9 December 2005

Christmas comes but once a year. Thank God I'm not Christmas.

Ooooh, I love the new site counter. I'm so curious to know which of you comes from where. So far, my readers are in Australia, the US, Canada and Bulgaria.

I was thinking about this today as I pushed my way through the crowds doing their Christmas shopping in town. Have you Americans thought about what Christmas is like in Australia?

My foreign housemates say "Great, Christmas in Oz means Christmas on the beach!" I love that. I've never ever spent Christmas on the beach.

I've always felt a little unsettled by Christmas. Usually it's bloody hot. But the traditions don't reflect the climate. We still have the fake snow on the windows. We have plastic mistletoe and plastic holly, because the holly doesn't fruit this time of year. As a kid, I would swelter in the kitchen before christmas as we baked a ham, and made a pudding and christmas cake. We'd do heaps of baking. And we'd be baking.

And don't get me started on Father Christmas! Those poor bastards that dress up for the kiddies. Furry white cuffs, big fake beards and heaps of stuffing under the santa suit. You can see them sweat; if you're lucky you can sometimes see them pass out from heat-stroke.

Oh, we make some half-hearted attempts to 'Australianise' Christmas. Occasionally you'll see kangaroos pulling the sleigh instead of reindeer. But really? If you think about it, would that work? Kangaroos hop. Sleighs slide. Not a match made in heaven.

More than half of the cards and the wrapping paper and the advertisements still have a mid-winter theme. I know a grand total of two Australian Christmas carols; the rest are all your northern winter ones. Jingle bells doesn't mean much here.

My favourite carol was probably 'I'm dreaming of a white Christmas'. I so badly wanted a white Christmas. The whole culture around me was telling me that it should be winter for christmas, and I thought for a long time that the country, the land I was on, was wrong somehow. It was Australia's fault that it was summer. It didn't occur to me until I was much older that maybe it was the culture that was wrong. We are hanging on to traditions that just don't fit. And sticking a few gum leaves on doesn't really help. It doesn't change the fact that we are celebrating what is essentially a mid-winter festival in the height of summer.

I'm quite happy to celebrate Yule in winter with the pagans. But turning the wheel of the year 180 degrees isn't all that's needed here. We need to create our own traditions, based on the country we're in. The Kaurna people, the indigenous inhabitants of the area I live, had six seasons. They could see and feel those seasons. But somehow we try to cramp them into four, because the traditional model of four seasons is what our ancestors knew. But how long do we have to be in a country before we look to the land for our symbols? Or are we going to be facing north forever?

Stay tuned for 'Why I Hate The Easter Bilby'.


bedroomdancer said...

Ohh, this was so edifiying. I had no idea how Christmas is celbrated "down under." (Is that annoying, or a phrase you really use? Tell me, please, I don't know anything about your country.)

I wonder how it happened that Christmas had to be about snow and one image of santa all over the world? It does seem silly to have santa sweating in his suit and snow on the windows if it's hot there. I'm cold right now, so snow on the windows is part of Christmas for me.

Very thought provoking.

FTN said...

That's funny. My wife was in Australia for a summer many years ago (U.S. summer that is -- June and July). The group that she was with went to the beach and everyone there thought she was crazy. "Who goes to the beach in the middle of winter? It's only 70 degrees (F)!"

hasarder said...

Yeah, we'll use 'down under' as a kind of promotional tool with the tourists, or to illustrate the stereotype. We have postcards with an upside down world map and "Australia - on top down under" written on them. Stuff like that.

FTN - yep, crazy. I've swum in far north queensland in winter, but when my european housemate went for a dip down here on the south coast in September I called her crazy. There's no way I'd get in there until at least december! We bitch about the cold in winter, but never even get any snow.

Actually I'm one of those fair Aussies who hates the beach because it's too sunny.

Maegen said...

Hasarder, it is very strange how cultures grasp onto the traditions of other cultures. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I have thought before about how strange it would be to celebrate Christmas on the Southern hemisphere, not that I've ever been exposed to really cold winters before this year.

I guess when you take one part of an occasion, and make it stand for the entire occasion, the occasion eventually loses its value. In America, Christmas seems to be about little more than commercialism. Our economy DEPENDS on Christmas. What a tragedy that such a beautiful event has lost its meaning. Our Thanksgiving is about little more than watching (American) football for men, and for women it's about getting ready for the BIGGEST shopping day of the year. And for the kiddies, it's about "indians" and "pilgrams." The "indians" all go ohwaohwaohwa (you know! you say 'aaahhh' and cover and uncover your mouth with your hand... was this something only American kids did?). First, this is totally inaccurate, and secondly, it's a pretty negative stereotype.

And don't get me started on Easter. I love (saracasm) how we take a Christian holiday, a pagan holiday, the god $$$, and throw them all in our cultural blender. Out comes chocolate easter bunnies, pastel dyed eggs, and another reason to buy and recieve gifts. wha'er!

Shay said...

My first xmas in a warm climate really tripped me out and caught me by surprise because I'm used to seeing the snow first, like a trigger than christmas is coming.

However, it didn't take long to get used to having christmas day in shorts and then heading out to the beach to build a "snowman" out of beautiful white sand.

People always say to me "didn't you miss the snow? I couldn't deal with NOT having a white christmas". My answer? "No I didn't miss the snow."
(except that I like to ski, so I did miss the snow a teeny tiny bit)

hasarder said...

maegen - we DEFINATELY ran around doing that indian call thing. And saying 'How.' In fact, we were much more likely to play 'cowboys and indians' than 'convicts and aboriginals'. So much americana seeps through here.

And Shay - I want snow! You know I haven't seen real snow since I was two? I don't remember what it felt like. I have been skiing on an artificial indoor slope, but it's just not the same...

I want to know what snow's like! Can you actually see the snowflakes? How big are snowflakes?

bedroomdancer said...

Ooooh, pick me. Here's my take on snow.

Most of the time you don't see the individual snowflakes, no. They are very tiny and very delicate. Of course, you see them falling, but not individaully. Most people are rushing, heads down, to get inside where it is warm.

The only ones that actually look at them are children and dreamers, and them not all the time. If you tke the time to look, however, they are beautful.

Sometimes they fall in bigger flakes but mostly that's when its several flakes stuck together. By the time it hits the ground it all sort of melds together and you can't pick out individual flakes so much.

Now you made me think. I have to go outside and stick my tounge out and catch a few flakes, just for old times sake.

Maegen said...

SNOW MOSTLY SUCKS!!! You aren't missing much. I travelled to my nearest "city" today. It was raining there when I departed on a busride that should take one hour. I fell asleep and woke up because the bus seemed to be going awfully slowly. Why? Because I have to cross between the two highest peaks in the Balkan mountains to get to my little town. And when the rest of Bulgarian gets rain, we get snow. And Maegen PRAYS that her bus doesn't go careening into the river below.

Snow makes muddy streets or icey streets, depending on if it stays cold.

Snow makes your pants went, unless you tuck your pants into your boots, like all my students.

Snow is very pretty when it falls at night, and glimmers in the orange-ish light from the street lamps.

Snow means Meggi might just slip and fall and break her ass bone!!