This time of year always makes me smile… at how funny we Aussies are.
We sift through the on sale beach towels with one hand, whilst loading up on winter wonderland in the other. We deck the halls with icicles, snowflakes and reindeer, whilst trying to find the mozzie zapper and sunscreen.
We white-ies still after 200 years still feel ourselves to be displaced Euros in a land down under. We still look to what’s happening in Europe to tell us what to celebrate and when. Even when it’s at odds with what our true experience is.
Now, I understand how comforting tradition is. It’s those warm and fuzzy routines that we’ve built upon since childhood with grandparents, extended family, our school friends, and the dictate from broader society.
So, what’s my problem? Our traditions for Christmas don’t make sense in our Aussie time and place. Our earth is humming with a different energy and a different season. I think keeping our head in northern hemisphere tradition prevents us, to a greater or lesser degree, from really living in this place as proud southern hemisphere dwellers.
What is Christmas, anyway?
The way we celebrate Christmas is broken into two parts, due to the pre-Christian heritage that was amalgamated into the Christian celebrations. First, there is the birth of Christ. The wise men, the nativity, the gifts, and the symbol of divine birth. Second, there is the winter wonderland: the swirling snow, the red, white and green, and the jolly fat man. They are two separate things, and it’s the second bit that is at odds with our seasonal experiences.
This second part of our celebrations comes from the pagan festival of Yule – which you’ll be familiar with from the references in carols. The singing, the Yule log, the spice mixes, the pine, mistletoe and holly: all Yule. That celebration was taken into the Christian celebration of Christmas because of convenient calendar coincidences.
Oh, dear jolly man. You do have some interesting backstory.
The Santa we know and love today comes from a swirling mix of story and old religion, distilled by one man into a poem for his children.
In 1822, New Yorker Clement Clarke Moore composed T’was the Night Before Christmas. There are no notes on his inspiration, but before this poem, descriptions of a Yuletide visitor varied rather a lot. It’s likely that Moore simply consolidated much of the lore into his poem: modern day Santa is born.
Before that time, our Santa was a rather different character. Some scholars believe that a long time ago in a land far away, the Siberian regions to be exact, there were shaman. These shaman would collect Amanita muscaria, the Holy Mushroom, in large sacks and then hang them to dry in cypress trees. They would then give these red and white dried mushrooms as gifts on Winter Solstice (Yule), often coming in by the chimney as the doors were blocked with snow. Old dudes giving gifts on Solstice night coming in by chimney, decorations in cypress trees… sound familiar? I love this bit the best: reindeer love shrooms. They apparently love them! Flying reindeer? By whose perception? The shaman or the reindeer themselves? Any wonder Rudolph has a red nose.
And the sleigh in the sky?
The All-Father of the Norse gods, Odin, took charge of the Wild Hunt at this time of year. On his six-legged horse, Sleipnir, he would guide his horde across the skies accompanied by the storms and snows of the season. Donner, one of Santa’s reindeer, may even be a reference to Norse god Thor, who drove a chariot pulled by goats across the sky.
Why is this red and white clad rotund reveller called Saint Nick? Nicholas is a Greek saint, attributed with various miracles including the giving of gifts dropped down the chimney and landing in a stocking.
Lots of influences, across time and across Europe.
How to reconnect
All this fantastical wintery-ness doesn’t have much of a connection with what our real time experience is in Australia. We are experiencing sunshine and warmth. We don’t need roast chestnuts and sugar plums, we’re not in front of roaring fires with cocoa and egg nog. We’re in front of the barbie with a beer!
This doesn’t mean that if you are of the Christian persuasion that you celebrate Christmas at another time. It just means that perhaps a rethink of the snowflakes and reindeer is in order.
If you’re like me and Christmas is a time for celebrating the height of the year with friends and family, think more about how you could bring the warmth of Summer into your life. So much wonderful fruit and veg is in season. No need to roast a pig and potatoes! Decorate with sunny colours, fairy lights, flowers of all kinds. Get up at dawn and go to bed at midnight – enjoy those long hours!
But best of all – sink your bare feet into the bare ground and connect with the earth. Give her the gift of your gratitude, and feel the joy that it brings.
Enjoy the holiday season!