Friday, December 5, 2008

Six White Boomers

It doesn't seem to be available online (not even gone and already my influence is waning!), so here's my Christmas column from the Muskokan.

Christmas with the kangaroos and didgeridoos

My brain is a searchable music archive. It’s a quirk of memory – I have to look up my children’s birthdates, and I can’t ever remember phone numbers, but give me a word or phrase and I can usually come up with a song that contains it. But try as I might, I can only think of one Australian Christmas song – Six White Boomers, by Rolf Harris. It falls into the Christmas novelty song category, not quite as beloved as Rudolph, nowhere near as annoying as Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.

I’ve been humming Six White Boomers lately, as I try to wrap my head around what Christmas means to those who celebrate it in the middle of summer. This isn’t just an academic exercise – shortly after Christmas I’ll be leaving for Australia, where I’ll spend the next year writing, surfing, and no doubt thinking about snow.

I’ve been exploring Australian culture before I go, and I’ve been surprised to find that there just don’t seem to be many Aussie Christmas songs. Rolf Harris’s tale of Santa’s kangaroos aside, most are just humorous rewrites of holiday classics (“Deck the sheds with bits of wattle,” for example, or “Dashing through the bush in a rusty Holden ute.”) According to my Australian friends, the music they hear in the shopping malls and the carol festivals is the same as we enjoy here, songs about dreaming of a white Christmas, and roasting chestnuts on an open fire.

It’s nothing less than bizarre. The only person foolish enough to go anywhere near an open fire in the middle of an Australian summer is someone who’s already been driven mad by 35 degree heat with 80 per cent humidity. Or perhaps the same kind of masochist who dresses as Santa, complete with big red coat and hat and thick white beard. The song should be rewritten: “Santa roasting in the blazing sun…”.

Early in their history Australians wrestled with the question of how to celebrate Christmas in a hot, upside-down country, even asking whether Christmas could really survive once it’s been stripped of British trappings like hot roast dinner and steaming plum pudding.

The answer they came up with was something Canadians can relate to: an ill-fitting compromise that, eventually, makes its own kind of sense. These days some Australians serve the same sort of meal we like in Canada, cranking up the air conditioning as they roast a turkey. Others do steaks on the barbecue, or serve cold ham and salad, or prawns and oysters. They decorate pine trees, sing carols by candle light, and take the kids to the mall to sit on Santa’s knee. They also celebrate the season by watching the start of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race, going to cricket matches, and cooling down at the beach.

And all of it adds up to a Christmas that Australians love just as much as we love our Christmas of snowy days and long, cold nights.

What the Australians have discovered, it seems, is that Christmas is Christmas no matter how you celebrate. It doesn’t matter what you eat or how hot it is or whether the landsape is white, green, or scorching red. Christmas is a season of sharing what you have with those around you, of time spent with family and good will toward men, and trying to figure out what the birth of Christ means in the 21st century.

So merry Christmas to all of you, dear readers. And a very happy New Year. I wish you all the best in 2009, and I shall see you again in 2010.

And if anyone knows any good Australian Christmas songs, I’d love to hear them before I go. I’m getting rather tired of running Six White Boomers through my head over and over...

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