Happy Christmas in July!

WHY DOES the Australian hospitality industry dislocate Christmas by seven months (rather than six)?

My theory is that they borrowed the idea from the northern hemisphere, where Christmas seems merely silly in hot weather.

Although previously not unknown, the concept was popularised in late 1940 by a light-hearted Hollywood movie, Christmas in July. The main-title shows the letters of “CHRISTMAS” topped in snow, and “JULY” in flames.

So, it’s merely anachronistic fun, available to greeting card and other commercial interests.

The southern hemisphere shifting the seasons six months gets to the core of our being.

Plum pudding “at 100 degrees in the shade” is a recognised absurdity. But a summer Christmas upsets not only the foods. The seasonal mood is all out of joint.

I have already complained about the Australian Christmas as doubly stressful – enforcing happy family gatherings amid obligatory summer fun.

Christmas is actually meant to bring the New Year promise that life might be a downer now, but it will soon re-awaken – the snow melt, and green shoots appear.

The familiar symbolism offers a glimmer of hope. Candles pierce the gloom. Yule-logs promise warmth. Fir trees stand out against the snow. Red baubles provide colour. Even family gatherings might lend some relief.

In An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949), M.F.K. Fisher observed under “F is for family” that “deliberately assembled relatives can be one of the dullest, if not most dangerous, gatherings in the world”. She saw no reason why “a given set of ill-assorted people, for no other reason than because it is Christmas, will be joyful to be reunited and to break bread together”.

Yet even she tried her family best at Christmas.

The depths of winter are so gloomy that the number of suicides might be expected to rise. It is the reverse, however. Records from various times and places show the highest suicide rate in late spring and early summer.

In Le Suicide in 1897, sociologist Emile Durkheim explained that longer sunlight allowed more social activity. As well as the days getting longer, activity intensified:

For the countryside, the Winter is a time of rest approaching stagnation. All life seems to stop…. In Spring, however, everything begins to awake; activity is resumed, relations spring up, interchanges increase …

The cities exhibited the same seasonal variation, although the worst of winter was attenuated by the bright lights. In summer, social activity, including suicide, “has more space to operate”. People rub up against one another more, sometimes abrasively, so that violent assaults also increase. And Durkheim concluded

… it is the density of human interactions, and not the environment that caused higher incidence of suicide in Spring or Summer

Depressed people can feel even further out of synch amid the social density and sunnier mood. They can be cast as misfits, not wanting to play beach cricket.

A genuinely wintry Christmas means everyone fears the worst, and might be pleasantly surprised. The darkness gives permission to cheering up.

COLUMNIST Annabel Crabb wrote yesterday about politics here and abroad being like a bad dream. Having called an unusual, winter election, Malcolm Turnbull has only snuck back as Prime Minister, along with racist One Nation. Nonetheless, we in Australia are probably not as dispirited as those in the north, whose summer shines bright with Brexit and Trump.

Christmasinjulypost.jpg

We can take heart that Preston Sturges’ “cunning and carefree” comedy, Christmas in July, was released, in time for winter, just after Franklin D. Roosevelt had easily won a third Presidential term.

New York Times movie critic Bosley Crowther advised:

As a post-election jog to national sanity, we recommend Christmas in July.

One thought on “Happy Christmas in July!

  1. good to see another blog from you

    (remember, we can publish your book(s)!)

    I convene a Tuesday Lunch (today!) for the Australasian Pioneers Club, of which I am a member by dint of a convict ancestor

    each week I send out an invitation to joins us in the Dangar Room at the Union Club in Bent Street

    (visitors are welcome)

    here was one I sent our re the Yule

    R

    *THE TUESDAY PIONEERS LUNCH*

    */z /*

    */The time has come to sacrifice some virgins/*

    TRADITIONALLY, the Winter solstice, which falls next Tuesday, was a time of the ancient year when virgins ran for the hills, for fear of being sacrificed in the cause of encouraging the sun to return from its swing round Earth, and ensure bumper crops, woollier sheep and warmer weather in the months ahead.

    For us pioneers, however, it is one of the four main days of our pioneering year.It is our traditional mid-winter lunch, held as near as possible to the shortest day, which is either Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

    We hope you will be joining us for this Nordic festival of the Yule.

    Today we tend to associate Yule with logs and Christmas.But it goes back well before Christianity, to when our northern ancestors wore woad and had scarcely emerged from the caves in the hills and fjords closer to the Arctic.This was the era of the God Woden, and the men who worshipped him, the fearsome Vikings.

    They celebrated Yule (which is Old Nordic for “festival”) on or about December 21 – which for those in the northern hemisphere then became their winter solstice.

    The form was to grab a couple of virgins, depending on whether it was a one-, two- or three-virgin Yule (they weren’t kinfolk, I hasten to add, but slaves shanghaied from places like my ancestral island Jura, in what was later Scotland).

    After being ceremoniously dispatched, their yule-blood was smeared over the men present (it was, like our Club, a men-only affair), together with the walls of the yule-hall, the yule-tables, chairs and /batterie de cuisine/, and even any yule-dogs or yule-slaves who happened to be still around.

    In later, more enlightened times, the yule-virgins – an increasingly scarce resource as the years went on – were replaced by sacrificial animals, like yule-oxen (which is the Nordic plural of a yule-ox).

    I do not know what we will be having for lunch on Tuesday, but beef would certainly be appropriate, not to say traditional.

    Speaking of which, we had an excellent lunch last Tuesday when our guest, Arnold Vink, told us about the Botanic Garden, whose bicentenary fell on Monday. (Did you know that, ironically, we owe the Botanic Garden to the poorness of its soil?Macquarie couldn’t grow “corn” there, so he transferred the colony’s agricultural endeavours to Rouse Hill, planting shrubs and trees in its place.Had the sandy soil around Farm Cove been better and the “corn” planted there prospered, it would have been replaced, in the fullness of time, by terrace houses, or whatever, and today it would probably be a lovely part of Woolloomooloo.)

    I am hoping to invite Arnold back soon to tell us about Lindesay, the historic Darling Point house run by the National Trust, and of which Arnold is also one of its custodians.

    Come to think of it, perhaps we should invite Arnold to become an honorary, or even an associate, Pioneer.

    R

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s