Merry Christmas, Summer Christmas

By Lindsey-Jane, 70. Adelaide, SA

Christmas for most people in Adelaide begins with our famous Christmas pageant, which is one of the best of its kind in the world and the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s been a huge hit for the Adelaide population since 1933, so they’ve had lots of practice at making it a thrilling spectacle for families and tourists. Children and adults alike are entranced as the varied and colourful floats parade through the city streets to the ‘Magic Cave’, which is home to Father Christmas during his Adelaide stay. After the pageant, everyone knows that Father Christmas is in town and kids are on their best behaviour — for the first 24 hours at least. At this time, most people begin preparations for Christmas in earnest. As a Christian, I start preparations in Advent, but being a bit of a party girl, I also enjoy taking part in some of the social events.

Father Christmas in Adelaide’s Magic Cave

Besides the Christmas pageant, there are other signs of Christmas in summer-time. Purple Jacaranda trees are in full bloom and line many of our streets. They cast a lovely purple film over everything, so it’s a bit like peering through purple cellophane. The pinky/red gum blossoms are out and they are also gorgeous and add to the festive feeling.

Many people in the Adelaide suburbs tie red ribbons around street trees, although the streets in which there are more Jacarandas, purple bows are tied. We have a purple one to go around the Jacaranda out the front of our house. Purple is the colour of Advent and also a favourite colour of mine. Gangs of vivid parrots gather in trees bearing summer fruit. You can hear them squawking and squabbling among the leaves. Heaven help the gardener who hasn’t put nets over their trees to protect their crop. The parrots, of course, don’t understand the concept of sharing and will gobble the lot or else peck holes in the best fruit, rendering them unusable by anyone else. Little buggers.

As a Christian, I start preparations in Advent, but being a bit of a party girl, I also enjoy taking part in some of the social events.

The early summer evenings are delightful for sitting out on our wide verandah, sipping a bubbly, wine, or whatever you wish, enjoying the gully breezes that whip up around 5pm and onwards.

There’s a downside to this pretty froth and bubble summer scene, because alas, tis also the season for bush fires, blow flies and mozzies. The blow flies, etc., make their unwelcome entrance at outdoor meals and barbecues. The hardware stores do well in their lines of bug zappers and citronella candles. This time of year, you can also get a nasty surprise when you go to the letter box, so you’d better watch out for big brown Huntsman spiders when you go to collect your stash of Chrissy cards.

Likewise, snakes are prowling around, enjoying the heat and long, dry grasses. They are mostly prevalent in country areas, but these days are also unfortunately finding their way into suburban properties. It pays to be watchful. My sister, who’s a vet, related a story about snakes a few years ago, during one of the severe bushfires. A whole bunch of snakes, escaping the flames, crossed a road and into homes to safety. Well, you can’t blame them for that — but I have to wonder how the homeowners reacted to their slithering visitors. As it was nearly Christmas time, maybe they just wanted to wish everyone a happy Chrisss-tmasss.

Bush fires, of course, are devastating and cause untold grief and loss for many once they take hold and burn out of control in high temperatures and strong northerly winds. Floods this year, too, have been especially destructive and distressing.

We do have hot northerly winds, which bring dust storms and fan fires; not the most pleasant of weather conditions. However, there’s a beautiful Aussie Christmas carol, The North Wind. It’s a favourite of mine. (Words are by John Wheeler and music is by William G James.)

The North wind is tossing the leaves
The Red dust is over the town
The Sparrows are under the eaves
And the grass in the paddock is brown,
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ child the Heavenly King.

The carol conjures up an image of parts of the Aussie countryside at Christmas time. I think you’ll enjoy the tune as well.

The North Wind (1948), performed by Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion as Bucko and Champs (released 1995)

To finish, just a little bit of history about the Christmas pageant. It used to be funded by one of Adelaide’s lovely old department stores, John Martin & Co., and so the pageant was known as John Martin’s Christmas pageant. It began, as I said, in 1933, with just eight floats and four bands. Today, there are 63 floats and 16 bands, 11 dance groups, one DJ, four choirs and about 250 clowns. These numbers could even have grown since I wrote this a few years back, as new floats are always being added.

Rear entrance to John Martins department store during the 125th Birthday anniversary celebrations, 1991. (Photo: State Library of South Australia)

In recent years, John Martins was taken over by another Adelaide department store, David Jones, and Father Christmas set up residence in the new Magic Cave. For decades, kids (including me!) looked forward to their annual visit to the Magic Cave. My husband and I took our kids to John Martins until 1998. I have a photo of them with Father Christmas that year and from then on it was set up in David Jones. Something got lost in translation during the takeover, because we still think the original is best. A few years on and then the pageant was sponsored by credit unions, and today, it is the National Pharmacies Christmas pageant. For the past two years, the whole thing had to be transferred to the Adelaide oval due to Covid. Now, thankfully, it’s back to the streets of Adelaide. I heard just this week that online bookings are now essential to visit the Magic Cave and people who haven’t done this will be turned away. That rather takes the shine off the glitter, doesn’t it? (Editor’s note: there are no more bookings available!)

I love to watch the pageant on telly. I’m such a child and I eat lollies and wave to good old Father Christmas, whom I’ve always adored. Sometimes, I even have a glass or two of bubbly. I was hugely disappointed this year when electrical storms knocked out the power, which meant no telly and no pageant watching. Better luck next year. Merry Christmas, everyone.

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