Gang of Five

Gang of Five: Christmas for the cold hearted

by Stephanie Van Schilt , December 19, 20122 Comments

After years of working in various large retail stores, when I think of Christmas an immediate sense of dread consumes me. Ubiquitous cheesy carols and advertising jingles will inevitably worm their way into my head, driving me crazy to Ken Bruce proportions. Repellent tactile tinsel and other decorations will unavoidably get in my face like a creepy uncle, leaving me repulsed no matter how many showers I take. So, in an effort to help those who, like me, have a lump of coal where their heart should be and struggle to find the joy in the season beyond free public transport, I’ve compiled some less maudlin and far more awesome Christmas fare to help you get through.

David Sedaris’ SantaLand Diaries.

You can’t go wrong with genius raconteur David Sedaris: fuck ho-ho-ho-ing, embrace your evil streak and have a good cackle at the state of yuletide consumer culture with this comical essay. Centred around his time as an Elf at Macy’s SantaLand, assisting to make Sedaris the beloved best-seller he is today, SantaLand Diaries is a brilliantly droll reflection on life’s absurdities, the humour found in personal humiliation and the strange, strangling state of capitalist consumption.

You can either read this brief piece or listen to Sedaris’ reading of the essay available on the always magnificent This American Life podcast. Personally, listening to Sedaris’ read about his time as Crumpet the Elf marks my favourite holiday tradition; on Christmas day it provides me with the gift of a pre-booze post-humour buzz that prepares me for the suburban oddities ahead.

Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas

Skip the schmaltz of the Miracle on 34th Street and have a darker, bleaker and far more interesting movie night. Made well before Tim Burton over-Burtonised his oeuvre, A Nightmare Before Christmas is the perfect combination of gothic grotesquery, morose magic, and Disney. It remains one of the best stop motion animated features of all time. Recently, Christopher Lee read Burton’s original poem that inspired the film – stick it in your stocking!

Honourable movie night mentions to: Bad Santa, Scrooged (*tips hat to Bill Murray*), National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and, for the required dash of trash, A Mom for Christmas.

Re-watch your favourite TV Christmas Special

Christmas is the perfect time to spend in the company of old friends…particularly old fictional friends. While any television Christmas special is predictably injected with the usual sickly sweet holiday spirit message, if it’s your favourite show, it is still filled with bleak in-jokes, beloved characters and signature appeal. At Christmastime, I enjoy power-discing with The OC’s Chrismukkah episodes (Summer as ‘Wonderwhore,’ Seth’s Starter Pack gift compilation, the knits and drama!), two of Community’s best – the amazing Christmas claymation journey through Abed’s psyche and their amusing meta-musical mockery of Glee – and, of course, (UK) The Office’s Christmas specials.

Aural alternatives to Christmas music

If my family is anything to go by, listening to carols at Christmas lunch is an overly-enthusiastic necessity: without this ‘music’, food won’t be served. But that doesn’t mean I have to swallow an old-generic three-for-$9.99 CD carol compilation collected from the JB counter.

Hark! There is an antidote for the likes of this monstrosity. If required to listen to carols, make sure you dose up on performances from your preferred artists: spin The Beach Boys for some soothing harmonies, Phil Spector offers you a (non-creepy) gift in the form of an awesome Christmas album, Low or Sufjan Stevens have albums that give an alt-sombre tinge to carolling and, of course, Run DMC give us Christmas in Hollis. And there’s always this.

Eat, drink and be boozy

Over indulgence at Christmas is standard because food at Christmas is amazing and gluttony accepted. Add to this the excuse to drink practically every evening – ‘it’s the holidays’ *shrug and swill* – Christmas starts to look up. But what really warms my insides leading up to December 25th is when these two things are combined. And I’m not talking trifle.

Drown out the familial fighting while chowing down on some beer can chicken, bask in the glow of a Guinness glazed ham, or slam some sweet, sweet brandy butter. Now that’s the true spirit of Christmas.

  • Julia T

    Hehe I love ‘A Mom For Christmas.” ONJ at her finest!

  • Cararara

    One of my favourite David Sedaris stories is Six to Eight Black Men. SANTA. DOESN’T. SPEAK. SPANISH.


