Our eldest comes into the kitchen, stands close beneath my chin and asks me if she can have some flour.
‘We’re not cooking now!’ I reply in my shout-speak. It’s a variation of my usual mum dialect, one I’ve developed on our recent interstate relocation in soaring summer temperatures. I like to think the new environment and pressures have made this elevated frustrated inflection in my tone and general demeanour inevitable.
‘I’m not cooking,’ she states, offended and a little amused I didn’t immediately understand her intent. ‘I need it for snow.’
The flame of my righteous anger deflates a little under the softening of her tank of kid-wonder. ‘Well, I concede, ‘if there’s going to be a blizzard at least take it outside.’
I hand her a cup of castor sugar and she cradles it out to our new Queenslander verandah, to be unceremonially dispersed amongst the rich green foliage, against the backdrop of a piercing blue sky and beating sun.
* * *
Our two year old is unravelled by the move. It’s beyond his blond curly head and mischievious smile to take in all this change. How does a toddler process moving from the only home he’s ever known. He asks a lot of questions. But one of them surprises. He sidles up alongside my husband, takes his hand, and asks Dr M in his smokey voice, ‘Where is Christmas, daddy?
I’ve always loved the idea of a white Christmas. Round here the only white to be found is the soundscape as fans whir, in constant combat with the elements. We moved from Sydney to Brisbane, Queensland just a week ago, just in time for an east coast heatwave. White Christmas is the stuff of fantasies, or incessant instagram scrolls, strolling through the candlelit avenues of other people’s lives, half a world away. Clearly, this is not our present reality, but why then, do I feel like I’m somehow missing out. That somewhere, out there, is a basket of Christmas cookies waiting to find their home and hearth, and it isn’t going to be mine.
I love the idea of calendarised advent celebrations. I even tried to start a tradition this year with our family, a circle of quiet and calm amongst a flurry of boxes and chaos. We lasted less than one day. Our spirits were clearly too frazzled for christmas craft and contemplation.
It makes me wonder, is a Southern hemisphere ‘christmas’ even possible?
How much of the season lies in the season? Or the location? What does it take to do ‘Christmas’ credit?
Or is it just me?
I feel the lack of stability this year. We hastily buy a tree at the local mall, one that looks good in the window and is drastically reduced at the last minute, a clearance tree rushing out the door before it becomes obsolete. We decorate it for $7 with half price ornaments from the craft shop. It looks sparse but good. I feel a moment of Christmas glow as I admire it in its carefully chosen position in the corner of our living room, near the window. Two minutes later our phenomenally strong two year old barges it over like an opponent in a rugby match, dislodging it’s top from its bottom. I take a deep breath before I start to rebuild it.
Our old friends, Hew and Renee, Brisbanites for five years now, arrive with our truck on a Saturday to help us unpack boxes. They throw themselves in with gusto. ‘I know you’ll collapse when we leave,’ Renee tells me. ‘I want to make sure we’ve got you settled in by then.’
Another couple, Kylie and Andrew, who we know ever so briefly, through Mike’s work, arrive to help too. Kylie settles our kitchen in, while Andrew builds our outdoor table. I forget his name for a minute, this stranger-helper who lends us his hands.
I feel it again, the instability beneath our feet, everything shifting. But I feel something else too. My hands outstretched to take it. To receive the giving.
And of course, it dawns on me. I’ve had it all wrong. I’ve been trying to arrive at advent, to somehow usher in the Christmas season to our family midst, as if I’m some sort of maternal season-director, I’ve tried to shape it, and manipulate it with my own movements.
When it’s the opposite. Advent season isn’t about achievement, it’s about reception. About Emmanuel, with us, in our midst. No matter where we are. In fact, nativity isn’t a rooted ideal of the middle classes at all, but a visitation, from outside of us, from on high.
‘The Nativity’ is not a showpiece for the settled, to be adorned and placed as a centrepiece, owned only by those with the capacity to physically house it. Nativity is for the homeless, for the roaming, anxious, unsettled heart. Nativity is not locale dependent, but mobile. A borrowed stable beginning did not deter the greatest act of homecoming to ever take place. Nativity is a calling, to come out of our shelters and into our true home.
The Christmas story is about giving and about reception, no matter where on God’s earth you stand.