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How we do Christmas Part Two - lighting of the tree

Tuesday, December 04, 2012
A pine tree, next to palm trees. That's Brisbane for you.

So, anyway, as I said, we're doing a thing on how we do Christmas. By now, you've obviously read Part One - Present Security.

One of the traditions we have tried to begin over the past couple years is kicking off the Christmas season by attending the lighting of the monster Christmas tree (solar-powered!) in King George Square, in the city.

This year we totally made a day of it. We had to mail off some Jesse Tree Ornaments, and when we took care of that, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around looking for Christmas present ideas and soaking in the summer sun, waiting for dusk when the lighting of the tree ceremony would begin.

So herein is a blow-by-blow account from both my and Mrs Speech's perspectives of the day:

After the Post Office

Mr Speech: It was a beautifully warm day. You can sort of sense what Christmas is all about here in Brisbane, from the pics. Palm trees and shorts are the thing between September and May.

When we left the post office, Mrs Speech begged me to help her avoid the dude selling The Big Issue and the young pair trying to engage people to contribute to Medecins Sans Frontieres or Save the Whales or wherever they were from.

From there it was a short walk down to Queen Street Mall (an open-air foot traffic shopping plaza in the centre of the city).

Mrs Speech: We left the post office and hit Queen Street Mall. I liked the mall's Christmas decorations. Except for the creepy angel, which Mr Speech also thought was leftover from Halloween.

Mr Speech: I did not.

Mrs Speech. Yes you did. You said it looked like a fallen angel, because the paint was peeling off it and it looked ratty.

Mr Speech: Oh, okay then.

Mrs Speech: A little later on, we noticed that the Wintergarden - a newly-renovated multi-level shopping mall astride Queen Street Mall - was playfully lit up with a new facade with colourful dancing butterflies. Giant butterflies. Not normal size ones.

It was summer. It was a hot summer day and I was looking forward to the nice chocolate THICKshake that Mr Speech promised me.

Mr Speech: I did. Yes, I did.

The not-so-thick shake and the oh-so-chic stores

Mr Speech:Mrs Speech doesn't like Australian shakes - she thinks they're basically just chocolate milk. It's true that ours tend to be runnier. It's just a cultural thing I guess. I remember growing up in the Adelaide heat, sucking runny shakes from styrofoam cups and loving it.

I guess in this kind of climate its better for your shake to resemble something that might quench your thirst.

So, anyway I promised Mrs Speech a proper thickshake. We went into another little mall off Queen Street Mall, called Queens Plaza and found an ice creamery that also sold thickshakes. I bought her an outrageously-priced EXTRA thick shake, or so it said.

Mrs Speech: They left off the EXTRA! It wasn't extra thick and it wasn't thick. It was a cold chocolate milk; runny, nothing 'shake'-like about it. And it certainly wasn't Hershey's chocolate.

But it was cool and refreshing and I was thankful to have it. Incidentally the best shake I've ever had was a Wendy's Frosty in America.

Mr Speech: After the not-so-thickshake incident, Mrs Speech decided she wanted to visit some of the swanky stores around Queens Plaza.

We went into Louis Vuitton. It's worth noting that I was wearing old running shoes at the time, and if I had been wearing a Ronald McDonald wig and a nose which made a honking sound, I couldn't have felt more conspicuous. $120 Polo Ralph Lauren shirts are looked down upon in there...we didn't stay long.

Mrs Speech: We didn't stay long, much to the relief of the security guards in their Armani suits who may or may not have been members of the Mafia.

Mr Speech: Does LV really think their product is that swanky that they need a security guard with a buzz haircut and an earpiece to guard the entrance? I felt like we were being watched. Not a pleasant experience.

From there we walked around a little, browsing at all the shops - we hadn't been to the city for a long time so it was nice to reacquaint ourselves with the largest shopping district in the state.

And after a while Mrs Speech looked like she was going to eat me, so I suggested we look for a place to have dinner.

Peri-Peri= hot

Mr Speech: We walked through the Myer Centre, another mall attached to Queen Street Mall (there are a lot of them) and came across Nando's, which is a chicken place we like for sentimental reasons.

