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.