Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Summer Christmas without family: Weird, sad, awesome, fun, but not wrong

Me, Oriental Beach, Wellington  Christmas Day 2013.
I've spent 6 Christmases in New Zealand, but 2013 was the first I've spent away from family.

I've been lucky enough to have Kiwi family outside Auckland, and had a great 5 years in Christmas up north with them.

But this time, partly by circumstance, partly out of choice, I spent it with friends and travellers I hadn't met.

Christmas in summer - normal for half the planet

The more time I've spent in New Zealand, the more normal everything feels. So when British/US/European people jokingly say "Christmas in summer, that's so wrong", I feel a bit stunned and don't know what to say.

It's certainly not wrong if you live in any of these countries in the Southern Hemisphere:
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • Chile
  • Ecuador
  • Brazil
  • Peru
  • Bolivia
  • Paraguay
  • Uruguay
  • Chile
  • Argentina
  • Tanzania
  • Mozambique
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe
  • Madagascar
  • Botswana
  • Namibia
  • and so on. There's probably some Christians and westerners in Indonesia too. Diplomats, ex-pats, right?
People in these countries grow up with December, and therefore Christmas, in summer.

What is really weird is things like fake snow in Australia and New Zealand, as if they still haven't cut the apron strings from Mother England and the Northern Hemisphere. But that's by the by.

So what happens at a summer Christmas? From what I know about New Zealand, family is still the main theme - extended families and relatives will gather and share presents and eat food. Nom nom nom.

The main differences are being able to go outside (which means less TV), have a barbecue, maybe play some cricket (provided it doesn't rain!), and so on. Sometimes people will go to the park and have a picnic at the shared barbecues, maybe some people go to the beach.

And it's great!

The fact is, just because you're not used to something, doesn't mean it's "wrong", especially if you haven't actually tried it.

Christmas without family - sad but fun, it all depends

Spending Christmas with family is some kind of unwritten law in the UK. It's almost a religious thing, far more than whatever baby may or may not have been born in a barn 2000ish years ago.

But, for most people who are living or travelling away from home, you are forced to spend it without family.

While this can be a sad reminder of the distance, even with video calling and other modern technology, it also forces you to choose how you want to spend your day and who you want to spend it with.

Wellington being very international, there are dozens of barbecues and social meetups for travellers who are technically Christmas "orphans". This year was my first one, and it went something liked this:
  • Morning video call with UK family (their Christmas Eve)
  • Decorate and set up house and garden (deck chairs, barbecue, awnings for shade)
  • Meet & chat to arriving visitors
  • Drink some beers and eat barbecue food. Avoid getting sunburnt. (Wellington came through!)
  • Clean up at end of the afternoon, shoo everyone out, basic tidy up
  • Head down to the beach to catch last of the sun
  • Brief swim in the sea (it's not cold, it's "fresh"), followed by more drinking, ice creams and silliness on the beach
  • Head up to a friend's for party, drinking and silly dancing
This is by no means a "normal" Christmas, and even other young ish travellers will have different versions of what I've just described. But this is how I spent my Christmas Day 2013 and I had a really great day.

Christmas is a great opportunity to spend time with family, especially if you don't get to see them very often. But I would recommend trying one with friends just once, as a different experience.

Also it's worth bearing in mind the different ways different cultures celebrate Christmas too. Europeans and Latin Americans, for instance, celebrate Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. Many countries celebrate Christmas on Epiphany (the end of the 12 days of Christmas) which is either 6th or 19th January depending on which calendar was being followed (Gregorian or Julian).

And finally, let's not forget the people who really don't care about Christmas. The Indian people in the dairy (shop) where we bought ice creams. The people we saw jogging on the waterfront. NZ is largely very relaxed about Christmas, and this extends to Christmas Day too.

Christmas is marked and celebrated in hundreds and thousands of different ways across the world, which is fitting for an event with dubious historical origins and which has been altered and (mis)appropriated over the centuries.

Anyone for Saturnalia this year?


  1. Sounds like a great way to do it, to me! Far more relaxed than the constant obligation filling that tends to go on over here.

    I maintain that one of my favourite Christmasses (sp?) of recent times was when Tom and I spent it in Pocklington Close just relaxing, eating ridiculous amounts of Christmas dinner, drinking posh wine and generally having no responsibilities at all.

    New Year, on the other hand... well there's only been one favourite there ;)

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