Imagine a Christmas in Melbourne where there were virtually no street decorations, where shopkeepers didn’t make Christmas windows, where the houses largely had no Christmas lights, no wreaths or garlands, often not even an indoor Christmas tree. Well, in 2011, it happened. Person after person began spreading news not of Christmas cheer, but of Christmas sneer.
December, 22nd. Chris and I had walked around the villages in the Dandenong Ranges to take in the community cheer that shop keepers gift us with in December. But it was nowhere to be found… with the exception of Monbulk… yay, Monbulk! But that was only because their community of traders had a competition for the best Christmas window.
But for Chris and I, their windows were a gift to the community, its their festive face, its the someone who dares to dag, to put festivity out there, to spark others to celebrate, to raise spirits in something we could all share. The other villages, Belgrave, Tecoma, Upwey, Kalista, Mount Dandenong, Olinda, Sassafras, Emerald, but for the handful of exceptions (however small) who remembered or bothered, were largely devoid of any effort at ‘cheer’. Instead, they presented like Scrooge, bland, almost stating ‘business as usual’ or, more bluntly, ‘can’t be bothered’. And what they forgot was that this resonates with those walking past their windows, and then we can’t be bothered to look much further into their windows… they modeled ‘why be bothered’ and we resonated that.
I decided to ask a few shop keepers why they had pulled the plug on decorating their windows. There were so many reasons:
* they couldn’t see the point spending money when business had been tough all year
* there was nobody around, everyone is buying on the internet
* most decorations are from petrochemicals, made in sweatshops and lights contribute to global warming
* decorations are for those celebrating Christianity so if you’re not Christian why do it
* having a whole street or village join in promoting a Christian event is culturally excluding to non-Christians and therefore not culturally sensitive to the vast numbers of non-Christians (including atheists and humanists).
* we have a summer Christmas so decorations of snowflakes, snowmen or heavy dressed Santa make no sense
* Christmas decorations in the huge shopping malls are so homogenous, pristine and ‘designer’ they felt their own would be poor by comparison
* people felt bombarded by the ‘hard sell’ use of Christmas decorations used as early as September for a season in December and they didn’t want to look like they were desperately pushing the same hard sell.
* customers complained in general about the pressure of Christmas, its wastage, its kitsch, its sensory bombardment, its me-me greed, its hard sell style of Chri$tma$ as the celebration of materialism and profits.
* keeping decorations in a box all year took up space for no good reason
* when December came, they looked around and saw nobody else was doing decorations so couldn’t get ‘in the mood’ and decided they wouldn’t either.
There is much to celebrate in December in Australia. We don’t have snow but we do have sunshine. The trees are gifting us with saplings ready to pot and gift to others. The herbs in our gardens are so abundant they are crying out to be turned into ‘bush bouquets’ and plaited garlands to be gifted to others directly or through displaying them for the passing community. The bees are active, the butterflies are everywhere, the birds are singing and all pollinating the plants and trees in fruit, waiting to be picked and shared with others. The open spaces are waiting for celebratory gatherings. It is time for dancing, singing, playing instruments, poetising, throwing an ‘art party’, story telling (there’s some good Dreamtime sun stories), time to dag out, be part of the abundance of nature and remember we are part of nature too. Dress up as an elf, don your butterfly wings, adorn yourself with flowers and vines and celebrate the earth and its abundance. You can even have a safe silk ‘bonfire’!
December in Australia is our Summer Solstice, the celebration of summer and solstice is an astronomical event, an event of nature that belongs to us all regardless of religion, beliefs or differences. You can commemorate solstice whether you are Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, Neo-pagan or committed undecided humanoid.
Is there a place for shops in Summer Solstice? Of course there is. Imagine our villages celebrating the spirit of summer in all its energy, exuberance, inspiration, abundance. Selling hammers and wheelbarrows? Great, we can use them to put up a summer garland or barrow the plants we’ve been gifted or intend to gift. Selling dresses? Wonderful. We can buy them and embellish them with the colors and symbols of summer; leaves, berries, flowers. A Beautician? Great, you can adorn hair and faces with color and the symbols of nature. A real estate agent? Then boast the gardens of your properties waiting to be seen, the opportunities in a season of enthusiasm and activity to take on something new. A paint shop? Remind people of the gift of color, its place in celebration, creativity, inspiration. A travel agent? Summer is a time of high energy, of getting out there, of having experiences. There are no excuses.
When I was a teenager in the late 70s-early 80s, I left dandelions on door knockers, filled discarded bottles with pine needles in water and ran tinsel around the outside to make “bottle trees” for people, dressed as an elf, bought sweets and went to the city and offered them around to strangers. In my twenties I dressed up as a bear and ran about in the snow (in Birmingham). When I was 30, I made mini boxes of dandelion seeds as “wish boxes” and dressed as a Santa girl and went shopping.
Sure, Christmas is presently a conglomeration. For devoted Christians it will always be a time of going to church, of worshipping what they believe in, of celebrating in the name of Jesus and that’s valid for them and being summer solstice in no way takes away from their right to celebrate Christmas their own way. But until the 4th century Christmas was, simply, a celebration of the season, it was Yule. And in Australia, our season is summer. Our summer solstice coincides with Christmas time just as winter solstice does in the Northern Hemisphere. Chris and I We have a Summer tree, decorated with clip on craft butterflies and birds, beads and bling. We have a garland on our porch in rich summer colors with craft berries and fruits. I decorated the fence with ‘bush bouquets’ and we put up our little string of lights to spread the cheer with those passing.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The end of the year is a time to celebrate new beginnings, sometimes after a very tough year. My husband and I were both in hospital this year facing challenges that could have taken our lives. December was a time to celebrate new beginnings.
I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.