Chrissie Swan on why she looks forward to enjoying a very 'merry crustaceous' every December 25.
I love Christmas. I love the idea of it, and I love the actuality. I'm not one of those people who laments the fact that Easter eggs basically high-five the mince pies as they swap places on the supermarket shelves in September; bring it on, I say.
Actually, I wouldn't mind Yule-flavoured snacks all year round. I resent the fact that someone, somewhere, has decided that I cannot enjoy Christmas in June.
I love all the Christmas catalogues that arrive in the post. I remove my "No Junk Mail" sticker in October in preparation for the onslaught. I love the catalogues. Love them. I love the kinds of Christmas they depict. The department stores do them best: flowing white dress, huge white smile, long blonde hair and a rustic beachside Christmas table surrounded by blond kids with salt-encrusted hair wearing white T-shirts.
I'm convinced I need to laugh and look slightly to the left while holding a perfectly carved turkey. I also need to laugh and look slightly to the left when I open a gift/pull a cracker/place an ornament on the tree.
If I have a golden retriever, and it happens to race through our festivities, I must not run after it with Uncle Trevor's freshly sharpened Wiltshire. I must instead simply laugh and look slightly to the left.
So I really do love Christmas, though I'm less sure why. In an attempt to find out, I channelled Ray Martin in his '80s flak-jacket phase and dug deep to ask myself the tough questions, specifically: "What does Christmas really mean to you?"
And something kept coming up. Something shameful. It wouldn't go away, so it clearly is what Christmas actually means to me. And it isn't one of the classics:
1. Time with family.
2. Being on holidays.
3. The looks on the kids' faces on Christmas morning ...
No. The answer I kept getting when I asked myself, "What does Christmas really mean to you?" was ... prawns.
Yep. Prawns. Specifically, peeled king prawns with that delicious pale-pink dip my mum taught me to make from mayo and tomato sauce. Come Christmas Day I'm like one of those massive underwater beasts that filter seafood through their giant mouths. Prawns. Trifle. Plankton. I'll trawl it all.
I'm also a dab hand at preparing prawns. I've often wished there was some kind of Christmas Day Test, like the cricket, for prawn preparation. I decapitate and de-poo-chute so many prawns on December 25 that during my traditional Boxing Day snooze I can be seen flat out on the carpet with my prawnless thumbs and index fingers still working: head off; slip off the outer shell; get rid of leggy things; pinch tail off; peel strip of skin along the back and voila! Repeat 3468 times.
In my youth I'd wondered if my affinity for fleshy crustaceans with glossy black eyes was hereditary, and in the Great Bug Incident of 2003 I certainly got my answer. And that answer, my friends, was yes.
We'd decided to spend our Christmas lunch at a fancy hotel, which everyone knows means prawns. And in Queensland, where we were that year, it also meant bugs. Moreton Bay bugs. Which are essentially just like prawns, but bigger. Think Kim versus Khloé Kardashian.
Well, Dad arrived punctually and smelling of ironing starch as always. Pretty soon we were shown to our tables and were talked through the way the buffet worked.
Dad listened carefully, calling on every minute of his 30 years in the military. Moreton Bay bugs over here, salads over there, a huge table of bread and vegetables and deserts and ham and three different roast meats blah blah blah ...
The hotel waitress could have told us that everyone who finds the coin in the pudding gets to kiss a dragon and Dad wouldn't have heard because he'd zoned out at "bugs".
He collected a massive silver wine bucket from the end of the bar, placed it on our table and sashayed directly to the bugs.
And proceeded to load up. No salads, no sauces, no bread, no ham, no roast, no crackling. Nothing. But. Bugs.
When I grabbed the tongs for a bit of caesar salad he raised his eyebrows and whispered, "Your appetite is precious real estate, darling. Don't waste it on something you can easily make at home."
I dutifully dropped the tongs and got a few more bugs. We ate bugs that Christmas. Just bugs. I think by the time the others were on to the fruit cake course (and we were still eating bugs), we'd amassed about 40 between us.
I do it every year now. Not the volume, of course - if you did that more than once you'd have to check that you weren't sprouting antennae and your eyes hadn't morphed into glossy black balls.
No. I'm talking about the exclusivity. Every Christmas I pick a food I really love (most years it's prawns) and I just have that. It's so simple and it makes wine-matching a breeze, I tell you! And as my dad puts it, you don't waste precious "real estate" on ordinary stuff.
Which reminds me, I'd better get my seafood order in. If I leave it too late and miss out I will not be able to cope simply by laughing and tilting my head slightly to the left. No sir.
Is It Just Me? by Chrissie Swan is available in bookshops now.
This article first appeared in Sunday Life.