Christmas

Mass-sigh-ya

Blogging at this time of the year runs the risk of falling into the black hole caused by the gravity of Christ-mass. It has so much pull regardless of what it means to individuals there is no escaping it. So here’s me skirting around the event horizon trying not to fall in and realising I’m already there. Black holes are theoretical and mysterious and darn right scary which is how I feel about most aspects of anything associated with Christmas.

I’m all for people wanting to celebrate and attach whatever significance or value they want but how about the option to not participate. In much the same way as quantum physics tries to explain black holes, we have formulas for doing Christmas from whatever perspective you want to take, but it’s still compulsory.

So I’m picking a side and going with the full on Santa version. The one for the kids where anything is possible so long as there is an adult willing to stick their reputation on the line and fully embrace the concept that candy canes will grow out of the garden if you plant tic tacs. Why Santa? Because it is not about me and I can legitimately indulge in fantasy and make believe with full entitlement and bring joy to children by demonstrating that being open to the idea that however unlikely something might be it could be and that sometimes the permission to wonder and dream is the biggest gift you can give.

Having said that, I’m still waiting for my HMX Supermax BMX from 1981...yip still a kid, maybe Santa can time travel? Heck if he can get around the world in one night he’s got some Tardis type qualities in that sleigh so bring it on!

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A Con-vexed question

This morning I sat staring at a bauble looking at the distorted image of my face stretch across the surface I felt a stirring of a smirk. The Cheshire Cat effect only added to a surreal sense of hysteria as I played with my reflection. I had been pondering my previous posts about Christmas, and trying to pinpoint my disquiet which seems to keep shifting like the light bouncing back at me. The shimmering mirage reminded me of the book/movie Sphere. As a quick plot summary then, a giant gold orb (like a Christmas bauble for a tree the size of very tall building) is found on a UFO found at the bottom of the ocean. It just happens to have come from earth…in the future, but it’s been there over 300 years or so (thanks to biology and the growth rate of coral). In the movie it (the UFO not the coral) has ‘trash cans’ and a skeleton on board that looks like it was borrowed from set of Indiana Jones. I’ll leave the ‘book vrs movie’ debate up to the IMDB message board.

Turns out the orb has one function, to enable the instant manifestation of thought to occur. Trouble is in the presence of humans it did that all too well – playing on the fears of the crew sent to investigate it, so that they do not realise they have created their own nightmares playing out underwater…it’s very claustrophobic. When they eventually figure out what is happening they decide that humanity is not ready for such power and use the one thing that might send the golden globe back and get a refund on collective paranoia ride. They use the power to forget.

I sometimes wonder if all the mini baubles on Christmas trees have that power. That in spite of our best efforts to focus our intentions on those values we hope are reflected there is an ugly and terrifying truth of consumerism is hard to ignore that polishes off the last resistance to the glittering prize of the ‘bargain’. The hypnotic seduction of advertising has done its amnesiac work as Kiwis spent record amounts of money – well done – slow clap – now look in the mirror.

To quote Sphere:
“This is the gift of your species and this is the danger, because you do not choose to control your imaginings. You imagine wonderful things and you imagine terrible things, and you take no responsibility for the choice. You say you have inside you both the power of good and the power of evil, the angel and the devil, but in truth you have just one thing inside you – the ability to imagine.”
Michael Crichton, Sphere

As the tinsel lights and trees come down and shiny baubles are packed away it really is time to reflect – without distortion. I for one am not about to con-cave in.

Christmas – Pole-arity is just a little queer

A couple of hundred years ago the world was ‘flat’ – we pretty much sorted that one, but we no longer have a sphere we have in fact a hemisphere or half a sphere; or more specifically, the Northern hemisphere. The world as it is described in all manner of ways is rapidly becoming ‘top heavy’ and those of us in the booty part of the world (I refuse to say ass end…woops I did anyway) are having our identity colonised by all things related to that which is above the waist line – aka the equator.

Christmas is definitely on that list, and there is no need to check it twice. I’m going to use an analogy that some might find a little shocking but I’d rather say it because staying in the closet at this time of the year is rather stuffy and hot. So here goes…dear rest of the world…I need to tell you something about Christmas in New Zealand – it’s summer here. There ‘we have been outed’ Aotearoa and there is no going back in the closet. If you have grown up here and encounter someone from the hemisphere-normative north the conversation about Christmas can be a little like someone coming out to their parents or friends as being gay. People stare wide eyed, and ask the same kinds of awkward curious questions about ‘how do you do it then?’ and ‘do you still sing carols?’ or even better ‘are you sure – it’s not just a phase?’ Actually it does irk me somewhat that we are still trying to ‘fit in’ and be like Europe or North America.

