Australia's Christmas cognitive dissonance



As the weather warms and the days grow longer, the many signs of summer and the Christmas season become unmissable. Magpie swooping season has finished, with the baby maggies leaving their nests to hop around and attempt to warble. Mosquitos and the scent of citronella fill the evening air, and every grocery store has an abundance of cheap plastic toys, gift box chocolates, and pavlova bases.

Amy Thunig and her children opening presents under a Christmas tree.In the large shopping centres Santa has arrived, along with nativity displays, faux pine trees, depictions of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the sound of Christmas songs over the audio system. Public spaces become louder, in every sense of the word, with parks and playgrounds alive with parties, and colourful lights twinkling down many street fronts.

Among the busying schedules and increasing heat, also come the church signs and preachers calling on everyone to 'remember the reason for the season'. As I fill my children's shoes with lollies, and set myself an alarm so I remember to move our Elf on the Shelf, I cannot help but think about the level of cognitive dissonance required to believe you hold not only the rights to an entire holiday, but also the moral high ground, all while occupying buildings constructed on stolen lands.

While many people undoubtedly do consider Christ as their reason for engaging with and celebrating this holiday, Christmas and its many traditions have pre-Christian origins. Despite now having 'Christ' within its name, this holiday has in fact evolved from various peoples, faiths, cultures, and lands. In this way Christmas as a holiday is reflective of the society in which we live, and rather fitting for this land now known as Australia.

The beauty of holidays, celebrations, and traditions is that we are free to adapt them for our own families and homes, and this has occurred over many centuries with the holiday we now know as Christmas.

However, the migration of this celebration to this continent did not happen in isolation from the violence of invasion and colonisation. This land was not settled peacefully, nor does the legacy of the missionaries and invaders reflect the message or actions of the Christ depicted within the Bible.

If you want people to 'remember the reason for the season', then this should involve reflecting on pagan festivals such as the winter solstice (not overly relevant here in the Southern Hemisphere). But if what you actually mean is you are choosing to centre Christ in your celebration and honouring of this season that we know as Christmas, and you would like others to join you in that, then be sure to also reflect upon the violent ways in which that message was brought into this land.


"Servant leadership, truth telling, justice and breaking bread with those deemed 'less than' are as core to the story of Christ as peace, love, forgiveness and hope."


Be sure to engage with the whole narrative, not just the pieces which empower you to be comfortable. The Bible may talk of peace, love, joy, and hope, but it also talks about Jesus overturning tables and whipping people when they misused church resources (John chapter 2 verses 14-16). How did you respond when the royal commission revealed decades of violent sexual abuse of children at the hands of church leaders, within church buildings? Remember the reason for the season.

How do you respond each day knowing that the Australian government is forcibly detaining asylum seeker men, women and children indefinitely in inhumane conditions? How do you respond to children as young as ten being incarcerated by systems which are demonstrably biased against First People?

The Bible teaches that what you do for and to the least, you do for and to Christ (Matthew chapter 25 verses 40-45). While people are suffering in detention on Nauru and Manus, drowning in boats which were turned back by our government, or languishing in child gaols, we as tax payers and voters are complicit. Remember the reason for the season.

If you seek to make central the peace of Christ and his love these holidays, then is there not a duty to also make central the spirit of that same Christ who admonished and challenged the narcissism and hypocrisy of the Pharisees? Servant leadership, truth telling, justice and breaking bread with those deemed 'less than' are as core to the story of Christ as peace, love, forgiveness and hope.

For those who embrace and celebrate Christmas, as you decorate your trees, and journey through Advent, I want to challenge you to question and reflect upon how your reason for the season manifests within your daily actions. What and where is your fruit in all seasons?



Amy ThunigAmy Thunig is a Kamilaroi woman, PhD candidate, and an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University. Juggling parenting and partnering, Amy's interests and writing centre around family, Indigenous rights, social justice, academia, and education. She is the recipient of the 2018 Margaret Dooley Fellowship for Emerging Indigenous Writers.

Topic tags: Amy Thunig, Christmas, colonisation, Aboriginal Australians, asylum seekers, Manus, Nauru



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Existing comments

A confused article that seems embarrassed about the Christian celebration of Christmas, trying to airbrush away our feast day of Christ’s birth by saying there’s noting unique about this day and it should not be favoured over a string of other days. I’m disappointed such a disrespectful stance to our Catholic celebration of nativity is here.
Rosemary Sheehan | 14 December 2018

I do not find this article confused, I find it clear and prophetic and I am grateful to the writer and to Eureka Street
Julie Perrin | 14 December 2018

Nothing confused about it that I can see. If it embarrasses us to be ignoring Christ’s message while presuming to celebrate his birthday (with an orgy of consumerism and nonsense) surely that’s all to the good. It’s a well written and timely article with which I agree.
OldG | 14 December 2018

What a wonderful and inspired reflection on Australia at Christmas.Thanks Amy.May Christ truly be born again for us all.
Margaret | 14 December 2018

Thanks Amy. You hold together the mystery and beauty of the Nativity with the confrontations of today's pressing social challenges. They belong together - awe inspiring yet feet on the ground. Smells like integrity to me.
Dr Wayne Sanderson | 15 December 2018

Thank you so much Amy. You really point us to the point of Christ coming into the world and challenge us to do all we can to right the wrongs in which we are all complicit.
Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 15 December 2018


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