Wednesday, December 17, 2014


in the public domain


Thanks to Sharn... 

click on link above to read others...


Christmas for us has varied a lot over the years, sometimes we went to church, though these days we don't. It has always been about family gatherings, the more the merrier, though as time goes on, the numbers are never consistent.


When we were small, it was breakfast at home, then pack up all  and go out to our paternal grandparent's home. How I loved that, there would be so many Aunts and Uncles and cousins... all bustling around preparing the last minute things for lunch, while organising endless cold drinks or cups of steaming Greek coffee. The gifts would be placed into large tea chests, ready for our beloved Papauli (grandfather) to hand out. The verandah would have tree branches tied to the posts, mostly decorated with crepe paper, unless my Aunt and Uncle from Sydney had brought up some tinsel. The kitchen dresser would be ladened with special treats, such as kourabiethes, shortbread dusted with icing sugar and with a clove inserted. There would be pots of preserved figs in their rich syrup, trays of baklava, still warm and fragrant with cinnamon and honey. Always there would be jars of preserves or jams, each with a fabric 'hat' and either a ribbon or string, waiting to be slipped into bags as a 'little something' to take with you.

 We have never had a Christmas without family. 


I have written so many letters to Santa, all dutifully posted by my Mum as only parents know Santa's address... though one year, my beloved Aunt Mary W. helped me to write one as well as I really wanted to be sure he got it. However, she told me the quickest way to get to Santa, was to put the letter in the fire and let the ashes be drawn up the chimney, straight to the North Pole. 

 There was always a plate of biscuits or cake for Santa, along with a glass of milk and carrot for the reindeer. Santa was quite messy though, as there were always a few crumbs and a dribble of milk left... that was because it's hard to drink from a cup with a full beard.


Our Christmas tree was always real, there weren't any artificial ones in our small town. Dad would get it by himself when we were very small, often whatever well shaped tree he could get from near the lake (now called a lagoon), later we would go with him and select a pine sapling from the bush or when we had a vehicle, we would go to the nearest pine forest and select one from beside the road.

The tree never went up before December. We children helped Mum to decorate it, though Dad always put the star on top if he was home, he was on the road a lot between Urunga and Sydney. That is something we still do, the Dad puts the star on top. 


Most decorations were home made, from milk bottle tops, as a few others have mentioned, or from crepe paper or old cards. We were very inventive, anything that looked shiny or pretty would be added, including borrowed strings of beads, feathers, fresh flowers or the like. I also recall making silver stars from cardboard boxes, but can't remember where we got the silver paper from. 

Some years, we would make snow from Lux flakes, add a little water and beat as much as you can with a hand beater till fluffy. Mum decided to add silver glitter one year, I think we were still removing glitter till the next Christmas. It's surprising just how far it can spread. I recall one time when we simply couldn't afford the Lux flakes, but the 'chooks' were laying well, so Mum came up with the idea of beating egg whites to decorate the tree... it looked great at first, but soon dissolved into a sticky mess. Funny, that never happened again.

 I do remember receiving a parcel of glass baubles from my Aunt in Sydney one year, they were real treasures and there are still some of them tucked away at 'home' now. 


Mum almost caused a riot one year when she strung some tinsel around the letterbox.. that wasn't the done thing... so, of course, she added more... No one had any decorations outside then, it was almost daring to put things on the inside of the windows, though once Mum did, just a few coloured stars, then a couple of her friends did the same. We kids decided to put red crepe streamers on the white fence... they looked great till it rained. Sugar soap eventually got the red streaks off. After that attempt, we would pick flowers or small branches to decorate outside.


