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amanda christmas feature

12 Days of Christmas Memories: Amanda

HerCanberra Team

Last year we shared snippets of HerCanberra readers and staff Christmas memories.

This year, we wanted to share stories of community, celebration and tradition each day from now until Christmas in the hope that it brings a little seasonal joy to the hearts of Scrooge-y and gooey Canberrans alike.

Tell us your favourite Canberra Christmas traditions in the comments!

Merry Christmas from HerCanberra!

Amanda Whitley

Founder and Director of HerCanberra

One of my most vivid (and fondest) childhood memories is of spending Christmas with my extended family. We would gather at my grandparents’ house in our hometown of 300 people, and relatives would descend from far and wide.

We would set a long, long table for 30 (in reality, a motley collection of mismatched tables of assorted heights and widths), which would groan under the weight of myriad dishes brought by all and sundry.

I remember ham, chicken, turkey, BBQ lamb and sausages, new potatoes with butter and parsley, hard boiled eggs, asparagus (tinned of course), my uncle’s special Waldorf Salad, some dodgy watermelon, onion and vinegar concoction my Dad and aunts raved over, and a rainbow of other culinary delights.

Then dessert…ohhh, dessert. Trifles, homemade meringues, pavlova and the booziest rum balls imagined (the town’s one policeman attended the year RBT was introduced, and breath-tested a guest after eating one of these little gems…apparently, it put her over the limit!)

After eating, and naps, and more eating, and quite a lot of drinking; the adults would play poker for matchsticks into the early hours, enjoying rare time together as a family unit.

It was a true celebration of family and food and it was always so special. Get four of my favourite Christmas recipes here.

Now my grandparents are all gone and, with them, so is the Christmas of my childhood. These days, we’ve created a new tradition for our own little family – we head to Noosa as soon as school lets out, spend Christmas Day there, and head back Boxing Day for celebrations with the rest of the clan in the days that follow.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is that it’s still all about the food (I’ve already booked all our dinners at Noosa) – keep an eye on our Instagram to follow our eating adventures!

Read more by Amanda here

Beatrice Smith

HerCanberra Editorial Coordinator

My Christmas has been the same for the last 10 years (with a one year blip), completely undisrupted from a glorious, festive routine. As a person who thrives on routine, keeping my family’s Christmas traditions is somewhat of a fixation for me. 

Christmas Eve is a light, summery meal with my sisters and parents. Sometimes a boyfriend, grandparents or extended family makes an appearance but it’s usually a quiet affair, culminating in an argument as to which Christmas themed movie we’ll watch (The Santa Clause vs Arthur Christmas is a debate for the ages) then a later-than-expected bedtime when we say we’ll sleep but all spend the next hour wrapping presents.

My favourite element of Christmas is definitely the opportunity to feel younger than I am. At 24 I’m still included in the advent calendar, am asked for a hard copy of my Christmas List and will have a present from Santa waiting under the tree. I know that part of the reason for keeping these traditions lies in the 10 year age gap between my youngest sister, but I also hope that it lies in the idea that the key to keeping some of the magic in Christmas is by keeping those traditions, however small, alive.

As I get older, the traditions have shifted and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve fought against this slightly. I’ll be sleeping on the couch this Christmas Eve at my parents house, not because my house is far away (one suburb) but because I want to be woken up by my younger sister at 6am.

I’ll bring my presents to my parents house on Christmas Eve and wrap them there, not because I don’t have time or space at home, but because those hours after the Christmas movie but before going to sleep on Christmas Eve have always been about present wrapping, some hot tea and perhaps a little Michael Buble.

As old traditions weather the years, some new traditions have arisen, especially with my two best friends who I live with. We all spent our first Christmas away from home together, in a little apartment in Brooklyn, NYC in 2013. Across the other side of the world, away from our homes and family traditions we made our own.

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I bought Christmas jumpers over from England, we cooked a roast, watched Sex and the City and even ventured out for cocktails in a slightly-edgier-than-expected bar in the evening. It was so far removed from all the Christmases I’d ever experienced, but it still felt like home.

