We've still got a month to go until the day itself, but head into Auckland's CBD and you'll see it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas: the Farmer's Santa has been bolted into place; Smith and Caughey's has lit up its windows and The Basement has set the stage for its 11th festive extravaganza.
This year, the prestigious - if daunting - task of crafting indie theatre's biggest show of the year has fallen to comedy trio Frickin' Dangerous Bro. Members James Roque, Pax Assadi and Jamaine Ross are taking the Basement's Christmas institution to the stars with A Frickin' Dangerous Space-mas.
Whereas recent shows have tackled various tropes of the silly season – the work Christmas party, Santa's naughty or nice list – this year's is purposefully leaving the commercial side of the holidays behind. Assadi says Christmas has such a minor role in the play they nearly forgot about it themselves.
"There was a point where we were writing it and we were on the second half and one of us went 'isn't this meant to be a Christmas play?" he says.
While the snowballs and stockings have been swapped for space stations and cosmic threats, there's still a nod toward Christmas. The four strong cast are "trapped" on the International Space Station - and one has a hidden agenda – so it's akin to being stuck at a family Christmas gathering where not a everyone sees eye-to-eye.
Roque says with that setting and Christmas in the background, it's a way a tool to expose the differences between the four characters. With three of the four cast members people of colour - a first for the Basement's Christmas show - Space-mas will highlight how people from different cultures interact with Christmas when they may not follow the religion behind the holiday.
"We thought it was interesting to explore how a diverse group of people have to live with one another in close proximity and what better analogy to compare that to than Christmas?" Roque says.
It's a storyline that resonates with Frickin' Dangerous Bro. With Iranian, Pakistani, Filipino and Māori heritage spread between them, their experiences with Christmas differ wildly and saw them looking for a common link.
"We boiled it down to, 'if we celebrated it differently, what's the one thing that's the same?' and that's family. It's a time for you to be with your loved ones," Roque says.
"Even though Christmas wasn't celebrated at my house, you inevitably used that time to spend with family," Assadi adds.
While they hope the play may make the audience consider a different side of Christmas - how it's not everyone's default holiday - both Assadi and Roque say the main goal is to make the funniest show they could.
"We always want a message, we always want to speak to something, we always want to explore an idea," Assaid says, "but funny comes first, and that's what we focus on. Regardless of who walks through the door, we hope that it makes them laugh first."
In keeping with that mission, Space-mas sees the return of the nightly celebrity guest, a long-standing Christmas show tradition. Suzy Cato, Chloe Swarbrick, Jack Tame, Rose Matafeo and Madeline Sami are among those popping up during the show in a secret role - one that will be improvised every night.
Scripting a play around such unpredictable characters has its challenges but both Roque and Assadi have guested themselves in seasons past so have their own experiences to draw from.
"The main mechanism for the guest is for the audience to have a fun time and that's to put the guest in a fun, silly situation," Assadi says.
The show has been a big shift for the trio. Formed in 2014, this is the first play they've written, though their sketch shows have seen them nominated for a Fred Award and transition into podcasting. While it proved a challenge, the group pulled through – "just" Assadi jokes – and is keen to see the epic creation come to life.
"The truth is, when we write anything, it's usually just for us and its super low budget and we just go to LookSharp to buy our props," Roque says. "To have a professional theatre design team is so exciting and we feel like we've written this silly play and they've thrown so much at it.
"The struggles of learning something new are worth it after seeing the actors play with it and seeing the set design. It's been challenging, but rewarding."