(This is Part 3 in my Perfect Christmas series. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.This series was inspired by Mikaella Clements’ Guide to Missing Australian Christmas.)
So you’re hosting the extended-family Christmas feast.
You poor brave soul.
The most important thing is to be calm and open-minded. There will be at least forty people at your Christmas dinner. You’ll have Catholics, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, spiritualists, a witch and a vegan. Some of them will be fighting but not for the reasons you think. At least three guests will be strangers who breeze in at the last minute. Here’s how to give them a good time, Mellor-style.
Favours and decorations:
- Christmas is in summer here. This means that the crisp leaf litter in the bush and the bone-dry grasses in next door’s paddock will rustle with faint menace, making you mildly paranoid about bushfires all through December. But it also means that lots of delicious fruit is in season. Collect apricots and cherries. Save any jars you buy – no one will know it’s a pasta sauce jar. Make preserves for each family attending. Spend way longer than you can afford making each jar look appropriately rustic.
- Make Christmas cake. Prevent minors from stealing the booze-soaked sultanas.
- Because of the diversity of your guests, any reference to Jesus – save those made in jest – are bound to cause discomfort. This includes nativity scenes. Decorate instead with candles on 19th-century Indian candlesticks. Red is Christmassy, right?
- Tinsel on everything else. Be sure to recycle your tinsel from previous years for optimum Yuletide cheer. After a few years, it will be so denuded of bristles that it will match your pine tree sprig. Happy merry!
- You’re going to have the best bloody gingerbread house the world has ever seen. You’re going to make a gingerbread CASTLE. Make four times as much dough as whatever recipe you’re using might say. You will probably lose at least one piece to mice, clumsiness or crappy rolling, so you will need the extra dough.
- Stick the castle together with concrete-y royal icing. Prop it up with cans of beans while it dries.
- Call on the family for decoration assistance. Be sure to decorate one side in a ‘minimalist’ style with a mere three lollies, so that the adults will have some plain gingerbread fragments to dip in their coffee on Christmas Day. The youngest participant, conversely, will plaster their side in a tooth-cracking layer of icing and slap lollies wherever they will stick.
- Hide it until the big day. You can’t trust your family not to eat that thing! What are you thinking?
- Traditional Christmas feasts are too heavy, too stressful and too European. Learn to cut corners gracefully: can the turkey and buy succulent ducks from Chinatown.
- Plan everything else around fresh local produce. Salads, seafood, fruit – can’t go wrong. There must be enough cherries to paint the lips of an army purple. All in all, you should have at least ten varieties of nibbles, three starters, twelve mains and five desserts.
- You can’t cook all this yourself. Assign every adult guest a dish, condiment or beverage. Give the easiest task to Aunty Diane. Don’t be surprised when she fails to come through.
- Remember to organise a large fish for the Jews. Taunt them about how delicious prawns are: ‘it’s really too bad they’re not kosher, but we’ll have enough if you want to try them anyway.’
- As your guests arrive, the oldest person present will kick off the celebration by breaking the most expensive piece of glassware. Cushion the loss of your favourite antique goblets with…
- WINE. Chilled, white and plentiful. Ask Tim Minchin if you don’t believe me.
- You’ll probably run out of glasses, thanks to your most senior guest, so if you have any jars left over from making the jam, pour your bevvoes in those and pretend you meant to, like an inner-city hipster café.
- Pass the nibbles around. Get stuck in awkward conversation with one of the strangers. Desperately try to remember their name.
The great feeding:
- Set everything up like a buffet, but do not be the first to serve yourself. With this many dishes and this many cooks, there will be at least one dish which is a flop. Let your cousins take the bullet and find out what it is. If your cousins are wise to this strategy, have Aunty Diane go first. Note the brittleness of her enthusiasm when she recommends her own dish. Steer clear.
- Pull the Christmas crackers. The winner of the cracker-pull tournament is the recipient of the ‘fortune-telling fish’, a piece of thin plastic which, according to the manufacturers, possesses ‘the wonderful magic to tell the fortune’. Come up with better punchlines for the jokes. Put on the hat. Remove it at your peril.
- Feast and drink like a Viking in Valhalla. It’s been a long year. You’ve earned it. If you fall into a food coma, you know you have won.
- If you can still move, however, feel free to whip off your clothes and jump in the pool.
What strange and wonderful feast traditions do you have? Tell me in the comments, and have a safe Christmas!