I'm writing this on a train that's gently rolling in toward London from the country-side. It's two-thirty and for a mercy it's a clear day. The green and orange and red leaves catch the syrupy golden autumn light of a bright but distant sun.
Days like these are still strange to me. Where I grew up in Queensland, autumn was just the fortnight around Easter when the weather stopped being too bloody hot and took a bit of a break before settling in to being too damn cold. Unlike here, almost all of the trees stayed green all year around, and the light -- at least in memory -- was always harsh. Today's sun is lending a richness to the colours of the world. The sun of my youth instead robbed them, bleaching everything in its glare.
The seasons of the year were something I loved about Tasmania, and love even more here. Even winter, although it's long and dark and often miserable, is worth it for the spring.
It's also worth it for Christmas.
In Australia, we celebrate Christmas at the same time as the rest of the world. I never really liked it very much growing up. Of course the presents were great and there was much fun to be had and seeing family is great, but all of that nonsense about carols and Christmas trees and tinsel and reindeer and snowmen and Santa Claus seemed pointless and arbitrary. The Jesus bit was important, but it's important all year round, and in any case it was obvious that the people singing carols on the telly thought him as real as flying reindeer. Christmas seemed tacky, and stupid, and far too much work in the blazing heat. Australians do it because their forefathers did it, and even though our ancestors didn't enjoy it or understand it we need to keep doing it anyway because that's the way we've always done it.
It was only when I visited Boston toward the end of 2007 that everything clicked. It was just after Thanksgiving and it was starting to snow. Night fell at three, all the trees were bare and brown, and when day arrived the sky was grey without relief. But at the same time, houses and stores started to put up their Christmas decorations, and finally it all made sense.
When the night is cold and dark and goes on forever, when all of nature's colours are hidden away, when to be outside is to be in the wind and the ice, then how pleasant and warming and life-giving is it to see the lights on in a house with holly at the door, and to know that inside there is warm music and warm smiles and warming drinks. When winter goes on and on and you know you won't feel warm for months, how good it is to have something to look forward to: presents and roasts and pudding and brandy butter and board games.
I still like Christmas time in Australia, "drinking white wine in the sun" with my family while nibbling on leftovers from the seafood smorgasbord Mum made for lunch, and I'm very much looking forward to it this year. But the Yule thing, the Nat King Cole thing, the mulled wine thing -- that's something special, and I think this year I'm even going to miss it a little.