It’s now a couple of days after Christmas, that day that so many of us dread because of the pressure to buy, to wrap, to send (on time), to give, to receive, to avoid our bank balances and to steel ourselves for potential familial undoing. I am happy to report that, apart from the uphill time I experienced leading up to Christmas, this year the presents seemed to work nicely and all family members were happy. That’s a lot to ask, given that Monsieur and I have three families to visit in total, so thank you to all the Christmas angels for seeing us through.
Until this year, I had always spent Christmas with my family, whilst Monsieur visited his in France, and we’d all get together before and after, but this year Monsieur and I saw everyone as a united front, and while I was explaining New Zealand customs and English traditions to the French in-laws, I thought it might be timely to explain some of my Christmas experiences here in a seasonal post. I know it’s late, but actually, that’s quite typical of me, so we’ll call it part of the 12 days of Christmas, meaning I’m in time for once.
I was born and raised in New Zealand, where it’s midsummer at Christmas. That means lots of greeting cards bearing Santa Claus in fur-trimmed scarlet-red board shorts, riding the surf, and the native pohutukawa, which blossoms red in summer, becoming the national Christmas tree. As a family, we’d try to observe tradition, with turkey or roast chicken and all the accoutrements on the table for a festive lunch, but this was particularly hard work when it was hot outside. That sort of food was intended to warm the frozen on a snowy day, not warm the already sweaty chefs when it was sunbathing weather outside. By the time I was a teenager, we’d dispensed with tradition, choosing instead to pack the sort of picnic that you could feast on all afternoon, taking it to a nearby island and enjoying it with friends between swims and plastic flutes of local bubbly from the chilly bin (a.k.a. cooler) . Now THAT’s what I call Christmas.
When I moved to Australia for a year, I worked on Christmas Day because I thought triple-time was a worthwhile pay-back. My parents came to visit, so we all enjoyed a feet-up Christmas buffet at a stunning hotel. Some people don’t understand this sort of fest, but if you could see the seafood spread, you definitely wouldn’t complain. There were no dishes to worry about and we could wander about Circular Quay in a stomach-satisfied stupour before chilling out for the rest of the holiday. This was yet another good Christmas.
In England, we’ve been restrained by the chilly weather but have also enjoyed many interesting Christmases, especially those with an Armenian family friend who celebrates Christmas Eve with us. Usually, we go to her place, where Christmas crackers are pulled and the cuisine is East-meets-West; layered, creamy salads, beetroot and marinaded fish all feature, and vodka gets us all off to a flying start before moving on to drink the grape and devour the turkey. At least in England, all the Christmas Carols make sense. They talk about the holly and the ivy? Well, there’s holly growing in a hedge just about everywhere.
This year, Monsieur and I celebrated Christmas with my family before the big day, moving across The Channel to France for Christmas Eve. Here, we enjoyed blinis and foie gras, courtesy of Monsieur, with a Magnum of champagne that a certain someone had given me for helping him out with HR advice when he was in the process of losing his job. We dined at a local gastro-pub, where the food paled into insignificance as we laughed from the belly about silly stories from the year now past. Then, in France, Monsieur and I exchanged gifts and enjoyed a multi-course dinner at home with his mother, beneath a Christmas tree and German four-candle display for a familial Christmas Eve, before moving on to visit yet more family on Christmas Day for another feast and more gift-giving. There were no crackers; apparently that’s an Anglo-Saxon tradition. Mind you, I probably wouldn’t have understood the corny jokes had they been in French; they’re bad enough in English. Meanwhile, Jingle Bells played in French on the stereo – the words of which made me smile:
Vive le vent, vive le vent, vive le vent d’hiver… otherwise translated as
Long live the wind, live the wind, live the wind of winter…
(On a cold day, some may disagree with that sentiment, including this Kiwi bird!)
There have been other festive adventures, such as waking up on Christmas Day in Munich, ready to tickle my teenage tastebuds with a Continental breakfast which, although second-nature to me now, was then an exotic treat. All those cheeses and cured meats sliced wafer thin, with some black bread and soupy hot chocolate? I had died and gone to Heaven. Or going to Midnight Mass in Bethlehem, presided over by Archbishop Desmond Tutu? only for my brother and me to be parted from our parents by the crowds, giving Mum and Dad panic attacks on the way back to Jerusalem. Luckily, our buses passed each other en route to the hotel, so we waved at them, calming their fears that they’d lost their kids in the Holy Land.
I hope to spend Christmas in more foreign lands as time goes by because it enriches the experience to learn about how other people spend their holiday.
However, when one supplier called me during the Silly Season, he asked if our Christmas tree was up at work.
But of course! I replied. We may have been busy with moving offices and all that, but we’ve still found time to put up a Christmas tree. What about you? I asked.
We’re not allowed a Christmas tree, he replied. Why on earth not? I asked, only to be told that Christmas trees in his company were seen as potentially offensive to other faiths.
Sadly, it isn’t the first time I’ve heard such rubbish. I embrace other cultures and their holidays as much as my multi-cultural friends and associates do. All I can say to those who might live in a Christian country and who expect us to forget our roots is: how about living and let live? We were Christian before your faiths came here and to many other Christian countries. I wouldn’t expect you to change your ways if I lived in your homeland. How about letting the locals enjoy their own religious festivities, as we allow you to enjoy yours? There are mosques and temples everywhere you look in the UK. It’s such a multi-cultural society that I find it amazing that the religious basis of this country is being severely undermined by the people from other faiths who are welcomed into it. I know that not everyone believes in being P.C. to a fault, but I personally am sick to death of hearing that Christian children should not have a nativity play because they might offend their playmates. Honestly. And we call this season the season of goodwill. How about the goodwill of the incessantly politically correct towards us? End of rant and MERRY CHRISTMAS.