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Why, at Christmastime, are decisions so difficult to come by? People who, during the work year, effortlessly make big decisions turn into dithering, shoulder-shrugging, don’t-ask-me evaders.
“What do you want for Christmas?” “Oh, anything,” comes the annoying answer. “What shall we eat on the day?” “Oh, I eat everything.” “Which Christmas movie shall we watch on Christmas Eve?” “Oh, you choose.”
In some families, much of Christmas Eve is now spent trawling through festive movies on the various streaming platforms as people chant “You pick one”, “No, you should pick one”, right up until a choice is made around 10pm, when some brave person finally presses play, at which point the whinging begins. “Oh, this is terrible. Who chose this? I just knew it would be terrible.”
There’s no end to Noel stress for those deemed the decision-maker-in-chief.Credit: iStock
On Christmas Day itself, of course, the big decision is: “Hot food or cold?”
On one side are the traditionalists. Their argument: Christmas is all about traditions, so get used to it. If the cook isn’t about to expire having endured three hours in 45-degree heat, their faces red and their clothes soaked with sweat, it’s not really Christmas.
On the other: Christmas in Australia is all about chilled seafood, which is proof we are no longer under the British heel, but are a wonderful free people living life to the fullest under the beautiful Southern Cross. And if somebody hasn’t endured a four-hour queue to enter the Sydney Fish Market, their patience frayed and their wallet eventually emptied, they really should leave the country.
It’s a big decision, and whenever these big decisions are up for debate, the festive fugitives go missing. Among the questions they are unwilling to answer:
– Food: hot or cold?
– Tree: real or fake?
– Presents: on arrival or after lunch?
– Wrapping paper: save and fold or scrunch up for the bin?
– Music: Nat King Cole or Colin Buchanan?
– After lunch: backyard cricket or a heated three-hour argument about Peter Dutton?
Then, to all of those questions, there’s the answer: “Oh, you decide. I’m easy.”
Worse, these questions are preceded by an even bigger decision: the one about which relatives to visit and in which order? Who gets to host the main event on Christmas Day, and who has to settle for a Boxing Day brunch? Is Christmas Day dinner even a thing, or is that the definition of the shortest straw? And what happened last year? Should we be taking turns, or does last year represent a template which should henceforth be followed?
Throw in a few divorces, a child working interstate and a couple of insistent grandparents, and you’ll need a logistics expert from the Australian army just to work out the transportation arrangements.
According to Jocasta, it’s this sort of confusion that forced her to become our family’s decision-maker-in-chief. Which means she ends up feeling responsible for anything that goes wrong.
And Christmas, of course, is all about things going wrong. “Who decided to have turkey? It’s always so dry!” “Who gave Uncle Jim the job of bringing the prawns? He always forgets!” “Why did we invest in a huge Christmas tree when some child always pulls it over?”
The decision-maker-in-chief carries the burden.
Right now, Jocasta is on the couch groaning. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown”, she says, before patting her stomach. “Heavy, also, the stomach.”
In this case, the decision in question was picking a Sydney restaurant – somewhere we could share a festive meal with our friends from Brisbane on their annual jaunt south of the border. After much dithering from me, Jocasta booked a nearby Vietnamese place. It was fabulous when we last ate there. That was in 1987. It turns out that it is fabulous no longer.
Halfway through the meal, the table is still laden with plates of inedible food, our visitors faking a cheerful look as they tried to avoid eating anything.
“I ate too much of that terrible food,” Jocasta confides from the couch. “I felt responsible. I think I was trying to hide the evidence.”
She groans a few more times, and flashes me a look that makes it clear she regards me as responsible. She then announces she’s decided to relinquish her post as decision-maker-in-chief. It is now, she says, up to me to make all the festive decisions.
And so I’ve been ticking them off, not knowing how they will play on the day. I decide on a fake tree, but small enough that it can’t do any damage when knocked over by a passing grandchild. There’ll be cold food, but with the prawns purchased frozen from Colesworth, well ahead of time (apparently, they are just as good). And, after lunch, it will be backyard cricket, with the added rule that you lose points if the dog – in this case, Clancy – is the first in the team of fielders to grab the ball.
And I’m banning Love Actually as the Christmas movie in favour of some old Christmas episodes of Frasier.
Oh, and one last decision: I’ll buy cheap sparkling wine for Christmas lunch with the intention of drinking too much of it. After all, I now have an excuse: “I felt the need to hide the evidence.”
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