Christmas time down under

We had a load of visitors throughout January, and I have a raft of half-written posts to catch up on. This will be the first of six catch-up posts that I hope to get out in February.

We’re used to being far away during the holidays. Ever since we first got married we’ve been on a three year rotating cycle: one year away, one year home with my mom, and one year with Sarah’s folks. This is the third winter now that we’ve spent away, and by far the warmest (metaphorically and physically speaking) to date.

Our first year away from home was also our first Christmas together as a married couple. We spent it living in the basement of a friend’s Dad’s house half way across the country in Waterloo. We weren’t alone – our friends family went out of their way to make us feel welcome during the holidays, but we were certainly lonely. It was the first time that either of us had been away for the holidays, and home sickness was a big factor. It was also exceptionally cold — more cold than I ever remember being. We spent a lot of our evenings huddled up on the bathroom floor (heated tiles) with a blanket, a cat, and a laptop.

The following foreign cycle we spent in Paris. We’d arrived in France a month earlier, and had just moved into our new apartment on rue de Marignan, just off the Champs Elysees. That year, in addition to being cold (our apartment was very poorly insulated), and even further away from family, we were also sufferingly poor. I’d missed three pay periods as part of the transfer fiasco, and we spent what amounted to our life savings on the move-in costs for the new place. The gifts we exchanged that year included such items as chocolate bars bought from a vending machine, wrapped in an envelope with hand drawn decorations. Christmas dinner was a peanut butter sandwich. On the up side though, we did attend the best Christmas service ever, and met several people on Christmas eve who would become lifelong friends.

This year we were in Australia, and things were completely different.

The most obvious change was in the temperature. Christmas time in Australia is synonymous with summer. As the local carol, ‘Christmas where the Gumtrees grow’ notes:

Christmas Where the Gumtrees Grow,
there is no frost and there is no snow,
Christmas in Australia’s hot,
cold and frosty’s what it’s not,
when the bloom of the jacaranda tree is here,
Christmas time is near.

It’s so very, very weird to be driving around listening to Christmas carols in the heat of summer. But, it’s the sort of weird you can get used to. 🙂

The other amazing difference was that we had the good fortune to be invited into a super tight familial circle just prior to the holidays. It may actually have been Xavier who introduced us by making friends with the couple’s three year old boy, but the entire group — all of whom are employed as bakers, chefs, cooks, and so on — really welcomed us into their lives for the holidays. We were invited to share in their Christmas day celebrations which included telling jokes, playing board games, opening presents, eating proper Turkey dinner (not the traditional Aussie dinner of prawns and cold ham), and watching National Lampoons Christmas vacation.

And finally, this year, instead of feeling removed from family, we were able to connect via technology. We actually opened our gifts with our family via Facetime this Christmas. It’s not quite the  same as being there, but so much better than making a rushed four minute long distance call from a stolen internet connection as we’ve done in years past. There’s been a lot of resistance in Australia to a government program to bring faster, and more reliable internet into Australian homes. This kind of thing – being able to spend Christmas in three different cities at once – is all the justification I need.

It’s been a lovely holiday season down under – as good as we could hope for and much better than we’d expected. But, still, we are definitely looking forward to a more traditional Christmas with family in 2013.

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