CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS…

I can’t recall a single ‘holiday season’ in the last 25 years that I haven’t had to work through the Christmas/New Year period. In fact, I’ve found myself working most Christmas days in recent years. With Christmas Day being just another day in the office for me, I’ve probably lost a little ‘Christmas spirit’ in the last six or so years.

I found there’s an indescribable isolation that you get from being on the clock on the 25th.  The roads are next to deserted (those trekking to the Surf Coast or other popular holiday destinations notwithstanding, of course) and there’s an eerie quiet around the city. It definitely doesn’t feel right.

So this year, I’ve thrown financial caution to the wind, put the foot down and will be taking some time off during the Christmas and New Year break. Knowing I don’t have to be in work-mode during the break, I’ve found myself recalling some of the ‘traditions’ I used to enjoy that have fallen by the wayside with – to paraphrase P.J O’Rourke – age, guile and some good and not-so-good haircuts.

One of my favourite Christmas memories was Ivan Hutchinson’s Christmas Movie Guide. Ol’ Ivan was the doyen of movie reviewers in our eyes, and anyone presently between the age of 50 and 35 would remember days playing hookey from school and watching Ivan introduce the midday movie on Channel seven. Each year, Ivan would host a one hour special featuring trailers of movies set for release that summer, like Class, The Last Starfighter, The Woman in Red (remember Kelly LeBrock everyone?) and a host of other ‘blockbusters’ that would hit the screens in time for the summer holidays.

Speaking of school holidays, with the school year usually winding up a week or so before Christmas, from around the age of 12 or so, my friends and I were all allowed to go in to the city from suburban western Melbourne by train without someone’s parents or older brother/sister chaperoning us under the guise of ‘christmas shopping’. Hell yes, good times!

Our trains in from Werribee in those days were V/Line trains (later the electric trains from around 1983 or so) and after arriving at Spencer St Station, we’d ride the trams up Bourke Street and head straight to the Bourke St Mall.

We’d spend hours at Myer in the sporting goods and then the toy departments – predominantly looking at modelling kits, Star Wars figurines, cricket gear and pretty much everything in-between with the exception of Barbie dolls and so on. This would be followed by a movie (on Ivan Hutchinson’s recommendation, of course) at cinemas that don’t exist anymore, like Hoyts Cinema Centre or their Mid-City cinemas. There was the Capitol (which is now part of RMIT’s Lecture Theatres and gets good use during the Melbourne Comedy Festival), the Greater Union in Russell Street and even the Forum when it was predominantly a movie theatre.

Whatever movie we saw was always followed by a feed at a McDonald’s (Werribee didn’t get a Macca’s until 1987, so this was a big deal for us, ok?) and then back home, knackered as the excitement of the day wore off.

My favourite tradition though, was always Christmas eve.  Until you were seriously expected to buy people presents or contribute with helping set up the house for an army of guests the next day, Christmas eve had an excitement all of its own. My sister and I were largely left alone, except for one unbreakable commitment: 7pm mass.

Mass invariably fell smack-bang in the middle of our street cricket ‘tournaments’. Starting around 4.30 or so in the afternoon, most of the kids (and a few drunk Dads and uncles) in our street would get the Degenhardt’s rubbish bin as the stumps, a milk-crate from our house as the bowler’s wicket, some lengths of wood from the Gamble’s house to block the drains, my trusty Buffalo cricket bat and Slazenger tennis balls and a series of cricket games – the likes of which remains unprecedented in street cricket history – would begin.

I, always seemingly on the cusp of taking a valuable scalp with the ball, or set to notch up a match-winning ton, would invariably have to pull the pin at around 6.30 to go to mass. This created a spiritual schism that is yet to heal – so much so that on Census night, I describe myself as a ‘recovering Catholic’.

Anyway, an hour or so later (depending on whether Father Dom went for a painfully long homily or a speedy discourse on the Nativity so he could nick back to the presbytery to watch Carols by Candelight), I’d arrive home from mass and slot straight back into the game. This remains about the only saving grace that I can muster up for daylight savings.

The games would go on, and on into the night. Well into dark and well into the period where boosting one’s street cricket average took a backseat to ensuring you didn’t get hit in the nuts while facing a Jamie Degenhardt thunderbolt.

I can’t speak for the other kids in our street, but I know for me, these Christmas eve street cricket extravaganza’s were meant to get me so exhausted that I would take little rocking to fall asleep once I got into bed.

But such was the excitement of the night, and the expectation of the following day that no matter whether you took a career best bowling haul, or smashed an unbeaten ton before everyone gave up and went home, an early night was about as likely Jamie Degenhardt not aiming for your nuts with one of his patented thunderbolts once the streetlights took over.

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