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12 Days of Christmas Memories: Catherine

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!

Eight days until Christmas…

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.

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!


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.


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.

moly christmas tree

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. 


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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