18 Years of Christmases

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

I went camping last week with my rugby moms, and I know I'm overdue for a blog about it. But all I can think about is how fucked Christmas is this year. Those who know me know that I'm not an actual fan of Christmas at the best of times

So much so that I went to work one morning and my beautiful Sharon had taped this on the wall behind my computer, and knowing it was both accurate and appropriate:

Christmas in Australia has always been a struggle for me. Its hot when it should be cold. People go to the beach instead of staying inside by the fire. We drink beer and white wine instead of hot chocolate and coffee with Baileys. We have prawns and cold cuts instead of roasts and pumpkin pie (mostly because its too fucking hot to want the oven on all day). And people walk along the streets with a beer in hand looking at the one or two houses with Christmas lights instead of driving around seeing most houses decorated and all the lights reflecting off the snow and ice. I feel homesick, lonely, and uninspired.

But this year, I feel guilty hating Christmas all those years, because this year is actually the one worth hating. I don't want to buy presents, and even more so I don't want to wrap them. I couldn't give a fuck about stockings, and even though my two oldest know Santa doesn't exist and have said not to worry about stockings this year, I still feel I have to. What kind of mom wouldn't?

We usually set up the tree the first Sunday of December. Its not allowed to go up in November. Even the kids know that rule. Goes in hand with no Christmas movies or carols before Dec 1. Alex and I were in a shop the last week of November and it was playing Jingle Bells - she looked at me with a smile just waiting for me to lose my shit and verbally rampage how its too bloody early for Christmas carols. This year however, Oscar and his big sad eyes begged me to set up the tree the last day of November. We were camping the next two weekends so I could see where he was coming from wanting to do it early, and I relented. If there was ever a year to relent, this is it.

Tree was up Nov 30. It didn't get decorated until Dec 10.

Cutler traditions

Despite my dislike of Christmas here, we started accumulating a few nice traditions.

Elf is always the first movie we watch. Duncan and I always watched the Die Hard trilogy. Duncan always took the kids to the shops to pick out presents for me and got them to wrap them with him. We always bought each other tickets to the Brisbane Comedy Festival in March, and put the tickets on the Christmas tree. On Christmas morning, the kids always brought their stockings into our bedroom to open them and then watch Duncan unpack his. We always had a barbeque breakfast. And we always had at least a bottle of champers before midday.

We always had pavlova on Christmas day, one half fruit, one half mint chocolate. And even though I didn't play, Duncan and the kids almost always had a game of backyard (or middle of the road at Jen's) cricket. And we ALWAYS had meat pies and beer for Day One of the Boxing Day test. Cricket - the only part of summer in Australia that I love.

Not this year. I don't want any of it. I just want it to go away. And if I didn't have the kids, I would just go away. But I can't. They need it.

I offered to go away for a holiday, so we didn't have to wake up in the morning and pretend that it was a great day to be us. And while I've spoken to them at length about how our family is not a democracy, its a dictatorship run by me, what we do for Christmas was absolutely up to them. Unfortunately I was the only one who didn't want to be home. Fuck. So, we're staying home.

Because Christmas is everywhere, I can't help but have memories triggered by random things. A song, a food, any reference to any city or country I've had Christmas in. I also have a lot of downtime on the bus to and from work, which leaves me thinking about all the Christmases Duncan and I had together. Even though we are from different continents and have celebrated Christmas in so many different countries and cities, we never once had a Christmas apart. And I can't stop thinking about them. So, I'm going to write about them.


First Christmas together

Our first Christmas together was in Japan. By Dec 25th, 2002 (when they still wrote dates in ordinals), we'd been together a total of 3 months and 13 days. Not long. But by this stage, Duncan had already told me he loved me and that he was going to marry me one day. Sounds old-fashioned romantic, but no, he just knew. Anyone who knows him also knows he was a fellow pragmatist and didn't ramble in nonsense. Me being the ever devil's advocate replied with "we've only been together two weeks, as if you know" but in the end, he was right.

My best friend from university, Alison, came over to Japan to celebrate Christmas with me. Alison was a beautiful friend, and I depended on her friendship dearly. She had a lot of close friends growing up, but met me our second year of uni, so I always felt like I needed her friendship more than she needed mine. The day I left for Japan, she came to see me at my mom's to say goodbye, and cried. I knew then that it was always a ridiculous figment of my imagination, just my own insecurities. Of course I second-guessed whether or not I should leave, since my 22 year old mind figured I'd end up living in Edmonton next door to her, but she told me she'd already planned on flying over for Christmas. I'm pretty sure that's the only thing that got me to actually leave.

