A very varied Christmas

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What does Christmas mean for you? What does it have in store? Preceding and in the midst of the annual celebration of life and hope that is Christmas, we will always have those, as H L Mencken noted, are obsessed with the ‘haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy’.

Parent and child looking at Christmas tree (S&B Vonlanthen)

For me, like Dicken’s trio of spectral visitors, Christmas brings melancholia, merriment and memories. Last year it was estimated that one million Australians will be dealing with depression at Christmas time, as they grapple with ‘loneliness, grief, sadness, self-reflection, excessive spending, drinking and fear of socialising’Like many of us, I can put my hand up as having been there and waded through that.

The year before, in 2018, research claimed one in four Australian adults ‘experienced anxiety, three million experienced depression and two million experienced social isolation when thinking back to last Christmas’. They doubled down with the claim that ‘for 7.6 million Australians, Christmas is the most stressful time of year and six million people spend more than they can afford during the festive season’.

Acknowledging the inherent dodgy methodology, and that it is designed to encourage philanthropic generosity, there were probably kernels of truth in the mix. Many of us equate Yuletide with misery.

But for God’s sake, we have just scraped through the worst year in living memory for many of us. Surely a bit of happiness and the odd Santa hat wouldn’t go astray. Christmas is a safe preserve for joy. As the PM would say, broad toothy smile in place, How good is surviving a pandemic?

In Marmion, Sir Walter Scott wrote: ‘Heap on more wood! The wind is chill; / But let it whistle as it will, / We'll keep our Christmas merry still.’ A third of Aussies declared in a national survey last year that they looked forward to ‘the mood and Christmas cheer’, and one in five of us were ‘most excited about the carols and Christmas message’.

 

'Christmas in Brisbane meant the smell of ozone, sharp peals of thunder, monsoonal downpours and dragged out days of backyard cricket, cold drinks and sunburn.'

 

Joy means not being flat chat. The big winner for 65 per cent of us was looking forward ‘to spending time with family and friends’; 46 per cent of us anticipated ‘the food and celebration’; and 23 per cent ‘can’t wait for some time off work or study’.

Flesh satiated, summer snooze granted, Christmas is also redolent with memories.

Last Christmas was beautiful and horrible for me, in the wake of bereavement. (The bedrock of our family, my mother the matriarch, was and remains a big loss at Christmastime.) That said, I found some healing in sharing stories, swapping childhood’s tall tales with siblings and embracing my father.

One Christmas memory of a small act of kindness sustains me every year. When I first moved interstate, my first lonely Christmas was made easier by an aunt’s present of goofy little angels playing instruments. They’ve been on my tree every one of the 30 years since.

It’s true that commercialism, nostalgia and sentiment play a part in perpetuating the schmaltz. But there is a wealth of love that comes with the season.

I see my mum telling us off for gobbling lollies and shaking presents before the green light was given on Christmas Day. I see Dad chopping up a huge watermelon, biting into the juiciest of fruits and feeling washed by the fruity flood, christened anew into Santa’s gang.

I taste the ladyfinger bananas and strawberries we grew in the pool yard, consumed alongside mangos and rockmelons (none of that strange talk of cantaloupes). Christmas beetles and Santa Clauses, those little white fluff balls afloat on summer breezes.

Brought up in the Salvos, Christmas meant playing carols in brass bands playing carols. My dad would rope wooden pews onto a flatbed truck and off we’d go, playing down the streets and lanes of Woodridge, Kingston and surrounds. 

Christmas concerts, Christmas parties, breaks-ups and laughter. 

Christmas in Brisbane meant the smell of ozone, sharp peals of thunder, monsoonal downpours and dragged out days of backyard cricket, cold drinks and sunburn. Holidays meant day trips to the beach, or time sleeping over at grandparents and uncles and aunts’ places or hosting familial visitors in the pop-up caravan at our place. 

In my own nuclear family, we have precariously leavened the dough from two clans’ worth of experiences and forged our own traditions.

The poet TS Elliot believed that ‘home is where we start from’. For me, Christmas is an evocation of home, that I am happy to return to, for better and for worse. Merry Christmas!

 

Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Here are some helpful tips from Beyond Blue on coping with the Christmas blues.

Main image: Parent and child looking at Christmas tree (S&B Vonlanthen)

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Christmas, reflection, mental health

 

 

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In making my list and checking it twice I noticed that Jesus is enjoying the festivities in our families, our homes, in nature, in sharing food and reading. There are plenty of times I've felt sad and alienated at Christmas as many people do. Christmas blessings (not necessarily in order): my grandkids; watching 'Merry Christmas Mr. Bean'; trifle; swimming at 'the cold place' Narrawallee Inlet; pork crackling; an afternoon snooze; games of scrabble; hugs, kisses; a new book. Merry Christmas all.
Pam | 17 December 2020


Yes, Christmas can be a season of loneliness and sadness for some folks but why no mention of the joy and peace for those celebrating the birth of their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?
James Frederick Orrock | 18 December 2020


I think you summed it up pretty well, Barry. It's not so much what happens, although that's important, but what happens inside. 'A Christmas Carol' is a novel of spiritual transformation, where Scrooge's inner change effects his outer life practically.
Edward Fido | 19 December 2020


After visiting Jesus, the shepherds returned straightaway to the business of daily survival in the bleak economy of a world without a welfare state, in the cold, to boot. Christmas in the lower Southern Hemisphere is tainted by the fact that those who attend upon the Son are spoilt by being attended upon by the sun. Those in the upper Northern Hemisphere, where Christ became, and still is, a mass theological institution to the exclusion of others, better understand the nuance of Christmas, experiencing it at the worst time of the year. However, those in the middle latitudes experience it in the nuance of being submerged in the welter of many events, material and theological, happening in a hectic sameness. Southern Africans and Southern Americans live the economic nuance of the shepherds. Only Australasians are blessed with a convergence of the theological, meteorological and economic, and risk missing the nuances altogether.
roy chen yee | 19 December 2020


LAST POSTS EUREKA STREET IS NOW IN RECESS. IF YOU HAVE A LAST WORD, POSTINGS WILL BE ACCEPTED UNTIL WED. DECEMBER 23, AT 3.00 PM. POSTINGS ON 2021 ARTICLES WILL BE ACCEPTED WHEN EUREKA STREET RESUMES IN LATE JANUARY. THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SPIRITED AND CONVIVIAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO OUR CONVERSATION. AND MAY YOUR CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR GIVE BIRTH TO GOOD THINGS, BOTH NEW AND OLD, IN YOURSELVES AND OUR WORLD.
EDITORS | 22 December 2020


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