Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 8th December – Christmas Cookies or Biscuits

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

My great-great-grandfather's Christmas advertisement in the Nothern Miner newspaper 22 December 1904.

Did your family or ancestors make Christmas biscuits (cookies)? How did you help? Did you have a favourite biscuit?

I think that the Christmas biscuit treat that wins hands-down is shortbread made with my Scottish grandmother’s recipe. It’s always been part of our Christmas culinary repertoire and even people who say they don’t like sweet things seem to manage quite a few <wink>. I’d guess it’s been a family tradition for something like 80 years by now.

As a child I helped by rubbing the butter into the mix, then learning to push the mix down firmly in the tray. This, too, is a tradition that has been carried on with the children in the family over the years, which means it’s time to teach it to my grandchildren this year now they’re old enough.

A couple of weeks ago while in the library reading a newspaper microfilm (on inter-library loan) I found a Christmas advertisement for the shop owned by my great-great-grandfather. He was a pastry chef and confectioner, trained in Scotland, so the Scotch shortbread he was promoting would have been the real deal.

Advent Calendar of Memories 2011: 7th December – Holiday parties

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did your family throw a holiday party each year? Do you remember attending any holiday parties?

My family have never been party people so no, we didn’t host Christmas parties when I was a child, nor do I really recall attending any neighbourhood parties at Christmas-time.

This topic brought to mind that we used to go to the Christmas party hosted by the Railway Institute in Brisbane when I was a child. The Institute was over Central Station, where there are now large office complexes, and I guess it could best be described as a sort of railway workers’ social club. I must have liked the party as I remember going to it, though I don’t recall what Santa brought me. Mum tells me Dad often could make it due to his shiftwork commitments.

You can feel the party atmosphere - the bottles on the left were ginger beer, truly! The men were making our Christmas sangria.

While we were in Papua New Guinea (PNG) we went to a rather unusual Christmas party/celebration on one of the islands off shore. We went over in various boats and Santa arrived by small plane and walked up the beach – with our eldest looking adoringly at him and swinging his hand while our two-year looked on, a little nervous: captured on Super 8 movie film and transferred to DVD.

Backyard Christmas celebrations Gerehu, Port Moresby.

We had another tradition in PNG as so many people were far away from family during the holidays: we had a communal Christmas Day celebration with our friends, who were really like family. We would all contribute to the event, bringing turkeys, puddings, cakes, roast meat, salads etc and of course, a variety of alcohol…easy when we all regularly got duty free. One family would host the party, either in the back yard or occasionally in the house, though the government houses were not usually big enough for this sized crowd. Who would host the party rotated from year to year and our year was the final Christmas we had in Port Moresby and we also had visitors up from Queensland. Good fun was had by all, and my contribution was to get screen printed T-shirts made with “Gerehuligans” on them as the suburb where we lived was called Gerehu. One of the things I remember from that day was a friend packing all the dishes into washing baskets to take home to put through the dishwasher….no one else had one in those days. The Gerehuligans have recently got back into email contact and we all had great memories from these Christmas parties.

Advent calendar of Christmas Memories: 6th December –Santa Claus

A visit with Santa is magical. The wish: "all I want for Xmas is my 2 front teeth".

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did you ever send a letter to Santa? Did you ever visit Santa and “make a list”? Do you still believe in Santa Claus?

I guess at some stage as a child I would have sent a letter to Santa and made a list.

Certainly I visited one of the ubiquitous Santas in the shops. My baby book says that when I was not-quite-three, I really enjoyed seeing Santa but that when I was two-ish I was still quite shy.

Santa arrives by fire engine at Boroko East Pre-School in Port Moresby 1977.

I don’t think I was very old when I discovered my Santa presents at the bottom of my parents’ wardrobes…needless to say I was clever enough not to let on I’d put two and two together…why spoil the fun for all of us

I love the look on children’s faces when they see Santa and all the Christmas “sparkles”….the magic and wonder light up their faces and everyone round them shares their delight.

How did Santa arrive where you live? Our children have seen him arrive in planes, cars and fire trucks.

Advent calendar of memories 2011: 5th December – Outdoor decorations

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did people in your neighbourhood decorate with lights? Did some people really go “all out” when decorating? Any stories involving your ancestors and decorations?

Christmas lanterns from a children's street parade in Nuremberg 1992.

I don’t recall anyone much having outdoor decorations, other than wreaths, when I was a child but perhaps I mis-remember. At any rate houses decorated with lights were not on my radar at the time. A Christmas wreath on the door was the likeliest outdoor decorations.

Lights really come into their own when it’s dark and gloomy northern hemisphere weather –they add a happy glow to the surroundings. When it’s light until at least 7, and later in the southern states, they’re more a treat than a necessity. In recent years, decorating houses with lights of varying complexity has become much more common and people take bus tours or do drive-bys to see the wonders of the lights. It’s a lovely tradition.

At our house we set our outdoor lights so they’re on each night and hang out a home-made wreath on our door, which luckily is under cover. With tropical downpours there’s a limit to how much outdoor decorating you can do at this time of the year.

Having just watched a cable TV show on Australia’s Christmas lights-spectaculars in streets around the country, I’m thinking that I’m the one out of kilter. I’d love to include some images of lights but haven’t found any Aussie ones yet among my collection, so will have to add an overseas one until I do.

Advent calendar of Christmas memories 2011: 4th December: Christmas Cards

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry. Did your family send cards? Did your family display the ones they received? Do you still send Christmas cards? Do you have any cards from your ancestors?

My family sent out cards but then I think “everyone” did when I was a child, though perhaps not as many as some…we didn’t have a large extended family. And the received cards were always hung up on a tinsel string. Perhaps I have some old ones in my memory box -time for an excavation.

