Christmas in Australia is affectionately known as the ‘silly season’. Being a contemplative kind of girl, most years (usually around the end of November) I find myself wanting to time travel away from the scramble at the shops, the string of parties and plastic presents. I wish Christmas could be peaceful and simple.
One of the best things about having Christmas in summer is that cherries are in season! I figure making Christmas simple is like picking cherries: discard all that is irrelevant or unappealing and savour all that is beautiful and meaningful. Naturally this process will be different for everyone, but I started with the origins of Christmas.
Christmas has evolved into a fascinating muddle of traditions that have been adapted and tweaked by various cultures over time. Many Christmas customs hark back to ancient celebrations of Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Yule logs, candles, boughs of holly, roast dinners, sleigh bells, snow and the centrepiece for many homes at Yuletide, the evergreen tree.
Santa Claus is also a popular feature of modern Christmas. He is loosely based on the 4th Century Bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas, whose feast day is on 6 December. In some countries, the benevolent Saint Nicholas has had his day rolled ahead to 25 December and has been assigned a red suit, a North Pole address, flying reindeer, elves, a magical sleigh and an omniscience about children’s behaviour.
As the word ‘Christmas’ denotes, 25 December is also when people of Christian faith celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In reality it was most likely not on that date. No one really knows when it was but a few hundred years after Christ was born, someone with clout declared 25 December as his birthday and we’ve stuck with it. From the Christian tradition of Christmas we have the Nativity, the baby Jesus in the manger, Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds and their sheep, the star, the magi with their gifts.
So between Yuletide, Santa and Jesus there’s a lot going on at Christmas. How to simplify it? Here’s me:
To be authentically Australian, I avoid the winter references and embrace the summer-ness of our Christmas. I trade the baked dinner and hot pudding for salads, cherries and ice cream. I swap ‘roasting chestnuts by an open fire’ for icy drinks and and beach getaways. I forgo imitation mistletoe and holly for sprays of fresh eucalyptus, flannel flowers and Christmas bush.
Then there’s this newsflash: Santa isn’t my cup of tea. Sorry kids! However, one thing that the original Saint Nicholas offers at this festive season is the reminder to be kind and charitable, not just to the ones we love but to our wider community and especially to those in need. I’ll take that.
The date isn’t accurate, but the opportunity to reflect on the birth of Christ fits well with my values. The Nativity story is very moving and honours humility, courage and faith. Stars and angels are my favourite decorations and listening to Christmas carols is one of the things I like most about this time of year.
Plus cherries. Cherries are everything good.
Over the next few weeks I will write more on keeping Christmas eco and simple when it comes to decorations, food and gifts. In the meantime, if you have Spotify, here is a playlist of my Christmas favourites to check out: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4V0PSEpncXPQyUcV7Jj6tB