the reading is going on.

And of course, there isn’t just the tree but all the extraneous ornaments that go with our Christmas. The rather tarnished angel at the top holds the sequined ornament my sister-in-law made when she was in kindergarten, which my husband saved when their parents moved house. My SIL doesn’t want it back, but she checks our tree every year to make sure it’s there. We wouldn’t dream of disappointing her. I have to say, the wannabe interior decorator in me cringes a little at the cheerful tackiness of this tree, but it’s not there for show, really. It’s there to hold memories of our children’s childhood and ours.

Here we have our singing Santa and musical polar bear. And, from a dear friend in Switzerland, the yodeling beaver (?) There is some dispute about what the animal is actually supposed to be. 

It’s a rule on Christmas that everyone must wear a silly hat. Even the dog is supposed to wear reindeer antlers, although she doesn’t seem to like them very much.

We also have a selection of Christmas DVDs, my favourite of which is The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. We also have The Grinch, The Polar Express, and various Christmas themed specials from Winnie the Pooh, Little Einsteins and The Wiggles.

This year, Christmas fare is likely to be a ham, cold seafood and salads and some kinds of dessert I haven’t thought of yet, plus my mother-in-law’s famous mango cheesecake and various other goodies. There’ll be 13 of us. I hope that’s not a bad omen! 

So dear readers, do you go for cheap and cheerful with your Christmas lights, decorations, table settings and so forth? Or are you a Martha-Stewart type goddess when it comes to decking the halls? Do you follow any quirky traditions peculiar to your family or do you prefer the tried and true? What’s the most important element of Christmas Day for you? If you don’t celebrate Christmas, what family traditions do you have?

 Be sure to come back to the Lair on December 13 when we kick off the annual 12 BANDITA DAYS OF CHRISTMAS! Prizes and recipes every day!! Roosters. Starbucks goodies. Books. Dragons. Books. Cookies. Godiva. Books!! (By Banditas and friends like Sabrina Jeffries, Liz Carlyle, JD Tyler, Deb Marlowe, Addison Fox and many more!) You know you want the cookies, for sure, so come home to the Lair for the Holidays! Who knows, you might win something, and you’ll be guaranteed to have fun!!

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  • Fedora says:

    LOL! We are quite relaxed about our family traditions 🙂 When we were kids, we decorated every year to the Christmas albums by the Andrews sisters and the Williams brothers; these days I’m not sure my kids would know who either of them are 😉 We just got our tree up this past weekend, and the kids are old enough to help out now, which is fun. It’s neat to see their little collections of ornaments they’ve made and collected…

    As for Christmas itself, we always have breakfast together, and read the Christmas story. Our youngest is a much better independent reader this year, and has asked to be allowed to do the reading this year 🙂

    • Fedora, how lovely that your youngest has volunteered to read. I love hearing my children read. Lovely tradition. We have a smaller Christmas tree and the children have free rein with that, making their own ornaments and paper chain tinsel. Hope you have a lovely day!

    • Oh, and congrats on the golden turkey. I mean rooster!

    • Fedora, congrats on the bird!

      We also put on music while we decorate, but we won’t be starting for another week. The boy asked us to wait until he finishes his exams and returns home.

      How great that your youngest is reading now! We used to read A Christmas Carol together but have kind of gotten away from it. Maybe we’ll try it again this year.

  • Helen says:


    Love the dog with the antlers LOL.

    We have decorated the tree but we don’t have a lot of decorations around I have made 7 Christmas cakes and 2 Christmas puddings and I am having everyone for lunch on Christmas day as well we have the traditional hot lunch and a little thing that is a must with my family on Christmas Day is tinned peaches and custard for those who don’t like Chrissy pudding and we have been doing it for years LOL. No Martha Stewart in my house we have a very lay back day with lots of food and fun. My family all arrive very early so as the grandkids can dive into more presents it is very noisy but lots of fun with 6 of them.

    Have Fun

  • Mary Preston says:

    We keep adding to our Christmas tree decorations stockpile each year without throwing anything away. You seriously cannot see the tree for decorations – WE LOVE IT!!

    One tradition that we all enjoy is to order in pizza on Christmas Eve, & then after dinner, open up one gift each from under the tree.

