A few days ago my mum and I made the great effort of bringing our Christmas Tree in from the garden shed. I describe it as a ‘great effort’ for two reasons:
a) The Tree is nearly six foot high and weighs only slightly less than I do.
b) Between the garden shed and the Tree’s time-honoured place in the living room there is a winding path, a gate with a sticky latch, a low stone wall, a tight back door, an even tighter corner and a cat and a dog hellbent on getting out and getting in, respectively.
But, as every year, we managed it. We plonked the tree in the middle of the living room, opened its battered cardboard box and unzipped its bright red ‘body bag’. Then we set up the base, inserted the Tree and went about unbending the branches from their dormant, upwards position to an attitude to more suitable for a fir. Once that was done I spent a good hour carefully arranging our large collection of tree-hanging decorations to best effect. This time I also had to accommodate several new decorations which Mum bought in the after-Christmas sales last year. When at last, between the two of us, we managed to make the star stay upright on top of the Tree I felt very pleased with my efforts. I also noticed that, although the Tree was fake, the producers had obviously designed it so that with every unpacking it would shed a handful of plastic ‘leaves’. In this way the buyer could still enjoy sweeping up a trail of pine needles, albeit without the lovely smell. So I swept up the pine needles, got distracted and stepped in the pine needles, swept them up again and then finally stood back to take some photos (which I then forgot to post). It was a good afternoon’s work.
But something occurred to me as I stood elbow deep in scratchy plastic branches. Three months ago I was complaining about the oddities of celebrating Halloween Down Under; now it’s my chance to go on about how surreal it gets at Christmas time! I was reminded of this as I carefully hung a sparkling blue snowflake on a giant plastic fir tree, while outside our magnificent ghost gum basked in bright sunshine. And so now, if you’re still with me, I’d like to present Five Reasons Why Christmas in Australia is Kind of Weird, If You Think About it.
- In Australia a Christmas Tree is almost always synthetic. If it is not synthetic it is a large branch off a gum tree, somehow stuck into a pot so that it stands upright.
- Australians use snow and ice motifs without a hint of irony, despite it being almost-too-hot-for-the-beach weather. There are at least three snow flake ornaments hanging on our Christmas Tree and every year we receive cards featuring snowflakes, snowmen or generic snowy scenes. Even the plastic trees are often white-spattered to give the effect of snow. At the same time the ads are on for pool toys, bathers and outdoor furniture.
- Reindeer are also popular, especially in big department stores (although they feature in our house as well). Santa’s sleigh is supposed to be pulled by six white boomers when he delivers presents to Australia, but nobody seems to have gotten the memo.
- A lot of our Christmas-themed… stuff is imported from America. I’m not talking so much about the decorations and toys (most of which come from China) but nearly all the Christmas movies and songs that shops play on the overhead. Currently the films Joy and Love the Coopers are showing in Australian cinemas. Both are American films featuring an American Christmas full of snow and turkeys and real fir trees. Hollywood seems to think it’s always summer in Australia, yet they never imagine it being Christmas.
- Nobody finds any of this odd or even noteworthy. I mean, apart from a few oddballs like me, most people barely notice the great seasonal clash we enthusiastically generate each year. On Christmas Day I have seen people wearing shorts, sandals, a colourful t-shirt, and a polyester Santa hat with fake white fur. I’ve wrapped presents in snowflake wrapping paper whilst complaining about the heat – at 8 o’clock in the evening. It’s actually quite hilarious.
So there you go. That’s what happens when you transplant a Northern Hemisphere culture into a Southern Hemisphere continent and pretend like nothing’s happened. You get old men sitting in department stores in fur-trimmed suits while its 30 degrees outside (at least), and little kids in shorts and singlets come to sit on his knee. You get a booming industry for fake fir trees and a month-long break-down of every rule against plastic tack in the home. You get kids singing about sleigh-rides while the sweat soaks through their school uniform. I sound like I’m complaining here, but really I’m just expressing amusement at an entire country’s effort to maintain cultural traditions that developed in a completely different climate. Well, they say that tradition is a group effort to stop the unexpected from happening. And on that note I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Ten Days Until Christmas.