There’s a crispness to the air. The fairy lights are adorning window sills, the stacked pine trees are layered across shop fronts, ‘Santa This Way’ signage is planted firmly in front yards and of course, the jingle playlists have already become the backing track of your week, whether you realised you were humming it or not.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Well, at least according to the dozens of movies I watched, because this wasn’t exactly how December 25 looked for my family and me.
I recall as a teenager sitting around in the school playground hearing my friends talk about their summer holiday plans. I remember distinctly listening in when Christmas Eve and Day were being rattled off. Hearing about the secret Santa gifts, games, ridiculous plates of food, who was cooking what and who was going where and how many food sessions people had committed to made me feel a little envious.
Growing up as a Bosnian-Muslim girl in Sydney, my Christmas was very different. It was filled with beach sessions, DIY backyard water sliding with my brother and the sound of my mother yelling out onto the street for us to come inside and eat - all without the tag of Christmas or tinsel surrounding it. We didn’t even have as much as a candy cane in our household. Christmas was just another day in the Celjo household.
It almost felt a little greedy to celebrate TWO EIDS - both the post Ramadan Eid al-Fitr and post-Hajj Eid al-Adha (what I would always explain to my friends as “Muslim Christmas”) AND also want a good dose of gingerbread and reindeer antler attire.
This was my December 25 until my good friend Christina invited me to her family Christmas, Greek-style when I was 19. I was ushered into the Christmas sanctum and it's a tradition I will never let go of.
It was a celebratory and loud space – one without judgement, especially when it came to the kitsch factor and most importantly it all revolved around food.
What began as gingerbread baking and fondant making to the dulcet tones of Christmas albums, quickly evolved into quirky jumpers, elf costumes, Christmas track dance productions and all the tinsel decorating and crafty fun a girl could muster up in an afternoon.
It featured the loud stylings of UNO and the elusive ‘Draw Four’ sandwich that would always crumble even the toughest of opponents. Plenty of charades, plates of roasted vegetables piled on top of slow-cooked lamb, piled on top of tztaziki and homemade bread would top the counter as well as my personal favourite, random bon-bons being scattered around the house.
The coloured paper hats, the comb moustaches and the always fabulous dad jokes that were printed on little pieces of paper that no one could every get right, all the while dousing myself in kourabiedes’ icing sugar and crumbled pav – because all summer events should have meringue reporting for duty.
The commotion of a big family Christmas gathering was something I cherished and dreamed of. It reminded me what I loved about my family and our Eid celebrations – loud, vibrant and always involving a food coma that would spiral into a ‘why did I eat that third piece of baklava’ for the second-year running.
The perfect finish to the boisterous lunch was sluggishly branching off to a corner of the house in the latter part of the afternoon in the hopes that ‘A Boyfriend for Christmas’ or some kind of Christmas love story was playing on TV.
We spent several Christmases in this ‘ginger, spice and all things nice’ bubble, until life and international logistics eventually took charge.
Thanks to my Greek bestie I got to experience a real kitsch Christmas - complete with baking gingerbread in your most tacky Christmas jumper with Buble’s Christmas album blasting in the background while throwing fondant tantrums and interpretive dance moves into the mix - and for that I am forever grateful.