  • What a lovely post, Christina! It quite put me in the Christmas spirit. Or perhaps that was a request to share some of the Christmas spirits? Love your memories. My mum was REALLY into Christmas and she loved to play little games. If your present was something you’d guess from the shape, she’d put it in a box or wrap it in a ton of paper so you’d be surprised when you finally came to a book from a parcel that looked like it held an elephant. Hadn’t thought of that for ages. Nice memory. By the way, I’m convinced that’s a marmot!

    • LOL Anna, I totally blanked on what you said it was when you were down here. A yodeling marmot just doesn’t have the same ring to it as beaver, don’t know why. *G*

      Love the sound of your mum’s Christmas deviousness. Knowing how you predict the twists in movies ten minutes in, I can just guess how you would have been as a child rattling pressies! Not surprised she turned a book into an elephant!

  • Dianna aka Hrdwrkdmom says:

    Definitely not a Martha Stewart living in this house. When my granddaughter is here the tradition is she sets next to my son and tries to get him to talk…….LOL Basically he just smiles a lot. Because most of his gifts is game related he has by necessity been very aware of what I get him for Christmas but this year is different, I have gotten him something he wouldn’t even ask for because I told him no a couple of months ago so he won’t be expecting it.

    • Dianna, I have a brother who doesn’t talk much and a son who won’t stop. Match made in Heaven. It’s so sweet to see how my brother opens up when my son climbs all over him.

      Sneaky about the present! LOL Always nice when you know they want what you’re getting them, isn’t it?

  • Anna Sugden says:

    Lovely post, Christina! No Martha Stewart in this house either! Lots of colour and lights. family ornaments and decs, plus we always collect one from wherever we travel. Have lovely kookaburra and wombat ornaments from our trip to Oz (still wish we’d been able to get a roo and a koala too, but it was August!)

    I get all the decs out with ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ on the DVD and then have ‘White Christmas’ on while I decorate. *happy sigh*

    BTW love the sound of that advent calendar!

    • Anna, so glad you have ornaments to remind you of your Australian trip. You’ll have to come in summer (or spring, at least) when you can surf and snorkel and so forth. We’d love to have you again!

      Ahh, lovely Christmas traditions! The Advent Calendar came from a lovely shop in Rye, I think. So nice to introduce the kidlets to Dickens at a young age.

  • Mozette says:

    So dear readers, do you go for cheap and cheerful with your Christmas lights, decorations, table settings and so forth? Or are you a Martha-Stewart type goddess when it comes to decking the halls?

    I decorate my house with a tree, a wreath in the window and – this year – I have put tinsel on the trees outside. This year, I also put up Mum and Dad’s tree and decorated their home while they were away; and when they arrived back from the coast last Saturday to help me through my little bird’s passing, they were amazed at how good their place looked.

    Do you follow any quirky traditions peculiar to your family or do you prefer the tried and true?

    Each Christmas, we have a glittery Santa hat which gets handed to a new person who is the Santa for that year to hand out presents on the day – which we’ve nicknamed: ‘The Orgy of Greed’… 😛

    What’s the most important element of Christmas Day for you? If you don’t celebrate Christmas, what family traditions do you have?

    Despite having this funny tradition, we make sure to see family as much as possible… it’s not the presents that’s important, it’s family, love and basic togetherness that is.

    • Miranda says:

      Mozette, that’s so true! Family is the most important part. 🙂

    • You’re so right, Mozette! Family is most definitely the important part of Christmas to me, too. I love gathering as many of us as I can in one place.

      Lovely of you to decorate your parents’ place. i’m sure they were very touched. What happened to your little bird? I’m so sorry to hear that.

      • Mozette says:

        On 1st, December, my budgie, Little Miss Stevie, suffered a stroke; and when I called the vets, they said she most probably wouldn’t survive a month or even a week. But I began exercising her with step-ups and getting her to climb up the front of my shirt… and she was going so well… but then, on Saturday, 8th, December, I had been out all day (and wishing I had been home instead because I had a bad feeling something was going to go down when I got home). And an hour after I got home, had dinner, and put on the kettle to make some tea, I got her out of the cage to talk to her on my shoulder and she fell off and onto the carpet and began to have breathing difficulties… within 10 minutes, my little bird was gone. But I didn’t waste those minutes, I took her outside into the sunset, the warm breezes and so she could hear the other birds… this was the very place she had wanted to be her whole life; and I never let her because she would have escaped.

        I’m shattered she’s gone, but in the New Year, I’ll be getting another budgie as the house is just too darned quiet; and I miss saying good morning to a little bird when the sun comes up.

