A column about Christmas

Every year, I grow a little older, and Christmas becomes a little less important. I used to look forward to the festive season with considerable excitement, because it meant I got presents. As a child, my materialism was unrestrained by any pretence of decency, so I’d dive into the lake of presents that was the happy byproduct of a large extended family with some of the purest joy of my life. Now that I’m older, far more expensive toys do considerably less for me. And so perplexed relatives ring me a few days before Jesus’ Big Day, racking their brain over what to buy me, and I’m never able to think of anything. Because if I could, I’d have bought it myself already. It’s not that I’m fabulously wealthy, despite the largesse of The Glebe over the years. It’s just that like so many Australians, I have a credit card with an absurdly high limit, and minimal self-control. Which is why I also have things like video games, an espresso maker I’ve used once in 18 months, and most absurdly, an electronic keyboard I can’t play, which sits there besides my computer and accuses me of wasting money every single day. It’s got a point.

So, Christmas has lost its traditional lustre. But there is one part I look forward to: the stockings my parents still make for us. As children, these used to constitute an exciting assortment of miniature delights, each to be individually unwrapped an enjoyed. Since we became adults, though, the items have transformed into knick-knacks of increasing uselessness and shoddy construction, to the crescendoing amusement of my mum and dad. They scour the local two-dollar shops for macabre-looking windup toys, plastic kazoos, wacky snowdomes, chocolates with that strange, cheap compound-chocolate taste, authentic-looking rubber spiders and appallingly kitsch DVDs. One Christmas they gave us an extensive series of clamps, and much to their disappointment, my brother found them genuinely useful for them in making artworks, and so I gave mine to him as well. They will never make that mistake again.

I’ve got all of them packed away in a box somewhere, where they’ll doubtless remain for the term of my natural life, after which someone (presumably from the National Trust, or perhaps the United Nations) will sort through them before disposing of most of them, puzzling over exactly why I had in my possession a wind-up, fire-breathing zombie nun by the name of ‘Nunzilla’.

The important thing, though, is that for one day each year, it’s fun to get together as a family and open these pointless presents. The stocking’s entire contents, many of which come from that cornucopia of crap that’s misleadingly named Hot Dollar, probably only sets my parents back $30. But funnily enough, they’re the gifts that stick in the memory, not the more expensive ‘proper’ items, which soon meld indistinguishably with the things I’ve bought myself.

So I’ve come to the hackneyed, and yet still somehow profound conclusion that what really matters at Christmastime is family. Sure, I know this is the moral of every sappy Disney Yuletide film, and I’m sounding like a pamphlet for The Santa Clause. But in an increasingly unreligious society, when you strip away the ancient traditions and the more modern tacky retail marketing, what are you left with? Coming together for a meal, and remembering, at least in my case, that even though I don’t see them very often, the people I’m related to are pretty great. Stands to reason, really, since they share so many of my genes.

Being mainly Anglos, we do this over the unseasonal consumption of roast turkey and ham. Sure, fish is far a more sensible option in our climate, but we take a certain perverse satisfaction in persisting with the ritual despite the strangeness of gorging yourself on dead animals in the sweltering heat. And we do this for one simple reason: we’re all addicted to that delightful combination of fat and alcohol that is brandy butter, and you’re only allowed to eat it with Christmas pudding without feeling like an alcoholic. Plus, it tastes awful when you spread it on bread – I’ve tried.

Looking back at this column, I am somewhat disturbed to note that despite being something of a professional cynic, I have pretty much written a piece about the True Meaning of Christmas. Perhaps it’s a special time after all? Or more likely, as I’ve long suspected, I am some kind of prophet. In any event, season’s greetings to you all, and make sure you enjoy some brandy butter during the brief window when it’s socially acceptable to do so.

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