Snoopy a comfort amid Christmas's changing times

Splash of colour: The Christmas tree lit up in Hamilton’s Garden Place. Christmas is a watershed for so many people.
Splash of colour: The Christmas tree lit up in Hamilton’s Garden Place. Christmas is a watershed for so many people.

For years now, one of my colleagues at the Waikato Times, Kay Shanley, has marched through the building each day on the week leading into December 25, playing the feel-good song Snoopy's Christmas loudly on her ghetto blaster.

It's just one of those rituals we've come to expect at the Times. Wouldn't be Christmas without it.

Kay reckons she started the Snoopy-fest to piss off the people who had hangovers on the morning after the work Christmas party. The ritual has taken on a life of its own. It still pisses some people off.

One of Kay's favourite stories is about the Christmas when a reporter complained to a previous Times general manager about Snoopy. The GM responded succinctly: "Bah humbug," he said to the reporter.

So Snoopy's Christmas continues. Imagine our horror this year, then, when Kay began playing it on her smartphone rather than the ghetto blaster. There wasn't as much volume, it didn't feel right. "Oh no," said the old guard, aghast at the change. Kay wouldn't be budged, the ghetto blaster's been retired. We've got to get over it.

It's a funny old time of year. Memories and ghosts of Christmases past meld with new ways of doing things. I've never quite been able to put my finger on why Christmas is such a watershed event for so many. Although not everyone, I hasten to add.

Is it the religious thing, the family thing, the food traditions, the bright expectations of little kids, or the holiday thing? A combination of all five, or just the point near the end of year when you simply let your breath out, take a few days to relax, ponder what the new year might bring?

You feel things more keenly at Christmas. The Tangiwai disaster of 1953, when 151 people were killed in a train smash in the central North Island, is still remembered. It happened on Christmas Eve, when many of those who died were journeying to be with family. The loss of life was more poignant because of this.

The killing of 20 children and six adults last week in Newport, Connecticut, is terrible. It seems even worse that it happened close to Christmas, that there will be unwrapped presents, and empty spaces at family gatherings.

The same closer to home with the fatal accidents this week at Whakamaru and Atiamuri; more mourning, more people gone in more families.

We've had losses in our family, although no-one's been snatched away so abruptly. I still miss my tart-tongued aunt who joined us every Christmas for many years. She was in her 90s on the last occasion, struggling to hold things together.

She had trouble eating her strawberries but predictably refused offers of help. The strawberries kept slipping off her fork, she spoke crossly to herself each time it happened. "What did you say, Joan?" I asked. Even in her frailty, she could be relied upon for a crisp one-liner: "I said, I'm a silly bitch."

She is gone, but not forgotten. One of the absent friends we raise a glass to. But there are new little faces at our Christmas table, and the complex tapestry of family gets reworked.

The choice of food, the politics of Christmas gifts, the turns with in-laws, turns to host the Christmas shindig, who is travelling, who isn't, they all get an airing in December. All have potential to cause pleasure and pain.

I remember the time I managed to talk my mother out of making her Christmas aspic moulds that no one really liked eating. Beetroot in aspic, and peas, tomato and mint in aspic. Mum was miffed and said it wouldn't be the same without these colourful additions to the feast.

Nowadays I have a feeling somebody may be gearing up to say the same thing to me about my Christmas pudding. I think I'm the only one left who loves it.

I've given up on a Christmas tree this year because that was always my husband's thing and he's not well enough to do it. Bill wouldn't have a fake tree in the house, he always hitched up the trailer and trundled out to buy a fresh one.

It was lovely, but a pain on Boxing Day having to take the decorations down and heave the tree out on the lawn before we went on holiday. Otherwise we'd come home to pine needles smothering the sittingroom carpet.

This year, there's something unexpected to take its place. Our own New Zealand Christmas tree in the form of the majestic Northern rata in the bush just off our deck.

It is blooming beautifully for the first time, its red flowers truly glowing, and a noisy tui feeding happily on them.

I don't think the rata should be doing so well in the Hamilton climate. Maybe it's the start of a new Christmas ritual for us.

But things change, and you just try to roll with it.

Snoopy's Christmas really isn't the same played on a phone, but as the immortal line says, "Merry Christmas, my friend(s)".