 Christmas cards have always been a part of Christmas for us, but it wasn't a mass of bought cards, we used to make our own.
The only bought cards were from distant relatives, we used to string them up across the window. Beagle eyes may have noticed that some looked the same as the year before... there weren't many that came by post. The prettiest ones were kept, the rest were made into chinese lanterns, as were any old coloured magazines we could get hold of. 

courtesy of Kidspot


 The only real stocking that we had in our very young years was a giant one that our Aunt and Uncle, who were then newly married, won in a raffle. We had never seen anything like it, it was dutifully sent by rail from The Entrance to us... what fun we had with that. We did have pillowslips at the end of our bed. They usually had a piece of fruit, a shiny red apple or orange, a book and a small gift or a chocolate... that was from Santa. The rest of our gifts, usually three, were under the tree. 


Santa put some in the pillowslip, then under the tree would be gifts from Mum and Dad and sometimes a parcel that had been mailed by a relative who wasn't able to come home for Christmas. Our next door neighbours to the side of us would always give us things like a pack of coloured pencils, or maybe a book, always with a 3d chocolate wrapped in as well. The neighbour across from us would give us children something handmade. I would get some dolls clothes or an apron, my brother would get a small carved wooden car or once, a handmade pencil case.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't making gifts... I would make my Mum things like brooches, with rolled fabric flowers, maybe with some beads sewn on and a safety pin to fasten them. She always wore whatever I made, even the terrible scarves I would knit for her... I had a fascination with increasing and decreasing, so the shapes were interesting and the wool was  whatever I could scrounge so the colours varied. For Dad, I made little boxes covered with paper or bookmarks... he had so many, but would always act as if it was the best thing ever. We were allowed to open anything in the pillow case as soon as we got up, but the rest were opened after breakfast, then it was a rush to get to our grandparents... there, presents from the rest of the family were opened before lunch.


Two stand out.. and both in the same year. Dad made us a table and chair set, which we loved. It was painted light blue and had some transfers on it. I remember a bear and a flower, not sure what the others were. It was years later that I found out he had made them from packing cases. My presents under the tree were a sewing box that I'd always dreamed of owning, and still have, along with a collection of them.. but the most precious things were within... a tiny pair of scissors, some needles and threads and simple patterns for dolls clothes, made from stiff cellophane. It was quite a while before I realised that the reason Mum wouldn't tell me where they got them, was that she had painstakingly made them. I must have been worried that I would damage them, as I traced them on to cardboard from a cereal box and carefully stored them. I often wondered what happened to them.  


I longed for a bookcase full of books and an art easel... I did get a bookcase when I was 10, but for my birthday, made by the man across the road, Mr. Rose... it was painted white and stood about a metre high. I made a curtain for it, strung up by stretch wire, so that my books wouldn't get dusty. No easel though. 

I also longed for a used magic wand, with just enough magic left in it to make my Mum better, as I couldn't remember a time when she wasn't ill. I even wrote to Fairy Bluebell, as I was told she was the Queen of the fairies' helper. I got a note back from Fairy Bluebell, written in silver glitter, (and egg white I later found out) saying that I couldn't have a magic wand as then a fairy would die... but fairy wishes were sent to make my Mum better instead. Mum got over that crisis at least.



We sometimes gave handkerchiefs or hair ribbons to a best friend. Only once do I remember giving a teacher a gift, that was to my then favourite, Mr. Ron Buck, our headmaster and Gr 6 teacher... I made him some biscuits. 


Christmas lunch was always a full roast, with chicken and vegetables and most times, some ham. My grandparents had a very long table, after all they had raised 9 kids there.. and we lined up on the pews either side, with only my grandparents on chairs. I always loved the Christmas pudding. The late afternoon tea was the best part, there would usually be visitors then, so out would come the baklava and kourabiethes and my 
Aunt Mary's rich fruit cake...


 I learnt to make kourabiethes the traditional long way, but much later, my Aunt Heather came up with a simple recipe, which I use to this day, with a slight variation of course, as anyone who watches me cook would realise. I'm always experimenting.

Chris's Greek Shortbread        (heat oven to 180'C)

6oz butter  (190gm approx.)

3oz icing sugar, well sifted  (95gm approx)

8oz plain flour (250 gm approx)

1 dessertspoon arrowroot or cornflour                   whole cloves              extra sifted icing sugar

Cream butter and icing sugar until white and smooth. Gradually add sifted plain flour and arrowroot OR cornflour.
Blend well, then shape in to walnut size balls, then into crescent shapes.

