It may seem like a crazy thing to do, but I’ve put up my Christmas trees (a big one in the lounge and a little one in my room), covered my room in festive lights and decorations, and I’m burning my mistletoe-scented Christmas candle every night while I listen to carols and dance around in my red and green woolen jumper. But to me, it makes perfect sense. And hopefully, by the end of this post, it’ll make perfect sense to you too.
An Old Tradition
Many cultures around the world observe some kind of midwinter festival, celebration, or holiday, often coinciding with the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year). This has been going on long before Christmas existed. In pre-Christian times, many European cultures celebrated a midwinter holiday called Yule. This holiday was later Christianised, and many of our modern Christmas traditions were in fact inherited from Yule. In New Zealand, we informally observe Matariki, or the Maori New Year, which coincides with the rising of the Matariki constellation (also known as Pleiades) in late May or early June.
Christmas itself has been regularly celebrated in some form or another for hundreds of years. It is originally a Christian holiday, of course commemorating the birth of baby Jesus. The tradition of Santa leaving presents under the tree for good children on Christmas Eve is a relatively recent one (thanks, Coca-Cola), but in modern times we tend to associate Christmas with a bearded fat man in a sleigh more than the birth of the son of God. I’m not here to argue for or against either. To me, and many other people in secular society, Christmas is primarily a time for spending with family and friends, feasting and celebrating and enjoying some downtime at the end of the year.
We celebrate Christmas in New Zealand as a consequence of colonization and globalization. When European settlers came to New Zealand, they brought with them all their customs and traditions, including the tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25th. The seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, meaning December is the middle of summer, but that didn’t stop them! I find it funny that Christmas, like a lot of other Western holidays (Easter, Halloween, etc), is a seasonal holiday – yet those first settlers must have insisted on celebrating at the proper time of year, despite the fact that it was the exact wrong season in NZ. We also have Easter (celebrating the start of spring) in autumn, and Halloween (a holiday full of autumnal pumpkin-carving) in spring.
The development of a globalized world can only have helped cement Christmas in all Western societies. It’s rather funny, when you think about it. Christmas is so commercialized, and so much of Christmas culture comes to us from the northern hemisphere – mostly, these days, from America. Here in New Zealand, we watch snowy cosy Christmas films in thirty degree heat. We decorate our trees with snowmen and icicles and then go have a beer on the deck in our jandals and stubbies. We sing songs about dashing through the snow, while we spend all afternoon splashing through the pool. We cook mince pies and turkeys and eat them while we watch the sun set at 9pm. And some of us buy bath bombs called “Cinders” or “Yog Nog” and wait until midnight when it’s cold enough to have a warm bath without sweating the whole way through. When you think about it like that, it’s a bit bloody ridiculous, don’t you think?
T’is the Season
You might still be thinking, “but Beth, you’re celebrating Christmas AT THE WRONG TIME OF YEAR!”. That’s fine, I get it. Christmas is in December. Celebrating in the middle of the year seems counter-intuitive and downright silly. It’s just a given that December is Christmastime no matter where you are in the world, because that’s the way it’s been since before any of us were born. But to me, Christmas in December, and all the wintry traditions that come with it, seems counter-intuitive and downright silly! I ask you to consider that, for anyone living in the southern hemisphere, July is exactly the right time of year for a festive holiday!
At the beginning of July, my flatmates and I poured ourselves a big glass of wine (or was it whiskey) each as we put up the tree and decorated it with tinsel and baubles and (my favourite) little Christmas trees. I just love the fact that I can put little decorations shaped like Christmas trees on my actual Christmas tree. It’s hilarious.
We had my favourite festive playlist on in the background, and when we switched on the Christmas lights and the room glowed red, green, yellow and blue, I was overcome by a ridiculously childlike glee. I’d never experienced Christmas like that before. I thought maybe it was the wine affecting me a little, but I’ve since spent many sober evenings sitting by the tree as the lights glow, and I still feel the same. For someone who is thousands of miles (and thousands of dollars, when we consider air fares) away from a real wintry December Christmas, this is the closest I can get. It’s a lot less expensive, and so far it’s been a lot of fun.
