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Today is the last day of 2017. I will probably stay up tonight to “see in” 2018, but I’m not about to follow other traditions, such “first footing“. It’s all superstition anyway.

I think it’s interesting and a little illogical that we celebrate arbitrary dates throughout the year, such as midsummer’s day or May Day, though I understand that the origins of these celebrations. When the Church ruled (in at least the part of the world that I come from) and when times were uncertain and you could be fine one minute and dead of the plague the next, superstition comes naturally.

I can understand the joy that a winter solstice or other celebrations at that time of can bring. We are, at those times, at the lowest point of the year, and things can only go up from there. Strangely the low point of the year in the Northern Hemisphere comes at the top of the calendar. Who arranged that?

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There are no equivalent large celebrations around the time of the summer solstice, at least in the places in the Northern Hemisphere that I have lived. In the middle of the summer, winter is so far away, and I guess that we don’t want to celebrate it. In the Southern Hemisphere the summer solstice occurs round about the time of Christmas and New Year. In either hemisphere we celebrate the summer solstice by getting out in the sun more.

In the spring, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are some celebrations of May Day, around the time of the Vernal Equinox. At that time of year, we are leaving the darkness of winter and the short days for the longer sunny days of summer, and that is probably worth a celebration. May Day actually falls closer to the middle of the climactic spring than the equinox does.

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Of course any spring festival coincides with the increased fertility of the soil, plants and growing and animals are mating, spring plantings are complete, humans also respond to this. Some spring festivals acknowledge this time of the quickening of the blood in various ways, and sometimes the establishment, notably the Church, tries to suppress or at least put the reins on some of the excesses.

Autumn is the time of harvest and any festivals around the Autumnal Equinox acknowledge this fact. However the tone of such celebrations is likely to be restrained as people buckle down for the chills of winter.

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In the Southern Hemisphere, all this is messed up. The calendar is the same, so the southern Spring Equinox happens in September, around the twenty first of the month. Since most of the traditions have been imported from the Northern Hemisphere, mainly from Europe and particularly the UK, there is no obvious spring celebration to copy.

However, the southern Autumnal Equinox happens in March, and there is a northern celebration at the beginning of May. May Day is celebrated as an almost purely political holiday, with roots in the union movement, and is not, generally celebrated in the same way as May Day is in the Northern Hemisphere.

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When people emigrate from the Northern Hemisphere, specifically from Europe, they often experience homesickness. It can take a lifetime to shake off, but most people eventually relocate their roots. In particular, people from the Northern Hemisphere often find it strange that Christmas falls in the summertime.

People from the Northern Hemisphere expect Christmas to be in the winter. Short days, inclement weather and the perennial question “Will it be a white Christmas?” At one time carollers used to travel from door to door, wrapped up in thick coats, scarves and wearing woollen hats. Father Christmas is well wrapped in thick red and white clothes as he takes orders in the frantic malls before Christmas.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Father Christmas still wears his thick red and white clothes, and sits in a grotto decorated with fake snow and snowflakes, but he is most likely to be near hypothermia as the mercury rises.

There is however a southern version of Father Christmas. This version wears red swimming trunks and usually retains the red hat with the white rim and the white bobble, but may sport sunglasses and wear jandals on his feet. He may even carry a surfboard. He may be lying in a sun lounger shaded by a parasol, and with a non-alcoholic (of course) fruit based drink to hand.

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While Rudolph and his team may feature south of the equator, in Australia Santa’s sleigh is pulled by six white kangaroos, known as “boomers” (at least according to the song recorded by Rolf Harris). The implication is that the traditional reindeer can’t handle the summer heat in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve drifted somewhat from my initial topic, which was the New Year. New year in the Southern Hemisphere is about beach parties, if you are below a certain age. For those above a certain age, New Year means backyard barbecues.

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Beach parties can be riotous, to the point where police intervention is required, but largely they are good natured and convivial gatherings. New Year comes towards the beginner of the seasonal summer, and the celebration doesn’t really equate to any Northern Hemisphere celebration.

