There goes Christmas and the New Year for 2010. Waving from the back window of the family car rapidly disappearing in a trail of gravel dust down the front driveway. Bye Bye now - See you next year you mongrel bastards! Mixed feelings about Christmas have always followed me around in the November lead up to the season since I was capable of independent thought or at least since Santa was brutally murdered in my imagination. Santa to me, was someone I managed to hold onto a bit longer than most other kids due to what I came to recognize was a tenacious, lifelong talent to avoid reality. Yes, that was me you saw on the Television News that year. The sensitive child, alone in the playground nursing the bloodied corpse of Father Christmas in his lap. You see what I mean?
I've long wrestled with the hypocrisy that I'm sure many atheists do, of celebrating the fictional birthday of a mythical, supernatural, Jewish, messianic figure and the guilt for being such an ungrateful little cuss for not appreciating the season. I continue to celebrate it, like I'm sure many do, to keep the peace in the family. Back in the day, I would stress about getting the right gifts for my family and then be greeted by cries of 'Oh You shouldn't have!' and 'How much did this cost? It's too much!' I found that Christmas in Australia is an orgy of passive, aggressive behavior with the words 'Tradition' and 'Family' used as a cudgel to beat uppity questioners into submission. Buying presents for my close friends was conversely a pleasure. They could see and appreciate that I had gifted them something they were interested in or see how it might relate to something shared we’ve enjoyed through the year. Then if I mentioned to my mother about how good it was that my friend enjoyed their Christmas present I'd get `Well you spend more time thinking about your friends than you do your own family.' But then If a gift wasn't ultimately practical or of some use, my family was disappointed. `Well it looks good but it’s not something I could really use, like a shovel, is it? Now Days they're the complete opposite and we're all loaded with useless novelty trinkets and chocolates from K-Mart. Admittedly it is hard to buy gifts for people you don't know or understand.
My family is not a family where debate and argument is encouraged. Even imagination is looked upon with suspicion. No. `That's what other people do on the television and not being on television you're obviously not as smart as they are so keep your trap shut.’ Nope. My family has inherited a peculiar trait of 'just putting up with things' until perhaps there's a death in the family. Putting up with things until world events change so much that the everybody is forced to change because we're all on the run from invading forces and Christmas is now seen as a frivolous indulgence compared to foraging for food each day to survive. That they can relate to.
It wasn't always this way. I've wonderful, idyllic memories of Christmas mornings alive with the excitement of knowing that Santa had visited through the night. He'd left exciting presents under the Christmas tree and there was proof he really was there because the beer, cake and carrots that you and your sister had prepared for him the night before had all been eaten or partially molested in some way. I can remember Christmas Dinners that were overflowing with delicious roast meats, well cooked vegetables and smothered in gravy while Bing Crosby warbled from my grandmothers old record player cabinet. Aside from the fun of pulling bon-bons there was real money to be found baked into the Christmas pudding. I remember lots of laughter and warm feelings of being loved. Then there was an afternoon nap and a late picnic dinner down at the beach. Boxing Day was spent with the other side of the family, another picnic lunch at the beach and it was the perfect time to show off your own presents and admire others.
Then at some point. I’m not sure exactly when. It all seemed to change. The magic of Christmas was replaced by cynicism, guilt and long drawn out feelings of dread. For some time after my Nanna died, we had Christmas Dinners with my mothers side of the family at our home in what was then the small fishing village of Nelson Bay. This was before my father bulldozed the lush garden my mum and he had spent years building and replaced it with pebble paving and shops. (This turned out to be a good thing financially for the family but it was very traumatic at the time). Then, some years later, the venue for Christmas Dinner changed location to the farm of my grandmother `Mardy' and my mothers side of the family at her farm in rural Anna Bay.
Let me paint a little word picture for you so you may understand the kind of people we’re dealing with. If perhaps, you are part of this family and you want to find another member. Don’t ask around politely as to their location. No. YELL out loudly the persons name. Over and over again at the top of your voice until that person responds - by yelling back! That’s the easy description. The reality was much worse. Lets go on now to propose that at least one of the people doing the yelling is partially deaf. So even when the other person yelling back is heard, they’re not heard completely. Hence, loud clarification for their location is again yelled out for. Of course not being a terribly big farm there are not many places for them to be but that’s beside the point. More yelling is required to nail down any ambiguity as to weather the person is either in the back shed or the side paddock. What that person is ultimately needed for is irrelevant. It’s the very act of yelling loudly out for somebody that accords it’s own strange sense of status.
That’s the larger end of the yelling scale in my family. On the smaller end is the casual yelling over each other to be heard at the dinner table in ever increasing scales. First off, Christmas dinner is held in the hot and humid open area under a canopy of large leafed trees. Second, it seems standard that at each dinner there will be someone at the table who nobody knows. It’s usually a girlfriend or suchlike but can also be the elderly parents of the previously mentioned girlfriend or a sullen brother or cousin. Either way. At no point is this person introduced to you or anybody else so you really have no idea who these strange people are. It’s entirely logical to ask these people who they are and how they fit in to the family gathering. But after asking one too many times I’ve found it easier to just ignore them or wait vainly for a family member to introduce me to their mono-sibylic guest for the year.