That same night, I also put up my mini Christmas tree and my Christmas fairy lights in my room. I changed my duvet cover to the red and blue festive one my parents kindly got me for my birthday. I draped tinsel over my mirrors. I lit all my candles, including the Christmas mistletoe one I’d managed to find a couple of months ago at the National Candle Factory. In the glow from the lights and the candles, I played my favourite folksy Christmas carols and sang along softly as I hung mini baubles on my mini tree. My room filled with the smell of spices and fresh pine trees, and I felt so happy I could burst.
Last year I had a really hard time getting through winter. I was struck with a heavy case of the winter blues and spent the majority of those cold months feeling depressed and unmotivated. I stopped going to the gym and started eating shitty food. I never wanted to get up in the morning or do anything. Then in September, the days began to get warmer and longer and I began to feel lighter and happier. As winter turned into spring, I thought to myself that I would not let that happen the next winter. I’d do whatever I could to make my surroundings feel bright and cosy and warm, so that I’d feel not just cheery but excited at the prospect of cold days and long frosty nights.
To me, that’s what Christmas is about. It’s about fighting the winter blues, cosying up against the dark and having fun festive times with friends and family. It’s about feasts and pudding, beautiful glowing rooms and burning candles, drinking wine and decorating the tree with the family (in this case, the flat family). It’s about snuggling on the couches under fluffy blankets and marathoning all the Christmas episodes of Community. It’s about putting on a Santa hat and your ugliest winter jumper and refusing to take either of them off. It’s about listening to your best friend as she learns The First Noel on the piano. It’s about going to Starbucks and ordering a red velvet mocha because they don’t have toffee nut lattes in July. It’s about singing carols until you think you’ll actually puke and your puke will be multicoloured tinsel.
A New Tradition
I’ve had so much fun celebrating Christmas in July that I think I’m going to do it every year from now on. If you think it sounds like a good time (it is!!!) and you want to get in on it, it’s not too late! All you have to do is get out your Christmas tree and decorations, and spend an evening putting them up. You can also listen to carols, do festive baking or watch your favourite Christmas films. You could also arrange a midwinter Christmas dinner with your friends and family for the end of the month, where you all get together and cook Christmassy treats and be merry. It can be hard to get a hold of Christmas things this time of year, obviously, but if you look around you can find some good stuff. I went to a website called Christmas Treasures for some of my Christmas stuff. They have some midwinter things up, and it’s all very reasonably priced and the delivery time was really quick! Lush also has a few midwinter Xmas treats up at the moment, and you can bet I got amongst it.
In case you thought that I’m advocating we switch Christmas to July for good and permanent, and STOP HAVING IT IN DECEMBER OH MY GOD THAT’S FUCKED – which, I can totally see how you might get that – but I promise that’s not the case! When December rolls around, I’m still going to be celebrating. My tree will go back up and I’ll listen to carols again, of course. It’s just that now I’ve had a taste of Christmas in winter, I’m not sure I can go back. So, until I’m rich and successful and can afford to have a winter holiday home in Switzerland, I’ll just have to settle for having two Christmases every year. Which is not really the worst thing in the world, or even anywhere near to it.
Beth’s Midwinter Christmas Playlist
Here’s some of my favourite yuletide songs that I’ve been playing to death this month.
- Sleigh Ride – Shel
- White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes
- Winter Wonderland – Lucie Silvas
- That’s Christmas to Me – Pentatonix
- Joy To The World – Sufjan Stevens
- Winter Things – Ariana Grande
- Sleigh Ride – Walk off the Earth
- Angels We Have Heard On High – Beta Radio
- Winter’s Night – Joshua Hyslop
- O Holy Night – Handsome and Gretel
- The Winter Solstice – Sufjan Stevens
- It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Pentatonix
- Deck the Halls – The Last Bison
- Let It Snow – Daniela Andrade
Not all of these songs are available on YouTube, but I made a playlist of the ones I could find. Cosy up by the heater (or the fire, if your life is luxurious enough to include one of those) with a hot drink and fluffy slippers, and enjoy these festive tunes.
And as a bonus, I love this Christmas song that Colleen wrote and posted last year.
If you’ve been skimming and would prefer a more condensed version of what I just talked about, you can watch the very festive video I put up on YouTube.