The northern Christmas and New Year celebrations are constrained by the short days and the long nights and are celebrated indoors in cosy snugness. In contrast the southern celebrations revel in the long days and short but warm nights and celebrate the outdoors.

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I think that we in the southern hemisphere got the best deal. If Christmas and New Year in the northern hemisphere had, for whatever reason, fallen in the summer, then the southern hemisphere Christmas and New Year would have fallen in the winter, and we would have got the short nights and the bad weather.

We would have had to celebrate Christmas and New Year indoors and during the short winter days. There’s no doubt that it would be enjoyable, the interactions with family and friends, but I’m glad that our main holiday falls in the summer.

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But, whatever, the New Year is in ninety five minutes, at least here in Wellington, so, when it swings around to you, I hope that you have a good and enjoyable New Year. I’ll sit here in my t-shirt and shorts, with bare feet enjoying their freedom from shoes, and wish all you there in the Northern Hemisphere, togged up in your woolies and gloves and hats, a Happy New Year.

Tau Hou hari!

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The lull after Christmas

expenses-2011 (Photo credit: Kyle McDonald)

I’m going to describe a graph, but I’m uncertain what to label the vertical axis. Probably labelling it “energy” would be the closest. The horizontal axis is definitely time, measured in days. The graph as a whole describes the Christmas – New Year period.

Starting on the day before Christmas Eve, the “energy” is high as people rush around preparing for Christmas. The mood is generally on the up, looking forward to the Christmas break. This year, as Christmas Day fell on a Wednesday, most people would have been off work, many until after the New Year holiday, so the Monday (the day before Christmas Eve) and the Tuesday (Christmas Eve) become part of the holiday.

Some children looking at a selection of Christ...
Some children looking at a selection of Christmas Cards during the 1910 holiday season. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christmas Eve itself is an up day as everyone makes final preparations for the big day. Last minute shopping, cleaning, tidying have to be fitted around present wrapping and ensuring that the menu for the next day is in place. Some people prepare all the vegetables for Christmas day and nearly everyone remembers to get the turkey out of the freezer. Parents with children often face the twin task of preparing stockings and making the kids go to bed with the hope that they will finally drop off. Sometimes the duties extend well beyond midnight.

sleeping kids = clean house
sleeping kids = clean house (Photo credit: RAPACIBLE)

Christmas Day itself is a day of at least two parts. No matter how late they went to be the kids will wake up early, no doubt rousing their parents from some hastily snatched hours of sleep, then the day continues from there. Many families still go to church in the morning though this practise is declining.

The church of Tilly-la-Campagne with Christmas...
The church of Tilly-la-Campagne with Christmas lights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rest of the morning goes into cooking, eating, and no doubt drinking, as well as unwrapping presents, stopping kids (and older people) squabbling about trivialities. All this peaks when lunch is served. In the southern hemisphere, if it doesn’t rain, this may be eaten outside.

Christmas barbeque
Christmas barbeque (Photo credit: QuinnDombrowski)

In the afternoon, the mood declines to the point where some people may become comatose. Granny always sleeps in the afternoon, but so will Uncle Bill, who ate too much pudding and drank too much alcohol. Parents with kids might not be able to relax completely and may be arm-twisted into games of backyard cricket, at least in this hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere parents will no doubt be required to help with those construction toys or technical gadgets that the kids have been given. Nevertheless the mood is definitely down on the peak of the Christmas meal.

Julie's New Toy
Julie’s New Toy (Photo credit: camknows)

Boxing is interesting. It may be a down day, if for instance you have over-indulged the day before. Or it may be an up day if you are interested in the ‘traditional’ Boxing Day sales. This year I had to make a small purchase so I went to the local mall. The place was crowded, but unfortunately for the retailers there was a glitch with the EFTPOS systems and all purchases had to be strictly cash. I believe that spending on Boxing Day 2013 still broke records.