  • Miranda says:

    We go for cheap but cheerful here! We watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas”. My kids (ranging in ages 3, 5, & 14) know who Bing Crosby is and love to hear Elvis sing out “Blue Christmas”. On Christmas Eve, the hubby and I will watch “A Christmas Story” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and laugh until we hurt. Seriously. Who doesn’t love Chevy Chase??? After Christmas is over I thank God for how good He has been to us and how blessed we really are.

    • Lovely, Miranda. I think we should all count our blessings at Christmas. You’ve reminded me that all our DVDs are for children. Love White Christmas! I must see if I can get hold of it this year.

  • deelynn says:

    Cheerful post today…I am totally in the spirit after reading how you spend your holiday. Now the memories are flowing llike never before!

    The past few days have been so hectic. I have my wonderful grandkids coming over in shifts to help decorate and wrap gifts. The younger ones help bake. Pre-Christmas is as much fun as Christmas Eve, which is spent here. Christmas morning we used to go to one of their houses to watch the kids open their presents. Most of the grandkids are too old for that now, however my son started his family later so now they are the ones we join in the mornings. The older ones we visit later in the day.

    Happy Holidays to All!

    • Deelynn, as long as you don’t let it stress you out, the preparation for Christmas can be equally enjoyable as the day itself, can’t it?

      I hope you have a lovely time with your family! Young children add a touch of magic to Christmas Day, don’t they?

  • Connie Fischer says:

    Hi, Christina! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your traditional Christmas. What memories you have! Our children are grown with homes and families of their own. We usually visit one or the other of them making cookies with the children and share in and absorb their excitement. This year, we’ve decided to give all that a miss and stay home and I’m happy with that. We live in Florida and don’t really enjoy venturing into the cold north.

    Wishing everyone a very Merry and Happy Christmas!

    • Hi Connie! Baking cookies sounds like the perfect way to prepare for Christmas. I really love that American tradition. Have a lovely rest this year. I can understand the attraction of the warmer climate, living as I do in Australia. I’m the reverse, however, I’d love to spend a white Christmas one year!

  • No Mary Stewart in this house, but I do have a lot of Christmas decorations that come out of hiding for this time of year. Unique traditions to our family – We created an invisible brother for our son and named him “Q”. It’s a long story how he came about which began with a mistake the post office kept making when my son was a senior in high school. Now Q gives my son a gag gift every year – we all wait to see what goofy thing Q has discovered.

    We also have a ridiculous hat that is automated (think Harry Potter) and moves and talks in an elf’s voice. The youngest in the household, which is normally my very sober and solemn nephew, has to wear the hat and hand out presents. I think he likes it as he gets a lot of attention with that hat.

    The actual day involves a great deal of eating too rich food, laughter, and nog – then collasping in bed with all the stress of the holiday dissipated.

    Happy Holidays all!

    • Oh Donna, love the sound of Q. How gorgeous! And the ‘sorting hat’ is probably just what your nephew needs to bring him out of himself a little. Love those traditions!

  • EC Spurlock says:

    Thanks for the glimpse of Christmas Down Under, Christina! And I have to say that is the coolest Advent calendar ever!

    Our decorations are very eclectic, acquired randomly over many years. We can’t even fit all our ornaments on our tree anymore, so the boys go through and pick out just their favorites. We have an equally eclectic mix of Christmas CDs on the stereo while we decorate. We also have a huge collection of Santas and another of snowmen, some which we bought and others given to us over the years. I designed and hand-stitched cross-stitched stockings for DH and the boys but never got around to mine, so mine is just a tiny old sock!

    A tradition handed down from DH’s family is that everyone gets new PJs, that’s the only gift opened on Christmas Eve to wear that night. When the boys were young we had a lineup of five or six Christmas books that we would read, one per night, ending with The Polar Express (complete with an ornate jingle bell to add authenticity). I think they miss that. But they still join me in the kitchen to make tons of cookies for gifts for friends and neighbors. I don’t do a full Ukranian Holy Supper like my grandmother did but I still make pierogies and butter beans for Christmas Eve supper in her memory. My older son asked to learn how to make them this year so he can keep up the tradition, which pleased me no end.

    • EC, thank you so much for your comment. You really transported me into your Christmas celebration. Isn’t that marvellous that your son wants to carry on the traditions?

      I love the PJ idea. I might copy that one myself.

