I’ve just got home from a run/walk around my local area and although I had no doubts, Christmas is definitely on its way. People are celebrating the holidays by decorating their shop windows, homes, and streets, and citizens dress up and don their cars with antlers.
It got me thinking about the Christmas tradition as I’ve experienced it living in Australia, and how this may differ to other parts of the world. As I jogged past homes I smelled the beginnings of a Christmas feast wafting through windows and onto the footpath. One house smelt particularly – and peculiarly – of salt and vinegar chips, while many others held the smell of barbecued meats, an Australian tradition, through and through. At my house tomorrow, a turkey will be served along with a Christmas pudding and treats that are commonplace in the northern hemisphere.
I live near a street that celebrates Christmas each year by putting on a show of lights, drawing crows of thousands over the 10 or so days leading up to the 25th. I ran down this street and noted the blown up Santas and their sleighs juxtaposed against the Streets ice-cream van and the makeshift coffee stand. While Australian and especially Melbourne weather can be unpredictable and ever changing, it would be fairly safe to assume that in Australia, your Christmas day is going to be warm, if not hot and sunny. It’s funny then, that the holiday has been transposed to our climate and infused with Australian culture, yet we still maintain the traditional elements of the holiday that make much more sense in an environment ravaged by snow and freezing temperatures.
Four years ago, I spent Christmas in Berlin, where it was indeed cold, and Christmas lunch was spent with good friends, a roast, and time by the burning fire. Everything about Christmas screamed warmth and joy, with carols sung as a hearty way of recognising the brutal but beautiful conditions outside the walls of one’s home. Here at home, I find that while many of these traditions are commonplace, it fails to fit our climate, and Carols by Candlelight has turned into a pop concert, rather than a true celebration of the holiday.
However, I guess you could interpret this as our way of acclimatising the holiday to our culture. And I suppose that’s what has occurred over time. But what would happen if we decided as a nation, or it happened that those in the southern hemisphere, or in warmer climates during this end of year period, that we should change our celebration of Christmas to July? I know that religiously, this doesn’t make sense. But so much of Christmas these days is just about shopping, presents and getting together as a family to celebrate each other, rather than the birth of Christ some 2000 years ago. And it’s not unheard of for people or workplaces to celebrate Christmas in July as a holiday in its own right, either. Then a roast lunch or dinner would be more fitting, as would all the reindeers and the chimney’s Santa uses as his entry and exit point to deliver his gifts.
The very fact that Santa lives in the North Pole and uses a sleigh to travel the night skies seems quite odd when you’ve had a 39 degree day on the 23rd of December, and are expecting to sweat your way through another Christmas.
The front page of The Age newspaper today showed a picture of Santa at a popular shopping centre, being fanned by one of his faithful elves, as he did swelter his way through yesterday’s heat. Maybe Australian Santas should decide to wear a more weather-appropriate suit, and ditch the hat for sunnies and stripes of zinc across their faces. Then they’d be promoting sensible sun exposure, too. Of course, I am writing this with a grain of salt (or a few), but I believe they are interesting points to consider.
The other part of the front page story was the tremendous increase of seafood sales over the Christmas period. People were stocking up on crayfish, prawns and lobster for their special day, which is an impressive adaptation as Australian’s may choose to feast on salads and pavlova, saving their turkey, chicken or ham for a cooler day.
In addition, the traditional colours of Christmas are red and green, which no doubt stand out spectacularly against the white snow of Europe and the United States. In Australia, however, they seem to blend in with the local flora, and with the drought now a thing of the past, at least momentarily, pretty much everything outside is some shade of green. Colour is incredibly symbolic across all holidays, countries and situations, and the green and red shades that dominate Christmas are ingrained into us as young children. Interestingly enough though, I can remember being in Venice in the lead up to Christmas in 2009, and what stood out most was the Italians use of white, or yellow lights to celebrate the holiday. There was little use of red or green as opposed to clear, bright globes to bring in the festivities.
Nonetheless, Christmas would not be the same without its traditions, whether they be obviously fitting or not. Colour is incredibly powerful. Take for example, the tragedy of the Sandy Hook shootings last week, and the way in which tribute pages across Facebook promoted wearing the school’s colours in remembrance of those killed. At first, on some accounts, the wrong colours were spread, but it was soon identified that the real colours to be worn in commemoration were green and white. On YouTube and in person, many people wore those colours to send their condolences and commemorate those lives. Similarly, at the one of the victim’s funeral, people were asked to dress in purple, in memory of her life and a person taken too soon. Last month, the family and friends of Melbourne woman, Sarah Cafferkey said goodbye to their loved one sporting the brightest of pinks, Cafferkey’s favourite colour. It is amazing that something so simple can penetrate a wonderful strength and a visible sense of community.
I also think of the people who, at this time of year, as caught in the depths of ill health, or find themselves without a family to go to on Christmas day. It is soothing to know that numerous charities, local groups and hospitals offer their residents a Christmas lunch, as no one should be alone during a time when it is so important to be surround by those who love and care for you. This is true for people of all religions. Even if you are Jewish, Muslim, an atheist, or of a different faith, Christmas falls near the close of another year, where we remember the year that was, and look forward to the year that is to be.
Today, the 24th of December, also happens to be my dad’s birthday, so today we are celebrating him, as well as preparing for tomorrow and all the days that follow.
Christmas time will bring unique experiences for each family, and individual circumstances will have an impact upon how you celebrate Christmas this year. But for all those celebrating, whether it be a birthday (of Christ or of someone dear to you), a public holiday, the end of a busy year in which the world did not end, or in fact, Christmas itself, I wish you good cheer and many happy 25th of Decembers to come.