‘Christmas in July,’ from a land Down Under

BY DARYL FISHER, News-Ledger Features Editor

BY DARYL FISHER, News-Ledger Features Editor


Many years ago I wrote a column I called “Christmas in July” which was about how we should all try a little harder to keep the Christmas spirit alive and well throughout the year, not just during the Christmas season. Although the column went on for 750 words or more, it was actually just an excuse to share the following little poem, penned by Howard Thurman, an African-American author, theologian and Civil Rights leader:

  When the song of the angels is stilled,
  When the star in the sky is gone,
  When the kings and princes are home,
  When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
  The real work of Christmas begins:
  To find the lost,
  To heal the broken,
  To feed the hungry,
  To rebuild the nations,
  To bring peace among brothers,
  To make music in the heart.

Well, if one has had the courage lately to read the front page of any newspaper, the news is certainly not about rebuilding nations and bringing peace to our brothers. Instead the headlines are about civilian airplanes being blown out of the sky, old wars still raging in places like Iraq, Syria, Africa and Afghanistan, a new one starting up yet again in the Middle East where Palestinian and Israeli civilian casualties and deaths never seem to matter, not to mention the ugly scenes on our own Southern borders where too many Americans seem to have the need to express their dislike with our country’s immigration policies by screaming epitaphs at young kids in school buses.

Be that as it may, it does turn out that in quite a few places in the world, Christmas really is celebrated in July, and I was recently reminded of that by the following conversation I had with an Australian friend of mine:

“Australians and New Zealanders haven’t rejected December 25th as being Christmas,” explained my friend, “but many of us simply have two of them, with Christmas in July being called Yuletide or Yulefest. And it is especially popular in our colder areas like the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, where it was apparently started up long ago by immigrating Europeans who associated Christmas with winter. It seems that folks in the Southern Hemisphere are divided between loving Christmas in summer and feeling ripped off that Christmas is typically hot and sticky here and mocks having a traditional white Christmas. You see, even though Christmas in Australia is usually celebrated under air conditioning or by the poolside or at the beach, there is still the notion that a real Christmas should be a winter thing. Nonetheless every year when our hot December rolls around Australian stores are overflowing with Christmas cards and wrapping papers depicting snow scenes with some poor Santa standing around in his heavy Santa suit about ready to collapse from heat stroke. I can’t tell you how many news stories we have every Christmas about some hard-working Santa who has fainted and been transported by ambulance to an emergency room in an effort to get his body temperature back down to normal.”

As our conversation continued I also learned that although Australians still think of turkey and ham as traditional Christmas foods, Australian women don’t particularly enjoy slaving away on hot days in hot kitchens so such things as prawns, lobster, simple salads and cold beer have become quite acceptable Christmas foods in that part of the world.

“Christmas in July has also come to be enjoyed by many Australians because there’s less hoo ha at that time of year,” continued my friend. “The nuttiness of buying lots of gifts which are not really wanted and often end up being `re-gifted’ is not such a problem in July, not to mention not having to deal with all those in-your-face Christmas lights and trimmings and having to listen endlessly to those often torturous Christmas songs on the radio and in stores and malls. So our Christmas in July is minus all the fluff and bubbles and makes that time more meaningful and enjoyable, with no worries about shopping, cooking, washing dishes or sending out cards. I guess I should also admit that having more than one Christmas each year also allows Australians the opportunity to party and pull out the grog, which of course is something we love to do. So I’m no longer so sure that the Aussies and the Kiwis drew the short straw when it comes to Christmas and who knows, maybe you Californians will give Christmas in July a chance someday, too. Believe me, there’s worse ways to spend Christmas than out at the pool or spa, wearing flip flops, eating prawns and drinking a cold beer. Just make sure you don’t volunteer to be Santa.”

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