Television advertisements portray Christmas as a magical time of year. A time when good-looking families come together to consume prawns and sip champagne, and children never cry because Santa ‘‘forgot’’ to bring them a bicycle. In reality, it is often a time of tears, fights over politics and the airing of old grievances. We asked four Melbourne comedians to share their tales of festive woe
JOY TO THE WORLD
Anne Edmonds’ worst Christmas happened when she was eight. That was the year she learnt that creative cat fur styling and chocolate make a terrible combination.
‘‘My sister had turned 10 and decided she didn’t want to play with me any more,” recalls the comedian. “I was locked out of the room when her friends came around, told to stop lying silently under her bed at night and asked nicely not to smash her signed photo of Tim Watson and sob into the broken shards of glass.’’
To help her through this traumatic time, Edmonds became fixated on the family cat, Bonnie, who was promoted to her new best friend. ‘‘I dragged her around everywhere and whispered in her ear, ‘Don’t ever leave me’.’’
On that fateful Christmas morning of 1986, at the height of her ‘‘juvenile loneliness’’, Edmonds decided to give Bonnie a bowl haircut. She went to the kitchen where she found a miniature bowl, took Bonnie into her room and starting snipping. ‘‘Bonnie’s hair was long enough to create an excellent bowl shape. It was stylish, cutting edge and a first for cats everywhere,’’ she says.
‘‘Christmas was being held at our house that year and 30 family members were coming over. About noon, I released Bonnie into the house sporting her new look.
I heard a shriek from my mother, ‘My God, the cat! Who did that to the cat? Anne!’.’’
Edmonds decided to hide.
‘‘The dining table was already set for lunch with a beautifully ironed white tablecloth reaching all the way to the floor. I bolted underneath, grabbing a packet of after-dinner mints as I went.
‘‘Just as our first guests arrived at our pristine house, I crawled out from under the table. I looked up apologetically at everyone, said, ‘Mum, I feel a bit…’ and threw up on the carpet and down the side of the tablecloth.
‘‘Sent to your bedroom while the Christmas presents are being handed out: worst Christmas ever.’’
– Alana Schetzer
OH, HOLY NIGHT
Lisa-Skye Goodes learnt the hard way that there’s one sure-fire way to ruin a beloved Christmas tradition — too much of a good thing.
Goodes’ childhood Christmases were a thing of joy: – presents, happiness and ham abounded, she says.
And even after she moved out of the family home at the age of 20, her mother was determined to keep the spirit alive.
‘‘This one year I was meant to sleep over on Christmas Eve so my family could eke out every last drop of Christmas morning happiness.
‘‘Before heading to my folks’ place, I stopped off at a friend’s Christmas party. Like anyone, I’m a sucker for egg-based alcohol, so I enjoyed a few cups of eggnog.’’
Arriving at the family home, Goodes managed to ‘‘stroll to the bathroom and share the eggnog with the walls’’.
The sound woke her mother, who had only an hour earlier settled her husband to bed after his own over-indulgence.
‘‘I apologised to my mother, which came out as a slurred ‘mummm-make-me-a-jaffle-please-oh-god-get-me-to-bed-quick’.’’
Soon afterwards, Goodes’ brother staggered in after a night out in a pub. He made a beeline for the newly cleaned bathroom, and well...
‘‘The cleaning fumes obviously dazed him, causing him to throw up his Jim Beam-and-Coke-scented stomach lining.
‘‘By the time my mother finished cleaning up – again – and went to bed, it was 3.30am. She woke up at 5am and started cooking the turkey. The rest of us wolfed it down in muted holiday joy.’’
– Alana Schetzer
Justin Hamilton hasn’t had a bad Christmas for more than three decades – he has his mum to thank for that.
“Every year mum and I get together and we close the blinds, we lock the doors and we watch movies and eat food and don’t pick up the phone. And it is awesome,” Hamilton says.
So it’s a kind of festive lockdown? “No, it’s just a lockdown,” says the comedian.
The Hamilton family tradition traces its origins to a particularly painful Christmas lunch with the extended family. There was a bickering uncle and aunt, a drunk relative and a cousin Hamilton makes clear did not beat him up but did “smack me around a little bit”.
Hamilton was about eight at the time and his mother – a single parent – was hosting the festive lunch. “My mum, who was 27, just turned around [to the relatives] and said; ‘Guess what? You are never spending Christmas with us again. You’ve ruined it; you can all go elsewhere’,” he recalls.
“The first year the relatives were all kind of incredulous and the second year they thought everything was just going to get back on track.” But it didn’t. “And it’s glorious, it is glorious,” Hamilton says of their unconventional Christmas tradition.
There is no traditional food consumed, no cloying movies watched year after year and no unwanted guests. “The only tradition is the tradition of not letting anyone else come through the door,” he says.
“Every year, there is someone who says, ‘Yeah, I might pop in’. Well, we won’t answer the door. There is no invite; there is no extra space at the table.”
But nor, says Hamilton, is there any false Christmas cheer, and he spends the day with a loved one. “If you ask me, ‘Isn’t that sad?’, I would say ‘no’ because we are probably being truer to the sense of what Christmas should be than the people who all get together because they have to,” he says.
“It’s a really simple day of the year and it’s relaxing.”
– Chris Hingston
AWAY IN A MANGER
Simon Taylor’s atheism was born on Christmas Day. There was hay and even a donkey – but the comedian casts his tale in a different light.
Raised Catholic, Taylor says he started picking apart his faith in his early teens. “Easter would be a big deal for me. My parents were very Catholic. I just remember crying at Easter, ‘Oh, Jesus, you died for us’ and I got really upset,” Taylor says.
“Then I read Harry Potter, ‘Oh, Harry Potter, you died for us’, and I got really upset. It was the same story.”
At 16, his suspicions were confirmed while on a two-month scholarship to India. His private school had picked two of the most religious students for the trip, which included visits to schools, orphanages and remote villages.
“I was no good at sport, I wasn’t the best student in the class but I did do community service well – it was something I cared about,” he says. But a weekly tutoring gig at the Richmond commission flats and a placement at the Starlight Foundation had left Taylor underprepared for the slums of Kolkata.
Taylor spent time at Kolkata’s Home of the Dying, where people were brought off the streets to die. “Not to be too punny, but that was a nail in the crucifix of my religious faith. We just saw so much poverty and death.”
As Christmas approached, Taylor travelled further afield. “We were staying in mud houses, with no electricity and no creature comforts.” Turning down the rice beer at dinner on Christmas Eve might have been a mistake.
“I’m sleeping in a haystack in a mud house with other animals, so there’s goats, there’s chickens, there’s donkeys and there I am … and because I didn’t drink the rice beer – which is very acidic – I’ve now gotten sick from the food.
“So I’m clutching my stomach, I’m 16 years old so I’m a virgin, I’m on a stack of hay, I’ve got the smell of donkey poo and it’s Christmas Eve. And I’m thinking, ‘If people in the west knew this was the real spirit of Christmas, perhaps we wouldn’t celebrate it so much,” he says.
It was, he says, the final straw.
– Chris Hingston