Nathan Smith

Letting the Essays Do The Talking: Meghan Daum’s My Misspent Youth

In the introduction to her essay collection My Misspent Youth, Meghan Daum writes that as frank as her essays are, they ‘are not confessions’. The personal essay may have long defined Daum, but she is far from a ‘confessional writer’, a title she has long resisted. Read more »


Ilona Wallace

Between You & Me: The New Yorker’s Mary Norris on publishing, editing and insecurity

Mary Norris begins her chatty grammar guide and memoir, Between You & Me, by chronicling the odd jobs she held before she began working at the New Yorker in 1978. She delivered milk – awkwardly calling ‘Milkwoman!’ when she left bottles at each stop – and crashed the dairy truck. Read more »


Chad Parkhill

On judging the Most Underrated Book Award

The chair of the judging panel for the Most Underrated Book Award shares his observations on the award, what it means to be ‘underrated’, and the current landscape of Australian literary prizes. Read more »

ROSEANNE - On set in New York - 10/16/93 
Sara Gilbert (Darlene) on the ABC Television Network comedy "Roseanne". "Roseanne" is the story of a working class family struggling with life's essential problems.

Rebecca Shaw

Out of the Imaginary Closet: Fictional characters who should have been gay

When you are part of a group that isn’t portrayed in the same way (or only negatively, or not at all) you become desperate for that glimmer of recognition. Here are several characters that I loved as a young person, who became stand-ins for the openly lesbian characters I wanted to see so much. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Rebecca Varcoe

In defence of professional cheerleading

My name is Rebecca and I’m a 26-year-old woman with a shameful secret, for which I refuse to be ashamed any longer. Today I want to confess my obsession and one true love, the subject of many rants and late-night tweeting frenzies: Cheerleading. American, All-Star Cheerleading. Read more »


James Tierney

Bodily Limits: An interview with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film Suspiria suffered from a critical eclipse and a variety of censored prints, and was largely cherished in its original form by aficionados of the field. A reassessment has been building, something sure to be aided by the forthcoming publication of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ perceptive and elegantly written monograph. Read more »

je tu il elle 2

Eloise Ross

Existence as Minimalism: Remembering Chantal Akerman

Images of a young woman, emptying her small flat of furniture, blocking the window and sitting in the dark, still. Sitting on a mattress in a bare room, furiously writing letters with a pencil and watching the snow through the window. Meeting with a past lover and reuniting on-screen. I think about Chantal Akerman’s films more often than I can say. Read more »


Anwen Crawford

Throne Of Blood: Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth

For more than four centuries, we have found versions of ourselves in Shakespeare’s plays precisely because his characters are so human in their flaws and follies. At the same time, the arc of these characters’ stories unfolds somewhere above and beyond us, in the realm of grand tragedy or grand comedy, or both. Read more »


Matilda Dixon-Smith

Family Matters: Please Like Me and the Aussie TV family

In a recent episode of Josh Thomas’s Please Like Me, the bouncy titles run over three little scenarios: Josh cooks dinner for his mate Tom and his boyfriend Arnold; his Mum cooks for her new housemate Hannah; and his Dad cooks for his wife, Mae. The three of them stir, sip wine and dance daggily around their kitchens in a neat metaphor for this season’s fantastic, cohesive new trajectory. Read more »



Isn’t It Obvious: Queer representation in children’s television

For a non-binary gendered person, characters with diverse sexualities and genders are validating and rewarding. As a child, they could have offered integral touchstones for understanding my own gender, and provided context and validation for the ways in which I could exist in the world. Read more »


Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »


Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Tom Conroy and Colin Friels in Mortido. Photo credit: Shane Reid

Jane Howard

A Shining Nightmare: Mortido‘s Sydney

Sydney is a city of shine and reflective surfaces. The glint of the harbour follows through to city high-rises clad in polished glass, bouncing off the wide windows of the mansions hugging the undulating land before it gives way to the impossibly deep and wide water. But this beauty that can betray the darkness of the city and its people. Read more »


Angela Meyer

Outrageous Fortune: Seeing Hamlet as a Cumberbitch

Jazz swells, hushing the audience, and the solid black gate of the theatre curtain opens. It reveals the lounging figure of Hamlet, playing a record, sniffing his father’s old jumper. But what I see first is not Hamlet: it is Benedict Cumberbatch. Read more »

kiss copy

Jane Howard

Great Aspirations: In the shadow of Patrick White

The text of The Aspirations of Daise Morrow is lifted directly from Patrick White’s short story ‘Down at the Dump’. It’s a wonderful thing to hear White’s judicious use of language; to understand the eyes through which he saw Australia; and to see an entire world of his creation brought to life in the theatre. Read more »