Sunday, December 11, 2011

silver bells: christmas in summer

i finally played my first christmas album of the season yesterday. it was nice to listen to, but it felt odd, not only because the sun was shining and the air was warm, but because i was making spicy salsa for a new dish: mexican sushi.

the song silver bells affected me more than any other. the lyrics of the song remind me sooooo so much of the holiday season i experience in my hometown in middle america, which is essentially the idealized version you see in all those old movies.

my huge family manages to take christmas to an even higher level of kitschy wholesomeness by singing carols together on christmas day, culminating in a cousin ho-ho-ho-ing into the room dressed as santa just as the von bauers end with a round of jingle bells! every year. (bourbon slushies recommended)

but i have to admit that i love it all, and as much as i rolled my eyes at the whole affair at different stages of my childhood (and adulthood), i truly feel the ultimate intimacy of home as the cold weather sets in to welcome these traditions.

listening to silver bells, which absolutely encompasses this mid-western holiday sentiment, made me realize just how absent this atmosphere is in sydney during the build up to christmas. i mean, yes, it's summertime, and people go to the beach regularly, and the sun shines warmly down on our skin, but i think its more than just the weather...

i'll quote some lyrics from the song to explain:

City sidewalk, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style.
In the air there's
A feeling of Christmas.

nope. in the air there's a feeling of SUMMERTIME! i have to admit, i do like that feeling, especially considering i'm about to spend six cold winter weeks in the US.

and when i notice wreathes and other holiday adornments around sydney (or melbourne where i was last week), they seem completely out of place and awkward. people know christmas is coming, but there is not really a feeling of anticipation. there is no snow falling or:

Children laughing, people passing,
Meeting smile after smile,
And on every street corner you'll hear:

Silver bells, silver bells,
It's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring,
Soon it will be Christmas day.

i actually havent seen a single santa standing outside a store, clanging his "silver bells" and asking for donations. and when i do see santas dressed up in their red suits and hats, i think to myself "that is one of the worst jobs in the world: sweaty santa in hot summer sydney."

City street lights,
Even stop lights,
Blink a bright red and green,
As the shoppers rush home
With their treasures.

i have seen exactly two houses with holiday lights, although i live close to the city and not in a suburb, so maybe that's the reason.   and maybe its because i havent really been into any stores to shop for presents this year, but i dont hear friends talking about shopping or tree-decorating, or see evidence of the stress that seems to surround some people in their bustle to "prepare" for the big days.

Hear the snow crunch,
See the kids bunch,
This is Santa's big scene,
And above all this bustle you'll hear...

seeing snow flutter to the ground; feeling that crunch of snow underfoot; getting all bundled up in sweaters and warm hats: these things act as catalysts for holiday anticipation. i know people here who have never seen snow.

ok, so maybe it does have a lot to do with the weather, and the fact that holiday "traditions" here are just simply much different than what i grew up with. although i definitely felt the winter holiday excitement when i lived in germany from august to december one year and experienced all their christmas markets and gluhwein.

Randall Munroe, the creator of the xkcd comics, produced a very interesting commentary this week stating that "every year, american culture embarks on a massive project to carefully recreate the christmases of baby boomers' childhoods." it's pretty true now that i think about it, but in all honesty, it's also my childhood. the traditions might be relatively young, but i will always embrace them because they are mine, regardless of who instigated them.

the down side is that modern american consumer culture clings onto anything that might be a commercial success, and manages to suck every bit of genuine enjoyment out of it. as much as i love the holiday anticipation, when it starts all over US towns in early november, it becomes overwhelming and annoying very quickly.   will that ever change?  how can we change it?

luckily, this year i will go home one week before christmas, bake some cookies, experience concentrated christmas goodness until i reach a safe saturation, sing my heart out to some carols with my family, and then happily let the season pass.

i'm so looking forward to going home for a visit!! :)

ps. it better snow when i'm in ohio!


Andy said...

I know what you mean. I, too, bemoan the lack of a "White Christmas" in this country. Since most things Christmas related are also Winter related, it seems totally out of season on this side of the planet. White Christmas, Snowmen, Reindeer, it just doesn't make sense when you're sitting down to a Christmas dinner in 30+C heat. Drinking eggnog and roasting chestnuts on an open fire seem a million miles away.

sarafrank said...

Silver bells is one of my favorites! V and I listened to Christmas music the whole time we made holiday treats this year. It's pretty wonderful. (also, appropriately cold. )

heroineworshipper said...

Most people with jobs aren't celebrating XMas in America. Making money these days requires living in Asia, Australia, or somewhere that produces. America is mainly a tourist attraction.