Politicians' shenanigans fail to dampen festive fervour

Last updated 08:48 15/01/2013

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Richard Swainson

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Early January is an unusual, almost artificial time of year. After the stresses and strains of Christmas and the inevitable letdown of New Year, the country becomes broadly divided into those who are back at work and those whose holidays continue.

I say "broadly divided", because there are obviously many for whom the toil - paid or unpaid, socially recognised or "invisible" - never stopped.

Work in the DVD rental industry isn't exactly akin to that of hospital staff, police or domestic caregivers, but we who service the entertainment requirements of the greater populace seldom shut up shop.

It's interesting how both politicians and the media scale back their activities at this time.

The country still has to be governed and the fourth estate still has to earn its keep, but skeleton staff are the order of the day. Slim papers and the suspension of regular news programming reflect a time of year when what's worth reporting consists of the weather, the road toll and the odd, tragic murder.

Even sport goes into a seasonal hiatus, reduced to minority codes - anyone for tennis? - or depressing dispatches about the sorry state of our national cricket team.

Record low scores grab the headlines, but there is only so much you can say about managerial incompetence and bruised player egos. If we cannot field our best side and play accordingly, public interest soon wanes.

There are still some shenanigans on the margins of course. The Government's announcement of the petrol tax increase a week before Christmas was carefully timed, a means to an end as much as an end in itself.

National's determination to appear in surplus at the expense of the New Zealand motorist was as heartening a Christmas present as the concurrent news that MPs' salaries were to be raised by 1.5 per cent, backdated to July 2012.

Perhaps it is simplistic to draw such parallels, but to someone who hasn't had a rise for five years, it appears as if we are being asked to pay more at the petrol pump to subsidise higher-quality scraps in the political trough. Our porcine representatives can gorge themselves to the tune of $7000 more a year, the equivalent of three months' income on the minimum wage.

It must take a special type of human being to accept a pay rise when you already earn well over $130,000 per annum and are part of an administration which has disposed of 1000 civil servants in the same year and let unemployment soar to 7.3 per cent.

For those fortunate enough to get time off over the holiday period, the pleasures of catching up with friends and family are to be savoured. It would be fair to say that I approached things with some trepidation, having to endure what one well-wisher accurately coined an "orphan's Christmas".

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The first December 25 without your parents is one in which many of the established rules of the past no longer apply. There is no "home" to return to as such and numbers are down by that most significant of factors: two.

Whatever the fears of mournful reflection and self-pity, though, in practice Christmas 2012 was a joyful affair, one full of the cries and sighs of children as desperate to rip open gaudily packaged offerings as pull a bon-bon.

My aunt played hostess to the evening meal as per usual, the last survivor of her generation. A large, framed photograph hung in her lounge room, an image recorded exactly six years earlier, in which her husband, sister and brother-in-law are all revelling in the presence of grandchildren.

The absent were keenly missed, especially during that most serenely archaic of festive rituals - a cherished favourite of my mother - the Queen's Christmas Message.

Yet there was something reassuring about the enthusiasm of the young and tradition, even if those aged 3 to 8 had surprisingly little interest in Her Majesty's religious platitudes.

If the relevance of yuletide was grounded in mass family participation, my New Year faith was restored by embracing the minimal.

After decades trying to find the perfect party at which to mark the end of one 12-month period and the start of the next, the answer was found close to home. It's hardly an original thought, but I'll spell it out anyway: You only really need one other person to be happy.

- Waikato

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