The night before Christmas was spent at church. The church I grew up with was always filled with children and every Christmas Eve they held a holiday pageant, where kids and adults alike would dress up and walk down the huge aisle to a relevant song in the Christmas story. My favorite bit was when the three male singers in the congregation dressed up as the three kings and each one would walk down the aisle singing – wait for it – We Three Kings. The service went on like this for 30 minutes or so, then we’d end it by having each member get a candle lit and we’d all sing Christmas carols like Angels We Have Heard on High and Silent Night.
Then, the family would head back home and open up stockings. I never believed in Santa – my mom thought it took away from the meaning of Christmas. Yes, I was that annoying kid who ruined it for everyone. Because of this, stockings were slowly filled in the weeks before and we ripped them open on Christmas Eve.
Afterward, my three brothers and I would trudge up to bed only to stereotypically wake up hours before our parents and either jump on their bed at 6am or wait tentatively by the tree for them to get up. There’d usually be a few rips in the wrapping paper from us trying to take a peek at our loot. We’d then be forced to eat breakfast and watch our parents drink coffee, but then it was PRESENTS TIME (so much for that “meaning of Christmas” bull shit).
I love the way my family opened presents. Each person took one turn to open one gift, which had to be opened with everyone watching to appreciate. There are six of us in my family so it took ages, but it meant that each present got it’s recognition and there was always 10 minutes of suspense in between each one.
During all this the whole family would be in their pajamas (except for my dad, who always wears the same Christmas sweater) and some form of the Hallelujah chorus or George Winston’s December would be playing in the background.
We’d usually finish up around 1pm, and get ready for my Grandma’s house, where we’d open more presents, eat food and listen to good ole Frank Sinatra crooning carols. Basically, nothing special, but classic music, amazing Italian food, lots of presents, twinkly lights and a big family who always got along on Christmas day.
Fast forward a decade…
Christmas in New Zealand
Two weeks ago I arrived in New Zealand, with the most beautiful scenery and nicest people I’ve ever met.
I also arrived to witness the weirdest flop of Christmas tradition, unsettling my idea of this holiday.
Supermarkets play carols, yes, but they are the corniest, 80s renditions and I’m listening to them while folks walk around in flip flops and board shorts. Christmas lights are strung around palm tress. Apparently you don’t get a cozy meal around the fire, but a barbecue.
This can’t be Christmas!
But instead of getting upset (which I was expecting), I just feel like Christmas isn’t happening this year. Or that I’m experiencing a different holiday altogether. I warned my boyfriend before coming that I’d most likely decorate his house with fairy lights, whip up some eggnog, bake some wintry pies, turn on the old-school Christmas tunes, just so I’d feel a little less homesick. I haven’t done any of that this year because it just doesn’t feel right. Plus, I was reading a local magazine the other day and they were talking about how strawberries and other seasonal fruits “make great Christmas pies!”
Umm… no. Pumpkin and apple and pecans make great Christmas pies! It’s like they’re trying to confuse my brain.
In all seriousness though, being here is incredible and beautiful and fun, but it’s the first time in my life I’ve just hoped for the Christmas season to be over. Gone is the magic and tradition and in it’s place I’ve found a completely different holiday with a family I barely know, across the world from my home.
But who knows? I could be making a new tradition.
[photo credit: hodgers]