That ’70s Christmas

I  remember Christmas Day 1972 clearly.  It was a real scorcher.  In Brisbane, the mercury reached 102.5F or 39.2C. Where I was on the Sunshine Coast, it was no cooler. 

It was my first Christmas with people who were not family.  Keen to make a good impression, I had whipped up a new dress on the deadly-treadly Singer for the occasion.  It was made from red and white pin-striped cotton – quite festive, I thought – and I had shirred it from neckline to waist.  Very mod and on-trend in 1972. 

The guests, of which I was one, began to stream in mid-morning.  We were greeted with a dining table groaning with sweets – Christmas lollies, rumballs, white Christmas and Christmas cake – and some token savouries – potato chips, Twisties, and salted mixed nuts.

Adjacent to the sweets were more sweets in liquid form.  Half a dozen large bottles of  soft drink stood tall on the table.  There was creaming soda, sarsaparilla, cherry cheer, lime, orange and lemonade, all cold straight from the fridge.

Undoubtedly the centrepiece of the table was the punch bowl, a very posh pressed-glass affair with matching ladle and glass cups that dangled from the rim.  The punch was made at the table in front of the assembled guests. 

We were all agog as a can of Golden Circle fruit cocktail, the one with cherries in it, was emptied into the bowl with a flourish and then topped with a large can of Gold Circle tropical juice blend.  Then came the fizz, lemonade and ginger ale.   

At 11am, when the children were full of sugar and could wait no longer, it was time for the Christmas Tree ceremony. 

Everyone gathered around on seats or sat on the floor as the matriarch handed out gifts, one by one.   There were toy trucks, dolls, teddy bears, tea sets, Matchbox cars and Tonka toys for the children; and shirts, fishing rods and tackleboxes, binoculars, casket tickets and spanner sets for the men. 

In contrast, the womenfolk, almost without exception, received labour-saving devices from “Santa”.  One lucky lass scored big with sheets and towels, but for the others, it was something on the end of a three-point plug.  It seemed incongruous to me that a steam and dry iron, a blender or a crockpot could be wrapped in jolly Christmas paper and called a present. 

As was fitting, the biggest appliance of the day was reserved for the matriarch.  The family had pooled their money and bought her a Hoover upright vacuum cleaner.  She appeared genuinely thrilled to receive a gift that “beats as it sweeps as it cleans”.  I was only 15 but wrote myself an indelible mental note never to regard appliances as real presents.

With the lounge filled with the debris from dozens of Christmas presents, the focus shifted to the dining table where the sweets had been magically replaced with a smorgasbord of cold meats and salads. 

There was baked ham and chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, rice salad, tomato and onion in sugared vinegar, and pineapple rings, jellied beetroot, iceberg lettuce and a range of condiments, including my favourite, mayonnaise made from condensed milk, mustard and vinegar.  This was followed by a dessert of trifle and ice cream.

The house was big and the family was large so everyone helped themselves and crowded as best they could around the dining table to eat their fill. 

When lunch was over, the women took to the kitchen to shoehorn the leftovers into a fridge. Meanwhile, the men and the youngsters, of which I was one, headed downstairs, without a second thought, to the prize that awaited us in the cement laundry tub.  There, lounging in an ice bath, was the biggest watermelon you’d ever be likely to see. 

Taking charge, one of the men lifted it out as carefully as if it were a newborn baby.  Then with one stab of the carving knife, the melon cracked open in all its juicy coolness to reveal flesh that was red, sweet and full of shiny black seeds.

It was a gentle, bucolic scene with men, children and teenagers sprawled across a shady green lawn in the sweltering heat, devouring over-sized slices of watermelon.  When some prankster spat a mouthful of seeds over an unsuspecting victim, it was on for young and old.  A hose and sprinkler added to the fun.  We ended up drenched and laughing until our sides hurt. 

Except for one poor individual, who had just returned from a military service in  Vietnam.  The roughhousing was too much for him.  He erupted, and then disappeared. Christmas festivities can be a bit like that.  Unpredictable like the weather and life in general. 

Dear Readers, I wish you all a safe and happy Christmas, and prosperity and peace in 2019.