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CHRISTMAS IN AUSTRALIA.
The best model we know of for a description of Christmas in Australia, to be read by readers in England, is the London ' footman's account of the great glacier on Mont Blanc, which he had visited in company, with his master. ' Think of a man,'
said he, 'in a paper cap, with some panes of glass, a diamond, ' and a lump of putty, and it's exactly the reverse of that.' In like manner, if the people of the old country will be good enough to ? enumerate every characteristic of the season in northern latitudes — to run over in their mind's eye all its picturesque adjuncts, whether the same exist in reality, or only in the imagination of Christmas story-tellers and the artists engaged in the production of Christmas pictures in the illustrated newspapers, and to group together all the features of the great Christian festival as it is observed and celebrated in the British islands — we may then proceed to assure our friends at home that Christmas in Australia is 'quite t'other.' 'Winter on a 'goat' dothnot ' bestride the gale,' neither does 'the north wind blow roughly near Arcturus star,' nor' ' sweep unreined. across the polar bar.' Churchyard paths are not white with snow, nor do the bare trees stand forth like so many images of frosted silver against a dull grey sky. The blaze of the Yule log does not go roaring up the chimney, nor is the steaming wassail howl sent round the table and stirred with rosemary, by way of old ' remembrance.' In the silent splendour of the starry nights ? which are neither lone; nor frosty — wandering musicians, with blue noses and bluer fingers, do not wake us out of our first sleep with ' the waits,' neither do small children huddle round our doors on Christmas Eve, and pipe old carols with many natural quavers, and frequent references to ' the seven good joys that Mary had.' The mummers are unknown, and snap dragon has become a mere tradition associated with a distant country and another clime. There is no mention of the oxen having been found kneeling in their stalls at midnight of the vigil of Christmas Eve on any farm or station in Victoria; and ' nobody ever proposed to serve up ' a fair and large boar's head upon a silver platter, with minstrelsy,' to the professors of the Melbourne University on Christmas Day. It would be wholly untrue to say that— In rich men's halls the fire is piled, * And ermine robes keep out the wenthor ; In poor men's huts the fire is low, Through broken panes the keen winds blow And old and young1 are cold together. But. after all, we cannot expect to describe a thing negatively, nor do we suppose that by explaining what Christmas in Aus tralia is not we shall enable our readers in another hemisphere to obtain any definite idea of what it really is. So we will endeavour to specify some of its characteristics in a country where it falls in the middle of the summer. - It is usually a day upon which men pant for the darkest, coolest, shadiest, moistest recesses of the fern-tree gullies on the mountain ranges, where they may escape from the pitiless glare of the almost, vertical sun, and eat their honed turkey and salad in an atmosphere of aromatic fragrance and green twilight, and where they may cool their champagne in the; icy waters of the springs that brawl and bubble over mossy boulders and under cloisters of overarching. fronds. It is a day/upon which everything associated with blazing fires and artificial heat is calculated to send a thrill of horror through the deliquescent frames of holiday:makers, and when the apparition of. Old Father Christmas, clothed in a mantle of furs, waving, a lighted torch, and dispensing spiced wine from a steaming bowl,;would be unseasonable in the extreme, and would expose the venerable gentleman to strong suspicions of insanity. It is a day of universal festivity — one, indeed, of a period of merry-making, cojnmencingon Christmas Eve and not terminating until after the birth of the New Year. It is a day when everybody is abroad in parks and fields that have been scorched and withered by tho, fierce heat of midsummer, and under trees which mitigate, but do not intercept, the penetrating rays of the sun. It'^is a day upon which the side-walks of civic thoroughfares resemble Milton's pavement of *' burning marl, and the sunny side of the street is a veritable Via Dolorona, and people troop in thousands to the railway stations, eager to escape from the torrid city to the less torrid country, and experience a sense . of relief in the green glitter of the sea, and in the liquid plash of , the advancing tide upon the weed-strewn beach. It. is. a day ? when boating parties moor themselves beneath the green shelter of the drooping willows which fringe the brinks' of the river Yarra, and eat their Christmas dinner 'under the shade of melancholy boughs,' because they feel, with the lotos-eaters, that 'hateful is the dark-blue sky,' and very much disposed to to exclaim, like them,— ' How sweet it woro, hearing the downward stream, With half-Rhut eyes ever to seem Falling aBlcep in a half Ureum ! To dream and dream, like yonder amhor light Which will not leavu the tea-tree on the hulyht. It is a day on which people don their lightest, thinnest, airiest apparel, and go forth in pith hats and silk coats, under the pro tection of quilted umbrellas, to meet tlieir host in his suburban villa, comforting themselves with the reflection that the French windows of his dining-room open on to a broad verandah looking sea-ward, and that, no mutter how fervid tho warmth of his wel come, his viands will bp cool, and his wines lovveied to' a glacial temperature; and that, if the sea breeze should come up at sun down, a stroll among the magnolias and the orange trees will be a pleasant sequel to the day's proceedings. ? Christinas in Australia brings into its capital cities numberless visitors from goldiields townships and from remote sequestered cattle runs and sheep stations ;, for it is the. holiday, of the iyear. Servant girls leave their situations and indulge in a round of gaiety fora week or a fortnight, and, having spent the Biiyings of the last six months, seek fresh woods and pastures new in
other households at the beginning of the year. The book sellers' shops literally 'gleam with purple and gold' like the cohorts of the Assyrians ; because in the educational lottery of our public and private schools the rule is all prizes and no blanks. A walk through the establishments of the principal linen drapers, silk mercers, jewellers, and vendors of fancy goods is like a stroll through the Palais Royal on the eve of the Jour de I'An, and the two Arcades in Melbourne exhibit cartels of defiance and challenges of competition to the Burlington and the* Low the r in London. France, Switzerland, Bohemia, and Germany, to say nothing of the mother country, seemed to have been ransacked for articles to allure the eye and beguile your money from its purse ; and you can only conclude from the magnitude of the stocks that every man, woman, and child in the community must figure in the twofold capacity of a donor and recipient of Christmas presents. And the theatres? O, Sheol and Phlegethon ! what masses of perspiring pleasure-seekers wedge themselves together, and simmer and broil from 8 o'clock to midnight, while harlequin and clown, and sprite and pantaloon, 'lard the lean earth,'- or the desiccated stage, as they walk or leap, revolve or bound, and exhibit the qualities of pantomimic salamanders to the stream ing, steaming, slowly liquefying, and. gradually exhausted audience. And the blaze of light, the red fire, the luminous magnificence of the transformation scene, the iridescence of the pavilion of pearls, the realm of rubies, and the dazzling dome of diamonds !— think of all these things, with the thermometer at 95°, and admire the undaunted devotion of the Anglo- Australian mind to venerable precedent, to ancient custom, and to im memorial usage. The Christmas season in these colonies is the harvest period of theatrical managers. They 'make hay while the sun shines,' in more senses than one ; for 'all flesh is grass,' and if the atmosphere of a play-house in the middle of a subtropical summer, on the evening of the third of a succession of hot- wind days, is not capable of converting that grass into' hay, nothing will. Yes, we remain faithful to the pantomimes of our youth ; and they resemble so many theatrical museums of archaeology in which we are permitted to witness the performance of the practical jokes and the execution of the mechanical tricks which delighted our great grandfathers in the days of JLun and Rich. - ?-? ' ' ?-? J. S.