As the religious aspects of Christmas fade into the background over time the remaining, pagan European symbology becomes patently absurd, another way in which tropical citizens unthinkingly ape their temperate masters – fake snow in 30 degree heat; a santa costume unwearable without strong air conditioning; a tree from the sub-arctic recreated in plastic. In southern Australia, Christmas is reclaimed through local food and reindeer replaced by kangaroos – as Jason Wilson points out in the Guardian. But what about up here?
As tropicalists, we aim to learn from each other. We ask – reduce or replace? If we are talking festivals, Darwin’s thinking elite, heavily influenced by Bali, put up fabric penjor in imitation of the major festival (or pair of festivals, rather like Christmas and New Year) there Galungan ian Kuningan, which finished about a month ago. It’s a time when family gets together, graves are tendedand dead ancestors visit the household. In terms of imagery, the streets lined with penjor win out over Christmas lights I reckon – and best of all they are biodegradable. As a bonus, the Balinese pawukon calendar last 210 days and so you don’t have to wait a (gregorian) year until the next celebration!
Looking closer to home (Darwin) Yolngu (Aboriginal people from Arnhem land) have been quicker than us westerners to innovate and incorporate Christmas into local traditions, as told through this fascinating documentary.
They link Christmas to the start of the wet, and the return of the life giving wulma clouds. Yolngu Christmas marks the return of the ancestral spirits birrimbirr and a time when the family gets together, decorates their graves and pulls out photos and mementos of their ancestors. Sounds familiar?
Happy Galungan-Birrimbirr-Christmas to you all.