Insert a whole clove in to the centre of the biscuit, then bake on a lightly greased tray 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden brown.

Allow to cool on tray until just warm, then loosen on tray and dust very well with extra sifted icing sugar. When completely cool, store in airtight container on a bed of icing sugar. (That's if you can resist them). They are wonderful with strong Greek coffee by the way. They are a celebration biscuit, served at every occasion other than funerals.

For variety, omit the arrowroot (which makes them crisper) and add 2 tablespoons of ground almonds. I always make at least a double batch, several times...


Bon Bons were something that weren't a necessity, but appreciated when we had them. I can't remember having them when my grandmother was alive, but we often made our own in later years. I guess I took for granted the mix of cultures as it was just part of our lives. I knew no difference ... didn't everyone have kourabiethes and baklava and plum pudding and custard? No carolling for us and as our parents were working 7 days a week, we did't get to Carols by Candlelight, even on the rare occasions they were held in our small town.


Our house was always filled with music. Mum had a lovely voice and Dad loved accompanying her, perhaps on guitar or violin or mouth organ, perhaps ukulele or accordion. Dad would also have the radio on when the carols were playing and Mum and I would join in.


My choices have changed over the years... Away in a Manger was my favourite as a child, though I also loved Silent Night and Partridge in a Pear Tree. The latter is one I think my family have heard more than enough of. I've almost haunted them with it, as we used to sing it in the car... with our children, niece and nephews and grandchildren, all of whom have delighted in changing the words so that I would pretend to get annoyed.


Only Sunday school end of year parties and the town parties that were held the week before Christmas...they were held in the park near the river and consisted of races, treasure hunts and a visit from Santa. Every child got a gift, so we were all happy. 


We did for Sunday school, we had concerts and Nativity Plays, alternating each year. I so much longed to play the part of Mary, but always lost out to a pretty little blonde with long curly hair. 

However, my long dark locks were much sought after in a concert as one of the Two Little Girls in Blue. "Mary" had her cut short, so another little blonde girl was chosen to be on the second swing. The swings had flowers wound around the ropes and we were dressed in the prettiest of blue dresses, flowers in our hair, and all we had to do was to swing. It was all so idyllic, however we had never rehearsed with hot glaring footlights, and one swing over those and I took off, crying... and I couldn't understand why the audience were all laughing.

Next year, I got to be one of the Three Wise men.


Mostly we stayed at home, we were lucky enough to live beside a lake, now called the lagoon. It was our own private playground, we set traps for poddy mullets, and crabs, made cubby houses in the reeds, fished with string wound on a stick and bread for bait. Surprisingly, we sometimes caught a fish.
As the lagoon is tidal and was fed by the river and was close to the ocean, we were already at the beach, whenever we wanted to be. 

We did sometimes visit relatives, mostly after packing up all we needed on to the back of the truck, which Dad had covered with a tarp and we lived on there when we travelled. As far as I recall, we only ever made one long train trip, from Urunga to Sydney, then down to Kiama and Jamberoo, where my maternal grandfather and his second wife lived. How we loved the train trip with fold out basin and beds, wonderful timber panelling and leather seats... and the dining car of course. We had to get through all the sandwiches that Mum had packed first. It was a rare and exciting treat.


My first recollection is of finding a set of Reeves paints in my pillowslip.  I was so proud of those... and was almost reluctant to use them. However my strongest memory is of the last Christmas before my beloved grandfather, Papauli, died. It was like all the others. I have written a little about our Christmas Days in my response to Q.2. I can see Papauli sitting on the verandah, beside the tea chests filled with gifts and calling out the names... "Chris...anthe..", not me, my grandmother... then it seemed ages before " Chris...sie"... darn, my older cousin... eventually my name was called. The gifts I remember most from that year, 1953, were a small navy blue covered dictionary from my older cousin, Stella, which I was so excited to get. Her sister, Chris, gave me a bluebird necklace... not quite sure what happened to that, though I loved that also. Sadly, I have no idea what my grandparents gave me.

