The things that come to mind when I think about Christmas are pretty different these days. I feel Christmas for me now, is how it looked in Christmas movies and on Christmas cards growing up. That winter wonderland the everyone else seemed to be talking about, except those of us in the Southern hemisphere.
Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, my Christmas memories consist of hot Summer nights, where I had to kick off the doona on my bed. Playing outside after our evening bath, in our shorty pyjamas, never wanting to come to inside. Dusk light until late, the sound of cicada’s, the smell of eucalyptus and browsing the toy shop catalogue for my Christmas wish list.
Christmas was all about sunscreen, Summer holidays, the end of school for the year and looking forward to heading down to the beach. Father Christmas would arrive the night of December 24th, but would find an ice cold beer waiting for him, instead of milk.
Christmas day began at the crack of dawn. Sometimes the sun beat us up, when we would rush to the Christmas tree, eye all the presents, then drag our poor parents out of bed. Mum would put the Christmas album on the record player, Dad was in charge of building anything that required assembling.
We almost always received a new Summer outfit, which I would promptly put on and wear for the rest of the day – if I wasn’t in the pool. Backyard cricket, totem tennis and any other outdoor activity is what we did all day, unless summoned to the dinner table. I remember the year I received a hot pink skateboard and I didn’t come inside until it was dark.
The idea of Summer and Christmas seems to mesh perfectly for Australians. To be able to cook your meat on the BBQ, have a swim, relax in the sun with some Summer reading and have a family cricket match, where Uncle Sam always bowls out one of the little kids, just seems so normal for us.
The fact that Santa always wore big black boots and a big red suit and drove a sleigh, never seemed extraordinary to us, because we always knew the North Pole was a cold place. It never really occurred to me to question what he’d do, once he hit our 40°C climate and had to lug our presents down everyone’s chimneys. Maybe the thought of a cold beer waiting for him, was enough for us to think he’d be fine.
Nowadays, is a little different. I have been living in the beautiful city of Hamburg for nearly 10 years and Christmas here is not only completely opposite, back to front and upside down from what I’m used to, but the entire month of December is dedicated to Christmas, which I love.
Germany’s Christmas Markets start on the last weekend in November and run right up until Christmas Eve. As the days get shorter, darker and colder here, the number of fairy lights seem to increase. Lanterns are hung from all the trees and ornamental light symbols hang from the street lamps.
The smells of gingerbread, hot crêpes and Glühwein (hot mulled wine) flood into every corner of our neighbourhood. It’s almost impossible to walk home without stopping to enjoy one or the other, because the smell is intoxicating.
The markets are everywhere. They fill almost every little plaza, square and hof (courtyard) and are brimming with warm winter treats, Christmas lights and candles, pine trees and typical German Christmas ornaments made from glass or wood. Friends, families and colleagues meet after work – every day – for a drink before heading home, to touch base and warm up at the same time. It’s on the way home for everyone, so why not?
When you’re an expat living abroad, sometimes the holiday season can get get you down. The thought of being so far away from your family, the Christmas dinner with all the trimmings you’re used to and the feeling of losing that time with loved ones.
But, the blessings we gain here are a new culture, new traditions, new stories to tell and an amazing group of friends, who invite you into their homes for Christmas, because they have become your family. Quite often those friends are far away from home too, so Christmas turns into a celebration of different cultures, different foodie delights and always a barrel of laughs. It’s different, but it’s still wonderful.
Until I moved here, it never really occurred to me just how unique this experience is. Just as some Aussie kids have never seen snow, the idea of Christmas on the beach is a mystery to many here and we love sharing our stories and traditions here. I find myself continually grateful to have experienced both sides of this coin, which come with their own advantages and disadvantages.
To find myself now celebrating in the dark, drinking hot wine and staying indoors to play board games with fantastic friends, is a little different from playing cricket and swimming at the beach with family. But we are lucky enough to get the best of both worlds, as we try to fly home every January so we can enjoy Christmas in the dark with our kitty cat and firm friends, but then New Years on a hot Summer night at the beach with family back home.
I’m pretty happy to have Christmas upside down and back to front, either way.
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