I’m feeling a little embarrassed. I was going to amaze all my Northern Hemisphere readers with the strange new tradition that has recently sprung up down here in the South Africa. Christmas in July.
Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere can be a little incongruous. It happens in midsummer. And it’s hot here. Everyone sets off for seaside holidays or trips down to the bush. There are bikinis and board-shorts, ice-cream and swimming parties.
Then you walk into a mall. Santa is there, in his icy little grotto with plastic reindeer scattered artfully about. Someone is crooning about white Christmases and chestnuts roasting on open fires. There are elves. In little fake fur jackets. It’s all somehow a little bit off.
And then there’s Christmas dinner. Shovelling down obscenely large piles of turkey and ham swimming in gravy and applesauce during a 35 degree Celsius heat wave just never seemed quite right. Although we never seemed to let that slow us down.
And then, about ten years ago, my dad heard about a nearby hotel that was having Christmas in July. Brilliant. It was cold. People might actually be roasting chestnuts. It was ham weather. We liked it. So we’ve been doing it ever since. With Christmas trees. And presents. And crackers.
A few other South Africans have been doing it too. It’s a brilliant idea. Two Christmases! Presents! Ham! We were on the cusp of a new cultural wave! Pioneers! Pathfinders! People with ham!
Which leads me to the embarrassing part. It is a good idea. An old one. About a hundred years old. This morning I idly typed “Christmas in July” into Google. It turns out that everyone else has been doing it for years. There’s even a bit of a Christmas in July thing in the Northern Hemisphere. Everyone wants to shovel down obscenely large piles of turkey and ham in the blazing sun.
And it all starts to look a little sinister when you think about it. Christmas is, for better or worse, all about money these days. There are retailers out there who run at a loss throughout the year, and only turn a profit in December. But it’s a pretty damn big profit. Enough to carry them through the lean times.
Retailers quite like profit. It’s one of their favourite things. The middle of the year is the quietest time in retail. But what if? What if you could drive everyone into a gift buying frenzy twice a year? What if you could start up a widespread new tradition where people never spoke of “the true meaning of Christmas”? What if you could have a special time of year where people could happily worship greed and not have to worry about the Baby Jesus?
The Christmas in July thing in South Africa hasn’t quite got there yet. It’s more of an excuse for families to get together and eat ham. But things are starting to stir up. Christmas crackers were available. So was the ham. Someone has spotted a trend, and they’re starting to wake up to it.
I don’t know about anyone else, but our Christmas in July is not about presents at all. We all buy a few cheap trinkets for the kids, just to fuel the illusion, but for us it’s just another excuse to get together. We happen to be quite fond of each other. But I’m waiting. Give it a few years and the malls will be decked with boughs of holly, and that crooner will be going on about his chestnuts again, while the advertisers fuel our children’s lust for PlayStations and Barbie Dolls.
I’m not so keen on that myself. If that happens, I think we’ll stop. We’ll have to find something else. Easter in September sounds quite fun. Easter with ham.