I will always remember one of Dad's older brothers, Uncle Dave, being the first to grab the honeycomb which we loved. Papauli kept bees, so real honeycomb was something we looked forward to. My brother and I longed for it's sweet taste but our Uncle teased us by biting into that first piece. Pity he didn't look first. He let out an almighty yell as a bee stung him, and was jumping around. We thought it was a great laugh, till we noticed that the adults were rushing around as his face was swelling. One of my Aunts wanted to apply a blue bag, but as the sting was inside his mouth, he wasn't keen. I guess something worked, as he survived...

An unforgettable Christmas, not the least because my beloved grandfather passed away the following May. Christmas was never the same again. I miss him till this day.

Merry Christmas to all, and thank you, Sharn, for creating an interesting Geneameme.


  1. Ooh, Chris, I can just smell the kourabiethes. Mmm. What a lovely picture you paint of a warm family Christmas.

  2. Thank you, Frances... I didn't make them this year for the first time I can remember, as they are a celebration biscuit, but I will again next year...they are my favourite, with baklava and Halva cake tying for second place...

  3. Oh Chris, I can't stop laughing at your memory of your unforgettable role as one of the two girls in blue and your mother placing tinsel on the letterbox in defiance! And How delightful that the fairies used the very same recipe for glue that your own mother did...... I could almost smell and taste your Christmases and must thank you for sharing your Shortbread recipe. I for one will be trying it. Wonderfully special memories and I can't thank you enough for sharing them xxxx ps I think you had a crush on Mr Buck!

  4. We too made decorations with milk bottle tops. We lived in outback Queensland and milked our own cows, so my sisters and I collected the bottle tops when we were on holidays at the coast in February and carefully kept them until the following December!

    1. Weren't they fun to make, Judy. We also made angels wings out of them, the angels being 'icy pole ' sticks, carefully washed, dressed with scraps of fabric, tiny faces drawn on them and hair of wool, or cotton wool, or if there was nothing else, teased out string. It all helped to make Christmas special.

  5. I didn't laugh then, Sharn, but I saw the funny side not long after...Mum was always like that... she danced to her own tune, had the great Irish spirit, passed down by her mother, according to her sisters.

    That was a coincidence re the glue, wasn't... maybe the fairies taught Mum.

    Kourabiethes are so easy and so special...enjoy!

    As for Mr. Buck, he was old enough to be my father... just a wonderful man. He loved children, was a great teacher and above all, he let his 'most fanatical reader' pick some books for the very first real library we ever had. I will write more about him another time... He made such an impression on all who met him, as did his lovely wife, who taught us sewing.

  6. A wonderful suite of memories: whimsical and magical yet also humorous, and hilarious, mixed with the poignant sadness of your mum's illness. You brought back memories of milk bottle top decorations and chinese lanterns, but I loved the red decoration on the fence and your Mum's sassiness with the letterbox decorations. I knew the story of concert yet it's still funny. Ironic isn't it that they always wanted blondes to play Mary yet she would have been exactly your colouring.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Pauleen.. It was great to recall these things.. So many more I could have added.
      I was quite miffed that I never got to play Mary, but I did love those plays. At least I wasn't chosen for a cow. Two boys made up the cow, but they kept trying to go different ways... It was so funny.
      One day, I'll write about the fancy dress balls and the Mad Hatter's nights..all great fun, except for the time Mum dressed me in... Oh, well, another story for another day...

  7. Enjoyed reading this again - so many beautiful memories - thanks. Wonder if your neighbour Mr Rose was a relief?

  8. Thanks, Robbie...surprisingly, so did I. I hadn't read it in quite awhile.
    I did try to trace him years ago, but couldn't find much on him. Must look again, as it has to be easier now.
    I would love to claim him, as he and his wife were such lovely people. They were English, that much I knew.


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