Mrs Speech: It was attached to the ground floor of the hotel we stayed at for our honeymoon.

Mr Speech: So we had the Supremo wraps, and some chips and Sprite. I didn't realise at the time that Nando's was a totally Peri-Peri themed restaurant or that Per-Peri was so hot.

Mrs Speech: I had never heard of Peri-Peri before I got here. I thought it was Australian but apparently it's Portuguese.

Mr Speech: Yeah...either way, my mouth was burning. I stole most of Mrs Speech's Sprite. But it was okay because Mrs Speech had Pepsi in her bag.

But man it was great chicken. So tender. I told Mrs Speech that they must have boiled it because it was soft and succulent. And the little plastic stands on the table told us the story of Peri-Peri (see pictures). Apparently it's also called 'Bird's Eye chilli'.

But what it should be called is 'get a firehose quick' chilli.

The case of the thirteen dollar Pop-Tarts

Mrs Speech: AMERICAN CANDY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mr Speech: After dinner we stopped at a lolly store.

Mrs Speech: It's a candy store.

Mr Speech: We call them lollies. Anyway, we stopped and had a look at some of the American 'candy'. All horrifically-priced. So we just took pictures and drooled.

Mrs Speech: I am still shocked that Pop-Tarts are so expensive. I know I can get them for under two dollars in America, and here it's ten dollars more. It's crazy.

Mr Speech: Yeah. Can of Cherry Coke. Get a mortgage.

Mrs Speech: Thanks Mom, for sending the pumpkin pie filling for Thanksgiving. We priced it here and it was nine dollars a can.

Mr Speech: Maybe they pump liquid gold to it on the plane ride over.

We bought a few presents at Myer

Mr Speech: Next up was a wander through Myer.

Myer is the largest Department store in Australia. They have a reasonably upmarket yet mainstream appeal, with fashion, homewares, electrical and accessories being their main markets.

Each December we go to Myer to buy a really nice Christmas bauble.

Mrs Speech showed me some stuff that would make nice Christmas presents for her, and we ambled about lazily, walking off our dinner.

Myer gets pretty heavily into the Christmas thing obviously to draw people in: they have a Christmas section --

Mrs Speech: with a train for the kids that our nephews would have loved.

Mr Speech: Yeah. And lots of Christmas decorations, as you can see to the left, not limited to a horrible Santa/Gandalf, a huge cute reindeer with an oversized face, and a cow with a tutu --

Mrs Speech: with incorrect anatomy --

Mrs Speech: -- which was available as a decoration, for reasons beyond mature understanding. It made 'garish' look good, and could only have been ironic.

Then there were the massively overdressed Christmas tables with decorations and plates piled so high you couldn't see the people seated opposite --

Mrs Speech: where does the food go?

Mr Speech: -- the lava sauce gift pack and the huge popcorn tin which Mrs Speech could have swum in.

And don't forget Let's Rock! Elmo. Christmas isn't complete without Let's Rock! Elmo.

Myer also featured a skinny dude in hipster formal attire who I thought was a mannequin at the top of the escalators. I did a double-take and I think he saw my surprise, because he asked if we needed help. Spooky moment.

Mrs Speech: And some pink-wigged girls at the bottom of the escalators. I have no idea what they were doing, promoting a new perfume or something.

Mr Speech: It was something to do with Nicki Minaj. Weird.

After we looked around for a bit, we split up for a half hour and bought a couple presents for each other. We don't get to the city much and thought we should take advantage while we were there.

Finally, the Christmas Tree Lighting

Mr Speech: After I loaded myself up with heavy Christmas presents - not a smart idea - we made our way to the Christmas Tree Lighting in King George Square.

King George Square is named after King George V (Colin Firth's father in The King's Speech and lays before the Brisbane City Hall complex. It's a sixty second walk from Queen Street Mall.

They lit City Hall in beautiful shades of pink and red and green which I suppose sort of resembled Christmas colours.