This year my housemates and I took a photo with Santa at David Jones (a tradition I hope will stick) and opened our presents around our mini tree last night.

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New traditions don’t replace old traditions. They just add on, and in turn create a fuller, warmer even merrier Christmas.

Read more by Beatrice here

Heather Wallace

HerCanberra Arts and current affairs contributor

I’ll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me…I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…

I’ve always loved Christmas carols, and happily warble away in dubious tune. The last couple of Christmases though there are some songs that have carried extra meaning, all containing a deep longing for home. As I’ve driven up the Hume Highway from Melbourne to Canberra I’ve thrown my whole heart into them, tears of joy a bittersweet sting as I started my journey home.

Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow, but till then we’ll have to muddle through somehow, so have yourself a merry little Christmas now…

Christmas traditions play in my mind as I drive the hours away and I revisit Christmases past. We all have them, and it doesn’t matter if they mean nothing to anyone else, they mean something to us. For me traditions start with the Christmas decorations on my mum’s tree.

They are old friends, dating back to mum’s teenage years in the 1950s. My favourites are a small enamel bird with a glorious fibreglass tail and a feathered angel who sits atop the tree. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit from these two.

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We always had a real tree when I was a kid, one from our own farm. Dad would choose a bushy pine and take just the top off it, hauling it home to a hero’s welcome. Being a hard working farmer meant he couldn’t bring the tree home until the wheat harvesting was done. So the tree usually arrived around the 20th December, and mum would bring out the boxes of decorations.

Being allowed to handle the fragile ornaments was a sign of how much you’d grown, only the older kids were allowed to place them. I longed to be old enough to be trusted, and when that day came I was so proud.

Skip forward another dozen years to Christmas when I was 21 and another benefit of being older. The build up to Christmas was rather fraught that year, and even a sprawling farm house wasn’t big enough to keep seven adults and a toddler from getting in each other’s way. Dad and I were fed up with everyone and, living in the wine region of the Riverina, decided our best escape was a winery tour to get bottles for Christmas lunch.

Dad’s health was deteriorating by then and he couldn’t drink so he drove and I did the wine tasting! None of us knew it would be his last Christmas, he died six weeks later, and now I raise a glass to him every Christmas Eve in memory of that wine tour.

Today mum and I have tinsel trees. No more waiting until the 20th December for us, oh no, they go up on the 1 of December, if not earlier! And on mum’s tree that precious Angel and her fragile bird friend are still there, both approaching their 60th birthdays.

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I’ve slowly built up my own collection of precious ornaments, each carrying a memory that makes me break into a huge smile. There’s the blue glass angel from Venice, that I carefully carried for months in my luggage when I was vagabonding around Europe a few years ago.

There’s the little brown teddy with a tartan sash that a boy I had a crush on gave me in Edinburgh. And the felt reindeer mum and I fell in love with, and each bought one for the other. They take their place with glass baubles and silvery icicles, all lovingly wrapped to keep them safe when January arrives.

This year there is a new addition, a delicate paper girl made from silver and white. I found her on a magical day when my big sister visited me in Melbourne. We stumbled across a small shop in St Kilda that was like entering Diagon Alley. A winding wooden staircase led us down to more and more treasures, and we each chose one thing to remember our visit.

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We were so open about our love for the shop that the lady behind the counter took to us right away, in fact when she needed an urgent comfort break, asked us to mind the store for a few minutes. We took that so seriously that when she returned she found us joyfully pointing out undiscovered treasures to new customers!

I know I’m a huge kid when it comes to Christmas. I don’t ask others to love it as much as I do, and I know how lucky I am to have a family I love and long for. All I ask is that no one laughs at me for being that kid holding those family ornaments again.

There’s one final song that sums up my feelings, “I know it’s been said many times many ways, Merry Christmas to you…”

All my love Canberra, I can’t wait to be home with you all again for good!

Read more by Heather here

Sophia Dickinson

HerCanberra theatre and fitness contributor

For me Christmas is a time of celebration with family and friends. It’s an opportunity to catch up with people, eat, drink and be merry.

