Cloudstreet river – what a backdrop for Christmas lunch!

‘Will you look at us by the river! The whole restless mob of us on spread blankets in the dreamy briny sunshine skylarking and chiacking about for one day, one clear, clean, sweet day in a good world in the midst of our living. Yachts run before an unfelt guest, with bagnecked pelicans riding above them, the city their twitching backdrop, all blocks and points of mirror light down to the water’s edge.’

Tim Winton Cloudstreet

Once upon a time my children and their families came to my house every year for Christmas lunch. Sometimes there have been as many as thirty or more of us, including my grandchildren. It worked well. In the last few years, though, we’ve begun to rotate to different homes for the celebration.

Christmas Day by the 'Cloudstreet' river
Christmas Day by the Cloudstreet river

By some mysterious process, a decision was made to picnic by the river this year. It happened in August, about the same time as the Kris Kringle ballot was drawn. Jenny and Janet see to the ballot each year, with a little help from others. The ritual determines which adult will give which other a present. At the same time, Jenny and Janet make the list of what delicacies everyone will bring for lunch. But, as one of my granddaughters said,

‘There’s not much point, really, is there? Everyone brings what they always bring. That’s one of the things that makes our Christmas lunch so special.’

Table under the trees
Table set ready for lunch under the trees

Peter, Janet, Alexander, Louisa, Amelia and Lara arrived at the river early. By the time John and I got there, they had set a long table under the trees they had strung with decorations. The weather was perfect for our Australian Christmas lunch.

Soon the others came with ham, poultry, salads, seafood and drinks packed on ice.  That morning I had recooked the Christmas pudding we made at the beginning of Advent. It was hot from the boiling water when John and I  wrapped it in a towel and placed it in an insulated box. Pats of brandy butter melted into it when we served it at the end of lunch.

Australia’s acclaimed author Tim Winton received the Miles Franklin Literary Award for his novel Cloudstreet in 1991The opening and closing scenes of Cloudstreet depict picnics by the river. I have always visualised that scene close to  the place where we had our Christmas lunch, ‘in the shade pools of the peppermints by the beautiful, the beautiful, the river.’

The beautiful Swan River
The beautiful, the beautiful Swan River with Perth in the background, on Christmas Day, 2014

Like the Pickles and the Lamb families in Cloudstreet, my family also spends a lot of time by the river, or on it. Like a magnet, it draws us. It regenerates us, invigorates us. The decision to have our Christmas lunch there this year was inspired.

In the midst of our festivities, there was also some sadness. I imagine there is always family sadness at Christmas time, mixed with the joy and the love.

As Winton says,

‘Unless you knew, you’d think they were a whole group, an earthly vision. Because, look, even the missing are there, the gone and the taken with them…’  Tim Winton

Lunch in a pool of shade
Lunch in a pool of shade

I thought about my sons and their families who, for various good and proper reasons, were not there. I couldn’t help but think about my baby great-grandson who was not with us.

We happily welcomed some family friends. There was the announcement of an engagement and the presence of an unborn great-grandchild. There was  love and laughter and the generous promise of good things to look forward to in the New Year.

Thank you for reading my blog. Comments are always welcome. Perhaps you have a Christmas story to share?

14 replies on “A Cloudstreet river Christmas”

  1. I’ve always loved that paragraph from Cloudstreet—one of my all-time favourites. It looks as if you and your family had a wonderful day, and you chose the perfect place to celebrate a Perth Christmas.

    My family used to always say, ‘Christmas is for kids.’ As kids, Christmas is filled with the people we love, but as we get older, more and more of those people are gone—some have left this earth; some have just left our lives. A degree of sadness has always shrouded at least part of my Christmas—grief for those I’ve loved who are no longer with me, and a more selfish grief for the truly joyous Christmas I always wanted but never got. Instead of berating myself for feeling like this, and telling myself to ‘just get over it’, during the past year, I’ve let my sadness and grief flow for all that I wanted but never got. I’ve just passed my first Christmas in decades without depression!

    Thank you for sharing your Christmas Day story here and I look forward to coffee together soon!

