December 22nd and the final lot of (not gluten free) shortbread is baked and ready to be packed as gifts for family. It is a tradition which began in 1982 more by accident than design.
In 1982 I took a year off and travelled to Europe for eight months, scratching an itch that has never gone away. I spent almost three months in the mainland UK over two periods, two weeks in Ireland and the rest of the time in again two stretches in Europe. Suffice to say that is where the love affair with Europe began and was cemented for me.
Because I knew I was going to be away for such an extended period I made sure of three things. One – I would write to mum and dad every week – actually I don’t think Mum would have let me go if I hadn’t promised her would. Two I would write down the photos I took so I knew where I had been and what I had taken – I still do – it really helps! And three – any souvenirs I bought would have to be light, preferably indestructible and able to be posted home, and I would get one decent thing from each country, not lots of things of little value. Those decisions stood me in fairly good stead (with the exception of the delicate glass Irish harp that was smashed into smithereens courtesy of the mail).
My souvenir from Scotland was a wooden shortbread mould with a Scotch thistle pattern. It came with a recipe for shortbread and when I returned to Australia and went through the parcels that had been sent home ahead of me, I found it and decided to try out the mould and the recipe for Christmas that year. It took a couple of attempts before I abandoned the Scottish version and found the Australian Women’s Weekly recipe which is by far better and much easier to work. I have been making the shortbread ever since. In some households now Christmas is not Christmas without it.
Over the years I have added to the mould with biscuit shapes – angels, Christmas trees, stars, snowmen, doves, Christmas canes and stockings, and then my travels added a couple of other shapes. In Alaska I found a tiny and a large moose or reindeer biscuit cutter and while the slender legs are a bit of a challenge, they have added to the Christmas experience a little piece of Canada and Alaska.
Travel enriches us so much. What we take away from it is not just experience and memory, photos and people who become friends; we also collect things that become family traditions. It was because of the people I met overseas and stayed with, and also because I was away for eight months that the same year I began my annual Christmas letter so everyone would know what I had been up to.
Whatever your Christmas tradition, in cold northern climes, or in a blazing Australian summer, have a wonderful Christmas and I will be back next year with an A to Z of destinations.