Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Time For Remembering

Two nights ago I stopped at Kaiwaka, a small town north of Auckland and took this photograph of a local house that fronts the main highway. These sorts of luxuriant light displays are not uncommon. In fact whole streets in some towns and cities in New Zealand are flooded with a colourful kaleidoscope of light in this way.

I am both immensely attracted and slightly repelled by this stuff all at the same time.

The adult in me, chin in hand, eyes looking skywards, head nodding knowingly while smiling paternalistically at the chattering classes penchant for glitzy whims and fancies, kitsch quality and shallow transient sentiment, will point out to myself (who is the only one listening) that of course its all a rort, a conspiracy of multinational companies, a flagrant orgy of materialism and that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost forever amongst ostentatious vulgar light displays and that it was never like this in my day.

The child in me doesn't worry about this sort of analysis. Notwithstanding the odd visit to a Christmas Church service around about this time of year, the meaning has always been the same: presents, aka - stuff, lots of stuff, good stuff, new stuff, ripping wrapping paper off stuff, playing with stuff, whooping with delight about stuff - and then a big, big, big Christmas dinner where the adults were so distracted by adult stuff, no one noticed all the extra stuff you shoved in your mouth - I grew up in a poor neighbourhood but there was never a lack of food on Christmas day and I always made a point of stuffing myself with it using the skills honed during the year in a household of nine children - there were two sorts of children - the quick and the hungry.

The child embraces the immediacy of the experience without too much reflection. The smell of a fresh loaf of bread, raiding the neighbours orchard, high stars above a Guy Fawkes bonfire on New Brighton Beach, cowboy movies, throwing stones on the roof of the commercial chicken farm behind our house, sailing on the Christchurch estuary, wearing fluorescent lime green or pink socks (a high fashion accessory in the very early sixties) - the sublime and the ridiculous are all the same for the child - its the experiencing that matters, the reflection comes a lot later.

The adult in me knows that you can't wind back the clock, and that I can't be, or act like a child anymore (well not ALL the time) but I can remember. There's no harm in that. There is a lot to remember. And in a strange way as I grow older the memories shine like beacons, not unlike a light garden in Kaiwaka. A family of nine children makes for a lot of memories - which are still there in my minds eye amongst the wrapping paper and stuff everywhere in the living room on a long ago Christmas morning. Perhaps when I return north in a weeks time I will leave with the falling of the light so I can stop, get out and quietly lean on the car in the night and watch the Kaiwaka light display again - Take another look at all the neon kitschy stuff all over the lawn - and let the child remember.



Dan Gurney said...

I have a similar ambivalence towards Xmas. These days, I am more moved by the solstice than December 25. It seems verrry strange to contemplate Christmas so close to Summer solstice. Around here, everything about this holiday is inextricably related to winter.

Alden Smith said...

I have never had a Winter Christmas with snow as signalled by all the Christmas cards I saw when I was growing up. A NZ Christmas is sun, barbecues, pohutakawas flowering, tarseal so hot your have to wear your jandals (no barefeet), beach, beach, beach, beach, swimming, sailing and hazy, lazy days. And now that I am older we have changed the face of the Christmas cards (the indigenous ones at least)