It’s summertime and Christmas. The travelling cherry sellers from Young are out in force across the Canberra region, stationed in their utes along major arterial roads every weekend. Country letterboxes are festooned festively. Houses are decorated in LED lights and what appears tacky (to some) in the daytime assumes illuminated beauty at night (to all). The only thing at odds with the season is the weather, that now is temperate and often wet, a gift of the La Niña phrase of the Southern Oscillation (the atmospheric phenomenon of air pressure and rainfall patterns between the Australian/Indonesian region and the eastern Pacific).
As far back as I can remember, my memories of summer begin with its prelude in October when soaring temperatures and breathless days alternated with the more temperate nature of spring. By November, Sundays at the beach were a lifestyle fixture, providing a day of rest and cool respite from the overheated houses of the western suburbs of Sydney where I grew up. Those memories are of El Niño – long stretches of record-breaking temperatures, cloudless days, intensely blue skies, glaring daylight, houses throbbing with the compounding heat of summer, yellow straw-like grasses, and the shimmering heat haze over the distant landscape. Life was HOT! And uncomfortable.
This year, we’ve had the occasional spike of high temperatures but, for the most part, this summer has seen temperatures at 25 degrees Celsius or less and regular rainfall. Everything is greener. Country dams are full. Livestock look like ships in a sea of bending grass. Life is pleasant.
It’s Christmas. Shopping malls and streets are bedecked with decorations, and commercialised song replays endlessly as shoppers rush about on business. In Sydney, when I was there in the past week, the scene varied from that of Canberra only in Market Street, where people of assorted sizes, ages, and faiths (the latter signalled by Islamic dress) queued to view the Christmas displays in David Jones’ shop front windows (Australia’s oldest department store) – magical animations of Christmas songs, Santa-scapes, and nativity scenes.
Standing there in queue, my childhood memories of trips into the city to view these windows and picnics in Hyde Park flickered with my present. Peace and a sense of seasonal magic seemed to separate us from the blare of traffic down Market Street. We shared the joy that comes with experiencing ‘magical things’.
Overall, amidst the hurly burly of the season, the reason for celebrating it appears lost. The hurry and flurry of shopping combined with the stress of gifting to a budget seems to have muscled out thoughts of goodwill. This is most noticeable in the lack of seasonal greetings as part of everyday interactions. In retail exchanges, when I wish people, "Merry Christmas," the reaction has been a surprised pause followed by, "Thank you, no one seems to say that anymore," a smile, and then a reduction in bustle.
My Christmas wish this year is PEACE ON EARTH AND GOODWILL TO BE SHARED BY ALL.