Mrs Speech wanted to get in much earlier than we did, but I convinced her that we should wait, lest we stand there for hours waiting.

We filed into KGS with thousands of others, not really able to get a direct look at the stage where the Christmas program was to be held.

Mrs Speech: Which was what I was hoping for but there were too many people ahead of us.

Mr Speech: It actually got really crowded where we were so we backed off about thirty feet so we had room to breathe. Unfortunately a huge dude stepped in front of us and then his amazon wife did the same with their daughter and that restricted our view of the stage somewhat.

When they started the program there were Aboriginal dancers, who after saying something about connecting to the earth (their traditional culture focuses very strongly on a bond with their land) proceeded to sing songs related to...you know, I'm not sure. They were sung in their traditional language.

Following, there was Damien Leith and his band who sung a few songs, a couple of which were from Roy Orbison's back catalogue for some reason, and one of which was a carol. He was good, we both like him.

Then it was time for the tumblers, the elves who tumble. They looked like they were on trampolines (we were too far away to see), and they were doing triple backflips and other stuff which made me cringe, just waiting for a horrible crack sound heralding the untimely and kiddie-traumatising death of one of Santa's elves.

Speaking of kids, there were heaps of 'em there predictably. Which was no problem except that a whole bunch of them were seated on the shoulders of their dads so they could see the stage. Which meant that no-one else behind could see through the forest of children.

I don't blame the parents. The stage was at ground level and should have been higher; also, there should have been chairs so people could sit. Maybe family seating for those with kids.

Anyway, we ended up with a gap between two boys on shoulders, through which I was able to take the picture above and video to the right.

They brought 'Santa' (ahem) out and the Lord Mayor. At one point the playful banter turned uncomfortably toward Santa as Channel Nine's Davina Smith asked if every kid would get an iPad for Christmas.

"Well, some kids will get an iPad, and some won't," he said, in the ultimate act of discouragement. Came off looking like someone who doesn't really know who's getting what. For a dude promoted as omniscient (he sees you when you're sleeping...) it was a less than efficient promotion. Oh well.

Then it was on to the tree, and we counted down from five (why not ten? I don't know)...and the largest solar-powered tree in Australia blinked a bright blue rainbow of colour. Everyone cheered and the crowd thinned out. We crossed the street, ironically taking a picture that seemed more complete (the last one, on the left) than the one we got up close.

We've done this twice in the last three years (Mrs Speech was injured last year), but the thing is, we're not sure about this whole Christmas Tree thing.

We're Evangelical Christians and the Christmas Tree is not in any way Biblical. It is however, possibly connected to the ancient pagan tradition of decorating one's home with evergreen boughs during the winter solstice (near to contemporary Christmas Day) to celebrate the continuity and victory, of life over death.

Legend has it that in 722, Boniface in Germany came across pagans attempting to cut down an oak tree, in order to fashion a stake, which was to be used to sacrifice a child.

He felled the tree with one blow and out of it, sprung a fir tree, which he told the Germans was holy and a symbol of Jesus' promise of eternal life.
There are apocryphal tales relating to Boniface felling a tree with a single blow, out of which sprung a fir tree; or Martin Luther putting up a tree and decorating it with candles.

Christmas Trees to me have the vague feel of paganism about them; wherein of course creation is venerated more than the Creator. What does a tree have to do with the birth of Jesus, even if you do top it with a star or angel?

I judge no-one for putting one up in their home, and I don't think it's a critical part of a person's salvation. But we're not sure about it. We're not Puritans (no singing or dancing or ANYTHING jovial! No!)

We kind of like the idea of a Jesse Tree, and not just because Mrs Speech sells Jesse Tree Ornaments. It'd be nice to put something up that genuinely relates to Christ's Birth.

If you're reading this, please feel free to leave any comment you may have on the issue.

We left King George Square that night, and walked back down to Queens Plaza where Mrs Speech believed we might find a nice Christmas Tree ornament. We bought a wonderful little silver-ish angel, blowing a trumpet.

Then we dragged our sore feet back up the top of the mall, and went home. It was a great day.
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