• I’m starting to see it less as a displaced winter get-together, more as a celebration of summer’s arrival with a nod in the direction of Santa... (AP)Source: AP
It’s the time of year when ex-pats look past the wonders of summer and yearn for their winter homeland. Ian Rose misses the lights of London and succumbs to the Christmas blues.
By
Ian Rose

19 Dec 2016 - 2:25 PM  UPDATED 19 Dec 2016 - 3:25 PM

It’s a special kind of homesickness we feel around now, those of us in Australia who come from northern Europe, or anywhere cold that celebrates Christmas.

If this special kind of homesickness had a face, its eyes would be brimful of tears, gazing mournfully into the distance like one of those children in a Victorian painting, while the mouth twists itself into a sneer of “call this Christmas?” contempt.

The Germans might have one of those polysyllabic words for it, they’re good at nailing those tricky emotional composites. This would have to be something that welds melancholy with disdain. It’s probably got “sehnsucht” in the middle, because that means longing. I bet it has a nice festive ring to it, too. A lot more than Six White bleedin’ Boomers has, anyway.

December is boom-time as far as feeling sorry for myself goes, as I get to miss my family and friends back in the motherland, as well as lament the loss of proper yuletide.

I made the move from London to Melbourne (for love, romantic fool) nine years ago, and have been looking back ever since, determined not to lose sight of the sacrifices I’ve made, so I can keep reminding my beloved of them.

December is boom-time as far as feeling sorry for myself goes, as I get to miss my family and friends back in the motherland, as well as lament the loss of proper yuletide.

Because this antipodean version? Well, it doesn’t even come close.

Back when I had my first Christmas down under, I thought it was the weather that made it feel wrong, but I’ve since worked out that it’s all about the light.

Back there, it’s dark at 4pm. But the cheesiest illuminations can warm the soul as winter’s kicking in. Seeing the lights on Regent Street as a kid was magical and I never tired of it. Nor of the fairy lights on trees (a glorious monster in Trafalgar Square), candles all over the place, the firelight in the pub that offers respite from a shopping spree on the frozen, cobbled streets of Covent Garden.

The pagan winter solstice festival that the Christians appropriated was an act of defiance against the darkness, always as much about the light as the colossal knees-up. Not that much has changed in the way it’s been celebrated over the millennia.

There is a brightness to Christmas, a glow, that is lost in the glare of the midsummer sunlight here.

Plus I just don’t hear enough bells: church bells on Christmas morning, Big Ben’s midnight bongs on New Year’s Eve, London’s got it going on with the bell-ringing.

And carol singers! In mittens and scarves, standing on the doorstep, snowflakes drifting down around them as they croon sweet tidings.

I’m sure there were carol singers.

Of course, it could be that nine years away has tinted the nostalgia-specs through which I view my Christmases past, just a little.

Last time I visited, Regent Street and Trafalgar Square in December were choked with bus fumes and jostling shoppers, those Covent Garden streets more likely to be rainy and pigeon-shit-peppered than frozen and I last had carol singers at the door a quarter of a century ago. I think they may have stolen a pair of my mum’s shoes.

And to be honest, I’m kind of warming to the Aussie way of doing things, Christmas-wise.

Of course, it could be that nine years away has tinted the nostalgia-specs through which I view my Christmases past, just a little.

I’m starting to see it less as a displaced winter get-together, more as a celebration of summer’s arrival with a nod in the direction of Santa, which is fine by me. The long evenings make for good times, notwithstanding the mosquitoes.

But that sehnsucht, that yearning to be where I’m from - it’s still hard to shake around Christmas.

It’s there in the songs I insist on playing in the house (romantic fool), Bing Crosby’s rich baritone voice (“ba,rup-a-pum-pum”), the movies I’ll make sure we watch, Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life, E.T.’s silhouette flying that bike across the face of the moon, Judy Garland clicking the heels of ruby slippers together, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…”

I’ll Skype my family and oldest friends some time over Christmas and Boxing Day. We’ll get misty-eyed (those for whom it’s night-time the markedly mistier) and make promises that we’ll be together again some Christmas soon.

Then I’ll turn on the news and see poor souls from around the world who are truly displaced this season. And feel ashamed.

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