Christmas food special: Stuffing Christmas

No matter how efficient and organised you are, tradition dictates that Christmas dinner can be a disaster of Santa Clausian proportions, says Terry Durack
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WELL, HO, HO, bloody ho. Forgive me if I don't suddenly swell with goodwill to all mankind, and start draping tinsel all over the place. Instead, I am in the process of re-evaluating current, accepted celebration processes with a view to restructuring the behavioural patterns of the major Yuletime feasting occasion.

The very concept of Christmas dinner will turn a perfectly sane individual into a born-again Bob Cratchit, arriving home in his mind's eye, with a plump bird under his arms, for his adoring family. A bowl of punch and a filled clay pipe lie waiting for him on the sideboard, naturally, and a great deal of steam is issuing forth from the kitchen.

As if. Tradition also dictates that Christmas dinner can be a disaster of Santa Clausian proportions. This is the one day of the year when all you want to do is hang around, have a drink and open presents every 10 minutes. Instead, you have to battle with the logistics of squeezing a giant-sized turkey into an economy-sized oven, making a small leg of ham feed the assorted multitudes, and flame the plum pudding without losing your eyebrows.

It doesn't matter how efficient and brilliantly organised you are, you're doomed. You'll inevitably be left with one marriage breakdown, four siblings who won't talk to each other again until Easter, and the kids a bit tiddly on brandy sauce.

After 2,000 years of such shenanigans, it must be time to find a more humane and civilised alternative.

My solution is to celebrate Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. After all, it's a lovely time for the family to get together. The shops will still be open for those last minute missing ingredients (there are always last minute missing ingredients). The kids will love it, once they get over the shock of not being told that they have to wait until tomorrow before they can open their presents. Then the next day, half the family is free to go and visit the other half of the family (I am assuming that everyone is divorced).

If Christmas dinner proves to be an immovable feast, then some lateral thinking is required. Move dinner to breakfast. Serve some really good scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, washed down with a little egg nog, and copious quantities of champagne. With any luck, everyone will pass out by noon, totally obviating the need to decorate any ham, stuff any turkey or prepare any brandy sauce.

Alternatively, try having Christmas dinner without the actual dinner. You know how everybody tucks into so many stuffed olives, salted nuts, muscatels and chocolate mints that they hardly have room for Christmas dinner anyway? Just double the nibbles, and forget the dinner.

If all else fails, then you can always leave the country. It is extremely difficult to initiate or maintain any family feuds when the family is 3,000km away.

I once spent Christmas in Hong Kong in a valiant attempt to get away from it all, but I couldn't help myself. On Christmas Day, I found myself at the venerable Spring Moon restaurant in Tsimshatsui, putting together a traditional Christmas dinner. Instead of Christmas turkey, it was crisp- skinned Peking duck. Instead of Christmas pudding, it was a rich and gooey eight-treasure pudding. Instead of mince tarts it was flaky, sweet egg custard tarts. Apart from that, it was totally traditional.

I can also recommend flying to Australia for Christmas dinner. You know the sort of thing - so hot you can fry an egg on your sunglasses; a quick surf before lunch; a feast of cracked crab, lobster salad and prawns with your toes in the sand. In my experience, however, a far more likely scenario is that some nice Australian family will invite you home for a sweltering indoor feast of stuffed turkey and pudding with all the trimmings, right down to the brussels sprouts. I'm sure they had Christmas dinner in mind in the recent referendum on the republic. Nobody wanted to swap their brussels sprouts for a few Sydney rock oysters and a whole Tasmanian salmon with wasabi mayonnaise.

This has all been very amusing, but I know you're not listening. You're going to carry on with your Bob Cratchit impersonation and put up with the tragedies, the disasters, the turkey and the family. As I am, too.

All I can say is Merry Christmas and God help us, Every One.