  • catslady says:

    Christmas has changed many times over the years – I’ve learned to go with the flow. I always get a live tree though to hold the many ornaments that I’ve collected for over 40 years. And having a tree trimming party is a tradition I started when my children were young and now my oldest daughter has one too. My one daughter works most of the time at Christmas and so my other daughter goes with her boyfriend to his relatives and we have an evening celebration. I make either a turkey or a ham usually. This year my party isn’t until the 23rd due to schedules so maybe I’ll do something with all the many leftovers lol.

    • Love the idea of a tree trimming party! And the idea of a live tree. The only one I’ve ever had was cut on Fraser Island and planted in a bucket of sand. The needles made a huge mess but it was nice to have a “live” tree. Hope you have a lovely time on the 23rd!

  • Cassondra says:

    Christina, HIGH FIVE on the Muppet’s Christmas Carol!

    Best movie ever, with the best soundtrack.

    Your Christmas traditions sound lovely, though it’s hard to imagine swimming on Christmas, as I’ve never spent Christmas in the southern hemisphere where it falls in summertime, but the night swimming sounds like such fun! Do you send Christmas cards, and if so, do they have a lovely summer beach scene? Or do they also have snow the way ours do?

    • Yay on the Muppets! They’re so clever, aren’t they? And you’re right about the music.

      Actually, most of our cards have the traditional white Christmas stuff on them. Very few have any kind of beach of Oz theme, actually, although you occasionally get a surfing Santa! We really buy into the northern hemisphere traditions in a big way. Crazy, but they’re just more romantic.

  • Beth Andrews says:

    Christina, love hearing about your Christmas traditions! Ours are many and include making our kids wait in their bedrooms or hallway until my husband and I have coffee in hand and are seated around the tree. We also take turns opening presents which is a lovely way to make the morning last *g*

    We then head to my mom’s for brunch where my entire family gathers (30 of us so far *g*) for eating and more presents. I usually make dinner then that evening we head to my eldest brother’s for more eating and games 🙂

  • Kaelee says:

    If the critter has a wide flat tail it’s a beaver. If not it is probably a marmot. Marmots live in mountainous terrain and are known for their very loud sharp warning whistles ~ thus the yodeling. Beavers warn each other by slapping their tails on the water. I don’t know if they make any spoken sound. Both the whistles and the loud slaps are exciting to hear when you are hiking.

    I loved reading about all your traditions and one part brought back a very fond memory. My granny, on my mother’s side had marched in temperance movement parades in England. One year when I was about 10 years old my aunt and her new husband brought a bottle of cherry brandy for Christmas dinner. My granny didn’t quite realize what it was and she had a glass or maybe two glasses. I will never forget the sight of my staid granny sitting on my grandpa’s lap and giggling. This was the lady who hung her underwear out to dry inside a pillowcase.

    I’m a cheap, cheerful and memory filled decorator.

  • Kaelee, that’s so fascinating. Thank you! It’s definitely a marmot, then. As usual, Foanna was right!

    Oh, what a gorgeous story about your granny! Yes mine was a real worry wart. Don’t run down the stairs, you might fall! All that sort of thing. So it was wonderful to see her lose some inhibitions. What a lovely memory of the cherry brandy incident!

    Looks like many of us go for the cheap and cheerful!

  • Christina, we tend to go with cheap and cheerful. The dh and I bought many of our ornaments very cheaply when we were first out on our own (separately, as we didn’t know each other then). We have beautiful things people have made for us and given us, and we do tend to buy pretty ornaments in varying price ranges as sourvenirs on trips.

    But we’ll never be beautifully themed. Our tastes are too eclectic. The boy is in charge of starships and superheroes, and the rest of us put things on wherever seems best.

    • Nancy, I love that even your Christmas tree has sci-fi & super stuff on it!

      You know, the word ‘eclectic’ has been used quite often in these comments and I think it perfectly represents our ‘style’ too. *G* Which is to say there is no real style to speak of:)

      • Thanks, Christina. I look at themed trees, with color schemes or particular times of ornaments, and I admire them. Sometimes I even covet them. But I know they wouldn’t stay so clearly defined for long.

        • Yes, I love really beautifully decorated trees but I think it would take a bit of the fun out, especially for the children. My dh wouldn’t hear of it, anyway, so I don’t even try. Still, I would like to get a bushier tree at some point. Ours is looking a little scrawny!

  • Diane Sallans says:

    I like it cheerful – I’ve got a collection of Santa’s and it all looks rather traditional – lot s of green & red, but I also like some sparkly things.