Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas in NZ - A list of the best and worst of Christmas down under

This year will be our 6th Christmas in New Zealand and I thought it was about time I write a list of the best and worst things about spending Christmas in a country where it occurs during the summer months and Christmas dinner tends to be cooked on the barbecue!

Good Stuff

1. Christmas is in the Summer!

This means when you are on holiday you get to spend time outside enjoying the weather. (Although good weather is never guaranteed). You don't have to spend Christmas day indoors and organise the
serving of Christmas dinner around the TV schedule.

2. Fun Christmas pressies.

My girls get presents that I would never have received growing up in the UK. Annually we buy them beach towels and new wetsuits to be used over the summer holiday. This seems to be the traditional stocking fillers over here, along with snorkels and the obligatory summer hats.

I would occasionally get bikes as a child which would be ridden up and down the road on Christmas day as I shivered in my new woolly hat and gloves. It would then be put away again until spring arrived and the weather improved. My girls have received inflatable boats, kayaks and snorkels which are used throughout the summer and again the following year.

Board games and the traditionally stocking fillers are still bought but are taken camping or to the bach and used during the summer get away.

3. Pavlovas and strawberries.

I still insist on having the traditional Christmas pud over here. And since it's sold everywhere I assume I am not the only one willing to eat this heavy dessert during the height of summer. Pavlovas have also appeared in abundance in the supermarkets. This is a definite Kiwi tradition and they are eaten on Christmas day smothered in cream and topped with your choice of berry or fruit. It is a really indulgent but lighter dessert and a tradition that we have taken on board here in the Brunt household.

4. You don't have to stay home at Christmas.

I realise that this is the case in the UK as well but normally going away at Christmas would mean going to stay with relatives and just sitting in someone else's living room stuffing yourself on Christmas day. Here it means either camping or staying in a bach somewhere over Christmas.

We were lucky enough one year to camp in Taupo over Christmas and this was an eye opening experience for me. People take all there Christmas decorations with them and make their tents and caravans look beautiful. The girls and I took a walk around the campsite after dark to gaze at all the lights and Christmas trees adorning the canvas and lighting up the night sky. Waking up Christmas day under canvas is something everyone should do and of course, rest assured Santa is still able to fill your stockings no matter where you end up!

5. Less stress and panic at the shops.

There are far less people over here. It's really as simple as that. Shopping is still busy and I wouldn't recommend leaving everything to the last minute to buy, but parking is easier and their are far less crowds in the mall (particularly if the weather is good as everyone makes the most of it and avoids the shops).Of course there is also less choice in the shops and occasionally the more sought after items will sell out, but if like us, this is unlikely to bother you then why worry!

The worst stuff!

1. Christmas is in the summer.

This just feels plain wrong. I am getting used to it after six years but somehow the lack of frosts, snow and the generally snuggly feeling when curling up next to a roaring fire and gazing at the lights on the tree, reduces the festive feel for me. I believe that true Kiwis, who have grown up used to the warm Christmases spent by the beach, would probably feel just as unfestive spending Christmas in the damp streets of wintery England. For my girls Christmas will probably be a time of sun, sand and barbecues.

2. It's too hot to eat!

Well it just is. When I was growing up one of the great treats at Christmas was the annual purchase of a large tin of Quality Streets or Roses. These would then be gradually eaten over the space of Christmas day and Boxing day in front of the Christmas movies. In fact even though we would barely burn any energy (as we rarely moved from in front of the TV) we were still able to demolish an entire tin of sweets in 24 hours!
In New Zealand is just too hot. It's impossible to sit down and eat and entire Turkey, roast potatoes and all the trimmings in temperatures of over 25 degrees (although I know people who do). Chocolates are great, and still purchased every year, but they tend to melt when exposed to the bright sunshine over here, and they are not the kind of thing you take to the beach to eat.

3.No family.

Unless you are one of the lucky expats that has persuaded their extended family to join them on an adventure to the other side of the world, you are likely to be a bit short on family visits over Christmas. (However it has been pointed out to me that this could in fact be a bonus if you don't want to be visited by family members!)
I grew up enjoying big family gatherings as a child and I loved every minute of them. The games, sing alongs and subsequent arguments where something I looked forward to every year. Although I am very lucky and my parents have made the journey over three times in the last six years. Apart from those times we have had Christmas on our own and have been creating Christmas traditions that I hope my girls will then carry on.
The good friends I have been lucky enough to make over here have also helped me to cope with missing my family at this time of year. Other expats understand what you are going through and become surrogate families. New Zealanders themselves are also so friendly and open they tend to take you into their families anyway and so big get togethers still happen anyway but just with people who you aren't necessarily connected to genetically. (Again it has been pointed out to me that this can be a good thing!)

