The Invisible Australian Christmas
16 Dec 2018
It’s that time of the year again: Christmas is almost upon us. As calendars fill up with school concerts, work functions, and end-of-year catch-ups, life with young children is somehow even busier than usual. And if my parenting is anything to go by, kids are watching more TV than usual.
Our screen time rules have become somewhat more fluid in all this busy-ness. Ahem. Daylight savings often means later bedtimes for my four-year old, giving us leeway for an extra show after dinner. Long drives to visit relatives regularly end in the frantic passing of a device to the backseat, pleading with an alarmingly sleepy child not to nap at 4pm. Luckily for Santa-obsessed preschoolers like mine, ABC Kids is currently streaming ‘The BIGGEST Christmas collection ever!’ on iview. And unluckily for them, practically none of this content is Australian-made.
Our local experience of Christmas is virtually invisible on ABC Kids. Australian preschoolers spend their hot December days singing and reading about snowy fields and frosty snowmen, then they see these same northern hemisphere stories played out on screen. Of the 25 ABC Kids Christmas episodes and ‘specials’ currently available on iview, only three are Australian productions – and it would be a stretch to describe these as truly representative of our country or our holiday traditions.
Peppa Pig (UK)
In ‘Stille Nacht’ from Emma!, Emma Wiggle dances to an instrumental version of Silent Night. The Guess How Much I Love You special, ‘Christmas to the Moon and Back’, opens with a British-accented narrator setting the scene: ‘It was the day before Christmas. Little Nutbrown Hare’s meadow was painted with glistening white snow, and everything was quiet.’ And in the Bananas in Pyjamas episode ‘The Christmas Tree’, the residents of Cuddlestown work together to decorate an outdoor Christmas tree. There is nothing distinctly Australian about this story or setting, but at least the ground isn’t blanketed by snow?
Ironically, the preschool program that comes closest to depicting our local experience is the UK’s Thomas and Friends. In ‘Kangaroo Christmas’, Thomas is working in the dusty Australian outback through December. He is initially disappointed by the hot summer Christmas, longing to see children building snowmen in fields. But Thomas comes to realise that this holiday is about spending time with loved ones – regardless of what season it is.
Our local perspective isn’t always so absent from children’s holiday programming. As a 10-year old growing up on the coast, I remember loving the (kind of dark?) Round the Twist episode ‘Santa Claws’: Pete is granted two free wishes for each member of his family after reluctantly helping out creepy Santa Claws number 115,302 at the school’s Christmas fete. In ‘Bigger Than Vegas’ from Mortified, Taylor campaigns against the seemingly unbeatable Brittany for the following year’s school captaincy, while trying to ignore her dad’s annual Christmas lights rivalry with Brittany’s father. The December episode from Worst Year of My Life, Again! sees Alex determined to give his Christmas-loving mum a joyous and memorable day. And another favourite, ‘Joy… to the World’ from Lockie Leonard, shows Lockie struggling to find the joy in the season: his girlfriend is moving away, and his hospitalised mum may not make it home for Christmas Day.
Round The Twist – Santa Claws
I recently re-watched these episodes (all in the name of research!) and found such stark differences to the ABC’s current Christmas programming. The relatable characters in these programs speak in local accents, using familiar expressions. The episodes show the school year wrapping up with the calendar year: key for Australian children, because summer, the end of the school year, and Christmas are so inextricably linked in their minds. And with no glistening snow in sight, settings and events include a Christmas Day beach picnic, neighbourhood cricket matches, and more than one pavlova being served up for dessert.
Worst Year of My Life, Again!
Wouldn’t it be great if children of all ages could see Christmas stories like these in our local media – stories representative of their own lives? If instead of Daniel Tiger rugged up at the neighbourhood ‘Snowflake Day’, we saw Bluey and Bingo staying up late to visit Southbank’s Christmas lights? And instead of woodland creatures preparing for their winter hibernation, we saw native animals preparing for the hot, dry summer ahead? Scriptwriters, are you getting this down?!
For me, the ABC’s ‘biggest Christmas collection ever’ is a reminder of just how little Australian content there is for kids generally, and how the local content we do have is overwhelmed by foreign content – even on our national broadcaster.
Australian children deserve access to content that genuinely reflects their community, language, and their experience of holidays such as Christmas. They deserve stories that are relevant and relatable to their own lives, because what children see on television really does influence how they view themselves, the world, and their place in it.