Monday, December 24, 2001

On Chris Cringle and Cave to Cave Searches

Come gather round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone
If your time dealt with saving
Then you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone.
Oh, the times they are a' changing.
Bob Dylan, 1963

I must have been on another planet these last twelve months. Either that, or working too hard.

The first time that I heard the name "Chris Cringle" was about ten days ago in Melbourne, when a friend explained the concept. Instead of buying presents for who you want, you get one person selected for you, by the host of the function where gifts are to be exchanged. Now you may or may not know this person. And they may or may not know you. But that latter doesn't matter, as they don't find out who gave them the present, so they can't thank you, or be impressed with your excellent choice, or anything normal like that.

It is all the rage here in OZ where I am for the next few weeks. And not just at office parties, but at family gatherings. Who IS this Chris Cringle when he's at home. I don't like the sound of him one bit. But Christmas, like the times, is a'changing.

So much so, that it may soon, like smoking, be banned in public places. I read on page 10 of last Saturday's Age newspaper, an article ridiculing America's attitude to Christmas. In his "Inside America" column, Roger Franklin writes, "There is something missing in America, this Christmas, and it's not just the Twin Towers. Nor is it the longed-for spectacle of Osama bin Laden being made to pay for the massacres perpetuated by his Islamikazi acolytes. This year, more than ever before, the absent ingredient is another bearded fugitive and previously unrecognized threat to the common good: Santa Claus... Blame it on the U.S. Constitution ... since it demands a total and absolute separation of church and state."

Mr. Franklin goes on to give examples of Santa being banned in Kensington Virginia, Silverton, Oregon and on certain streets in Manhattan. I agree with Mr Franklin. It IS silly. BUT...

On page 12 of the very same paper, Terry Lane writes (in a piece headed "Why are we doing away with the manger?") of the very same phenomenon here in Australia. Mr Lane: "However, culture, in a multi-cultural society, is something that every one else has, but we don't. By we, I mean those of us who are white and had the misfortune to be born here before 1949, when culture first arrived. I have been thinking along these lines by the annual agonizing over the performance of the nativity play in your local kindergarten. In some places it is banned, to protect the sensibilities of those not of the Christian faith".

I agree, Mr. Lane. I did, however find it amusing that your colleague, Mr Franklin perceived such "political correctness" as a particularly American absurdity.

Not as absurd as Mr Leunig's end of year reflection in today's Age however. Australian cartoonist cartoonist Michael Leunig has written an article entitled, "We should try to love bin Laden, for Christ's sake". If that is Mr. Leunig's contribution to analyzing 2001, he's become as silly as his character Mr Curly. Mr. Leunig should keep to cartoons.

As far as Christmas is concerned, I can take it or leave it. The child of atheists, I've never quite understood it anyway. As a young child, I found Christmas a depressing affair. With no extended family, and a very small and poor nuclear one (one adult, two kids), Christmas often meant sitting around an old laminex table eating hamburgers with holly on top. My mother had what you could call, "a dry sense of humour".

Later on, when we were grown up, I'd go to my brother's for Christmas lunch. He managed to combine Hindu and Christian tradition with a bit of Australiana. In the fireplace the children would assemble a manger, with real straw. A baby koala toy represented baby Jesus; a kangaroo, a possum and an emu, the three wise men. We'd sit around drinking beer with his mates and our kids, under the hot Melbourne sun. Around four o'clock the lamb curry and Suki Bhaji nu Shak would be served.

The beer having hit us well before the meal, love and peace would somehow melt along with the raita, and the traditional "John and Yoko" argument would begin. One year, we almost forgot to have it. "Hey", someone called as guests began to depart, "we haven't had the John and Yoko argument!".

Back they all trooped. "John was destroyed by Yoko, she ruined the Beatles". "No, John was the genius and Yoko helped him, it was Paul who messed up". And so on, as per the year before, and the year before that.

After such Christmases you can imagine that I greeted the crisp Manhattan days of regular-shaped and cultivated fir trees (as compared with the branch shoved in a bucket filled with sand of my OZ days), with warmth and anticipation. Such "Christmases" now seem normal to me. Plus, it is all over with fast. No hanging around the table discussing politics and the state of the economy and what's wrong with the world. Christmas-on-the-go. My sort of Christmas.

And although I agree with Mr. Lane on multiculturalism being all one-way at times, I have to say, that as an agnostic I quite like saying and hearing, "Happy holidays" rather than, "Happy Christmas".

This has been a strange and tense year, especially for those of us who live in New York and Washington. In January 2001, we had never heard of "Cave to cave searches", and hopping on an airplane was no more worrisome than hopping on a bus.

Let us hope that 2002 will treat us all better. And on that note I wish you all, Happy Holidays.


December 2001

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