15 Nov 2015

Has Christmas come too early?

9:30 pm on 15 November 2015

The Halloween chocolate is scarcely out of its November 1 'Special Offer' box by the supermarket check-out, and already we're being bombarded with Christmas propaganda.

It's six weeks to Christmas, almost to the day - more than most of us get in annual leave; almost 12 percent of the year; just about long enough to walk from the top to the bottom of the North Island, if you really rushed it.

But the electronic baubles are already out on the Warehouse's website ('Christmas is coming', it says, a little ominously), while New World is promising 'a little Christmas magic'.

They aren't the only culprits: A large group gathered at Danish House in South Auckland on November 2 for the Scandinavian Christmas market, clamouring for candles, pepperkaker and imported Advent calendars.

If it hasn't happened already, it is only a matter of days before the plinky-plonky opening bars of 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' gets piped out of the Fresh Choice sound system every hour, on the hour.

Was it ever thus? Though it feels like it gets celebrated earlier every year, even a hundred years' ago, Gisborne's Poverty Bay Herald boasted adverts for Christmas presents on November 22 1915. ("Waterman Pen Time Is Coming! You Could Not Give A Better Xmas Present!")

Auckland's christmas parade.

Auckland's christmas parade. Photo: FARMERS SANTA PARADE

Shooting forward just a few years, by December 5 1935 - still three weeks before Christmas - Father Christmas was safely ensconced in Farmers' Toy Bazaar, said an advert in The Press. "He has a warm welcome for every child ... And such fun!"

It isn't quite six weeks, but it's well before the 12 days of Christmas.

A logistical hiccough?

But perhaps New Zealand's seemingly premature attitude to Christmas is simply a question of distance. In the Second World War, Christmas boxes were reportedly sent off on October 1 and 2 - a seriously long time ahead to be planning, or hoping that that Edmond's boiled fruit cake would keep.

Our postal service may be a little speedier these days, but it still put out a press release last week encouraging people to send off their Christmas packages by November 15.

If you're hoping to get cards and presents to most of the rest of the world in time for Christmas, you'll have to be quick: the last date for post to the South Pacific, Asia, North America and Europe is three weeks away, on December 4 - or December 14, if you want to fork out the extra for it to be couriered.

We haven't always known how to celebrate Christmas. It doesn't even get a mention in the 25 December 1841 New Zealand Gazette, and it wasn't a public holiday until 1910.

Working out what makes a Kiwi Christmas has taken time, too: turkeys aren't a native bird, and muttonbird as a replacement hasn't worked its way into the national consciousness. Abel Tasman celebrated the day in 1642 with extra rations of wine and pork, while James Cook's crew feasted on (now endangered) gannet pie, and spent Boxing Day feeling seriously under the weather.

What we do have, though, is the Kiwi Christmas tree - the pohutukawa, with its glorious crimson flowers. It resonated nicely even with very early settlers - they thought of it as something 'Christmassy' as early as 1867.

Perhaps here, too, is the key to our early celebrations - while Americans are curtailed from getting into the Christmas spirit by a Thanksgiving push that persists to the end of November, maybe Kiwi hearts are just filled 'with aroha', as the song goes, from the first bloom of the pohutukawa at the start of November.

It's an uncynical approach, perhaps - even a naive one - but nicer than simply writing Christmas off as an opportunity for shopkeepers to sell more stuff.

If nothing else, it gives us an excuse to pop open the bubbly and keep the tinsel up for longer than the designated twelve Christmassy days. And who could get sick of hearing Sticky Beak the Kiwi?