Given it’s almost December 25th, I’m going to admit it: a Northern Hemisphere Christmas is just, well, better.
I love everything about this time of year. I lap up Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas and unbox my stash of Christmas cheer as soon as December 1st rolls around. This devoted Christmas junkie absolutely lives for it.
But I have to be honest: a chilly Christmas makes far more sense to my brain. Give me dark and moody weather, candles, open fires and sub-zero temperatures over beach parties and sand any day! Plus, a 9pm sunset and sticky, humid weather just isn’t conducive to glorious Christmas lights and a fully-dressed Santa.
I fell in love with the Northern Hemisphere Christmas while living in London. It was calm and peaceful and fuelled my understanding of the joys of glühwein on a crisp winter evening, all the while surrounded by glittering lights and Christmas trees. Bond Street, Carnaby Street… give me those lighting displays, and I’m in absolute heaven!
This year, I’m in the United States. I guess I have Hollywood to thank for setting my expectations of exactly what it would be like. Some things I expected. Others not.
The first thing that struck me was that as soon as Thanksgiving was over, almost every house was decked out with Christmas lights and decorations. And I don’t mean simple fairy lights and a wreath on the door. I’m talking full on, inflatable, larger-than-life characters towering over house yards (think Santa, snowmen, elves, and lots of nativity scenes). Decorating your house is a competitive sport over here. People certainty don’t hold back: more is definitely more.
Here, Santa seems the real deal too. He’s dressed up in full suit plus all the bells and whistles you could ever imagine. He’s not wearing thongs (flip flops) or drinking beer and he’s not carrying a surfboard or riding a kangaroo. No, not here. Santa’s a little surer of his identity here in the United States.
There’s just so much to love about the crisp, cold, comfort-inducing Christmas landscape of the North:
Observation 1: Christmas Trees
Christmas trees are always real. They’re not your average boxed-up, plastic ones from Target or K-mart. Here, they’re ten feet tall, green, luscious and smell delightful. Even the lazy leave-it-to-the-last-minute shoppers (me!) won’t miss out either – they’re sold everywhere. From farms, to roadside stalls, to pick-and-cut-your-own, the options are endless. They’re even for sale at the supermarket. Plastic trees, on the other hand, are seen as cheating!
Observation 2: Sweaters
If you’re like me and thought that loud, ridiculously patterned Christmas sweaters were a Hollywood invention, think again. This is definitely a thing. A real life thing. It’s obviously too hot to wear these in Australia unless you’re going to a Christmas in July party (I get it now: why would people bother with Christmas in July unless they thought a cold Christmas was just, well, better?). I’ve lusted after my very own Christmas sweater ever since watching Colin Firth don his trademark reindeer getup in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Whole families throw on a matching set for their Christmas photos. Kids always match their siblings. Partners match each other. It might be dorky, but I absolutely love it.
Cam, not so much. And I wonder what the Australian equivalent of a family set of matching Christmas sweaters would be? A matching set of board shorts? Bathers? Zinc patterns on cheeks? *Shudder*.
So, see? 10 points to the Northern Hemisphere Christmas!
Observation 3: The Setting
The streets are all decorated in full festive cheer. The local towns all have beautiful Christmas tree lighting celebrations with no element of pomp and circumstance spared; think marching bands, school choirs, girl scouts singing and dancing, car parades, speeches, and community gatherings. Kids go mad for the lights, music, and noise, and families love the outing too!
I also had the pleasure of taking the girls to see the most convincing Santa ever. My red hot tip: the Santa at Stanford Shopping Centre is amazing! Truly! The girls normally run terrified from Santa and we had, therefore, never managed a family Santa photo… before this day. There was a bit of trepidation and a few quivering lips, but we got there (with almost-smiles)! 10 points to the team.
Observation 4: The Language
If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know how obsessed we’ve become with analysing the differences between Australian and American dialects of English. Here’s something else: people don’t say ‘Merry Christmas’ to each other here – it’s mostly ‘Happy Holidays’. I’ve found myself wondering if this subtle but interesting shift indicates a move away from Christianity’s being the dominant religion, and thus towards an appreciation of the rising diversity in population.
Is it an acknowledgement of those who hold no particular religious beliefs? I’m all for the inclusivity of ‘Happy Holidays’ but it feels strange to think of calling a ‘Christmas tree’ a ‘holiday tree’. But perhaps this is what true pluralism is all about. I like it: using language that respects the various ways in which people might choose to spend their time at this end of the year (‘Happy Holidays’).
I do, for example, acknowledge that for some people the traditional, Christianity-based meaning of Christmas is the most important aspect to celebrate. But for others, like my family, it’s simply about being together. About taking some time to hang out together. About observing that ‘happy holiday’ as a family.
However you choose to recognise this period, I wish you only the best! But for now, it’s on to trying eggnog. Truth be told, it freaks me out just a little bit… but if you can’t beat ‘em, you’ve got to join ‘em, right?
I’ve got Mariah on and a glass of gluhwein in my hand. Cheers, and Happy Holidays to you and yours! I hope it’s as relaxing and enlightening as mine.