"Hey, look--an invitation to a Christmas Eve party," said Blair, showing Jim the decorative card.
"We're working, remember? Simmons had an emergency appendectomy--"
"And Joel's wife said if he volunteered to fill in for Simmons while her family was in town visiting, she would shoot him. Yeah, yeah, I remember. But this is for the 23rd."
"Then it's not a Christmas Eve party."
"It is in Melbourne. Megan wants the party on Christmas Eve in her home time zone."
Jim rolled his eyes. "And we're going…why?"
"Because she's also working with us on Christmas Eve and we'll never hear the end of it. Besides, she always has great food and booze."
"Good enough for me, babe. Mark our calendar."
"So how is Christmas different in Australia from here?" Blair asked Megan.
"Some of it's the same. Some people decorate with wreaths or garlands or mistletoe," Megan answered, pointing to the familiar sprig hanging in the living room archway. "Others use summer flowers and plants, like that Christmas bellflower," Megan continued, indicating a potted plant. "People roast turkeys or hams, but more often they do it the day before and serve the meats cold--perhaps even packing them up in a picnic basket and spending the day at the beach. Of course, because it's summer, barbecuing is popular, with shrimp or fish or steak, like we're having."
She looked out the back window. Rafe, Simon and his date Alice, were drinking wine around the fire pit. Jim and Henri were manning the grill and Henri's wife, Suzanne, was laughing at something Jim was saying. Satisfied with their progress, she continued. "Desserts are huge, as you can see." She waved her hand at the buffet table, which was half-covered with sweets. Cookies, mince pies, cakes, chocolates, even a steamed pudding adorned the table.
"What are those white things?" Blair asked.
"Pavlovas. They're baked meringues served with fruit on top." Megan pulled out a green salad and assorted sauces from the refrigerator and put them on the table. She looked at her watch, then called out the back door. "Are you blokes done? We're on a time table here." Jim waved her off, but H gave her a thumbs-up. "Sandy, could you go around and see if anyone needs their drinks filled, then get them to come inside?"
The platters of grilled food were laid on the table. Megan cleared her throat for attention. "Before we tuck in, we've got to perform the most important tradition in Australia--singing Christmas carols." To various groans, she continued. "Don't worry, we'll only do the one. It's called the Twelve Days of Christmas. I've printed out the lyrics and each of you will do one of the days."
As they looked over the unfamiliar lyrics, there were various mutterings. "What the hell is a pink galah?" Simon asked.
Megan meanwhile was placing a phone call. "Mum? Are you all there?" The she turned to her guests. "My parents and two brothers will take the first four parts, then I'll point to each of you. Don't worry about being in tune, just sing out." With that, she put the phone on speaker and, after mutual greetings, Mrs. Connor sang in a strong soprano, "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, an emu in a gum tree…"
Not surprisingly, by the time they were finished, everyone was laughing. After bidding the Connors farewell and good wishes, with Megan shedding a few tears, they spent the rest of the day eating, drinking and taking turns under the mistletoe.