Let’s be honest, we as Australians have it made. The scope of our national treasures ranges from our golden beaches, vegemite and lamb, to the Hemsworth brothers, goon sacks and Tony Abbot’s budgie smugglers. However, as we enter the festive season, we miss out on some of the winter Christmas traditions that the rest of the world gets to enjoy. Seriously it feels like they are all having one big ugly Christmas sweater party and “forgot” to invite us. As a response to this, we Aussies have taken it upon ourselves to create our own little party and culturally appropriate Christmas to suit our summer.
By definition, “cultural appropriation” refers to “taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another”. This notion has been splashed across the news for cross-race appropriation and racial identity (think Native American headdresses at festivals, bindies, cornrows…). Recently, even one of our national treasures, and all-round amazing human Chris Hemsworth made the news for previous party appropriation antics. However, I would like to bring the term forward in a more light-hearted sense and discuss which genius thought that six white boomers pulling Saint Nick across the sky made sense.
To be able to discuss this however, we need to first understand the underlying concept. Essentially, what we deem as the traditional national or ethnic cultures today are the just the current manifestation of a long evolutionary process – so what we regard as cultural appropriation today is arguably the result of past appropriations. For example, did you know that the sombrero is not historically Mexican? I know mind blown. Historians note that the Spanish originally brought them to Mexico, and (plot twist) the American Cowboy hats are actually a modified version of the sombrero. So now if I want to go as a slutty cowgirl for Halloween, not only am I appropriating North American history, but also Mexican and Spanish cultures too. Awesome. What this example does demonstrate though is that the history of culture, is the history of cultural appropriation.
So how does this affect surfing Santa? After centuries of religious Christmas or similar celebrations, America did what America does best and re-imagined the holiday as a time for peace and giving with less of a religious influence in the 1800s. Since this point, Christmas became a melting pot of cultural appropriation, traditions that we know today including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving, are all inspired from other cultural celebration customs. One journalist summarised this perfectly, stating that cultural evolution or colonisation rather than appropriation is “a contradictory, rich, unstable mix of tradition and change.”
Cultural evolution or colonisation rather than appropriation is “a contradictory, rich, unstable mix of tradition and change.”
Christmas is the perfect setting for cultural appropriation, evolution and appreciation. It seems only a natural step for Aussies to want to modify the holiday for our seasons. I picture the first Aussie Chrissy appropriation went sort of like this… a couple mates are sitting at their local on a scorcher December day, throwing back a couple of XXXX, watching a bit of Cricket, then suddenly a Christmas ad comes on. On the box, snow is falling, families are nestled by the fire, and hot chocolates are sipped daintily. Robbo turns to his mate Beno and says something like “Oi mate, whatcha reckon the fat man would do if he actually made it down under?” to which Beno replies “Dunno mate, probs just chuck on thongs, boardies and grab a stubby”. And that dear children, is the tale of how Aussie Santa was born. It’s legends like Robbo and Beno who saw that we weren’t invited to the ugly Christmas sweater party, told the party to get stuffed, and decided to have an ugly Xmas rashie party instead. (Side note: yes, ugly Xmas rashies are a real thing and are glorious).
Our ability to appropriate can also be linked to a level of commercialism placed on the festive season. As the Christmas story slowly fades into background noise, its importance and influence decreases, giving way to the commercialism that fuels cultural appropriations. An outstanding example of this is Santa Clause himself, whose red suit was actually brought to life in the 1930’s by Coca-Cola; ever wonder why the brand and the big man have an uncanny flair for red and white? On a segment with Waleed Aly, Scott Stephens discusses the ramifications of commercialism as a result of capitalism stating that “cultural appropriation is arguably a symptom of capitalism, the kind of permeability of culture – things that are quite, or were once considered, sacred with meaning within one culture have almost become hollowed out and turned into a commodity and then mass shipped all over the world.”
Whether formed from cultural evolution, colonisation, or commercialism, our true blue Aussie Christmas is a result of cultural appropriation. This year, let’s make our Christmas the most Aussie yet. Fire up those BBQs, pop on your thongs, and slip into an ugly rashie, because our current cultural appropriation of Christmas has taken time to form. For the sake of Aussie legends like Robbo and Beno, let’s crack open a 6-pack and cheers to another glorious summer Christmas in Australia.
Also published on Medium.