I predicted that Yulefest, a Christmas dinner in July in the Blue Mountains, would be cheesy. And with artificial trees, sequined Santa hats and red and green colored champagne, it lived up to my expectation. What came as a surprise was the fact that it truly felt like Christmas. Nearly everyone was dressed up and cameras flashed frequently as families took cheerful photos in front of the Christmas tree and festive fireplace.
We knew it was Christmas when the ladies at the next table got roaring drunk during the first course of the meal and had a little too much fun with the noisemakers in their Christmas crackers. Of course, we couldn't retort with our own noisemakers because there was a misunderstanding about our seating, another telling sign of Christmas.
Fortunately, no one needed to turn on the tears before the situation was rectified; our American sense of entitlement did the trick. The management added a table to the end of our own, completely blocking the path and thus violating the fire code, I'm sure. If there had actually been a fire, we would have made like Santa and escaped by twitching our noses. The management also gave us two complimentary bottles of wine and we were more than satisfied with that.
We settled in to our extra long table, poured ourselves some glasses of wine and finally cracked open our delightful Christmas party favors. These Christmas crackers are one of the best parts of celebrating the holiday in the UK or Australia. They're meant to crack when you pull them apart, but not all of ours did. I'm guessing the Mountain Heritage Inn didn't spring for the most expensive crackers. Anyway, each comes with a colorful paper crown and some other trinket or noisemaker.
The crowns are good fun because they level the playing field in a way; whether you're young or old, painfully sober or off your face drunk, the crown makes you look silly. And once people all look ridiculous and feel ridiculous, then they can loosen up and have fun. Isn't it amazing how a simple hat can work the same magic as alcohol? Outside of a southern US cattle ranching context, wearing a cowboy hat, for instance, indicates that one is ready to party.
The food wasn't great; it's what you'd expect from a mid-range hotel kitchen serving 200 almost identical five course Christmas dinners. The creamy pavlova was sandwiched between two deceptive white disks of meringue. They look like two fluffy what sugar pillows, but they're actually too hard and cloying. Likewise, the Christmas pudding was tainted by alcohol and thus not appealing to me either. I always say that adding alcohol is the quickest way to ruin a dessert.
Still, we didn't come for the food; we were there for the atmosphere that accompanies the food. And there were plenty of helpings of that. We were entertained by three amateur singers who would have been eliminated in the very first round of American Idol (and I'm sure Australian Idol) auditions. Sadly, we couldn't play Simon Cowell and abruptly say, 'next!' Nor could we veto their costumes which looked like Dickensian caroller meets Christmas-themed Vegas casino elf.
After a couple of drinks, though, we were singing along to Rudolf and Santa Clause is Coming to Town. It wasn't Norman Rockwell, but then again, maybe he never celebrated Christmas in July in Australia.