The most wonderful time of the year? It’s definitely the busiest

This is the week of the to-do list. Christmas is a minute away and most of the jobs are still to be done. On every kitchen bench there’s a scribbled list of disparate tasks. At what other time of year would you find, on the same piece of paper, the words: “Whipper-snipper path”, “Finish remaining jobs at work” and “Repair fraught relationship with Aunt Sylvia before she turns up on Christmas Day”?

Or it may be “Buy ham” and “Have haircut”. Or “Put together tree” and “Fix guest toilet so it works”. Or “Order turkey” and “Rewire electrics so the illuminated Santa doesn’t explode again”.

Only in the southern hemisphere does the start of the long summer holiday coincide with the mayhem of Christmas. In the northern hemisphere, Christmas is neatly placed during a time of snowstorms and blizzards in which no one has anything else to do.

Only in the southern hemisphere does the start of the long summer holiday coincide with the mayhem of Christmas.Credit:Istock

Buying the presents, baking the Christmas cake, decorating the tree – these are all activities designed to provide a bit of physical exercise and distraction at a point when the whole nation is in danger of slipping into hibernation.

By contrast, we twiddle our thumbs during the winter months, only to schedule every possible human activity in the three weeks starting now.

The kid’s end-of-year concert at primary school? Oh, that will be Tuesday. The office party? Wednesday. The Australia Post deadline for parcel post? Thursday. The last time to visit the fish market to buy frozen prawns before the crowds arrive? Sorry, you missed it.

What if Australia had invented Christmas traditions, suited to our weather? Would Europeans sit in a snowstorm eating cold prawns?

This is the problem with importing customs from the top half of the planet. Up there they can fill up on turkey and ham, cake and pudding, knowing the results can be hidden under many layers of clothing during the long months ahead.

It’s only in the southern hemisphere where the to-do list contains both “Develop a beach-ready body” and the injunction “Eat and drink constantly for three weeks”.

So, we empty the in-tray at work, just as we fill the drinks tray at home. We diet as we indulge. We exercise as we socialise. And we prepare to relax by being busier than at any other time of the year.

Three weeks to go, and we must locate the boogie boards and the sun-brollies and “summer reading” paperbacks for the beach holiday ahead. This is as we also attempt to complete the 17 jobs which, back in October, we promised our boss would be “Oh, totally finished before the end of the year, no chance they won’t be”.

There’s also the collective act of delusion as Australians – at least those of us of a traditional bent – to sit in 40-degree heat acting as if our main task is to keep warm during a particularly cold winter.

“Another glass of red?” we’ll ask just after noon, the perspiration forming on our forehead. “It’s a robust shiraz. It should do well with those duck-fat potatoes.”

“Oh,” will come the answer from our ruddy-faced companion, their shirt sticking to their body, “I’ll just finish this glass of gluhwein before getting stuck into this mountain of roast pork.”

The chef will emerge from the kitchen, which has now reached the temperature of an iron ore smelter, dripping with perspiration. The only consolation: at least the furry Santa hat is serving like a sweatband.

What if it were the other way around? What if Australia had invented the traditions of Christmas, developing them to suit our weather? Is there any chance the northern-hemisphere crowd would dutifully follow our lead, as we dutifully follow theirs?

Would the Europeans or Americans sit in a snowstorm eating cold prawns, thence to attempt a game of backyard cricket, extra points if the ball freezes onto your hand? Would they buy fake sand in a can and stencil sand pictures on their windows? Would they imagine Santa entering the house via the air-conditioning unit, dressed in nothing but a pair of Speedos, the reindeer wearing sunhats?

At our place, this week’s to-do list involves hunting through cupboards to try and find the presents Jocasta bought in June, hiding them so that no one would find them. She did a truly world-class job.

So now our to-do list inches longer. We must buy new presents to replace those now-lost presents; we must write the three remaining Christmas cards on our dwindling Christmas card list; plus we must buy a tree, but not a tree so large or heavy that the toddler will do himself damage if he pulls it down onto his own head.

It’s also the toddler’s birthday – he was born on Christmas Day – so double the gifts, double the hoopla and double the risk of mass sugar poisoning before dawn.

In the next three weeks we’ll tick off everything on our to-do list, and you’ll tick everything off on yours. At which point all that will be left is to wish each other the salutations of the season. That’s the final to-do on every list. Have a very merry Christmas.

To read more from Spectrum, visit our page here.

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from books editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday.

Most Viewed in Lifestyle

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article