Re. Joy. Sing.December 24, 2009
Yesterday evening as I was driving home from the supermarket, I was reflecting on why this particular Christmas season seems to be giving me a hard time. I love Christmas, roolly and troolly I do; the kitsch, the lights, the magic, the tradition, the food, and the special effort people make in rising to be the best versions of themselves.
Much has been written, and continues to be writ, about the commercialisation, the emotional and financial stress people willingly place themselves under to give the biggest and the best, and the seeming absence of the Christ child amidst all the razzle-dazzle.
Five years ago I wrote a piece, that appeared on a now extinct blog, which told of some Melburnian Christmas traditions celebrated for as long as I can remember. It is Christmas Eve day here and it has been my plan to resurrect that piece and post it on this blog – and I will – but first, a 2009 Christmas tale.
Where was I? Oh yes, driving back home from the supermarket and reflecting. As I turned the third to last corner before my home, I realised that this is the twelfth Christmas I have been alone; alone as in having no partner or parents or family to share the occasion with although in those twelve years I have shared the occasion, on occasion, with friends and work colleagues and acquaintances from various groups I have been involved in. There has been partying, and Christmas cheer, gift-buying and gift-giving.
Aha! I suddenly realised, as I turned the second-to-last corner to my home, I won’t be getting a present this Christmas. Eh….that sucks.
Three minutes later, as I was closing the door on my car after getting out my groceries, I turned around and standing behind me was one of my neighbours, bearing a gift for me; a box of Cadbury Roses chocolates.
Unexpected. Inexplicable. Awesome.
Christmas Passed 2004
One of Melbourne’s most endearing Christmas rituals is the pilgrimage to The Boulevard in Ivanhoe, an inner East and very well-heeled suburb. Most residents in The Boulevard have been lighting up their homes for over 40 years and as one resident says, “If you can’t have a white Christmas, why not decorate your house?”
Around 20,000 to 25,000 sightseers converge on the winding Boulevard on the three nights before Christmas to “ooh” and “aah” over the festive illuminations. It has become a very organised event with porta-loos and choristers and I have many fond memories of my father taking me on this pilgrimage of illumination as a child.
But not everybody who lives in The Boulevard supports the joyful enthusiasm of their electrified neighbours and the Scrooges complain about the traffic, the vandals and the disruption that thousands of twinkling, racing, chasing, variegated lights cause to their sleep. So rules have been enforced. The 70 per cent of residents who like their twinkling, racing, chasing, blinking lights are only allowed to keep them on for four hours each night.
Decorative lighting is big business and compared to 35 years ago, the array of lighting is amazing. Most Christmas Illuminati start off fairly modestly and then they get hooked and before you know it, they are addicted until one year they find they have 100,000 lights on their home. Does the name Griswald mean anything to you, dear reader?
Another Christmas ritual-pilgrimage is to view the Christmas windows in the Myer Melbourne Bourke Street store. Sidney Myer arrived in Melbourne in 1899 as a penniless Russian immigrant and ended up creating one of the largest retail businesses in Australia – Myer and Grace Brothers stores. Melbourne is Myers has been a catch-phrase for a few decades now and just about everyone has worked at Myers at some stage in their life. My mother worked for Myers in the 1940s and I worked for them in 1981 and I had an aunt who worked for Myers for over 30 years. Which meant, she had easy access to a cornucopia of everything a niece could desire, and often received, as she came waddling down our street, laden down with brightly wrapped extravagant presents each Christmas-of-my-childhood.
A few years ago, the insight dropped that my aunt was competing with my mother for my affections; seducing me with gifts that my mother couldn’t afford to purchase and which, invariably, were always shinier, brighter and better. Yet it was my parents who shared in my joy on Christmas morning – not my aunt.
My middle name is Joy. My mother once told me she and my father gave me that name for the joy that I brought them. Where was I?
The first Christmas windows coincided with the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and the introduction of television to Australia and has become a yearly event. The queue to see the windows always stretches around the block – it’s a big block.
Each Christmas, the windows are transformed into a magical world and when I was a kid, the windows would depict fairytales or ballets, such as Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. This year, 2004, the display is “Polar Express” and I have a rather cynical view about this choice. Myers is no longer Myers. It is Coles-Myers and their vision of retail is not the vision Sidney Myer had.
Melbourne’s third Christmas tradition is Carols by Candlelight which began on Christmas Eve in Melbourne in 1937. The 67th Carols by Candlelight will be held tonight at ~ surprise surprise ~ the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, which is a huge outdoor shell-like structure. Over the years I have seen The Beach Boys and AC/DC perform shows there. Well, I heard The Beach Boys because so many people went to see them, I ended up in the back paddock!
Carols by Candlelight is now an annual event in the lead-up to Christmas in cities and towns all across this wide, brown land and Sydney have Carols in the Domain, but Melbourne’s carols are far superior. (stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Sydneysiders)
The carols kick off at 9pm tonight and finish at 11:30pm, which will give me time to scoot up to St Peter’s for midnight services. I’m not a real big fan of Christmas Day but Christmas Eve is something special – always has been. As a child, I would sit aside and vigilantly watch the sky looking for Santa and count the stars before being shooed into bed by my mother ~ so she and dad could start wrapping my presents and put them in my Christmas pillowcase (which I still have). That’s right a pillowcase not a stocking. Stockings are too small – can’t fit diddly in them.
There is something magical about Christmas Eve. Maybe it is Santa, maybe it is the memory of childhood Christmases long past but never forgotten or maybe it is because it is the birth day of the Christ child.
All I know is that when I walked for an hour last night on a very balmy Melbourne night, I heard my mother whisper “Look at all the fairy lights”.
I’m looking, mum, I’m looking.
2009: For as long as I remember I will continue to look, I will continue to believe, I will continue.