Santa really doesn’t fit our brief for Christmas. We would do better to adopt the Christian nativity here as our cultural symbol, not for religious reasons but the faming agricultural theme – barns, sheep, goats, hay… kiwi as. Just for the record as well – we don’t see the north star either, so there go your astronomical references. We should also be cautious about rampant tree felling. Yes one of our primary industries is logging but we don’t have such a great history with respecting Tane Mahuta. I always feel a little grief stricken seeing hundreds of baby trees cut down before maturity for decoration purposes. So here is a quick flick through some of the ‘obvious’ contrasts:

• The days a long here – children are not easily convinced to go to bed in the broad daylight
• It’s hot, sticky, humid – fires are reserved for bar-b-ques
• Sand – features strongly rather than snow – just don’t throw it at people, they tend to get a bit tetchy
• Sledding and skiing exist – just on water
• Boxing day test – is not a quiz but a game of cricket – those outside of the British Commonwealth think ‘sport but over 4-5 days, possibly with no result…with more jargon than the legal system and the medical profession put together’

WHAT IS THE SAME
• Santa still wears a big red suit – we just roll with it
• Being with family – whatever that looks like
• Eating and drinking too much
• Panic gift buying
• Decorations – excessive use of lights and tinsel … (yup it is just a little bit gay)
• The birth of Jesus is in there somewhere – but like the rest of the capitalist, consumption driven countries – you need to go searching beyond the guy hogging the limelight in red-white.

Do we still need Christmas? I don’t know – I’m aware of how swept along we all seem to be with fulfilling this need to exchange gifts and pleasantries. The strange and convoluted meaning of this time of year is probably well overdue for a make-over. Getting the big guy out of that suit would be a start and perhaps some honesty about some of the origins of what is considered ‘tradition’ would cheer me.

I’d like to think we have moved beyond a ‘flat earth’ society but are we well rounded? It’s a sphere enough question.

Grater Expectations

Cooking at Christmas comes with its own set of challenges. If you are away from home dealing with a foreign kitchen and finding where things are kept inevitably leads to traffic jams and scenes to rival Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen kind of ironic at this time of year. But there are a couple of unique and possibly peculiarly kiwi conundrums (possibly not…just guessing). Christmas dinner comes in all forms from the casual bar-b-que to the full on traditional roast with all the trimmings perhaps minus the knitted jerseys – depending on how far south you are I suppose. The kitchen is a hive of activity and secret frustrations that I would now like to expose.

It’s common for people to have a couple of drinks with proceedings and in my family this can start reasonably early. Not to minimise the carnage caused by drink driving, there are some hazards to be noted when under the influence and attempting to steer your way through preparing food. There are the obvious ‘don’t drink and fry’ – using sharp implements also probably a bit risky, as is blenders and food processors. I’d hazard a guess that burns might top the A & E around this time of year. There are some little known injuries that will never make the ACC stats, or even warrant a mention in the paper but I think they can be more irritating than a recipe written before the metric system…c’mon what century are we in?

At the top of my list is the grater graze. Typically the knuckles or tips of fingers are sheered off in a valiant effort to ensure the entire carrot is used. This injury is definitely exacerbated by the fact that it will get you no sympathy and you will be expected to keep calm and carrot on. Second on my list is peeling kumara, not the golden ones, the ‘real ones’ purple skins. Yes those skins…do not respond to blunt peelers! What is worse is there are usually heaps to peel and only one peeler, so if someone wants to help they need to use a knife, which actually works better. Kumara are also really knobbly, so completing this task with an implement that wouldn’t cut through butter is nothing short of exasperating. Go for the knife people, anyone who has prepared for a hangi will know this to be true. Third on the list is whipped cream, I don’t know why, but in my family it is the hand beater from about 1950something that is still in the drawer – not upgraded like every other appliance. The handle swivels so every time you crank the thing it twists, so you lose the spinning motion. Also on top of a few drinks, the effort required and co-ordination not to slop stuff everywhere is insanely difficult. Fourth is the lemon juice in the eye – possibly added to the grater cut as well. Say no more. Fifth is a combination – the can-opener caper. Beetroot tins need to be upgraded to tab-pulls like the reduced cream, because quite honestly opening a can of beetroot without spilling it, is a nightmare. But if your opener is like the munted peeler, there is likely to be mutiny. The number of times I have struggled for 10 minutes to get half-way around then given up and tried to pry the lid open, only to either slice my hand or send the contents spilling their glorious crimson juices everywhere does not need stipulating. Other honourable mentions are kebab skewer splinters, onion chopping eyes and garlic crushing wrist sprains, all of which I have suffered at some point.

