the nativity play or we three by hayley lawson-smith

scary santa

We’re onto our final batch of dinner and a show writers for 2018 and we have the divine Hayley Lawson-Smith here to launch us.

Christmas is a weird time.

It’s just about the ultimate in religious and cultural perversion at the hands of commercial enterprise. The outward projection of Christmas is of a time to be spent unselfishly with family, inviting along friends – and maybe even strangers – to a meal at your table, to pull a cracker, to be delighted with home-made gifts and giggle over the ubiquitous pair of socks. I’ve had some lovely Christmas days. I can especially remember one as a little kid, when the entire family slept overnight at my grandmother’s small home, and in the morning my Puppy Surprise toy had like, ten puppies inside, which I think was the maximum number of puppies you could find! Best. Day. Ever.

But it was a Christmas not long after this when I recognised my mother’s handwriting on a gift purported to be from Santa Claus, and the holidays started taking on a sour note.

I have the misfortune of being born on Christmas Eve. That’s difficult enough without the fact that my parents divorced when I was little, so I was always shunted from one side of the bay to another, my parents taking turns to have me for either my birthday, or Christmas, or both. One memorable Christmas Eve (birthday!) I was popped on the Queenscliff to Sorrento ferry, heavily laden with two massive Santa sacks of presents for me and my brother. I must have made a pitiful sight, something reminiscent of Tiny Tim or the Little Match Girl – minus the poverty – waiting alone to be collected, struggling with my overnight bag, while happily families traipsed passed, oblivious to my frustration … (insert the world’s smallest violin here).

When I think of many of my childhood Christmas days now, I remember them as times spent with an extended step-family who, due to a nasty family breakdown, would later become strangers to me. It’s an odd feeling; those memories are tainted, fake and cringe-worthy. The love that was supposed to be there, the love which appeared to outshine itself with each new Christmas, was an utter lie. That ten of my childhood Christmas days are tarnished in this way feels like the ultimate betrayal. Woolworths and Kmart sold me a falsehood. Is it because of this that I now see Christmas as the most commercial of days? Fake and shallow, with make-believe magic to sell crappy plastic toys, batteries and things-we-don’t-need, all the while producing pollution through carbon emissions and creating excessive food waste. According to the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, the UK alone produced approximately 650 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per person, due to consumption and spending on food, travel, lighting and gifts over three days of festivities. In 2016, Australians spent 13.6 billion dollars over Christmas. Does the money spent and the emissions we create outweigh the charitable efforts done every year through fund-raising and good intentions?

It’s small comfort to know I’m not alone in these feelings; just for fun I Googled ‘Christmas is awful’ and was not disappointed to see over 66 million results. Maybe we’re Grinchy old cynics. But maybe there’s also a deep-seated reason behind our doubt, with holidays tending to morph and change with time; various cultures and religions celebrate New Years Day at different times of the year than what is deemed the ‘official’ date, Easter is derived from the name of a pre-Christian goddess called Eostre, and was (in some places might still be) a pagan celebration welcoming spring, and mid-winter festivals pre-date Christ by a good 2000 years. Humans constantly borrow, steal and are inspired by different cultures and religions, festivals and rituals; one of my favourite books on this subject is Terry Pratchett’s The Hogfather, which plays with the topic of Christmas in joyous satire, while at the same time weaving a beautiful legend about the conception of Discworld’s popular time of the year, Hogswatchnight (December 32nd, for those playing at home). For almost every year that I’ve owned it on VHS, I’ve watched A Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve (my birthday, my choice) and practically know ever song by heart, none of which mention a virgin given birth to the spawn of god.

Christmas is a fun theme to mess with. That’s what I hope to achieve with The Nativity Play or We Three. Who were those wise men, or magi, or kings, or – as in the case of my piece – one senile old man, one drunken wretch, and one pregnant young woman … where did they come from, and why are they never properly represented in illustrations of the nativity? Christmas, for me, comes with this big question mark of appropriation hovering over it; who has the right to tell or mess with this story? Where is the Monty Python-esque filth that would have stunk up a stable? Did the shepherds know that Christmas would one day become a day for drunken nana-naps and family feuds? And why is baby Jesus always so white?

Ultimately, I think Christmas, like many religious holidays, has its positive aspects and can influence people to be more charitable and selfless. I think any excuse for a party is a good excuse, and I do look forward to Christmas, but it’s with the same amount of excitement that I look forward to Halloween. In The Nativity Play or We Three the word ‘Christmas’ is never uttered; it is now such a staple of our Western diet that it is easily recognisable without even removing the wrapper. While not a religious person, I do think it odd that this holiday is celebrated so ardently by other, non-religious peoples. I do think it odd that we have this flash in the pan celebration while barely acknowledging its religious background. I think it odd that Santa is supposed to go to every home in the world on Christmas Eve (Santa, mate, come to my house twice, it’s me birthday) when it isn’t celebrated by every country and indeed, some places have never even heard of it. But, as with Halloween, I love it for its gaudiness, its tackiness, the food it permits one to eat, and the opportunity to take advantage of the festive feel to see friends and family. I think I’ve decided that, as with Halloween, the people who get the most innocent joy are the kids involved and, as we’re leaving them such a mess of a world to live in (ironically very much due to waste and pollution) any excuse to dress up, act like a pagan for a day and have fun, is a good excuse.

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