“At Christmas play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year” said Tomas Tusser. Many people would rather it didn’t. Christmas is a time when stress levels go through the roof. People eat too much, drink too much and spend too much, meaning that January, a time when people traditionally go on summer holidays in this part of the world, is a time of dieting and financial restriction. Without careful planning the later part of the year around Christmas and the New Year can get very messy.
Another area of stress is in the receiving and giving of presents. Trying to decide who to buy for and what to buy for them is always difficult and many people resort to providing cash or vouchers or gift cards, and it still doesn’t remove all the issues. A card for a department store may be just what someone wanted, or it might languish in a drawer until it expires. Apparently by some estimates $2 billion of credit on gift cards goes unredeemed. But then again, a tie or socks might also be banished to the back of someone’s wardrobe.
The religious aspects of the holiday (“Holy Day”) are often ignored, and though thousands may gather for the “Carols in the Park”, few of those attending will go to church during the holiday. These aspects also exclude those of different religions, nominally, but many non-Christians celebrate some aspects of the holiday anyway, and gather for family time and exchange presents.
Christmas parties are a feature of the period before Christmas, and again, while one might think that those of other religions than Christianity would be excluded, office and private parties do not exclude non-Christians. In fact parties around this time of year are an opportunity for people to eat and drink and socialize and religion seldom figures.
The secularisation of Christmas is both good and bad. Good, because it is not exclusive, but inclusive, and bad because it hides the traditional reasons for Christmas. But even within Christianity the reasons for Christmas are being lost – Christians buy Christmas trees and Christmas lights, and exchange presents, eat turkey and drink alcohol, all of which hark back to times before Christianity, to times often loosely called pagan.
Indeed it is often said that Christmas is when it is simply to align with the so-called pagan festivals of mid-winter that celebrate the solstice. The winter solstice marks the time of year when the sun reaches its lowest point of the year and is closely related to the shortest day. Of course in this hemisphere the solstice is the summer one, and the sun is at its highest, so the day is the longest one. This usually happens around 21st of December.
The traditional northern hemisphere Christmas is in mid-winter, more or less, and the traditional fare is heavy mid-winter fuel of turkey with stuffing, vegetables including potatoes, with gravy and followed by heavy fruit pudding and mince pies. In the southern hemisphere the solstice is, as I said, the summer one, and, really, the traditional fare is probably unsuited to the climate. The southern hemisphere is developing a tradition of holding a barbecue for Christmas dinner, thereby replacing the turkey with steak and the heavy root vegetables of the northern hemisphere with salad and the Christmas pudding with ice cream. The heavy room temperature ales favoured north of the Equator are often replaced by lighter chilled beer and lager.
Some of the more modern symbols of Christmas northern hemisphere style have received a southern hemisphere make-over. Santa is still a fat old man with a beard, but his clothing is often changed to, more suitable for the climate, board shorts, though they will still be in the “traditional” Coca-Cola red, and even on the surfboard he will likely retain the floppy hat. The reindeer are, at least in Australia, replaced by kangaroos.
Southern hemisphere cities tend to put on “Santa Parades”. I don’t know if this happens much in northern cities, though I do see a website for a Santa parade in Toronto. It seems to me that the weather would be better in the southern cities! Strangely the big man, who always brings the end to the parade in the last float, usually wears the full regalia of red suit, boots, and cap. He must swelter!
This has been a rather unstructured look at Christmas with an emphasis on the southern hemisphere celebrations where they differ from the northern version of the same. All that remains is for me to wish anyone who stumbles across my blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.