The Day Before The Night Before Christmas

As pretty much everyone knows, it’s Christmas Eve. The day before the night before Christmas, as it were. I’m sitting at my desk, looking out the window at the snow that’s still on the ground since last week’s snowstorm, mentally grouching at the moron who decided to shut the bloody state down again because nothing says “Christmas spirit” like ordering a whole lot of small business to close – again.

Yeah, I’m cynical. It probably doesn’t help that growing up in Australia I really don’t get the “Christmas is coming” signals here despite it being 18 years since I moved to the States. It’s not just that I grew up on Christmas in midsummer, although that’s part of it. All the family traditions are summer things – sitting in the cool downstairs (instead of the hot kitchen and dining room upstairs) with fans going making every Christmas treat that didn’t need cooking and doing all the prep work for the things that did need to cook. Rum balls, apricot balls, chocolate balls, cheese logs… Naturally more than a few samples didn’t quite get to the containers. We had to make sure it was good.

Then there’s the scent signals. For me, the smell of Christmas will always be gardenia in bloom. It’s indescribably sweet, and something that just doesn’t happen here. Then there’s the smell of rotting mangos as they fall from the trees because there are common mango trees everywhere in Brisbane and they don’t make good eating – the flesh is very stringy, unlike the Bowen mangos which are the favorite there. Plus, the common mango has a tendency to go from not quite ripe to overripe in no time flat so… The smell of poinciana blossoms in a thick carpet under the trees. These are all Brisbane summer smells, and to me they mean Christmas is approaching.

Then there’s the family scents… Mum’s roses – for years she always had roses, and we usually had some of the best ones picked in the house. She chose them for the scent: Peace, Papa Meilland, Mister Lincoln… I can’t remember most of them any more, but those ones stay with me. I actually find it hard to accept roses that don’t have a scent. Passionfruit flowers – that one was accidental. Someone dumped passionfruit seeds in the small garden bed by the stairs (that garden never did well – it was also the cat’s favorite loo spot) and they took. Boy did they take. We wound up with a passionfruit vine that wound up the stairs and all over the back porch rails, and the flowers were so sweet. I still find it hard to think of passionfruit as exotic over here because in Brisbane it grew like a weed.

So did watermelon and pumpkin, both of which grew from seeds in the compost heap, but we couldn’t let them keep going because they wound up on top of the fernery and the wood was half rotten (we couldn’t afford to fix it up, so we just left it to eventually fall down on its own). There’s nothing that gives a false impression of how easy gardening can be like vines that go crazy on their own.

Then there’s the smell of mum’s night blooming cactus. I don’t know what it’s real name was, but in summer it would produce huge creamy white flowers that opened in the early evening and were wilting the next morning. They were so sweet it was almost overpowering.

That’s Christmas for me. Summer scents, plants growing riotously, hot, humid weather with thunderstorms in the afternoons that cleared the air enough that we could sleep (air conditioning was a luxury we didn’t have). Long summer days doing as little as possible to stay cool, or out in the pool while we had one – in my case with care to avoid getting sunburned because I’m so pale, or sitting on the porch watching the storms and enjoying the cool breeze that came with it.

May everyone have a wonderful Christmas.

12 comments

    1. It’s completely different, and the seasonal cues are so deeply buried that I don’t know if I’ll ever lose them. To me, Christmas in winter just feels wrong.

  1. My Christmas smell is juniper. That was our Christmas tree, because they’re high desert weeds, but evergreen and pretty. (If you read Alma’s thing on mesquite, totally like that, but Nevada instead of Texas.)

    Which means that when I was deployed, at Christmas time, a gin and tonic put me in tears before I had a sip. 😀

    1. Oops! I reacted that way to coming across gardenia in bloom in Texas (in July, naturally). When a smell is that evocative, there’s not much you can do.

  2. That sounds lovely. The world is so huge. Travel a few thousand miles and you might as well be on another planet. You made me remember three years of Christmas in Oahu. What I thought were houseplants grew outside into trees. Poinsettia trees. There’s nothing like them for saying Christmas.

    1. Yeah, poinsettias usually get sold as houseplants around here. I’ve never managed to keep them alive, though – I alas did not inherit my mother’s green thumb.

  3. For quite a few years I spent Christmas at Phantom Southern Command in Arizona. Palm trees, saguaros, drinks by the pool, t-shirts and shorts, swimming. Locals shake their heads at us Snowbirds, crazy people going swimming when its only 68-70F outside. That is a fairly decent day in June up in Ontario, if the sun is out. Awesome spot for the holidays, and the desert is so nice in winter. Ocotillos are in bloom, they’re one of the most interesting flower I’ve seen and they are everywhere in the desert.

    Here it’s a slush storm just now. Started out rain this morning, changed to freezing rain about noon, snow around 4, and back to kinda-snow at 7:30. It’s that huge wet stuff that comes down in clumps and it’s half melted while still in the air. Okay-ish for snowmen, packs pretty hard.

  4. I’m kind of schizophrenic when it comes to what Christmas is “supposed” to feel like. From 8-years old on I lived in San Diego…but we went skiing every year for two weeks at Christmas at Mammoth in the Sierras. So, palm trees at home, snow in the mountains. Now I live in Philly…but travel at least every other year to California to visit family. Snow at home, palm trees for Christmas. If there’s lights and greenery, it’s Christmas regardless of the outside foliage. 😀

    1. Yeah, when you move around that much, your Christmas cues would get a bit screwy and move to the default “lights plus greenery in the house = Christmas”

  5. Night Blooming Cactus might have been Queen of the Night. I grew up in Southern Arizona & we would see these on night rides.

    1. It certainly seems like it. Thanks for the identification!

      I doubt it would grow here in snow-heavy Pennsylvania, but I can appreciate my memories of it.

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