Sunday, 9 December 2007

The Annual 'Christmas Tree'

We received our annual invitation the other day to the local ‘Christmas Tree’, a gathering of all the locals at the nearby Hall to celebrate Christmas. We’ve received an invitation every year for the past 18 years, even though we stopped going twelve years ago.

The Christmas Tree is held as close to Christmas as possible, after school is finished and hopefully after harvest, though it doesn’t always work out that way. Everyone descends on the hall in a cloud of dust at around six-thirty, bearing a salad and a dessert to share. Presents are secreted away from the kids, for Santa to give out later. The food is deposited on the tables in the kitchen and they move to various places according to who they are.

The farmers stride outside to where a lamb is roasting on a spit. They crack themselves a stubbie and rest it in one hand on their stomach while they yarn to their mates about the harvest and swat the flies with their other hand. They only move when the stubbie empties of beer and they find they’re still thirsty, or when they’re called into the hall to eat.

The hobby farmers and their wives move into the hall and sit in companionable groups, catching up on all the gossip while they drink their fill. They sit there the entire night, being bombarded by the brown Christmas beetles that are attracted to the hall lights. Gradually their eskies empty and their cheeks begin to glow.

The children charge outside and, no matter how hot it is, race around the hall screaming and chucking water bombs, tennis balls or worse at each other. Occasionally they puff red-faced into the hall, knock back a glass of cool drink and -recharged with sugar - race back out to start again.

The farmers’ wives toddle quietly around the kitchen, taking the plastic wrap off the food, swatting flies, digging Christmas beetles out of the bean salad and making sure the urn is hot for later. Then they stagger through to the hall with the food. One of the farmers slices the lamb and someone yells ‘Grubs up!’ The neighbourhood descends like a swarm of ants and strip the plates clean, carefully avoiding the Christmas beetles, leaving a few limp lettuce leaves and a couple of scrawny chicken legs for the hapless farmers' wives who are still in the kitchen trying to get the urn to boil.

Having eaten, everyone resumes their previous positions. The farmer’s wives now wash dishes – if they can get to the detergent in the cupboards without finding any red-back spiders. The hall is only used once a year and the spiders object to being disturbed.

As the sun goes down, the children are called back into the hall for a half-hearted sing-along around the wilting branch of a jam-tree covered in tinsel and assorted baubles. Meanwhile, one of the farmers disappears into the decrepit toilet block out the back, carrying a plastic bag. Five minutes later, Santa struggles out of the same toilet block, beard askew, carrying a woolpack full of presents. He enters the hall by the back door shouting a slightly drunken ‘Ho ho ho!’ in a voice that’s unmistakeably Bruce from down the road. The kids tear the paper off the presents he hands out, thrust them at their parents and run outside again.

In the kitchen the farmers’ wives scurry like mice, making luke-warm cups of tea and coffee and cutting the cakes. Balancing loaded trays, they make their way amongst the discarded wrapping paper and empty eskies serving supper, then whisk back to the kitchen to more washing up.

At last the children start to flag, the farmers have run out of beer and their wives have run out of dishes to wash. Everyone agrees it’s been a great night and drive off into the night with shouts of ‘Merry Christmas. See you next year!’

The hall is empty at last, except for the wrapping paper, empty bottles and half-a-million dead Christmas beetles.

Tomorrow the farmers’ wives will come back... to clean up.


WordWrangler said...

It's nice to hear about traditions from around the globe. Thanks for sharing!


Luc2 said...

So why did you stop going 12 years ago?

Flick said...

Yes, I wondered that. Is it the flies or the spiders?

Kate said...

I should go shouldn't I? The farmer's wives have so much fun!

Catherine J Gardner / Phoenix Rendell said...

Sounds lovely (unless of course you're a farmers' wife the day after...). Lovely to read about it, and a shame you no longer attend.