    1. Louise, how lovely you’ve enjoyed Christmas without being dragged into past less lovely times. Thank you for sharing. I didn’t enjoy the festive season much for a whole lot of family reasons until I became a solo parent with six kids thirty odd years ago. The first year we were grief- and poverty-stricken. And humiliated by an unsolicited and unwanted food parcel from a charitable organisation. From that day, I decided to make Christmas as wonderful as I could for my kids. I also made up my mind then to be as relaxed as it is possible for me to be. It worked so well that I look forward to Christmas every year, as I think my children and grandchildren do. I am blessed! Thank you for commenting, and for enjoying the Tim Winton quote. There is more to the blog that you may not have read – I think the link was broken, and I’m trying to fix it. I hope you get time to read the whole thing if I can get it right!

  2. No, I haven’t a Christmas story to share, as I am ‘over’ Christmas, questioning the whole thing. A family picnic by the river is a lovely celebration of family, but it could happen at any time of year. Why do we attach it to Christmas? If one is not a Christian, Christmas has become a time of excess and indulgence for many people. I choose not to be part of that any more.
    But I love the allusions to Cloud Street, which I have just started to re-read! And I’m glad you had a lovely, BIG family gathering.

    1. I loved your blog about your Christmas retreat from the excesses of the festive season, Christina. One day I would love to do that. To take myself away and walk and think and perhaps enjoy the day in different way. Of course we can and do enjoy family picnics by the river – often with the same cast of thousands, but most often without the tables and chairs! Sometimes we gather in sixes and eights, too, or twos and threes. I guess our family attaches lunch on 25 December to Christmas because it is a family tradition. And at least some of us also attend liturgical celebrations as well as celebratory lunches, wherever they happen.

  3. How very lovely, so civilised that you were seated too. Looks like a great time was had by all. My Christmas was VERY quiet, but enjoyable just the same. Unlike you I come from a shrinking family!! Love RosieXX

    1. Yes, it was lovely. And civilised, too, Rosemary. We had ‘best’ china plates, silver cutlery and nice glasses. It was like being at someone’s home, except the backdrop was so spectacular and the kids loved the water to paddle in. Peter and his helpers did a great job of setting up the trestle tables and chairs, decorating the trees and setting the tables. I am really very lucky to have such a big family. Sometimes there are hassles, but at Christmas we mostly seem to work around them.

  4. No, I can’t see any link to the rest of the story. Could you post it in the comments here?

  5. Loved reading this, Maureen. This was our first Christmas in our semi-rural retreat, and I was lucky enough to have all my children with me. It was such a delight, but over all too briefly. Our family continues to grow and scatter, making family get-to-gethers more like tribal meetings (when they occur). As you say, there are lots of hassles, but it’s nice when it happens. Christmas? Well, I’ve come to dread the lead up, the ‘never met’ expectations and the huge expense associated with it. But even more, I dread New Years Eve, always feeling a malevolent presence snaking around it, daring me to articulate my hopes and dreams for the new year, so I try to keep my expectations in check………..

    1. Thanks, Deborah. I’ve been following your move on FaceBook. What an amazing place you have found yourselves! You were blessed to have all of your children with you. That hasn’t happened in our family for quite a while. Because I’ve got seventeen grandchildren (some adults with their own partners) and now two and soon to be three great-grandchildren I can’t imagine what it would be like for us all to be together.

      We managed to simplify Christmas a few years ago – one present for each adult, little gifts for the children and a shared meal that we all contribute to. It doesn’t seem to have taken away from our celebration in any way, much to my surprise. I’m plucking up courage to buy my Kris Kringle nominee an Oxfam gift sometime – pigs and goats and piles of manure – to give a child or a family somewhere in the world a chance of a better life. But every year, I say ‘Not yet, I’m not ready yet’.

      New Year doesn’t bother me a whole lot any more, either, but I do understand something of the dread you feel. Best not to have too many expectations, as you say. Easier to manage life on a case-by-case situation!

  6. Loved the photos and the blog Maureen – looked like the ‘perfect’ Christmas with its highs and lows. For sure, Christmas might not be a ‘religious’ festival – but any family gathering is a festival – a celebration, a time for remembering … life!!

    1. Yes, it was a lovely, lovely day, Elizabeth. We missed those who were elsewhere, of course. But we also enjoyed each other’s company, the beautiful place, the weather. Oh, and the shared food, too. It was pure celebration which incorporated the lows as well as the highs.

  7. Oh Maureen what a wonderful day! Loved the tables set so beautifully-Christmas lunch HAS to be sit down!

    1. Yes, it was all wonderful, Elizabeth. Peter and Janet, Alexander, Louisa and Amelia got the tables set before I got there. Thank you for your comment.

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