Christmas in Australia: 40° Celsius and over 16000km away from France
This article is in English. Click here to read it in French.
The church bells won’t ring at the end of the midnight mass, there will be no scallops for Christmas Eve and I’m sweating in my knickers. It’s the 24th of December and I’m lost in Broken Hill, New South Wales, with a hazardous phone reception.
Back in France, when I thought of Christmas in Australia, I pictured barbecues on the beach and surfers wearing Santa Claus hats (go figure). I had never thought of the dust and drought, of the flies in the kitchen or the cheap white wine overdose under the hole in the ozone layer. I had never thought of the Australian outback to celebrate Christmas.
25/12/10: in Queensland
This was my very first Christmas away. I had arrived in Australia two months before and I was a barmaid in a Queensland outback pub, in Mitchell. Mitchell has two main streets, five pubs, one thousand inhabitants and cowboys.
I remember celebrating Christmas at the pub and in people’s garages, everyone lugging their personal esky overflowing with XXXX Gold and green ginger wine (may God forgive them). I also remember a sharp feeling of loneliness, increased by the abuse of beer.
In Bordeaux, Christmas was synonymous with the daunting midnight mass, the strawberry/chocolate bûche and family reunion. I had never spent Christmas alone, in thongs, drinking Corona. The cultural shock had decided to punch me in the face.
24/12/12: in New South Wales
At 10.30am it is already 36 degrees and after a 2011 Christmas spent at the Thai-Cambodian border, here I am again, inland Australia, 1150km away from Sydney.
This year, I’ve met Nicole, Terry and Colin and we celebrate Christmas together, with other “orphans”, like this improvised family we have become in two weeks. To bring back a bit of home, Nicole and I decide to prepare the Christmas food. Discussing it on the porch during the morning cigarette, we agree on a buffet. It is too hot for the Australian roast + 3 veggies.
I consent to do without pommes dauphines and Pauillac but not my father’s salmon tartare. I fall for a bottle of Moët too, instead of the Veuve Clicquot. Preparing stuffed mushrooms, spicy prawns with mango, plums rolled in bacon, and Dijon mustard sauces, we spend the afternoon laughing with a Beck’s always within easy reach.
25/12/12: Christmas survivors
From the Palace Hotel balcony on Argent St, the view of the empty streets of Broken Hill is spooky. The dry wind sweeps the dust and the eucalyptus leaves, creating whirls on the burning asphalt. I had never paid attention before to this reigning ghost town atmosphere on the 25th of December. I used to be part of them, of these people sleeping their champagne or their white wine off at home, like refugees in their bomb shelters.
Before leaving France, what defined Christmas for me was really fixed: family, Christmas tree, food and presents. Far from everything, far from my habits, Christmas has become abstract. I don’t grasp the spirit characterized by the tasteless decorations and food-marathons, the undesirable guest or meaningless gifts. All that matters to me is a good meal, champagne and no irritating guests, even though the only moment of a French Christmas I’ve missed is the breakfast of the 25th: pain au chocolat, freshly squeezed orange juice, baguette viennoise and good butter.
Despite the inevitable French/Australian thermo-cultural shock, in what follows lays the universality of Christmas: the supermarket is the last place on earth where it is good to be found.