Tue 8 Dec 2009
“Icicle lights,” those fancy Christmas designed to mimic the shape of icicles hanging off of rooftops, can be found all over Australia at this time of year, which is pretty hilarious considering that in Australia it’s now the beginning of summer.
I used to think all the Winter Solstice trappings of Christmas were odd when I was living in Southern California, when people would deck themselves out in scarves and sweaters to brave the 60° F (15° C) weather, and decorate their houses with big glowing snowflakes and inflatable snowmen. But at least in California it was actually winter, even if you had to look really hard and pretend to shiver in order to tell.
But here, we still have the snowflakes and the fur hats and the icicle lights, even though it is blooming SUMMER, and furthermore, even in winter it never, ever, EVER snows in South Australia. (There are rumors that once, on one day, there was an insubstantial bit of snow on Mount Lofty, but this exception proves the rule, doesn’t it? Also, it is probably a LIE.)
Here, your only chance of having a White Christmas is to head out to the salt plains in the middle of the desert. Like this:
But Christmas still has most of the cultural trappings that Americans or Europeans would expect. Nothing screams “Nation of Immigrants” more than steadfastly clinging to wintry traditions in the middle of summer, but over the years, the Aussies have managed to develop some of their own Christmas culture more suited for life under the Southern Cross, including their own Christmas Carols.
To whit: Australian Jingle Bells:
To me, this still sounds like an immigrant’s song (“oh we come from the land of the ice and snow …” no, just kidding), since the song is a parody of the original, and to my ears the lyrical theme is basically “Christmas Down Under is hot! Isn’t that strange?” But I reckon that native Aussies might hear it differently. At any rate, it’s a charming reworking of Jingle Bells, with plenty of Australian slang thrown in for good measure (and national pride!) Here are the lyrics, with my translation in parenthesis):
Dashing through the bush
In a rusty Holden Ute (Holden is an Aussie car company, and Ute = utility vehicle, or pickup truck)
Kicking up the dust
Esky in the boot (An esky is a cooler and a car’s boot is what Yankees know as its the trunk)
Kelpie by my side (According to my wife, “Kelpies are THE quintessential Australian cattle dog”)
Singing Christmas songs
Its summer time and I am in
My singlet, shorts and thongs (Reassuringly, thongs here just means sandals. A singlet is a tank top)
Oh, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
Jingle all the way
Christmas in Australia
On a scorching summer’s day
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
Christmas time is beaut
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a rusty Holden Ute
Engine’s getting hot
Dodge the kangaroos
Swaggy climbs aboard (AKA a swag-man, AKA a tramp or a hobo. My wife says this is a reference to the legendary swag-man from the song Waltzing Matilda, and picking up hitchhikers is not an integral part of Australian Christmas traditions.)
He is welcome too
All the family is there
Sitting by the pool
Christmas day, the Aussie way
By the barbecue!
Come the afternoon
Grandpa has a doze
The kids and Uncle Bruce
Are swimming in their clothes
The time comes round to go
We take a family snap
Then pack the car and all shoot through
Before the washing up
So there you go. I can’t quite get over the idea of going for a swim on Christmas Day, but my wife says that this song does a pretty good job of describing her childhood memories of Christmas (minus the kelpie and the swagman!). That’s actually more than I can say for the traditional version of Jingle Bells, which has always made me think of Christmas cartoons and 19th century carolers rather than anything from my actual experience.
In fact, I don’t think I know anyone, even in chilly America, who’s ever been dashing through the snow on one-horse open sleigh.