Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Turkey on the barbie

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BRISBANE -- On Tuesday afternoon millions of Australians will risk death by drowning as they slump on inflatable beds in back yard swimming pools attempting to digest a baked turkey lunch in 30 C heat.

The roast turkey, along with the brandy-infused plum pudding, is a menu designed to be accompanied by gentle snowfalls and roaring fireplaces.

Yet, while many Australians have taken to a cold platter of prawns and salad for Christmas lunch, those old wintry European habits die hard.

Many will muscle up to a hot meal shortly after midday Tuesday for no good reason other than the ancestors back in London or Dublin or some hamlet west of Munich did so.

At this time of year, a form of "hemisphere envy'' sneaks into Australian dialogue as we try to wedge an ancient winter tradition into our upside-down calendar.

Put simply, Christmas was not designed for warm climates. Yet modern marketing executives know how we yearn for those primal winter themes and still use an illusion of cold temperatures to keep credit cards running hot.

In the thickening heat of the northern city of Brisbane, snow is everywhere at the moment -- fake sprinklings on fake firs rooted in fake landscapes in fake shop window displays, creating a perception we're all living in Manitoba rather than Mullumbimby.

And those Christmas carols, looped endlessly through shopping-mall speakers, can become seriously aggravating when you reside close to the 21st Parallel South.

True, they're not designed to be analyzed -- they're designed to spread peace and goodwill on God's good Earth -- but those burdened with a more thoughtful disposition can't help but wonder who among us is delusional enough to be dreaming of a white Christmas.

No lucid Australian is expecting a snowstorm on Dec. 25. And while there's little doubt Frosty the Snowman was a jolly, happy soul, his gaiety would be brief if humidity was running at 98 per cent.

Silent Night? Not with Queensland mosquitoes and frogs providing a nightly symphony to rival the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Winter Wonderland? Try Summer Cyclone.

Even the evergreen Christmas tree has no place in the natural order of things down here. It should be replaced with a red gum or perhaps the burnt stump of a mulga tree, which is a far more realistic depiction of the bush fire season in which we find ourselves.

And while we don't wish to allow our antipodean frustrations to dampen the seasonal spirit of goodwill, what exactly is it with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

Why are he and his fellow unlawful arrivals never impounded by customs officials on their annual visit as exotic Northern Hemisphere caribou threatening our livestock herds with foot-and-mouth disease?

As for Santa, he needs to get over his chimney fixation when he's down here. Junk the sled and commandeer a four-wheel-drive with a solid bull bar and "snorkle'' to keep engine air intakes water-free when crossing flooded rivers.

While he's at it, he might lose that whole Liberace-at-the-Las-Vegas-Hilton look. The fur-lined collars, the crimson red coats... the entire ensemble is what many of our politicians have recently taken to labelling "unAustralian.''

Strip it down to a practical outfit still favoured by many overweight middle-aged Aussie men -- blue singlet and shorts.

Certainly Christmas is about tradition, family, spiritual enrichment and religious observation.

But Australians should be more like those early Christians who appear to have been a little loose with the actual date of Christ's birth when they settled on late December to break up the winter tedium.

We should move the whole show to July.


Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2012 A13

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