Saturday, December 4, 2010

Further advent-ures

Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat
So please put up some ludicrously over-sized decorations
And other stuff like that.

Yes, it's that time of year again, but this time it's not like the last time. While I read daily reports from the UK, suffering its coldest November since whenever and its earliest snowfall since who-knows-when, I'm sitting here desperately glad that the repair men have finally come round and fixed the air-conditioning so that the kids can have more of a chance to sleep at night. Right now, beside an open window, the breeze is lovely and cooling, but once it dies down you start to understand what 36 degrees of centigrade really feels like.

And what it doesn't feel like is Christmas. I realise a large part of the world has Christmas in the middle of summer - that's fine. Way back when it may well have been a pagan ceremony to celebrate midwinter, but ever since baby Jesus came along it's been a December thing, not a winter thing, and it would just be way too complicated to try and divide the world into December Christmas-ers and June Christmas-ers depending on which side of the middle they were. And pointless as well. Honestly, out here we don't need a festival to celebrate surviving another winter - we just need an extra jumper for a couple of weeks.

So here we are with a sweltering Christmas on its way and poor old Santa still has to wear all his winter woolies. When the day actually arrives, it's possible he'll pop down to the beach in his baggies and havaianas and distribute his largesse between games of beach football, but for now the only one I've seen in the flesh is stuck in the shopping centre pretending he's still up in the Arctic, ho ho hoing his way to the air-conditioning unit as often as possible. He does, however, possess his own, reasonably impressive beard.

But what the Brazilians lack in atmosphere they more than make up for in enthusiasm. No sub-tropical heatwave is going to stop them partying like it's minus five, and like a lot of things out here, the better something is going to be, the bigger it needs to be. This is why we have giant Santas all over the place, or giant trees decorated to within an inch of their lives and wedged into shop entrances. I've seen fake presents, fake snow, fake grass, and I've even seen Santa on a bike!

But the two clear winners in the vulgar Christmas decoration competition have to be the following - both courtesy of Shopping Iguatemi, which is our local, very upmarket, retail outlet.

The first is outside by the entrance and is clearly designed to supplement the security guards who patrol there. It's terrifying. It was bad enough when they first put it up and there was only one dog, but after a few days they added the trumpet-playing trio and turned the whole thing into a grotesque - and somewhat confusing - tableau. Quite why Santa has a saxophone is beyond me - he never did when he used to squeeze himself down my chimney - but then he never brought along a dog with a plunge detonator either so maybe it's a Brazilian thing.

On first seeing it, David refused to go anywhere near it in case Santa trod on him and squashed him. "Is he going to come alive at night and attack me?" he asked. I should, of course, have replied, "Don't be silly, he's just a giant model." But what I actually said was, "Don't worry. Even if he comes alive there's no way he can get into your bedroom. He'd never be able to get over the electric fence." David accepted this and then suddenly looked shocked. "But there's a man who sleeps on this street. Santa will squash him and kill him!" As you see, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well in this household.

But giant killer Santa and his pack of canine terrorists pale in comparison with the main display inside the shopping centre. Here they've set up an entire railway platform, complete with train, flying sleigh, obligatory giant teddy bear and a huge collection of Christmas-themed figures. But although there are some two dozen figures, there are only three or four characters - the old bearded man, the jolly old lady, the happy children - so the whole thing ends up looking like some terrible failed cloning experiment from Madam Tussaud's.

Sadly, my few photos will not do it justice as it's impossible to capture the whole thing in all its overblown glory. But try and imagine it. One or two of the clones are motorised so they actually wave their hands or turn their heads as you watch and the entire experience is accompanied by a perpetual soundtrack of Bing Crosby and his ilk crooning away in the background.

And not to be outdone, the arrival of Chanukah has provided the local Jewish community with their own display in the form of an oversized menorah, surrounded by a host of giant dreidels (thank you wikipedia) which are, unfortunately given their basic function, stuck in place. And honestly, the whole thing is far too modest. How is my son going to be terrified by giant killer dreidels spinning him into oblivion during the night when this is all he has to work with? And not a single animatronic rabbi to be seen anywhere!

To be fair, Brazil does not own the monopoly on ostentatious Christmas displays. Far from it. Although the shops and shopping centres have gone to town on their displays, individual houses have so far remained fairly unadorned, with not an inflatable roof Santa in sight. It's possible it's still a bit early for anyone apart from the most rampantly commercial elements of society to have given much thought for Christmas, or maybe it's the fact that you can't really see much of a house from the street around here so ornamentation designed for passers-by is a bit pointless. Who knows? I'll see what happens over the next couple of weeks.

But one aspect of the build up to Christmas which does seem to be lacking out here is the Advent calendar. Last year, in Sainsbury's, you couldn't move for Advent calendars for the whole of November, but so far I haven't noticed any. Certainly there are none in the supermarket. They might be selling them in the specialist chocolate shops, but as I can't even afford to walk past them, let alone go in and look around, I think I'll conveniently choose to decide that they don't either. And besides, neither of the boys has remembered what they're missing yet and almost certainly won't until James reads this tomorrow and starts his campaign of complaints!

Update: campaign of complaints cunningly avoided by the timely arrival of two advent calendars. And not from me, I should point out, but from James' friend Christian who acquired them on a recent trip to the UK. So, that's the pre-breakfast chocolate cravings taken care of. Next on the jobs list is to decide where we're actually going to spend Christmas itself; here in town, up in the hills, or down on the beach? Ah, decisions, decisions...

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