Something my family often does, especially if we’re celebrating Christmas with the extended family (aunties and uncles, cousins and partners) is the present game. Everyone brings a gift of an agreed value, it has to be wrapped, then everyone gets a number to determine the order in which we each choose a gift. The fun part is when it’s your turn, you can open a new gift, or steal someone else’s.

Sophia's parents, John and Judy

Sophia’s parents, John and Judy

If some steals your gift, you get to choose or steal a new one, but you can’t steal back a gift that was already taken from you. It’s hilarious watching everyone strategise to get a good gift, or avoid a dud one (my mum likes to contribute a packet of toilet paper rolls, just for laughs).

My friends and I have developed a few Christmas traditions over the years too. I still have a Christmas dinner with my closest friends from high school. Usually we have it at someone’s house, everyone brings a dish to share, and we exchange gifts.

Last year my housemates and I spent a night driving around Canberra to check out people’s Christmas light displays (we found a list of the best houses on a local radio station’s website). My favourites are the ones timed to music, and you listen by tuning your radio to a certain channel.

I, like many of you I’m sure, always look forward to lunch on Christmas day. My mum’s head chef of Christmas lunch in our house. She makes an incredibly sweet and succulent honey leg ham, which dad roasts on the barbeque. She has also mastered the great Aussie pavlova. You’ll never see a flat, eggy, store-bought pavlova in our house.

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Mum’s has a thick, flaky crust, the perfect sticky centre, and plenty of whipped cream and fruit on top. I usually try to convince her to make trifle as well. We’ve started making individual serves in glasses – it’s a bit fiddly, but they look gorgeous and this way it doesn’t turn into a soggy mess.

Read more by Sophia here

Megan Smith

HerCanberra food and current affairs contributor

The main focus of our Christmas day is always family, food and fun.

Family: Being surrounding by all loved ones! Christmas isn’t Christmas without your nearest and dearest; as Christmas to my us is all about celebrating and having fun with the ones who mean the most to you.

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Food: My Dad & I are the chefs – we always prepare an extensive menu for breakfast and lunch every year, with lunch being the main event.

The planning beings weeks in advance and we always have a fun day cooking, laughing, eating and enjoying the time with the rest of the family. If we manage to find room for dinner, its usually the rest of lunch as we always over-cater!

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Fun: My family loves giving gifts (and receiving them too!), and this is such a fun and special time for us all to get together and individually watch everyones expressions are they open all their gifts.. and there tends to be a lot.

Food comes under the ‘fun’ category as well. Cooking and eating.. so much fun!

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Then depending on whether we are in Canberra or with my mother’s family along the Murray River, we always end the afternoon having fun in the sun – which is a classic Australian Christmas in my opinion.

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It varies between playing some sort of outdoor sport, swimming in the Murray, or even a family board game.

Read more by Megan here

Kristen Henry

HerCanberra fashion and current affairs contributor and Mix 106.3 breakfast radio host

I can still remember the year Santa brought me a bike.

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I had been good all year (just ask me) and had butterflies in my tummy going to bed hoping he’d bring my sister and I what we’d asked for. We slept out in the lounge room under the tree so he couldn’t miss us. I woke up so early to check if the bike had magically appeared, looked around the room to see if I could see a shiny new bike, but I couldn’t.

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While I began to question if he’d received my letter, a car drove past and shone their headlights into the lounge room and there they were up on the dining table. I woke my sister up and to this day feel bad for our poor neighbours who put up with two young girls under 10 riding their bikes up and down the street at 5am squealing and ringing their bells.

I still remember that feeling, it’s the feeling of Christmas.

Read more by Kristen here

Catherine Russell

HerCanberra politics and current affairs contributor

There is a very strange thing I look forward to every Christmas and I hold the 1960’s Women’s Weekly accountable.

It was a time when pineapple could go with … anything. When the traditional Christmas lunch/dinner/nibbles were being reinvented and so came to be a rather sacrilegious supper treat that is a fixture of our Christmas platters – the baby Jesus’.

