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Christmas in the Sun
Let me begin by pinning my colours to the mast. I love Christmas. I am not overly religious but I am attracted as most people are by its sense of occasion, its opt-in seasonal faith, its proud, shameless indulgence and the opportunity it gives to pause and take stock.
But even Bob Cratchit would surely concede that once you reach the age of double figures the celebrations take something of a downwards bent, eventually levelling out to the consistency of the teenage and early twenties years. Once those magical childhood Christmases are a thing of the past, the years spent waiting to bring the magic to your own excitable cherubs can be rather repetitive and even a self-confessed Christmas advocate like me can notice the details of these years’ festivities begin to merge into one in the mind. Which is why I would recommend a Christmas away from home to anyone.
I saw the prospect of my first Christmas in Australia as an opportunity to shake up my tried and tested festive routine. Here would be one year I would definitely be able to single out amongst all the rest, that I could clearly and accurately recall the events of from start to finish. I understood how Christmas time clashing with summer time would require a change of approach but I didn’t quite realise how much the summer vibe would limit festivities. After all, our Christmas build up begins in October just as the weather is starting to turn bitter and we need a distraction we can prepare for indoors. Australia is already into the peak of summer by December so without my usual markers of dark evenings and cold mornings I found Christmas sneaking up on me unexpectedly.
To be fair to the Aussies though, it is hard to explain quite how out of place a Christmas tree and fairy lights look in the blazing sunshine. So whilst the city centres may put up lights and decorations, they can be forgiven for being slightly more understated than we are perhaps used to in the UK.
Walk around any supermarket however and you could believe you are home. Its air con and freezer isles neutralise the summer heat, while carols and jingles are played through the speakers just like back home. Decorations, mince pies, tins of biscuits and chocolates are pushed onto offer palettes making the supermarket one of the most unlikely sources of that genuine ‘Christmas-is-coming-feeling’ many Brits abroad will be lacking in Australia’s December.
The big day itself was always going to be a mixed bag. The other Europeans I lived with all did their best to recreate certain aspects of their own traditional Christmas experience. Full Christmas turkey dinners were valiantly cooked, crackers were pulled, parcels from home were unwrapped, Slade and Wizzard were even on the iPod dock. Which is all fine, trying to chase certain touchstones that we think make Christmas what it is. Christmas relies heavily on certain repetitions, however some things we willingly accepted were always going to be different.
Beyond the traditional images of snowy greeting card wonderlands and stocking lined open fires there is really no justifiable argument for being cold on Christmas day. I woke in the morning to 30 degree heat, wore a vest and shorts all day and was never once expected to put on an itchy Christmas jumper gift or anything of the sort.
Just for one year, everybody should experience a novelty Christmas on the beach if they have the opportunity. Beers and barbecues, sun and Santa hats, its not the way you think its supposed to be but that’s what makes it memorable. And don’t believe you can’t find some Christmas spirit in the strangest of things. I have a vivid memory of playing guitar while a crowd of backpackers howled “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues, on the beach as the sun was setting on Christmas day. Can I really say that is any less festive than sitting on the sofa with a full stomach watching the Eastenders special?
I think the whole thrust of what I am saying is, even if you will be missing some of your home traditions don’t underestimate what renewed vigour one year away can give to your expectations of Christmas. Christmas away is Christmas reborn and seeing how it is done elsewhere might put your own habits in perspective and possibly even make you appreciate them all over again.