Smells…often they’re the best memory triggers of all. My nostrils fill with the hot piney smell of an Australian Christmas tree, and I am back in my childhood, seeing my father reaching up to the very top of the ceiling-high tree, sighing with satisfaction as he carefully fixes the star.
It is a ritual every year on the 23rd December, the day Dad finishes work early so he can come home and decorate the tree. In the very sound of the word Christmas, I can smell the tree–even though it’s a traditional Norway spruce, the heat gives it a peculiarly Australian smell. I can hear the crackle of cellophane used to wrap presents, I can smell the candles at Midnight Mass and the perfumes of incense and ladies’ scents as we walk up to the communion rail.
Northern Hemisphere people, with Northern Hemisphere nostalgia, my parents nevertheless adapted Christmas to the Australian climate. The French tradition of ‘reveillon’ or vigil, was kept up, because it makes so much more sense to have a lavish Christmas feast in the cool of midnight rather than in the stifling blanket of summer midday. And the feast is suited to the climate, too–no hot turkey or boiled pudding here, but cold meats, pates, seafood, salads, and my mother’s version of Buche de Noel, the traditional French Christmas log cake—hers is an uncooked, cold, luscious delight concocted from powdered sponge fingers, butter, eggs, and strong black coffee, and covered in melted chocolate (recipe follows!) Home-made chocolate truffles and amandines–an almond sweet–sit in gilt bowls, and slices of summer fruit glow gently in glass.