It is a seedless date, nearly split with a morsel of thick white icing sugar insert in between giving the effect of baby Jesus’ in a cradle. They are delicious but odd and possibly not what you would expect in the spread of a good Catholic family.

I think why I look forward to them so much, is that my mother still finds it hilarious to make them even though no one really eats them and she always tells the story of my grandmother proudly making them for guests and then … having to explain.

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This is our Christmas – a lot of laughter, the seemingly ridiculous, a sense of chaos and noise all to the backdrop of either Bing Crosby or Love Actually (except for the year where someone played the Destiny Child’s Christmas Album but we will forget that).

Our Christmas this year is in transition to a new set of traditions, as our family expands with new partners and grandchildren and siblings return from overseas to settle once more in Australia.

To be honest I am finding the transition a little hard as Christmas has always been a touchstone for me, a chance to breathe out and lean into the rhythm of very simple traditions, with people I love in the beautiful country town I grew up in; Orange.

It is a time of year loaded with memories of being woken as a child and shepherded to midnight mass, watching the sky on the way for a chance to glimpse Santa. It is the smell of pine needles and ginger and spice wafting throughout the house. It is the coming and going of people either visiting or visitors. It is the candles I now light with my daughter every year for those who are a memory of Christmases past.

Since leaving home at 17, I’ve been back nearly every Christmas – making the drive home, firstly on my own and now with child in tow, bringing gifts, helping to cook, setting the table in elaborate colour themes, singing carols with my mother, heading to midnight mass and then supper to waking to one of my siblings dressed as Santa handing out the gifts.

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Every other year the broader family would gather for a day of eating and table tennis but whether it has been a large gathering or a small one – it is the chance for conversation that is the real gift.

For a moment in time the busy-ness that divides us seems suspended and we are just there in each other’s company – all sorts of wounds have been opened, reexamined and healed – new threads to old histories revealed and laughter, the real belly wobbling kind has provided a much needed balm to the years toss and tumble effect.

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This time of year saved me in many ways. When the world slipped out from underneath me I clung to the small subtle traditions to keep some sense of normal.

Perhaps that is why traditions matter and why we keep them alive – they are fun in the good times and an anchor in the tough ones but are always wrapped in love.

Read more by Catherine here

Belinda Neame

HerCanberra Events Coordinator

I was born in Perth but we moved to the east coast when I was 3. We went back to Perth regularly for Christmas and I wish I had stronger memories of that time, but I don’t. My memories are held strongest at our family home in Spence.

It’s been our family home since 1983 and it’s where many traditions have been created. From champagne breakfasts, to Christmas lunch, to more recently, Christmas dinner. Together with extended family and friends, long tables dressed with Christmas linen, bon bon’s and food galore. IMG_4072

Growing up, my best friend lived in the street behind Mum and Dad’s and we were quite the mischievous pair. Especially at Christmas time!

We were really good at sneaking around the Christmas tree (while Mum and Dad were at work) and we became experts at peeling back the sticky tape from the wrapped presents to see what was inside and then re-wrapping them. Until Mum woke up to what we were doing and started buying the cheap wrapping paper that just ripped if you tried peeling the sticky tape!

I can still clearly remember not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve. As a child, the excitement and anticipation really is like no other feeling in the world. I was always awake and desperate to open presents and start eating my chocolate stocking by 5am on Christmas morning but we always had to wait for Dad to get up. Still to this day, I’m sure he was always awake early too but he enjoyed stirring us by making us wait!

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I’ve always loved Christmas but now that I have children of my own, I adore everything about it even more so.

I love the smells of Christmas (insert cinnamon and gingerbread here), I love the end-of-year spirit and that feeling of winding down and spending time with family and friends, I love looking through all the Christmas food magazines to put together the menu for Christmas day, I love the smell of the fruit cake mix as it boils on the stove and fills my home with smells of Christmas.

