Our unique Christ­mas gift – the Kiwi-as Santa

The Press - - Opinion - Ver­ity John­son

God, it’s amaz­ing what gets us fired up as a coun­try. I guess it’s be­cause we have such so­porif­i­cally bor­ing po­lit­i­cal news. Maybe if Jacinda Ardern started build­ing a wall and threat­en­ing to grab Ju­dith Collins by the lady parts then we’d have some­thing to talk about.

How­ever, as we don’t, we’re left to get rarked up by bird of the year, bis­cuit of the year and now . . . Santa. Ev­ery­one’s favourite plus-size fes­tive fig­ure has hardly been out of the head­lines in the pre­vi­ous month, gar­ner­ing the type of pub­lic in­ter­est that Si­mon Bridges would sell his shiny­haired soul for.

No doubt you heard the out­rage about Nel­son’s Santa pa­rade? All be­cause Santa, who usu­ally re­sem­bles a fat, old white dude in fur-lined py­ja­mas, was in­stead a mous­tached, man-bunned Ma¯ ori guy sport­ing a red ko­rowai and a tres on­trend flo­ral shirt.

Mer­ci­ful heav­ens, cried ev­ery­one, what fresh hor­ror is this! And the in­ter­net lit up with tweets from @PERpetuAl­lyOuTRagedANdGraMATi­calLYchal­lENged, Palmer­ston North.

I was sim­i­larly sur­prised, pri­mar­ily at the ap­pear­ance of a Kiwi dude who owned a col­lared shirt that wasn’t the blue-and-white-checked num­ber all men pop out of pu­berty wear­ing. I would have con­sid­ered it a win on that front alone, but I also hap­pen to think Santa’s makeover was choice as. It’s just so uniquely Kiwi.

One of the things I love most about New Zealand is its unique abil­ity to take Bri­tish and Amer­i­can tra­di­tions and phe­nomenons, and then re­make them as Kiwi prod­ucts. So when I saw what we’d done to Santa, I got lit­tle pa­tri­otic shiv­ers.

When I was 13, I moved to New Zealand and started learn­ing to be­come a Kiwi. I re­alised that one of the coolest Kiwi-isms we have is this habit for rein­ven­tion. Take Michael Jack­son’s Thriller. In ev­ery other coun­try, Thriller is just, well, Thriller. But not here. Here the song’s iconic chore­og­ra­phy and im­agery have been so firmly meshed to­gether with Poi E, and Taika Waititi, that the line, ‘‘Hey Chardon­nay, wanna see some Michael Jack­son dance moves’’ is enough to send proud Kiwi goosepim­ples up your spine.

And while we’re talk­ing about dance, look at Polyswag, the Auck­land ver­sion of hip-hop that reimag­ined the for­mat with a Poly­ne­sian fire and went on to be­come a vi­ral, cul­tural sen­sa­tion af­ter the Auck­land crew won the 2010 Hip-Hop In­ter­na­tional cham­pi­onships with it.

Christ­mas is one of the times when we do this best. Grow­ing up in Eng­land, Christ­mas was a for­mal, fa­mil­ial and re­li­gious af­fair. Whereas New Zealand looks at the earnest, white Christ­mas right­eous­ness of north­ern Europe and thinks, ‘‘Sod that, I’m go­ing to make Christ­mas all about BBQs, warm booze and about sun­burnt on the beach’’. Sure, a Santa hat is a Christ­mas sym­bol, but it’s worn with jan­dals while car­ry­ing a slightly bat­tered chilly bin and moan­ing about how your board­ies are chaf­ing.

That’s why I thought Nel­son’s Ma¯ ori santa was amaz­ing. It had ‘‘tra­di­tional’’ el­e­ments like rein­deer, a sleigh, and so much tin­sel it looked like it had been at­tacked by an ADHD elf with a Kmart fix­a­tion. But then it meshed that to­gether with icon­i­cally Kiwi el­e­ments like the ko­rowai, and ex­e­cuted a per­fect ex­am­ple of New Zealand’s sig­na­ture twist on tra­di­tion.

And again we rein­vented a fun­da­men­tally Amer­i­can image. The cur­rent image we have of Santa, the red-suited, fat jolly man with a white beard and rosy cheeks, was pop­u­larised in the 1930s by Coca-Cola, which in turn was in­spired by the 1893 edi­tion of The Night Be­fore Christ­mas.

But be­fore then, he’d been ev­ery­thing from a spooky elf, to a fat Gimli-es­que dwarf who sup­ported con­fed­er­ate Amer­i­can troops, to a saint in holy robes, to a thin, grim bishop-like fig­ure who sternly dis­penses pota­toes. He’d worn head-to-toe green, star-pat­terned jack­ets, and even beige be­fore he be­came ce­mented in furry tomato PJs.

So in a lot of ways, our rein­ven­tion is in keep­ing with Santa’s evo­lu­tion­ary story. And given that we’re al­ways moan­ing how we’re be­com­ing Amer­i­can­ised, isn’t it a nice ex­am­ple of how we’re chal­leng­ing the slide to­wards the stars and stripes through the medium of tin­sel and baubles?

There’s also some­thing kinda cheeky about tak­ing what you’re ‘‘sup­posed’’ to do and chang­ing it up. It’s an­other fun Kiwi habit that we see when we do things like our air­line safety videos. Or cre­ate Auck­land’s Pon­sonby Santa statue – that chubby-cheeked chal­lenge to con­ven­tion who has done ev­ery­thing from cross-dress to don­ning a cy­cling suit in true sun’s-out, buns-out spirit.

So I love this de­mon­stra­tion of Kiwi-ness. And if your kids are con­fused by Santa’s new style, take it as an op­por­tu­nity to tell them that’s just how we roll here. We make Santa our own.

When I saw what we’d done to Santa [in Nel­son], I got lit­tle pa­tri­otic shiv­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.