A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
As every new holiday season comes around, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and countless other nations in the Southern hemisphere, are festooned with wintery icons of a Eurocentric world. In Australia at least, the whole scene is ridiculous: We have wintery Christmas films on TV, we have fake snow sprayed in the sunlit windows of our offices, and we have men, God bless them, who dress in bulky, sweaty Santa suits and sit in shopping centres all day, placating screaming children in 40 degree heat. We all rush off to buy pine-trees, the most unAustralian of all plants, and cover them with candles we’re not allowed to light because of bushfire hazards. In trying to be inclusive for Europeans at Christmas, people staple life-sized, electrically-lit Bambis in the front yard, next to elves all rugged up in woollen coats. Obviously, we’re sharing the Northern hemisphere’s Christmas traditions all over the place, and inviting everyone to the party.
One could be forgiven for thinking we’re all crazy, wishing the freezing cold weather on ourselves in the height of summer. But the reality is, everyone loves Christmas in Australia, and we do it our own special way. Even if you have to line up for fish and chips at the beach for outrageous timespans, they’re always fresh and tasty, and if the air-conditioner at home fails, everyone just jumps in either their own pool, or someone else’s. Rooftop bars are swimming with people celebrating the end of the work year, and the stadiums are awash with colour and light; its cricket season, so why not catch the last session after work? There’s beer and barbeques, usually someone busily getting drunk on social awkwardness, and basically the same old values creep through; family, friends, and generally celebration of life, food, and more food, and food.
And of course, regardless of the Christmassy charms of these Northern climes, those of us from the planet’s other side are entitled to miss it when they’re away, just as Northerners would if they came down-under and there weren’t so many of their artefacts to enjoy. It’s the crazy, ironic juxtaposition of European tradition and geographic reality that makes Christmas in Australia so unique, and tempts the question: What makes a Christmas tradition special? Is it all a purely symbolic and traditionalist enterprise? If so, then ‘Northern’ Christmas is obviously the norm. But maybe Christmas is more human than that, and maybe as we all grow together in the global village, other traditions for Christmas should also be allowed, much in the same way Australians have taken on so many traditions to make Europeans feel comfortable. As you know, the Leidener is an all-inclusive publication, so for those versed in Christmas the traditional Dutch way, it might be worth sharing a thought for the small group of expat antipodeans in Leiden and other parts of Europe who have never seen anything like it.
Unfortunately, however, there is a certain form of Christmas bigotry circulating in the Northern hemisphere, which was only borne out by my good Leidener friend Robyn’s vastly unjust and frankly condescending admonition of the way the Southern hemisphere celebrates Christmas, to the point of assuming complete cultural hegemony. Recently, sitting over an incredibly sophisticated pot of her finest Yorkshire Gold, we had a conversation which probably didn’t go like this:
Eric: Well, I guess there’s some International Students who are just a little bit weirded out by Dutch Christmas, I mean, particularly those of us from the Southern hemisphere who haven’t seen snow etc.
Robyn: You guys are weird, you come from the wrong country for Christmas, and you should probably all move, or stop having Christmas altogether.
Eric: That’s a bit harsh, I think th…
Robyn: …No, I won’t have it, your country just don’t get it and you’re all in denial about not having snow.
Eric: I just think you’re being really unfair…
Robyn: Oh poppycock, you’re lucky you’re even sipping my Yorkshire Gold, convict.
And I had to wonder, what if this was a more general assumption?! What if everyone in Europe, and dare I say, other Northern parts of the world, felt this way? Could Christmas, a time of sharing and enjoying, be only done on Northern terms? Did the EU have strict controls on Christmas like they do on everything else, including Greece? I couldn’t be bothered actually going over the border to Brussels, and searching the annals of the EU parliament to find out, but I could be bothered writing an article about it, so there! The fact, it seems, is that the Northern hemisphere, including Leiden, is deeply rooted in arch-conservatism when it comes to Christmas traditions. I have not yet seen anyone enjoying themselves in the canals with a spot of water basketball or even the remotest sign of any beach cricket. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order, and I for one am shocked and appalled. 🙂
So when you’re next out in the street and hear an antipodean accent, give that person a big cheery g’day mate and if they’re not a Kiwi, ask them if they’d like a cold beer for Christmas. One or two more, and far less clothing, and they’ll feel right at home.
Merry Christmas to you all and a Happy New Year.