This is just my personal summary of Christmas in NZ. Other people may have very different experiences. I am aware that I am living in an outlying suburb of a small city. People living in Auckland and rural areas may have very different experiences. I am slowly growing to love the Kiwi Christmas but my longing for snow and carols sung in the cold and woolly hats is not helped by the fact that the majority of Christmas cards, advent calenders and wrapping paper sold over here have snowmen, robins and wintery scenes all over them!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A brief taste of summer!

The kids have stopped sleeping. We have intermittent and frequent tears over nothing. They are unable to concentrate on anything for longer than ten minutes. Therefore it must be nearly Christmas!

I am sure I was not like this as a kid. Although my parents assure me I was. My girls have dark circles under their eyes and have this vacant look about them. They are so excited about Christmas and our subsequent holiday on the South Island they are barely holding it together. I must say I am also pretty excited myself!

Thankfully we have lots to distract us at this time of year. We had a brief taste of summer with two days where the sun came out uninterrupted and the temperatures reached the mid twenties. It was gorgeous! The girls finished school at mid day on Tuesday and a group of us headed down to the beach and spent the afternoon soaking up the sun, sea and a lot of sand.

This gorgeous beach is unbelievably at the bottom of our road. We can walk there. Yes, I do know just how lucky we are!

A friend of mine has returned to the UK for Christmas and I just received an email describing how shocked he was to have to compete with the crowds in the local Waitrose just to buy a loaf of bread. He assumed it was just due to the nearness of Christmas but was told that this was just normal. Shops over here do get crowded at Christmas and I was shocked to actually have to hunt for a parking space this weekend at the local mall. But it is nothing like the manic rush and crowds I used to have to deal with in the shopping malls of the south east of England.

Christmas over here is still about the presents (don't want to give anyone an idealist view of Christmas in NZ - it is still the consumerist celebration it is elsewhere) but it is also about beaches, camping, road trips, tramping and being out enjoying the sun. Christmas dinners are planned but are lighter and less important that making sure you have packed the snorkel and  boogie board in the back of the car for the afternoon trip to the beach.

Unfortunately the last couple of days have seen a return to the drab rainy weather you often get at this time of year. The air is warm and muggy but the clouds are dark and grey and emit the drizzly misty rain that can inexplicably make you really wet in a very short period of time.

The sea is also not looking very inviting.

However I am optimistic that the good summer weather will return for Christmas and we will get to enjoy the beach on Christmas day. We are so lucky to live in the beautiful Porirua.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Some early Christmas pressies!

My girls have a day and a half left of school this year!

The kiwi academic year is a long slog to Christmas. The school year in the UK is split fairly equally between Christmas and the summer holidays, plus Easter and half terms thrown in as well. The new Zealand school year is split into 4 terms. So it runs from the end of January to Easter and then Easter to the mid winter break. There is then another break around October and then it's the long run until Christmas.

With Christmas and the summer holidays occurring at the same time it feels like you wait all year for the celebrations to begin. Although we have a similar holiday structure to the UK, without the mid winter Christmas cheer, you don't feel like you have had a real break from the day to day drudgery.

With the holidays so close now we have indulged ourselves and bought some early Christmas presents!

The best day ever according to Ally :)

Kayaks are awesome! We are so lucky to live near a large inlet so although we are on the sea it's nice and safe even in the choppy water we found ourselves on today. The girls were able to manoeuvre these little kayaks easily and the water was surprisingly warm so when they did jump in it wasn't too shocking.

I can't wait until the real summer weather hopefully arrives in the next few weeks!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Seasonal Pukana

Pukana = (verb) to stare wildly, dilate the eyes - done by both genders when performing haka and waiata to emphasise particular words.  

Kapa Haka = (noun) concert party, haka group, Māori cultural group, Māori performing group.                                                                   

Nativities and traditional Christmas plays don't seem to be the done thing over here, unless you attend a religious school. As we are committed atheist/jedi/wika/agnostic (depending on what side of the bed I get out of) our kids attend the local non committed primary.

It has been a bit of a revelation to see what local schools get up to a Christmas and this year ours decided to produce an end of term Pukana Kapa Haka. This involved the whole school performing in the evening on the playing field. The lucky parents had picnics and strawberries and cream whilst cheering them on. It was rather awesome and the kids were so enthusiastic you could hear their voices echo off the surrounding hills.

My girls could sing all of the songs in Maori and have even got the hang of using the poi (the ball on the end of a string which is swung about rhythmically during the dance). Unfortunately they don't know the meaning of everything they sing but I'm impressed that they have learnt the words in such a relatively short period of time.

So my two girls born in the middle of the traditional English counties of Buckinghamshire and Wiltshire are now performing Haka's at Christmas on the other side of the world. Rather cool really :)