For years I faithfully sent cards but my preference these days is to ring my far-distant friends in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Because we don’t have many chances to see each other it’s a great chance to have a good chat, swap information and keep our friendship alive. However what I’m finding, especially among the older generation, is that they still want cards, so I guess there’ll be a small handful going out.

Probably like many of us, I send Christmas email greetings to my network of extended Kunkel family network and family history mates. With friends I’ll sometimes send a Christmas newsletter. I was vastly amused by (and empathised with) this post by Catch the Window which captures the essence of the worst-of circular Christmas newsletters. Still I like to hear what people are up to and I’d (mostly) rather a bit of OTT information than a simple: “dear You Mob, happy Christmas, love Us Mob”. Those cards make me feel so frustrated…I want to say, but what’s happening in your life, have you had a good/bad year etc but then I guess with our closest friends I already know that. One of the reasons that I sometimes sit down and write my Christmas news “Cass Capers” (often at the last minute having overcome my curmudeonly attitude), is that it’s a great way to remind myself of the year’s events and, in balance, count my blessings. I file a copy in my memory box so maybe they will survive for future generations.

On top of which there’s the Down Under problem of Christmas cards: decades of snow, fir trees, sledding, reindeers….none of those around here. In recent years there’s been more of a trend to generalised cards without the northern hemisphere influences. Mind you, I’m not sure all those “snow-white boomers”/kangaroos are much better than reindeers.

What about you? Do you love or hate Christmas newsletters? Do you send out notes with your cards?

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 3rd December – Christmas tree ornaments

Decorating the tree with our youngest daughter -many years ago. The satiny baubles are from our very first tree.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did your family have heirloom or cherished ornaments? Did you ever string popcorn or cranberries? Did your family or ancestors make Christmas ornaments?

We did have some special glass ornaments on the tree when I was a child and also some hand-made decorations –probably like most kids at school, you come home with paper chains and the like. In particular we had a lovely china Christmas crèche which we set up with care each year, along with tinsel and streamers.

Our granddaughter discovers our tree on her first no-longer-a-baby Christmas.

We have been collecting ornaments for our tree over the decades and with various household moves each year is a revelation when a remembered ornament is revisited on one of the other family trees. Over the years we’ve occasionally travelled overseas in the winter months (northern hemisphere) and brought back special decorations as reminders of where we’ve been. The most exciting was visiting the Christmas markets in Nürnberg (Nuremberg) with all the lights, gluhwein, and decorations…heavenly. Each of us is prone to buying ornaments for the others when travelling.. a family tradition I suppose. It’s a strange thing but I’ve always loved the heart-shaped decorations so common in Bavarian design…long before I knew of my own Bavarian ancestry.

The cat has his own ideas for Xmas decorations.

But why is it that the one you love the most is bound to be the one that hits the tiled floor with a smash, or the one the cat most loves to pull off is your favourite? And then there are the ones that just get tattier each year until you just have to dispose of them…we’ve kept one or two of our very first decorations even though successive cats have done their best to shred them, and some of the children’s handmade items have just become too battered to put up.

We still have some Christmas ornaments our kids made decades ago including some crafty ones from The Gnomes Book of Christmas Craftswhich we spent time making one Xmas. Not to mention the year when it seemed half the neighbourhood children were on our family room floor making presents and decorations from Fymo. They had a fabulous time, and really the mess wasn’t that bad;-)

We put them on the tree- the cat takes them down! It's a pretty good haul for a cat with claws.

Decorating the tree is a family event – whoever is home participates (including the cat!) and we play carols while we’re setting it up. There’s a timeline issue too –bookmarked by birthdays….unless the cat is too persistent and there are more ornaments off the tree than on!

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 1st December: The Christmas Tree

Our gum tree Christmas tree when I was a child.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did you have a real tree or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree? What types of Christmas trees did your ancestors have?

As a child we always had a live tree – in fact I’m not sure artificial trees were even available then in Australia. However our live tree was nothing like what anyone in the northern hemisphere would imagine. It wasn’t a fir of any sort, tall and thick with a pine-needle smell. Instead in the week before Christmas my father would go down to the creek bank near us and select a small gum (eucalyptus) tree which he’d cut and bring to the house. I don’t know how common this was as I honestly can’t recall other people’s trees. As soon as the gum tree was in the house there would be the pervasive smell of eucalyptus throughout.

"Onion bagging" Christmas trees in Miltenberg, Bavaria, 1992

The tree would last till a bit after Christmas before it started dropping all its leaves.

In my adult family we’ve mostly had an artificial tree as we’ve often been in places where there are limited other choices. I remember when we first visited Europe near Christmas-time being intrigued by those weird contraptions that wrap your tree in what I think of as onion-bag netting. I don’t recall ever seeing anything like that in Australia anywhere…but perhaps it happens in the southern states? Anyone want to comment?

Our first own-family tree was a casuarina which my husband said was collected from near the club at Alotau in the Milne Bay District of Papua (as it was then).

Similarly when we moved to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands we also had a casuarina.

Long ago and far away: Christmas in Goroka, PNG. Eldest daughter and her first "big girl" Christmas.

When we moved to Port Moresby we bought an artificial tree which was quite sizable…probably close to 2 metres, and lasted throughout our children’s growing-up years.

When we downsized to Darwin, we left the big tree with the family in Brisbane and downsized our tree as well. Now we have grandchildren in the family, last year we upsized again.…the cycles of life. Besides which the cat, who loves to climb in the tree and remove decorations, needed a bigger tree to mangle! The small one had taken a battering over the past few years.