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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Rick Mor­ton

Iwent to a war on Christ­mas once, but it was very poorly or­gan­ised. The Christ­mas Eve car­ollers at the Catholic church were an af­front to the very tra­di­tion, their voices do­ing things to the hymn Gloria in Ex­cel­sis Deo that would later cause The Hague to con­vene for lengthy hear­ings.

There was no har­mony and there could be no peace that night. A guerilla sol­dier wished me happy hol­i­days in the street and I hit him with a bauble, a weak form of re­sis­tance but I was out of cul­ture-wars am­mu­ni­tion.

My fa­ther ru­ined Christ­mas for me first. We were vis­it­ing for school hol­i­days and he had torn the branch off an in­land gum and propped it up against the wall. On it, he had cut out trade­marked images of a ro­tund Santa from the side of a car­ton of Coke cans. It looked like he had for­got­ten to clean up af­ter a cy­clone.

Each of us re­mem­bers our first cam­paign, when the ex­is­tence of Santa is shred­ded be­fore our eyes. If we are lucky we learn of this early and not, say, in high school.

I may have been six, ly­ing in bed and wish­ing for grand presents, when my brother Toby told me it was all a lie and that there was no guar­an­tee we would ever get what we wanted.

He was talk­ing about Santa and Christ­mas specif­i­cally, but I knew then that he was un­in­ten­tion­ally prophetic about life it­self. The act of grow­ing up is the process of shed­ding our be­liefs. First one, the jolly man, and then others.

I knew im­me­di­ately that the Easter bunny could not be real. For rea­sons I can­not fully or will­ingly ar­tic­u­late, I clung to the idea of the tooth fairy for quite a while longer.

When th­ese were gone, we had the Chris­tian tra­di­tion it­self. I spent one Christ­mas mak­ing a na­tiv­ity scene out of Pad­dle Pop sticks in which we could house the fig­urines Mum had bought. The baby Je­sus slept in his manger, an old willy wag­tail’s nest on ac­count of the fact none of us knew how to weave. The sta­ble was un­sta­ble and took an un­for­tu­nate lean, which we de­cided was an au­then­tic ap­prox­i­ma­tion of peo­ple’s con­struc­tion abil­i­ties circa Year 0.

My faith in some­thing larger than my­self was so­lid­i­fied through high school, if only be­cause I was on the read­ing ros­ter at church and it was my sole out­let for pub­lic speak­ing. The good burghers of my coun­try town had never been so en­er­gised by a read­ing of the Gospel Ac­cord­ing to Mark and I had never felt so alive.

The Christ­mas tra­di­tions we had forged early on in life bled away with the dis­in­te­gra­tion of fam­ily and, as a young adult, I found it eas­ier to work on the big day than pull to­gether the threads of our un­hap­pi­ness. Where once we bought boxed cher­ries and in­dulged large fam­ily gath­er­ings, now we ate cold ham in forced mer­ri­ment, some­times just the three of us.

I took part in a war on Christ­mas once but it was very poorly or­gan­ised and it was my own.

The tra­di­tions that sur­rounded the fes­tive sea­son seemed de­signed to hurt, to prod at the ex­posed skin of the lonely and shat­tered and poor. So I stopped cel­e­brat­ing it prop­erly for years, es­chewed its sym­bols. There were no Christ­mas trees in any of the homes I lived in as an adult. No tin­sel. No din­ners or lunches.

There are those who do not cel­e­brate Christ­mas for them­selves, ow­ing to re­li­gion or cul­ture. They are no war­riors, how­ever. They are not foot sol­diers in this bat­tle.

The war we wage at Christ­mas is so of­ten one against the idea of love and how to share it with your friends and fam­ily. I set about cre­at­ing my own tra­di­tions in years past, an an­nual lunch with my old­est friends. A visit home when work al­lows, to sit in church and lis­ten to the car­ollers at 9pm, the stars more vivid and elec­tric than I re­mem­ber them on any other night.

When I am home we es­cape mass af­ter it is done and sip whisky, Mum and I, at her el­derly neigh­bour’s house. Mum has sewn rein­deer and stock­ings for her loved ones and they are slowly tak­ing over town. They are mi­grat­ing from Queens­land to Mel­bourne and Syd­ney, too, th­ese lit­tle to­kens.

In days gone by I’d have to run around at this hour and place my sis­ter’s presents un­der the tree, in­hab­it­ing the role of Santa. I had be­come the lie. But now all we have to do is sit and en­joy each other’s com­pany. Peace.

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