Christmas begins in Poland on December 24th, when the first star appears in the sky. We take care of the twins for an hour or two before that, so R can tidy up yet again, put the finishing touches to food, and protect the white tablecloth with the Christmas runner. The silver has already been polished, using that miracle cleaner vinegar, although the four small hands intended to make light work of it complained about it hurting their cuts. We battle them into their clothes at 4 o’clock, and bumpety-bump the bikes down the stairs. Outside it is darkening and there are very satisfying puddles to speed through, feet held high.
At their home the Christmas lights are flashing and soon the rest of the family arrive from Pruszków. The celebration begins with the breaking of the wafer: we move around to everybody, taking a small piece of their wafer as they take a piece of ours, and then exchanging hugs.
And then the feasting: a rich mushroom soup with noodles, herrings, gravlax, baked vegetables, pierogi made from mushrooms harvested at Grójec Wielki during our summer holiday, and in the white tureen with a gold ladle the blood red borscht, made with beetroot fermented for a couple of days. There is also an invader – a couple of plates of sushi relished especially by the cousins. I am intrigued by a little green pile surrounded by fringed green paper and find my mouth burning with an overdose of wasabi.
Then it’s time to open presents. Miraculously all adults stick to the no-gifts-for-grownups protocol, but that rule doesn’t apply to children. Paper is torn off parcels without restraint: a fully stocked pencil case; a set of bright plastic skittles; a truck full of cars; a puzzle; a pile of books.
After that the dessert, Thai semolina with mango and coconut cream, and of course cake. By 7 the feasting is over, the children over-excited and we head back home laden with leftovers.
In Australia the celebrations are very different. My Stanthorpe daughter goes to work with her partner as he checks the irrigation system at the vegetable farm. They ride around the property on a quad bike, exploring all its beautiful corners, spotting a platypus in one of the dams, and then return home for a lazy barbecue, and a visit from a friend bearing praline and fudge.
At Potato Point my two sons, my daughter-in-law and my most beloved senior grandson begin with a Christmas Eve prawning adventure, netting three kilos in a lake crowded with torch bearing hunters while their ankles are nibbled by crabs. Their feast includes prawns, abalone, ham, a Mediterranean salad assembled by the queen of salads and toast and vegemite. My Mt Tamborine son is a bit dismal: his first Christmas ever without a surf after puncturing his foot with a lantana spike clearing his block in northern NSW.