On the translucent evenings this time of year, I look south and dream of Christmases past. I've never lived south, but I'm not talking about geographical direction - rather, about something in the sky, the air between here and somewhere. Southward, nostalgia lies. At least for me.
Maybe it's a small white creature tucked within a pine-scented shadow's curve, a thing of delicately sharp teeth and soft fur, a thing for which we have no name because we believe all emotional experiences derive from our own minds, instead of from the worlds around us - the interior galaxies of trees, the secret dragons, the slip-sliding yunggamurras of rivers, the glimpsed tails we think are windswept clouds.
If I was to describe my nostalgia for advent, I would speak of the ways in which, as a child, I always sought winter glimmer in our summer hours. So - pale horizons, the drift of light against dark tree trunks, the scent of fresh pine, tinsel sparkling like icicles, the lingering chill of early mornings. Every December, I try to have summer meet with the old traditions of my English heritage, and somewhere in the middle I make my own private magic for the season. There are no surfing Santas for me. I grew up in the wintry country of my elders' own nostalgia, itself an inbetween place that vanished from existence when they passed on.
Those old traditions are seldom seen in my culture now, except in storefront windows and on greeting cards. I miss the experience of living within a mutual bone memory. As I write this post, I am taking small interludes as usual to allow words a gathering space before I lay them down here. In the interludes I am listening to this video of the great storyteller Martin Shaw. And as so often happens, so very often, the world is conversing with me about the very subject of this post.
For me, the old northern stories of White Christmas resonate with my deep self - they contain bone memories of mythic truth. Unfortunately, this happens in the middle of summer here. And so I celebrate the Solstice instead now, to honour the mythic truth of summer's lore. But it also means that I miss out on the communal celebration of winter's lore, the embedding of it in annual tradition. And yet I would miss it anyway. Here at the bright end of the world, there are even calls for new Christmas songs, summery songs. I wouldn't mind at all - I would embrace it joyfully - except there is no depth to what is replacing the winter traditions. No hanging of oak leaves. No baskets of flowers left on neighbour's doors. No cornucopias. No summer stories told. It is all barbecues, backyard cricket, and a sunbathing Santa Claus. It has no roots, no story. It is skin memory - simply the stuff we do. And that worries me. As Martin Shaw says, we need stories of depth and substance to help sustain our communities through these difficult times. They are the songlines to our souls.