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These pages are a collection of stories from the Writer's Group at Box Hill U3A.

Christmas Blues or Jangle Bells

Christmas is coming. I can feel that concoction of anxiety nostalgia and dread building in the pit of my stomach. I'm a worrier so Christmas is feast time for my anxieties. In the early twenty-first century Christmas is an intriguing mix of contradictions.

For a start there is the usual riffling through of memories as nostalgia takes up residence for the duration. Wistful childhood reminiscences, evoked by Silent night style music, ambush you in shopping centers. Recollections of long ago school Christmas concerts, normally tucked neatly away in your mind's furthest, dustiest corner, come into full focus. Each class singing a Christmas carol with exuberant gusto substituted for talent. Dressed in our "best" we all waited for "Santa" and our gift. A bottle of 4711 cologne or a gift pack of Bromley lemon soaps. Then there's the santa memories. The exciting early awakening, the pillow case lumpy with gifts. A new dress chosen from the Myer catalogue, all frills and blue polka dots and delivered by mail. An excitingly modern aluminum tea-set. My various dolls: Patsy, the baby doll who cried, Judith, the walking doll and Genette my best doll who had a blue polka dot dress just like mine. The maroon vinyl, (another very modern material), dolls' pram. I blush to think how pleased I was with these toys so oriented to preparing me for motherhood. Fortunately, sometimes there was a new bike or a hoola hoop. It was a shame that we all too soon outgrew Santa. I have no recollection of post Santa presents. The mystique of Christmas had gone.

Our memory can also be jolted into action by our sense of smell; suggestive aromas speak of childhood Christmases. Our northern-Victoria-hot house would be bursting with the succulent fragrance of roasting chooks at Christmas. Before frozen chicken made poultry common everyday food, this was the scent of luxury. Days before the doomed birds would be selected and beheaded. Bodies awaiting plucking and gutting would be soaked overnight in the concrete laundry troughs. The gizzards the Christmas feast for the pigs. From the slow combustion stove rose the burnt flesh smell as the last tiny downy feathers were singed off. No chicken since has tasted as good.

These memories compete with anxieties. Christmas is a time of exasperating enforced jolliness. Donning the red/green hues of the season, long jangling rather tacky earrings dangling, I apprehensively join in the anxious rush to buy in supplies for two large sit down dinners. These banquets are the culmination of weeks of nerve wracking planning and preparation. Gathering recipes, making large plum puddings, ensuring I have a table that will seat at least twenty. This is not really a joyous time. These Christmas feasts are more about fulfilling filial duties than hospitality. They involve a high degree of unsubtle sibling rivalry. Many hundreds of dollars are spent on turkeys, ducks, smoked salmon, oysters, rolled pork, ham and the very best wines and champagne and napery. Relaxation comes only when the last intoxicated relative, clutching his/her $30 Kris Kringle, has stumbled out to the taxi, the table is cleared and the dishwasher is chugging away.

So as I shovel myself into a seasonally appropriate dress for the boxing day trip to Congupna and a repeat of all this extravagance, I have time to ponder the contradictions of the festive season. All this intemperance sits awkwardly. I am aware of those for whom this is a time of loneliness and deprivation. A time of alcohol fuelled domestic violence. A time when one's plenty contrasts with another's paucity. Sobriety and addiction jostle for a place, company and loneliness, childhood and old age, spiritual and materialistic, over indulgence and restraint. Giving and taking. Joyfulness and depression. All these contrasting states of mind are heightened at Christmas.

Happy New Year

Valerie Bourke