Ylva author Lee Winter finds a few of the western world’s Christmas traditions more than a little head scratching. Here, she rails at all the silly things we do at this time of year that make absolutely no sense – and yet we keep right on doing them. Because tradition.
All that glisters. Those mini chocolate trees and gold-wrapped chocolate coins bought as stocking stuffers and festive decorations taste like boot scrapings dipped in brake fluid. Clearly some sadist mixed melted wax into the month-old tailings of cheap chocolate icing and then poured it all into a mold. Yet we persist on buying this prettily wrapped mouth tar to inflict on the palates of loved ones. I’m not saying you should feel guilty, but whenever you gift these to one you love, an angel cries.
Ho ho huh? Stupid gifts that have no relevance to the recipient are a head-scratching tradition that mystifies me. My dad thought it hilarious to give (adult) me an R-rated ashtray one year. No, I don’t smoke. Nor do I indulge in the manner of implied copulation taking place inside that racy dish. The offending article disappeared before lunch. My mother later told me it had excellent Frisbee properties. Pro Tip: The silliest gift to give an avid reader is a pair of book ends, because, yeah, sure, we have so few books that they need to be neatly pressed together by something other than the outer edges of a vast bookcase.
Cracked. Christmas cracker jokes are so awful that they make Dad jokes sound like Oscar Wilde witticisms. And yet—and no one knows why—we can’t resist them. Interestingly, one of the earliest British factories making bon-bons received only one customer complaint in its entire history. It was not for a bad joke, mind you, but a sad one: “Q. Why did the hedgehog cross the road? A. To see his flat mate.”
A Very Brady Christmas. Okay, okay, so I know I’m just singling out one bad festive flick in a Pantheon of them, but come on—architect trapped in a collapsed building and his wife sings him to safety? Even son Greg’s hilarious new pornstache/facial caterpillar couldn’t save that cinematic dog which is, to this day, held up as a shining example of the dangers of a writer’s strike.
As a one-time newspaper TV editor, for six weeks a year I had to gird my loins for complaints from the public about TV stations showing only the entertainment entrails. It was weird they thought I had a say in program scheduling. Ninety per cent of callers were men, and all started with something suitably curmudgeonly, such as “I have a bone to pick”. It’s not that they didn’t appreciate It’s A Wonderful Life the first fifty or sixty times, but it turns out, shockingly, they have a limit.
My own limit, by the way, is the festive interstitials. Primary school kids singing carols in the TV ad breaks with voices so off-key that it seems downright deliberate. Why this ear-sore became a tradition will baffle historians throughout the ages. Hell, it baffles me now. Well, that and Mike Brady clawing his way towards his wife’s shrill voice. (PS RIP Florence, you were a class act.)
Hot stuff. As a pre-teenage girl growing up on the Gold Coast, my family and I always spent the day at my imperious Great Aunt Joan’s home. We might have been in Australia, but Joan, the proprietor of a ladies’ undergarments-fitting store (the industrial-strength kind with whale-bone scaffolding and chin-trembling pain), believed in retaining all the proud traditions from our nation’s motherland, despite the fact none of us were actually English. Therefore Christmas involved enormous roasts (lamb, chicken and beef) and groaning trays of piping-hot vegies and steamed plum pudding (containing hidden coins) with brandy sauce.
We all crowded around the dining table, next to a fake Christmas tree adorned with white tinsel to make it look like snow, while steam fogged the wide windows and we valiantly tried to ignore the fact it was a blazing hot 40C (104F) outside.
Our faces would be tomato red. Dad’s shirt would have big, wide sweat rings under the arms. The paper party hats enforcing our good cheer dissolved into pieces against our hot, wet foreheads, staining us the color of the paper.
The weird thing is that we were not alone. Many Australian families had (and some still have) traditional English Christmases, regardless of the sweltering heat, or their own origins.
Of course one of the best things about mindless or silly traditions is that they can always be changed. And this hot roast lunch is one that has shifted a lot in recent decades Down Under, replaced with plenty of salads, beachside barbecues and cool seafood dishes added to the mix.
Now if only the same could be said for the other traditions. But if they changed those, it wouldn’t be Christmas, would it?
Lee Winter is an award-winning newspaper journalist and in her over 25-year career has lived in virtually every state of Australia, covering courts, crime, entertainment, hard news, features and humor writing. She is author of The Red Files and just published Requiem for Immortals with Ylva Publishing.