"Kids don't want undies. They want stuff like a Fuzzy Pumper Barber & Beauty Shop" … Chrissie Swan. Photo: Julian Kingma
Ah, Christmas! There's less than a month to go and I'm getting a bit excited. I've not done any shopping, nor do I have any actual ideas, but I'm pumped. I actually feel like a seasoned veteran now ... and will use the experiences I've gained over the past 39 years to make sure that every Christmas from now on is memorable, if not lovely.
We all learn from our mistakes, and when it comes to Christmas, thankfully, we learn from the mistakes of others, too. Sometimes you have to experience those Yuletide lowlights to really make sure you don't repeat them.
For example, the orange and onion salad that appeared on the trestle table at my great aunt's Christmas do was the great culinary disaster of 1988. Admittedly, this dish was not made by anyone related to me, by blood or otherwise, and I take some solace in that. An interloper brought it, probably after a conversation that went like this:
Great aunt: So we'll see you on Christmas Day then?
Salad maker: Yes! What can I bring?
Great aunt: Nothing, we have it all sorted.
Salad maker: No, really, I know just the thing! I have a salad that will confuse and amaze everyone and leave everyone talking about it until I am long dead! It's inedible and spectacular! See you on the day!
The setting was a hot Queensland summer and the location was the cleared-out garage under my cousin's house on stilts. The usual suspects were there – a bit of ham, a few cold chooks, some potato salad with Miracle Whip and spring onion. And boiled egg, if I remember rightly.
The temperature was approximately 265 degrees. And in the middle of the table, in a cut-glass bowl, was a salad I'd never seen before - and, frankly, have never seen again. Thin slices of orange and matching slices of brown onion were arranged in an alternating pattern. The dressing? Cream.
Just cream. Orange and onion drenched in cream. This happened 24 years ago and I am still confused. I just did a Google search for it and there's no record of it ever being made by anyone, anywhere, in the history of the universe.
I would ask my great aunt's friend to share the recipe with me, but she's probably no longer with us. Perhaps it was a concoction of mango, cheese and mayo that did her in. Anyway, the moral here is to never serve an orange, onion and cream salad. Anywhere. Ever.
My second tip is to buy - for kids and teenagers - stupid, outrageous toys that they really want. Not underwear. Underwear is a terrible present for kids. I do not remember the year I got three pairs of Bonds cottontails from my gran for Christmas. No wait, strike that – I do remember because it was every year.
Kids don't want undies. They want stuff like a Fuzzy Pumper Barber & Beauty Shop. Now, I do remember that year. I wept like a baby. It was 1978; I had just turned five. It was the best Christmas ever and before you pooh-pooh the idea of commercial gifts that break, let me remind you that I still have the Fuzzy Pumper Barber & Beauty Shop. I played with it about two weeks ago, totally absorbed in making hairdos out of Play-Doh in my very own barber chair. I am 39. So there!
One year my sister got a Merlin and she cried, too. Remember Merlin? It would beep a tune and you had to replicate the beeps. From memory. Nowadays it's about as fun as getting a gift-wrapped stick, but in 1981 it was high-tech, let me tell you. We didn't see my sister for weeks afterwards. And when she did eventually emerge from her bedroom with three new pimples and a new bad mood, she only spoke like Dexter from Perfect Match. Great gift!
And lastly, make sure you've got the right gift for the right person. One year, my ex gave me a bottle of my "favourite" perfume. Which was actually the scent his ex liked. I didn't say anything, but every time I wore it we would fight about how boring it was that I was a vegetarian obsessed with Buffy. Even though I was, at the time, chowing down on a lamb chop. Amazing how evocative a smell can be. I should've said something at the time, but by the time I'd worn it on a few occasions we'd broken up and that was that.
So there it is. My own tips for a top Christmas? Keep the onion away from the fruit salad; a few rubbishy toys never killed anyone; buy gifts for those you like, not those you despise. Follow those rules and you can't go wrong. Happy Yule!
This article first appeared in Sunday Life.