Do you hear what I hear?

Image by Guy James Whitworth.

Sydney author and artist Guy James Whitworth shares some truths that need to be told about Christmas.

I love Sydney. I love its people, I love its beaches, I love its culture and I love its quirky, slightly up-itself pretentiousness. It’s sassy, it’s stylish and it’s shallow, just like me! The perfect match. 

However, Sydney – and yes, you too, surrounding suburbs – it’s time we had a chat. Actually, no, consider this an intervention. It’s been the festively decorated elephant in the room for quite a few years now and I think we need to call it out: Sydney, you’re just a bit shit at Christmas! 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that this glorious city knows how to show a fella a good time when it wants to. Exhibit A: Mardi Gras! An absolute world class party if ever there was one; for those on the LGBTQI spectrum and those not, it’s the most fun you can have with your pants on (if, indeed, you unwisely choose to keep them on). And the list of things Sydney does well, is in no way a short one: each year, the Vivid festival just gets more spectacular, the Writers’ Festival, Sculptures by the Sea, Art Month, the list goes on.

And then we have our utterly magnificent New Year fireworks, which quite frankly leaves other pyrotechnic displays around the world looking like bargain-bin sparklers.  

Sydney’s 2019 New Year’s Eve fireworks. Video: ABC TV & iview/YouTube.

I could also drop in racism as an of example of things that Sydney excels at, but let’s keep this polite and chat about that another time.

However, I have seasonal truth bomb and no, you can’t take it back if you don’t like it. Here in Sydney we tend to be a wee bit lethargic and sponge-like, absorbing traditions and lazy excesses from everywhere else rather than think up new ways of treating the traditional festivities. 

We need to do better.

Although Sydney actually is world famous for a unique Christmas Day tradition (although it’s never raised in polite society) which is the Christmas Day Bondi Beach backpacker vomit-a-thon. I’ve been overseas for Christmas Day many a time, and no matter where you are in the world, local TV will always devote a segment to this particular Aussie national embarrassment. Isn’t it time we put a ban on backpackers on Bondi making merry in “sexy” elf outfits and Santa mankinis swigging out of silver goon sacks? It’s not a good look.

Unfortunately, I know, there are still those among us that believe nothing quite says ‘Sydney Christmas’ like fighting someone at a bus stop because you think they’ve stolen one of your thongs, or passing out in a beach tent with wilted mistletoe optimistically  threaded into your belt buckle. 

Bah-yukky-humbug to all of this, I say. We need to try harder at festive fabulousness, Sydney. Come on, we can do this! Let’s build a cringe-free festive identity built upon culture, compassion and the diverse Australian spirit. Where we shop, how we spend our money, how we behave and how we embrace or modify our excess could definitely do with a seasonal remodel. Let’s create a Christmas version 2 point ho-ho-ho!

Oh, and don’t even try to come at me with the argument that some residential suburbs go all out on Christmas lights, with each house trying to outdo their next-door neighbour over who can plug in the most Kmart lights at once without shorting out power to the nearby hospital. Yeah, sorry, it’s as tacky as it is wasteful.

Those gaudy houses and apartments are often more about the display of disposable wealth than Christmas cheer or charity; slim chance of finding three wise men or a virgin there.

To me, Sydney Christmases often seems half-arsed and unimaginative, and maybe that’s why we are all over-imbibing on the Christmas spirits to blot that out. 

I know it’s a seasonal identity crisis that we have to battle each year. We are bombarded with images from Europe of sleepy, snow dusted towns; and dark nights lit by fairy lights; and lanterns held aloft by ruddy cheeked, although probably nutrient deficient, children in a winter wonderland. But fuck all that, it’s a modern world and a time of ‘new normals’ – so, Sydney, we should be more than able to redefine what our balmy, sun-bleached Christmas looks and feels like. 

“A venomous snake in two-dollar-shop drag, there is just never any excuse for tinsel.”

– Guy James Whitworth

Firstly, we should lead the way globally and banish all shit Christmas songs. Any devices caught playing the festive air-borne virus that is All I Want for Christmas Is You must be instantly thrown in the air and shot at.

Secondly, mass produced decorations such as tinsel: send it all to hell where it belongs! It is never not ugly. A venomous snake in two-dollar-shop drag, there is just never any excuse for tinsel.

More ambitiously, all work/office Christmas parties must be stopped and stamped out like cockroaches on a makeshift dancefloor in the office despatch department. If you want to shag your boss, just do it. 2020 has given you the perfect excuse of a global pandemic – you no longer need to wear reindeer antlers at a ‘jaunty’ angle or to drink half your body weight in Baileys first. 

Let’s keep it classy this Christmas, Sydney – let’s show the world a new way of doing things. No polyester Santa hats, no single use environmentally devastating decorations, no sad looking, dusty open-air Christmas trees outside suburban shopping centres, no nasty homemade eggnog (thanks, but if I wanted to swallow anything that tasted like that, I’d just tee it up on Grindr). Let’s minimise the negative impact, taste-free, tacky European influences we import without consideration. 

We are the glittering jewel of a harbour city with an incredible backstory and culture. Let’s embrace that and behave accordingly. 

Let’s imagine a Christmas that’s not so heavy on hangovers, and which is better for our environment, wallets and our lives. Come on, Sydney, let’s keep Christmas tasteful, imaginative and something we can joyfully reminisce about all year round.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Guy James Whitworth is a Sydney-based artist and author. His book, Signs of a Struggle, is available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst and good bookshops everywhere. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.

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