I love the anticipation for my kids as they work their way through the advent calendar, I love baking the gingerbread pieces for my nieces and nephews and then watch them as they make a ridiculous amount of sweet, sticky mess as they assemble them into wonky gingerbread houses, but most of all, I love giving. Thinking about others and finding that present that will make them happy.

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Tradition has really changed for us over the past few years as families get bigger and some move interstate, so it’s something different every year now. This year we will be brunching and relaxing at home with the kids and then enjoying our last Christmas dinner in the Spence house as my parents have sold and are moving on.

This brings a depth of sadness to our Christmas traditions but just like the Spence house, we will continue to make memories and traditions wherever we go.

Read more by Belinda here

Molly McLaughlin

HerCanberra Intern and ANU Student

My family is into Christmas. Like really into it.

I grew up in a country town (pictured above) with all twelve of my cousins and all of my grandparents, aunts and uncles living within a 30 km radius of me.

Because my parents are divorced we have a system worked out that means my siblings and I see both sides of the family every year, one on Christmas Eve and for breakfast Christmas morning, and the other for Christmas lunch that often extends into dinner.

We definitely have to pace ourselves with the food so we have room for pavlova. Since I moved out of home three years ago Christmas is often the only time I get to see my extended family. This year I’ll be in Canberra for most of December so I’m making new traditions with friends, but I’ll still drive home on Christmas Eve.

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Molly’s coat rack Christmas tree at her share house

The way we celebrates Christmas is changing as we all grow up, move away and have our own lives, but I hope it will always be about family.

Read more articles by Molly here.

Josephine Walsh

Arts and culture contributor

When my cousin and I were born, my grandparents bought us each a beautiful gold bracelet. They began the tradition of every Christmas buying us a new charm.

Every year, they spent a painstaking amount of time tracking down the right charm, and of course, they always had to get two of the charm, which was often difficult! It was always such a joy to open the tiny jewellery bag on Christmas day to see what they had chosen for us. 

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My grandfather passed away in December 2012, and Christmas is a time when I think of him often. My bracelet is so unique and beautiful, it’s a tradition I hope to share with my own daughters and grand-daughters one day

Read more articles by Josephine here.

Laura Peppas

Senior Journalist and Communications Manager, HerCanberra

It’s not cool to say it, but even at 29 years old, I’m still a sucker for Christmas.

What I love more than anything else are the long-held traditions – the sound of carols playing, long walks to look at the lights, the smell of comfort food, and those precious moments with family – iPhones shifted away, TV off, shops closed – where there’s nothing to do but enjoy each other’s company. No present can come close to that sense of coming together.

When I was younger Christmas was hands-down the best day of the year. When it was all over I’d spend most of the year counting the days till it all happened again; a process so gruellingly slow when you have the relatively empty social calendar of a school kid.

As I grew older, the 5am Christmas day wake-ups waned (to my parents’ relief) but the carols, lights and Christmas tree decorating all stuck.

Laura's Christmas tree this year

Now a little tradition of mine is to go to the shops to get presents, get overwhelmed by the amount of people there, then try again the evening before Christmas. Not very practical, yes – but it adds a sense of excitement.

The event is made all the more special now because my husband, knowing of my love for this time of year, proposed to me last Christmas Eve. This Christmas our families will come together for a big lunch for the first time since we were married, and, as his parents are Greek, they have some festive traditions of their own.

One tradition (which I love) is to cook more food than anyone can ever imagine: crackling pork, tzakiki, chicken, fish, spinach and cheese pies, baklava – you name it, it’s there. We then sit, quietly marvelling at the size of our bellies, and have a snooze. It’s heaven.

Another Orthodox tradition is to attend church on Christmas morning, which also means catching up with extended family and friends you may not otherwise see on Christmas day. Going to a Midnight Mass Service on Christmas Eve is also very important for many Greeks.

Bringing my family’s Christmas traditions together with the new traditions of my husband’s family is easier than I thought: there may be a few changes, but the sentiment of togetherness remains.

Read more articles by Laura here.

Image of ‘Background of Christmas sweets…’ via Shutterstock

Image of ‘Christmas collection…‘ via Shutterstock

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