Christmas in Oz

by Kieran Healy on December 24, 2003

I’m having my least Christmas-like Christmas ever, mostly because I’m living in Canberra. I understand that it’s unreasonable to expect Christmas to proceed as normal amidst the gum trees and sunshine, and of course there’s a lot to be said for adapting traditions to fit the circumstances. At the same time, I can see why the first transplants from Europe held so grimly to traditions that were absurdly out of whack with their situation. I have a strong urge to light a candle and put it in the window, except Monday was the longest day of the year, so what’s the point?

For someone brought up on a Northern-hemisphere Christmas, the uneasy Australian detente between the season and the Season (so to speak) is deeply unsatisfying. Even our two years in the high desert of southern Arizona were more genuinely festive—though warm it was still winter, and local adaptations like Chili Wreaths were much more creative than anything I’ve seen here. Australia might be better off if it just ditched the holiday altogether, perhaps replacing it with a full-on festival of the Summer Solstice. There must be something better than having the fake snow-covered pine trees, overheated Santas and In-the-bleak-Midwinters hanging on for dear life in the blazing sun.

{ 11 comments }

1

anthony baxter 12.24.03 at 4:13 am

It’s not that we don’t have Christmas here, it’s just totally different to the Christmas of the northern hemisphere. Large piles of roast meat aren’t really what you want when it’s 35 degrees outside. A more typical Australian Christmas will usually feature a BBQ, maybe a pool for the kids to leap around in, and lots of ice cold beverages for the grown-ups.

Not having experienced any other sort of Christmas, I’d probably find a winter Christmas to be utterly odd, and somewhat depressing – who wants to celebrate Christmas when it’s cold, dark and generally miserable? Give me a nice warm summer’s day any time.

2

clew 12.24.03 at 8:00 am

Tangentially – do neopagans* in the southern hemisphere celebrate according to the written calendar, or according to the seasons?

*Unfortunate word, but I can’t think of a better.

3

OtherDoug 12.24.03 at 1:32 pm

I can completely understand. As a US Midwesterner my Christmas in Canberra a few years ago was pretty unsettling as well. Just go to the beach! Have a BBQ! Stay out of the sun!

It would be a good thing for the Australians to dump all the Northern Hemisphere trappings and give the holiday some summer solstice trappings.

Happy holidays!

4

jam 12.24.03 at 1:51 pm

There’s an Australian version of Jingle Bells. One of the verses starts with the lines:

Dashing through the bush
On a blazing summer day . . .

There’s a reference to a “rusty Holden” in there somewhere, too.

I think Australians rather like the disconnect. It imparts a uniquely Australian flavour to the holiday.

5

anthony baxter 12.24.03 at 1:54 pm

Plus, let’s not forget Rolf Harris’ “Six White Boomers”.

http://www.gigglepotz.com/f_songs4.htm

6

anthony baxter 12.24.03 at 1:57 pm

(in case it’s not clear from the lyrics, “Boomers” are large kangaroos)

7

Barry 12.24.03 at 2:47 pm

“It’s not that we don’t have Christmas here, it’s just totally different to the Christmas of the northern hemisphere. Large piles of roast meat aren’t really what you want when it’s 35 degrees outside. “

It’s what I want. Washed down with some hot mead, a nice fire blazing in the fireplace, ahh….

#:^0

Oh.

Sorry.

Ignorant American here.

Never mind, go back to what you were doing….

8

Maynard Handley 12.25.03 at 5:09 am

“I think Australians rather like the disconnect. It imparts a uniquely Australian flavour to the holiday.”

Where “uniquely Australian” has the unconventional meaning of “just like New Zealand and South Africa”?

9

Tracy 12.26.03 at 8:58 am

Don’t know about South Africa, but at times the weather in NZ at Christmas time can be closer to a northern hemisphere Christmas than an Australian one. We occasionally have a bright, hot, sunny day, but this year it was blowing a howling gale where I was.

In NZ a tradition is slowly starting of a mid-Winter Christmas, somewhere around the Winter Solstice, with all of the hot heavy food, and parties where everyone brings a small present that are exchanged at random.

10

David Blue 12.27.03 at 2:57 am

Hi.

I agree wholeheartedly with Kieran about Christmas in Australia, though of course other countries do have the same climate issue.

Clew, “neopagan” is fine, as there is no generally accepted terminology covering diverse religions with strong similarities among some of them in some areas. Basically the answer to your question is that it goes by the season, not the calendar.

11

Gretchen 12.29.03 at 8:11 am

I guess if, like me, you’re not religious, then Christmas is what you make it. For Australians, as for many people elsewhere, it’s not the trappings but the spending time with friends and family that is important.

While roaring fires and sizzling roast meats might be impractical in the heat, cold ham and turkey served in a shadey outdoor setting and washed down with some Australian wine are all quite pleasant.

As for what we should celebrate at this time of year in Australia, I’ll go along with a friend who’s Christmas message was “Happy Pagan Gorging Feast”.

Also, it can’t be denied that whatever you expect from Christmas, there’s something to be said for having New Years Eve parties in summer.

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