Christmas cards used to baffle me somewhat, when I was a small child growing up in Australia. What was the story with the snow, let alone mysterious words like “Noël”? It took a while for me to grasp that I was part of a transplanted race still coming to terms with being a long way from its ancestral home. The “white Christmas”, the songs about snow and sleighs and reindeer, the fake illuminated icicles hanging from fascia boards along the fronts of suburban houses were all part of the same thing: a settler colony far from home and yearning, deep down, for its distant homeland. It seemed odd to me, just as it still does today. No “Christmas in July” can change the fact of it. So many of the moving parts of the Christmas routine are specific to the Northern Hemisphere.
I’m not talking about the religious bits. They transfer seamlessly anywhere – social circumstances permitting. I mean just the remnant of the old pre-Christian rituals and much of the dense commercial regrowth that has sprouted from its chopped-off stump. Santa Claus and his North Pole capers, his flying sleigh and his carrot-munching reindeer. The pine tree with its candles, the hot feast with its dense cakes and puddings and the rich canon of Northland carols. Not that it troubles me, overly. These things simply remind me that we are a nation of recent immigrants whose collective heart has not yet fully embraced our new home, not even after 200 years.
It’s not that Australia doesn’t have its own Christmas rituals. Of course it does. They have been shouldering their way to the foreground of the popular Antipodean mind for decades but they need a lot of muscle to push aside the heavy weight of ancestral tradition and of commercial reality. Even now most of our newer Christmas stories come to us from the centres of the northern-based empire of which we are undeniably a part. None of this is to mock our Australian Christmas. It is what it is, for perfectly good reasons: shaped by the same big forces that shape so many other aspects of our national life.
So, back to Christmas cards. For your amusement and pleasure I present a gallery of vintage Christmas postcards from my collection.