It’s Another White Christmas for Australia

December 20, 2007 at 3:49 am (Uncategorized)

Christmas paraphernalia in Australia is pretty amusing. It reflects our fractured, uncertain identity very well indeed. Ever since I was a child, I have puzzled over our Christmas card images, and people visiting from the northern hemisphere at this time of year must find these wintry displays frankly bizarre.

You see, we have an inexplicable tendency to put snow on everything. Christmas cards in Australia feature a whole range of winter activities – there are sleigh rides, snow men, snow capped cottages, white Christmas trees and of course a very rugged up Santa. And it doesn’t stop with the cards – the wrapping paper is the same. Our stamps. And the menu for Christmas Day. How many of us have sweltered in a kitchen on Christmas Day whilst the turkey and roast vegetables bake, the pudding steams and the custard thickens, even as outside it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the road?

Attempts to correct this hemispheric imbalance have proved uneven at best. The alternatives make us look like a country of cartoonish juveniles – Santa on a surfboard, for instance. From there it’s a short decline to Baby Jesus being attended at the manger by a variety of native fauna: it’s a radically revised biblical reading in which kangaroos, emus, koala bears and echidnas all jostle the wise men aside in their furry rush to Bethlehem. It’s sort of surreal when you think about it.

And I do think about it. Look, we’re a secular nation. The idea that Christmas is practiced as a religious holiday by the majority of Australians is a little inaccurate if we and most people we know are any kind of litmus test. We won’t be going to church. We are not religious. Some friends will, and others certainly practice the religious holidays within their own faith. But we won’t be celebrating the concept of immaculate conception and the subsequent birth of Christ. That won’t really be on the agenda at all. What we’ll be celebrating is being with some of our loved ones.

It’s become much more of a Thanksgiving celebration, if you ask me. At least, I think that notion is a much more accurate reflection of what Christmas means to me. It’s also a big, wild-eyed, no-holds-barred consumer spending jag, sure, but that doesn’t really capture the underlying themes of the day, except to the extent that people are generally buying all that crap for the people they love and not themselves. We do by and large, in homes right around the country of many different religious persuasions, take a moment on Christmas Day to give thanks for that togetherness. For the peace that attends our country and our homes. For the abundance of what’s on the table and under the tree.

Why do we interpret Christmas through the look of a season and a climate that is fundamentally not ours? I don’t know, it’s part of that whole post-colonial identity web Australia struggles so much to find and define (republican referendum, anyone?). Oddly enough, though, these kitschy and wildly inappropriate, distinctly northern hemisphere images have become part of our Australian Christmas psyche, the tackier and more over the top the better because we are nothing if not ironic. The unfamiliar has become the familiar. The image has become the only real we know. Strange though those snowscapes are in a country that bakes on Christmas Day, they’ve been around so long now we’d be lost without them. And everyone knows Santa doesn’t surf.


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