Christmas comes to urban Australia and up go the decorations – the holly and reindeer motifs, the sleighs, the Santas and snowflakes – the same old incongruous wintry symbols, reminding Australians that their summer is well under way and the year is fading fast. The lives of little pine trees are cut short and hung with baubles.
Electric fairy lights wink like shopkeepers’ eyes in dark suburban streets. Buskers wearing plastic reindeer horns murder carols in the street; mournfully hitting the wrong notes of Christmas on tarnished trumpets and creaking violins; a fitting soundtrack for the work of mental health professionals and police who are busy attending to the upsurging emotions and woes that come with the season of joy.
Mysterious sad yearning and loneliness emerge out of nowhere to alight on the unsuspecting, mingling with goodwill, alcohol and hope as the weariness and eeriness of the year pull at the heartstrings or loosen the purse strings.
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In the midst of so much exhaustion, tradition and repetition it is difficult to imagine that the original Christmas story was about the miracle of birth and renewal.
Yet out in the countryside, beyond the harsh gravity of the material world, far from Father Christmas and closer to Mother Nature, a wondrous child may behold the miracles of the bush and know that new life and great beauty are abundant and eternal. There is no monumental religious event in this infinity of detail and diversity; it is all part of a broader ancient miracle.
Huge clouds of brown butterflies swirl up into the dazzling light, parrots swoop to grassy earth, honeyeaters ravish the sweet flowers of the bottlebrush, echidnas trundle steadily in search of each other, lizards dart among ants and ancient rocks, the fine branchlets of the manna gums quiver to the mating growls of koalas, ibises stroll and feast on grasshoppers and gleaming Christmas beetles hang from eucalyptus leaves like small green baubles. The birds sing gloriously and not a wrong note is heard. This is Christmas in the bush.
If European symbols and traditions have grown tired, perfunctory and oppressively banal in Australia, or been drained of spirit and meaning by the dreary dictates of materialism and secularity, then the raw spirit truth of our native land in summer is alive and radiant by comparison.
For joy and meaning we might well turn to our natural country and witness miracles of vitality and new life, of inspiration and profound beauty; all in some humble, quiet and improbable place.