Alison and I spent nearly every waking minute together after we'd met in 1998. We lived in the same apartment building in uni, until we moved in together eventually. While I was in Japan, Alison taped (yes back in the day of VCR) Gilmore Girls and Ed for me, so I could watch everything I'd miss while I was gone. She was that kind of friend.

So she flew up to Japan for a week or so to celebrate the Christmas holidays with me. Of course neither of us had anticipated me meeting someone, since I'd gone into the year in Japan expecting a year of personal development and alone time. Turns out not so much.

We stayed at Duncan's on Christmas Eve and woke in the morning to open presents and had a roast chicken dinner (I think. It's been a few years. Alison, is that correct?)

I bought Duncan a new watch that Christmas, for which I still have the brochures for. And the watch. He had some unattractive, old rubber sort of watch, and as gorgeous as he was, that watch was doing him no favours. So I got him a beautiful Seiko watch, NOT rubber, and he looked so sexy in it. Best gift ever.

He got me silver hoop earrings. The start of a trend that continued every second year until last year.


First Christmas in Australia

I've mentioned before that Duncan's had so many surgeries and hospital stays that they all kind of blend into one. I know anyone reading would be thinking "as if, I'd know them all" but without being dismissive or insensitive, it gets to the point where there are so many that it just, sadly, becomes part of life. At Christmas in 2003, I think we were at the third craniotomy.

We were staying at his Aunt Kay and Uncle Michael's place in Epping, along with Jen and Marty. Kay and Michael were incredibly generous and accommodating. I've never met anyone with a heart as big as Kay's and I was devastated when she fell ill with cancer while we were in WA; she died not long after. She was one of those people that restored your faith in humanity and reminded you there were good people in the world. Michael was one of those people too, and I got along so well with him. He was grumpy and set in his ways, but he had a heart of gold and I loved seeing him when I was there. Some of our previous interactions, like the night I stumbled in completely wasted after Stump and Sarah's wedding, are brilliant, but a story for another time.

What I remember about this Christmas is like waking up from a dream, where you know parts of it but not all the surrounding details, even though while you were dreaming it was so vivid. I remember this Christmas in chunks.

I'd been in Australia for two months, Duncan had had multiple surgeries, and I was with his family (including mom, brother, aunt, uncle, cousins, and cousins' kids) that I had only known for those two months, which had mostly been spent in hospital, and in tears. It was 36C in Sydney that day, the absolutely hottest fucking Christmas I'd ever experienced. We all had breakfast and opened presents. Duncan got me a beautifully framed photo and I got him the Rolling Stones DVD box set. I then went off by myself for a while and just cried. I felt hot, alone, worried about my boyfriend, and was away from my family.

Pretty clear to see why I hate Christmases in Australia, when they start like this.


Christmas in Korea

Fast forward a year. Duncan had recovered and was desperate to get out and do something. Anything. He'd lived in WA for a few months with his cousin, got fit and healthy again, and I had been in Canada for the past 7 months, while he'd been healing, saving money and waiting for us to be together again. We decided to go overseas and teach again. He wanted Japan, I didn't. We compromised with Korea and moved there at the end of November 2004.

I don't remember much of our actual Christmas there, though I do remember it wasn't hugely celebrated across the country. I'm sure something at some stage will trigger my memory of what we actually did that Christmas but at this point in time, no fucking idea.

I do remember New Year's Eve though. We went out with our boss's wife's younger brother, He Te, and his friends. He was awesome. I think one of the Korean teachers, Song Yee, came out with us as well. The Koreans were so unlike the Japanese when it came to speaking English in front of foreigners. Both countries learn English straight from primary school through to high school. This is grammar and writing, not necessarily conversational. The Japanese (without stereotyping, not all were like this) tended to not speak English for fear of making mistakes and looking silly. I relate to that, I hate looking stupid and grew up fearing making a mistake in front of other people. In Korea, however, most of the time they were pretty keen to give their English speaking a go, and were happy to engage and communicate. So going out with a bunch of Koreans in their mid-twenties who knew very basic English but gave it a damn good shot ended up being a brilliant night! And for those who know Duncan, he could talk the ear off anyone, regardless what language they spoke!


