Ladies do lunch
They’re six of our favourite TV presenters – colleagues and co-stars, and the best of friends off-screen too. Genevieve Gannon joins the ladies of Seven for an alfresco lunch to celebrate the season of food, fashion and friendship.
The white Christmas mythology is so powerful that, here in Australia, we decorate our trees with snowflakes, even while the full force of the summer sun beats down on us like the blow-torch Aunty Bev uses to scorch her Baked Alaska. The tradition of celebrating the day the wintery European way has been passed down for generations, so for many of us, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without heavy puddings drowning in brandy sauce and a hot roast turkey.
Of course, we have uniquely Australian Christmas traditions too: working off the lunch with a game of backyard cricket in the new boardies Santa brought, while the wicket-keeper fans herself with a Christmas card and the kids test out the new in atable pool toys. In deference to our European traditions, we still serve hot ham and turkey. But they come with a side of mango.
The women of Channel Seven are sharing some of their favourite Christmas traditions. For Sunday Night host Melissa Doyle, who each year looks forward to meticulously planning what she’ll serve on Christmas Day, the meal is about the classic hot dishes, as well as a whole selection of summery Australian delights. She declares she couldn’t have Christmas without glazed ham. Equally, her prawn and mango salad has become part of the Doyle family Christmas lore. “Prawns and mangos are just such Australian, summer symbols,” she says.
For many of us, after the double hot-and-cold meal is eaten, the family retires to the lounge room for a lm or two – often something seasonal like It’s A Wonderful Life. But in The Morning Show presenter Kylie Gillies’ household, everyone gathers around and watches old family movies.
“The kids love it,” she says. “It’s a time when we’re all together so usually it involves old family movies.”
Of course, for many families, Christmas is a time to remember loved ones, rather than celebrating with them. Since the death of her older sister, Tara, three years ago from lung cancer, Christmas has been different for sports journalist Mel McLaughlin. She and her mother start Christmas Day with a visit to the cemetery. The rst year following Tara’s death, she says, nobody could muster the energy to care about Christmas, but because Tara’s two children, then three and ve, were experiencing their rst Christmas without their mother, everyone worked extra hard to preserve the special day for them as much as possible.
“You put it on for them,” she says. “It’s good the kids are there … People get this idea that it has to be perfect, but really as long as everyone’s together, everyone’s happy. It’s perfect.”
Catch Samantha Armytage and Natalie Barr as they host Woolworths Carols in the Domain on Saturday December 22. Seven’s summer cricket coverage kicks off Saturday December 1 with the Women’s Big Bash League, all live and free on the Seven Network.
Newsreader Natalie Barr’s approach to Christmas lunch is stricter than most. “When we grew up it was all of us around the table in Bunbury having a hot lunch,” says Nat, who hails from a WA town where Christmas Day is regularly a 30-degreeplus affair. The hot meal was a rule enforced by her late father, who banished cold meat and salad from the table. “He said you can have cold meat and salad any day of the year.”
It’s a tradition she’s continued. “We’ll never have cold meat and salad for Christmas until the day I die because of him,” she insists. Her beloved father, Jim, died when she was pregnant with son Lachlan, now almost 17. “But the hot Christmas lunch is still following us around,” says Nat. “I insist on doing what Dad did; doing what was really important to Dad.”
For Sunrise host Samantha Armytage, Christmas starts the night before, when the family attends midnight mass. “It’s always about family,” she says. “And I like the anticipation Santa’s not far away.”
They return from church to lay a feast for midnight visitors (carrots for the reindeer, peanuts and beer for Santa), then it’s off to bed. Sam’s household greets the dawn with a glass of champagne. “That’s something I’ve introduced,” Sam says. It puts everyone in a nice relaxed mood before the day’s work begins. Christmas is a hot lunch in Wagga “surrounded by flies”.
“My sister loves turkey so we always have turkey and prawns,” Sam says. She finishes the day with a tradition that’s surely shared the world over: “A sleep in the afternoon.”
For Mel, it isn’t Christmas until she’s sourced a tall, bushy tree and decorated it with the sort of flair that would make Martha Stewart envious.
“No-one else is allowed to touch the Christmas tree. I like to get it and decorate it and I’m really judgmental,” she laughs. It’s a ritual rooted in her childhood. “I used to go with Dad when we were little to get a real tree,” she says. “As soon as I could drive I took control.” Her uncle, who passed away when she was 16, had previously been in charge of conjuring up a magical red and gold Christmas delight. “It’s probably from him I got this idea about how things are supposed to be,” she says. “I remember my nephew, he was two and he was looking up at it, and I said, ‘Eli you’re really beautiful but don’t touch that’.”
Despite her devotion to decorating, she says the most important thing is everybody is together.
Opposite page, top right: Samantha wears Witchery dress, $199.95; Dinosaur Designs earrings, $230, and bangles, from $55 (small), $85 (large). Mel wears Saba dress, $299; Dinosaur Designs bangle, $350, and Valere earrings, $130. Kylie wears Witchery dress, $199.95; Dinosaur Designs bangles, from $55, (small), to $85, (large), and Reliquia earrings, $149.