Christmas Climates-what’s your preference?

In 2011, towards the middle of November, in the midst of an extended trip to New Zealand followed by Australia we found ourselves in Adelaide in temperatures of around 30 degrees. And Christmas was cranking up.

Adelaide was delightful-quaint architecture [what goes for ‘olde worlde’ in the New World], a busy, buzzing city with a vibrant night life, cheeky, fun bars and plenty of attractive, green spaces.

During most of our road trip we’d been disappointed with evening, cultural life. The vast majority of bars, devoted almost entirely to gambling-‘pokies’ and horse racing-tended to shut around 9.00pm. We’d show up just before, at a time we are accustomed to setting out in the UK to be told we could get one drink before they closed up, or that they were in fact just closing. We were mystified. Where was the fabled ‘wild west’ lifestyle, the Bohemian, carefree, party, outdoor social whirl?

Turned out I’d been watching too many ‘Wanted Down Under’ programmes. Other than for an early evening meal no one bothered with going out except hardened gamblers, who sloped off in inevitable disappointment once the books were closed.

Adelaide, though was different. The nightspots were thriving. There were throngs in abundance. The locals enjoyed life. One bar proclaimed it was ‘the worst vegetarian restaurant in the world’, in praise of its steaks. Result.

Our hotel, reserved by Trailfinders [hence not a penny-pinching hostel such as we’d have selected if left to our own devices] was magnificent; a monument to luxury and decked tastefully in the burgeoning Christmas items that were adorning the city. Christmas trees sparkled at the foot of the sweeping staircase.

Outside in the street the stores sported their own Christmas displays-Santa and his reindeer cavorting above the porch of a department store, tinsel glinting in the searing heat of the sun.

To those of us accustomed to Christmas in the Northern hemisphere the appearance of Yuletide decorations in a heatwave is a surreal experience. I responded with a driven desire to obtain Australian style tree decorations-a mission in which I failed, until my kind, Antipodean aunt, seeing my predicament mailed me a beautiful, red and white felt kangaroo to dangle from the branches of our own tree.

Still more outlandish, Hong Kong-where we stopped over on our return in late November-boasted enormous Disney-style Christmas trees constructed entirely of plastic cartoon frogs and vast ornate merry-go-rounds in glittering gold and shiny purple. All this in an atmosphere that could wilt a cactus.

I am in awe of those who celebrate the festive season in a hot climate. But despite being one of the first to complain about cold, dark, frosty mornings and bleak winter nights there is something very special about Christmas at home, here in the UK where we still retain some semblance of changing seasons. And after all, with only one week until the shortest day [in daylight hours] spring is just around the corner.

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Grace’s Christmas Crackers

                Some of my most memorable Christmases are from a time when I was single and sharing them with a similarly placed friend. They did, of course feature alcoholic consumption [which you would have thought might have obliterated the memories], but we felt we could let our hair down and break the rules.

                Christmas is time most people look forward to, for its break from work and for its fun and festivities, although it also has a reputation for wreaking havoc on marriages and family relationships in general. Large family gatherings can be a time of great joy, but can be a source of conflict as well. Fuelled by an excess of alcohol, rich food, inactivity, gift disappointment and puerile TV programmes, I suppose long held resentments boil up and burst their lids like a neglected pan of sprouts.

                My parents harboured an anxiety over Christmas-that they would be spending it on their own without a gathering of their adult children and their families around them. There would be a delicate juggling act to perform in the approach to the festive season, when in-laws would vie for their offspring’s attendance at the Yuletide table; the major prize being Christmas lunch. As in many aspects of child rearing, I learned from these occasions and vowed I would never exert pressure on my own adult children. Nevertheless, the Christmas predicament became critical once my father was left on his own. Then he needed to be supported in the warm grip of his family-the nearest geographically being favourite-in other words-us!

                I tell my children they must go to whomever they would like. They are welcome to visit at any time during the holiday [provided we are at home!] and we will kill the proverbial fatted calf whenever they arrive. Hence, this year we will be cooking roast turkey on Christmas day for one lot, and roast beef on Boxing Day for another set. Another has disappeared and will return in the New Year.

                Having said all that, this Christmas is just a bit special for a very particular reason which I will explain later.

                Thursday’s post is suspended due to the impending festivities, so the next pile of drivel will be next Sunday-

                Wishing all followers an extremely Merry Christmas without family strife, over-boiled sprouts, hand knitted sweaters, major bust-ups, indigestion or hangovers!