When it all comes together though and everyone is tucking into their kai – it’s good to know that along with love, it is laced with the odd bit of blood, sweat and tears.

Sleighing Santa With Science

I break into a cold sweat around this time of year. For me at least, Christmas represents a morphing of social, cultural, religious, and consumerstic psychosis, wrapped in narcissism and tied with ribbons of expectation, contradiction and excitement. It is a potent combination and one that is set to stay for some time yet, so those of us who feel like the ‘festive’ season is more like a festering sore season need to find ways to cope because to be outed as anti Christmas is rapidly becoming less acceptable than wearing crocs to a wedding.

I’ve also been pondering the dilemma’s parents face when the Santa subject inevitably comes up. Parents are entitled to a short window of blackmail each year. What better way to emotionally manipulate small children into complying that to threaten the potential for complete rejection from big red himself. In a world rapidly running out of a love of mystery and the unknown, where imagination and the realm of folk-law is being eradicated by the insatiable rationalistic machinations of science, we have a curious opportunity as a culture to blend some of the new sciences such as quantum physics with these colourful patchwork rituals that seem to be permanently sewn into our collective consciousness.

This is not to say I am an expert in quantum physics (people get pretty zealous when it comes to stating an ‘understanding’ of this kind of knowledge). However it is hard to ignore the allure of some of its more popular concepts that have become fodder for life coaches and gurus world wide espousing the power of ‘manifestation’. But with science making the quantum world more available as a backdrop for conversations, where time and space can be overcome and reality is ever unfolding, we can make some tentative connections to the role of consciousness and the observable world. Rational, logical, empiricist parents may now safely enter the Santa conversation armed with scientific back up! Here are a couple of simple explanations exploiting BASIC quantum physics:

Schrodingers Santa – This is based loosely on the experiment conducted by Erwin Schrodinger about the relationship between the location of particles and consciousness which has spawned the somewhat macabre obsession with killing cats…perhaps Gareth Morgan is related. Anyway Schrodingers Cat: Very simply cat is in a box, there is something deadly in the box with the cat (gunpowder or poisonous gas…depending on choice of death…ethics were a little different in the 1930’s) the fate of the cat is tied in with the observer, the cat is both alive and dead until the box is opened…or something close to that (plenty of Youtube videos willing to explain it to you much better than I can). So here is my Santa version, as he comes down the chimney this is ‘the box’ and upon waking in the morning ‘naughty or nice’ will be decided by what is under the tree. So this means that santa list is only valid until the moment of waking in the morning – all possibilities exist until children wake up. It means being able to extend the ‘be good or else’ hold for so much longer.

Santas special sleigh – if time and space can be overcome through manipulating wormholes or creating star gates of sorts then it is possible for Santa to cover the entire world in one night because he would have the power to time travel. The sleigh would be for show and the santa sack would be a quantum field of infinite depth where all presents would fit. Anti-gravity technology fits the sleigh and the reindeer of course could stay as part of the picture as he doesn’t want to leave a carbon footprint…just a snowy one.

The awkward conundrum for those in the southern hemisphere is the seasonal issue. Explaining why Santa is dressed in a coat and is dressed for the snow is kind of hard in the middle of summer. The fact that Santa is based at the North Pole could mean that he needs to stay cold so has built a force field around the sleigh to keep him feeling at home. Having said that, the capricious nature of NZ summers means it could be snowing in the South Island at Christmas.

So there are a couple of possibilities to get people started. I will continue to remain proudly detached from Christmas as a whole, but I respect those who have particular rituals, and beliefs that add to the significance of this time of year. My wish this year is for people to think beyond presents to presence and make the most of the connections and love with all things.

No cats were harmed in the writing of this blog…yet…just be mindful if they are playing in boxes.