Christmas in Canada

Duncan and I got engaged in 2005. It was a proposal that spanned two weeks and three countries, but that story is for another time.

Because we'd been overseas and in Australia for most of our relationship, Duncan had never met my family. We figured he should probably know what he was getting himself into before we actually got married, so we spent Christmas in Canada at my mom's place in 2005. We were on Vancouver Island for most of it, with a few days over on the mainland to see Whistler and Vancouver.

My brother Scott was there, as well as my sisters - Steve didn't make it, he was up in Dawson Creek (no, not with Joey and and whoever the fuck else was on that show).

It was a great Christmas, lots of snow, lots of Christmas lights and decorations, Duncan did some cooking, and we decorated the tree when we were there. My family accepted Duncan into the family, and more importantly, he accepted them into his. I can't remember what I got him for Christmas that year, but I remember he got me a digital camera (remember those?) which I still have in my bedside table.

2006 - 2013

7 years of Christmases

To keep this already too long blog a bit shorter, I'm combining these Christmases. I have bits and pieces of memories all over the place but to remember where and when they're from is a task I can't mentally cope with, regardless how much coffee or gin I've consumed.

These years include Christmases in Sydney, Kalgoorlie, Perth, Kempsey, and Brisbane. There were the first Christmases with each kid. Jen and Marty came to visit for various ones, over in WA and in the east, and Richard was still around for Alex's first Christmas, in Darlinghurst.

Lots of random memories of these - expected after so many years together. Marty and Duncan up all night Christmas eve putting bikes together. Kids not able to fall asleep so I was doing stockings at midnight. Lots of "Elf" viewings. Lots of "Die Hard" viewings. Lots of beer, Baileys, bubbly, and barbeque.

They were all wonderful and perfect.

2019 - Last Christmas with Duncan

This is the one I've been dreading writing about. Sitting on my back veranda in the world's most comfortable chair with my trusted sidekick next to me, and all I want to do is hit "publish" and not feel the heartbreak of what was our last Christmas with Duncan.

I don't know which would be worse. Knowing something is your "last" with someone while spending it with them, or experiencing something with them, not knowing it was the last, until the next time, when they’re no longer there. Of course we didn't know last Christmas was our last with Duncan. Wasn't even a thought that had crossed our minds. His back was bad, but we were still thinking it was just a bad back. I should have known.

Christmas was on me this year. Duncan was struggling with stability walking. He was tired and in pain. He hated that it was on me. One, he knew I hated Christmas, and two, he loved doing Christmas meals. Thankfully I thought of someone other than myself and put aside my hatred and did what I could to make it a Christmas meal he'd be proud of.

I don't remember all of last Christmas, which is heart-breaking because its the one I want to remember the most.

I remember Duncan falling at the dinner table - he lost his balance and couldn't grab on to anything as he was coming to the table for Christmas lunch. It wasn't a bad fall and we helped him up but it was a scary start and devastating sign of things to come.

I made a roast duck for the main dish. Duncan and I have loved duck since our honeymoon that started in Beijing, where we ate Peking duck for 7 of our 8 dinners. And yes it was bloody hot in the house but I wanted Duncan to have duck. And it was fabulous.

That's all I can remember. I wish I'd paid more attention.

Christmas 2020

This blog has taken me weeks to write. Christmas has been exhausting.

On the surface, I have hated every minute of seeing Christmas ads online, Christmas shit in the shops, having to buy Christmas presents for anyone.

On the inside, I just miss Duncan. And my gorgeous and amazing kids have to have their first of forever Christmases without their dad, and that hurts me even more.

I'm grateful for all my friends who have asked us to spend Christmas with them. I still feel so undeserving.

We're spending Christmas Eve with one of our favourite families that I've known for years and adore every single one of them. And we're spending Christmas Day with Carol and her family, who you already know I love.

After Christmas we're heading down to Grafton to see Duncan, and spend a few days with Jen, Marty, and Qin. We haven't been down or been able to see them since July because of border closure. We'll see Duncan's headstone for the first time, and the kids get to be with family.

BBQ, beach, and beer. Just as Duncan would want it.

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