This Christmas, Ruby Assembly’s festive gift to you is a special series of interviews with a few of the lively, kind and creative people who contribute to the Melbourne we love. Too often at this time of year, we get caught up in the Pinterest-y, Australian Women’s Weekly version of the Christian holiday that’s all about Georgie Parker in a ballgown hanging mistletoe while perched on a ladder, impossible to make, highly styled mince pies and weird themed snacks for children that take hours to create (and I’ll wager, no-one makes).
Christmas isn’t the same for everyone. Some people love it and go all out, putting Rudolph ears on their utes and blasting Mariah Carey. Others feel terrible social pressure and anxiety around parties, alcohol or having the buy presents they can’t afford. Some will share this Christmas with their beautiful new babies held like spun gold in their arms. Others will wake up alone in bed on Christmas morning for the first time without the warmth of their partners’ presence.
It’s a special time, and a rare moment when we collectively sense the passing of time through our hands. I hope this insightful series of Christmas interviews with individuals who celebrate the season in very different ways helps to refocus you on the beautiful, everyday banality of the blessed rhythm of Christmas.
We begin our series with talented photographer and member of the extended Ruby Assembly family, Breeana Dunbar, in the beautiful apartment she shares with her partner Dave and her baby boy Ari.
I: Tell me about Christmas Day when you were little.
B: It was a typical kind of Christmas Day. My family are not religious, so we never did church. But we decorated the tree, and that’s always a good memory. Christmas Day meant waking up early to see if Santa had come.
I: Did you believe in Santa?
B: Yes, I did. Totally. Probably until about Grade 4. I really, really believed. I remember one Christmas when I’d stayed at my Aunt’s house, we were going to sleep and something made a noise. Maybe it was a clock? My Dad was all ‘Oh my God it’s Santa – you have to go to sleep now or you won’t get any presents!’. I reckon I fell asleep in five seconds because I believed in Santa so much.
I: Does your family have any annual traditions you’re fond of that happen at Christmas, yet aren’t necessarily Christmassy?
B: Not really. My family aren’t big on tradition. The only one I recall is that we could open one gift on Christmas Eve. We picked up the gifts: touched them, shook them, and then made our selection.
I: Now that you’re a parent, have you changed the way you celebrate Christmas?
B: It hasn’t changed yet. Me and my partner aren’t into Christmas decorations or that kind of thing: we’re not even that into presents. We might get each other a present, but we’re not that crazy for it. Ari is still only two, so at the moment he doesn’t really understand what Christmas is and we’ve not had to change the way we approach the celebration. I imagine that will change.
I: Will that change occur when he is exposed to other children and the way they celebrate Christmas?
B: I guess so. When he starts to understand what Christmas is and he wants a tree, or wants more presents or whatever. Then we’ll probably change the way we do things, but we still won’t be an over the top Christmassy family because that isn’t true to us.
I: Will you engage in the Father Christmas story?
B: We’ve discussed this at length, and we haven’t been able to come to an agreement. If we had our way then no, we wouldn’t. I dunno – it’s hard. I mean, Father Christmas was a big part of the magic of Christmas for me as a kid. Who am I to deny Ari that? But, I guess the other thing is that every other family tell their kid that Father Christmas exists. If we tell Ari that is just a story, he could go on to ruin other kids’ Christmases.
I: Maybe you don’t have to be explicit about Father Christmas? I don’t recall anything much about my parents confirming or denying the ‘realness’ of Father Christmas either way, at any stage. I don’t think I believed in Father Christmas in a true sense, but I did believe in a whole variety of magical and fantastic things that he fit naturally into the world of. Fairies and goblins and ghosts.
B: Yeah. I think that’s part of what we’ll do. We might be like ‘Some people believe presents are brought by Father Christmas. We’re not sure if he’s real, but this is what a lot of people believe.’ We have to work it out soon though, because the questions are going to come!
I: In Australia, Christmas is usually associated with the long summer holidays. How important is this time of year for you, and what does it mean?
B: I always look forward to it as a really special time of year. When I lived in Europe I found I missed Australia’s summer holiday season and the ‘bigness’ of the holiday. I love that we have an occasion that is all about family, and then take time to have break and enjoy great weather.
I: Where will you be this Christmas morning?
B: At home. We’ll have time to have a fancy breakfast as my partner loves to cook, and then we’ll have Christmas Day with my family. We usually don’t eat lunch ’til 4 pm in the afternoon which can be frustrating. A couple of years ago, Dave’s (Breeana’s partner) parents decided they wouldn’t actually do Christmas Day. With everyone taking turns at sharing Christmas with their inlaws, they never got to have everyone at the same time – and they wanted everyone together at once. Now we do Boxing Day at their home, which is a relief because we don’t ever have to choose.
I: I applaud Dave’s family! At this time of year, the formerly magical Christmas spirit we enjoyed as children can feel more like terrible adult compromise. Being grown up can mean obligations to others and managing family expectations and disappointments about where you’ll be. Do you have any Christmas compromises?
B: We don’t really have any because of Dave’s parents decision to make Christmas Day on Boxing Day. Before we got together, we used to try and do both sets of parents on the same day which meant we were driving huge distances. Now it’s much better: we pick one family’s Christmas each year, and do that.
The only thing that creates tension is the fact that Dave and I don’t buy presents at Christmas – not for our nieces and nephews or siblings. We might buy presents for our parents and we do a KK, but we’re not huge gift-givers. It’s not because we’re mean or something. When it comes to nieces and nephews, I honestly believe that kids get ridiculous amounts of presents and they don’t need more stuff from us. I have lots of friends who buy gifts for their whole family, and the result is that the whole month of December is totally crazy and super expensive for them. If you want to do that – okay – but we don’t. We don’t necessarily have the money to do that, either. So this does create a bit of tension in our family.
I: Do your family give you gifts?
B: We do the KK, so we give and receive gifts then. My parents give me gifts, but everyone else has stopped now because we don’t reciprocate. Which is great because we don’t want gifts and we don’t want extra gifts to take home for Ari: he gets enough from his Grandparents and us. Occasionally they will buy Ari presents and we don’t have something for their child. It’s uncomfortable, it’s like ‘Please don’t, you don’t need to spend money on him.’
I: That’s really ‘white knuckling’ through the social discomfort, but you’ve achieved what you wanted to – not feeling a sense of reciprocal pressure to gift?
B:We know that nobody likes it. Everybody thinks that we’re Grinches.
I: Christmas gifting gets expensive! I’d like to do KK for extended family and just buy for my husband and parents. Because once you’re an adult, there’s really nothing you truly need.
I: Is there one Christmas song that makes you think about the season?
B: I love the cheesy ones like Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’. Also John Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas – War Is Over’. That always gets me.
I: See!? You’re not a Grinch!
B: *laughs* Absolutely I’m not. I really love Christmas, I just hate all the commercial crap that’s around it. It’s not about spending lots of money or putting tinsel up, it’s about time with family. This year we’ll be at my Mum’s place: they actually live in Christmas Hills.
*hoots of laughter from Iolanthe and Breeana*
I: Now I think we’ve found the crux of the problem here! You’ve been over-Christmas-ed by Christmas Hills! How funny!
Merry Christmas Bree, Dave and Ari.