English: White Christmas at Baltasound Well, B...
English: White Christmas at Baltasound Well, Boxing Day actually; looking across the Houb towards Valla Field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Boxing Day comes the lull. I’m writing this halfway through the lull, which extends from the day after boxing day to the day before New Year’s Eve. Most people celebrate the New Year, even if it is at a much less energetic level than Christmas Day. I generally stay up on New Year’s Eve to ‘see the new year in’ for no very good reason, I admit. Some people choose New Year as the chance to drink and eat more than usual, as a sort of full stop/period to mark the end of the holiday, even though they may not be returning to work until the beginning of the next week.

new year mice
new year mice (Photo credit: Natasha Fadeeva)

But back to the lull. The lull does not have to be an emotional down period, but it is probably, for most people, an energetic down period. People have survived Christmas and have a lesser celebration to look forward to in a week. It is a time for relaxing, taking the kids to the beach or the movies, visiting Granny, or merely settling down with that book that someone gave you for Christmas.

It’s a time for eating increasingly stale mince pies, trying to find leftovers interesting, and generally  tidying up the loose ends of Christmas. Maybe a trip to the mall with that token someone gave you. Maybe watching the England – Australia test match.

Boxing day test cricket, mate!
Boxing day test cricket, mate! (Photo credit: simonhn)

It’s a period with intrinsically no pressures, though for some people their circumstances may override this – from those who are about to give birth to those about to depart this life and those experiencing all life’s dramas in between, this period can be highly emotionally or energetically charged. But in general, it is a lull.

So my graph starts off low on the eve of Christmas Eve, and climbs through Christmas Eve. I originally wrote ‘climbs steadily’, but it may climb erratically but will trend upwards until the end of lunchtime Christmas Day. Then it drops dramatically, during the afternoon, as people relax after the exertions and excitements of the morning. Even washing up, while a chore, is still at a lower level than the peak of Christmas lunch.

Times Square on New Year's Day
Times Square on New Year’s Day (Photo credit: davehunt82)

On Boxing Day the graph may rise a little (for the shoppers) or drop (for those ‘tired’ from the exertions and consumption of the day before). And then comes the lull, a tranquil period between Boxing Day and the eve of New Year’s Eve, a relaxed period for most, I’d say. The graph remains low and level with maybe a lift as New Year gets closer.

On New Year’s Eve the graph may rise again. Some people like to party on the turn of the year, but the intensity of the celebration may not in most cases match Christmas. With the exception of the celebration of the year 2000, there is no real drive to make New Year an intense experience, though people do gather in the likes of Times Square to ‘see in the New Year’.

So, there you have my graph of the Christmas/New Year period. The rise from the foothills of pre-Christmas to the Everest of Christmas Day, followed by the valley of the lull before New Year and the minor peak of New Year itself. It remains to mention the lowlands of the period before those who work return to it at the beginning of January.

English: Sometimes the voice of Taka's Pack Re...
English: Sometimes the voice of Taka’s Pack Readers will lull him into a nap. But they are brief because he doesn’t like missing any part of a story. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope that all of you who celebrate Christmas had a good one and are looking forward to a pleasant New Year, and best wishes to those who do not celebrate this season either because of religion or conviction and those whose calendar does not align with the one to which I am accustomed.

Happy New Year (white camelia)
Happy New Year (white camelia) (Photo credit: tanakawho)

…for Christmas comes but once a year (Southern Style)

The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas,...
The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas, (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“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.

20091226 - Christmas presents - misc - gift ca...
20091226 – Christmas presents – misc – gift cards – GEDC1240 (Photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL))

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.

English: Christmas is over 1 It must have been...
English: Christmas is over 1 It must have been some kind of party in Gillingham around New Year’s Eve 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Sunrise over Stonehenge on the summer solstice...
Sunrise over Stonehenge on the summer solstice, 21 June 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: Musicians on Sydney Harbour during 20...
English: Musicians on Sydney Harbour during 2001 Xmas holidays. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

New Years 2010-2011
New Years 2010-2011 (Photo credit: russelljsmith)

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.

Santa Claus, Christmas Parade, Lambton Quay
Santa Claus, Christmas Parade, Lambton Quay (Photo credit: Velvet Android)

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.

Ngā mihi o te wā me te Tau Hou.

Pohutakawa (Photo credit: StormyDog)