December 18, 2010

Embracing Summer Christmas

Summer Christmas.
As unnatural as the juxtaposition of those words might be, I’m trying to embrace this crazy reality.  I have slowly stopped saying, “It’s just WRONG.  Christmas in summer is WRONG.”  I have oppressed this sentiment and replaced it with the expression, “Christmas in summer is, well, different.”  Progress, even if I am gritting my teeth while saying it.

Gift tags from the New Zealand post.
My mission to embrace summer Christmas has involved looking for summer-Christmas paraphernalia – like cards and wrapping paper.  Ideally, I hoped to find these things not just in generic form, but specific to New Zealand.  I had to search in several stores before finding a few selections of stationary depicting kiwis (the birds) wearing Santa hats and red jandals (flip flops). Ah yes, a bit of Kiwiana mixed into my Christmas. That’s what I was after.  But really, they were all pretty ugly cards. I wasn’t sold. The choices are so limited that I have begun to think New Zealand itself is perhaps working on embracing summer-Christmas. Ask the locals and they associate Christmas with barbeques, beer, beaches and jandals.  But go by the decorations, cards and gift wrap, which are all covered in snowmen, snowflakes, dark wintery scenes with twinkling lights, and I think that perhaps, just perhaps, even Kiwis know that Christmas in summer is just WRONG.

I mean different.

And, while looking for said stationary and gift wrap, the stores weren’t even playing Christmas music.

That’s different too.
The cards I finally settled on.  Depictions of Kiwiana Christmas!

It seems that without Thanksgiving to kick things off, New Zealanders think that the Christmas season starts around the 15th of December.  Yes, perhaps the shortened and less insane shopping season is a break from the materialized and consumerized American Christmas shopping extravaganza.  And I suppose that’s a good thing. But I miss the way the festive Christmas season floats on the chilly winter air.  I miss the way you don’t mind spending a whole day shopping inside because there’s not too much else to do on a freezing cold Saturday in December.  I miss how hot chocolate tastes delicious or an eggnog latte smells just right, as the heat permeates the cup and warms your hands. I miss how Christmas lights brighten up the longest nights of the year and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas matches the scene outside your window. 

When I was a kid, I used to play an old cassette tape of Christmas favorites over and over in a tape player I kept next to my pillow at night.  I’d fall asleep and wake up when the tape needed to be flipped over.  I remember the sweet, buttery taste of my mom’s sugar cookies. I remember making them with her and how we’d use cookie cutters until we got too tired – then we’d just squish the dough down with the bottom of a glass to make a generic circular form.  I miss the ornaments we unwrapped one by one, to hang on the tree.  Being the youngest, I remember decorating the tree with my whole family, then minus one sister and eventually minus the other sister, until it was just mom and I.  We’d put some ornaments aside for them to hang on the tree when they came home from college or wherever they were living.  I remember walking through crisp nights to gaze at the neighbor’s lights or driving to the “rich people neighborhoods” to see if their décor was particularly spectacular. And it all happened to the backdrop of winter.
Talking to other older immigrants who have migrated from the Northern to Southern hemisphere, I’ve been told that summer Christmas never feels quite right, even after decades.  The traditions, the atmosphere – it’s all just too ingrained and special.  And perhaps ‘missing it’ is a way of maintaining it. So it’s ok with me to miss it.
A tourist gift shop window display.

When you emigrate, it’s easy to think that you left a Norman Rockwell photo behind – your family frozen in time and joy - partaking in all the precious traditions of your memory.  It feels like your family is living these memories right now – and you aren’t there to enjoy them.  But the reality is that times have changed - it’s all different now, and it’s not just because I’m not there anymore.  For starters, my mom and one sister have moved to Arizona and their winter-Christmas weather in Arizona won’t be much different from summer-Christmas weather in Dunedin.  Ironically, I think they are working on embracing a Christmas of palm trees and shorts too.  We’ll all be stifled by the heat of the oven on a hot day as we stubbornly try to bake our favorite Christmas cookies.   
George Street, 9:30 pm!

So I’ll keep working on embracing summer-Christmas because change happens no matter where you are.  And anyway, we are actually connected to the seasonal wintry blast hitting all of Europe.  As Europeans keep themselves warm and cheery by cranking up their heaters, turning on their Christmas lights, and cooking big hot meals pared with mulled wine, they are driving up worldwide oil prices.  So as we make our way down to James’ family farm for Christmas day, sweating as the sun beats in the window of our car without air conditioning, we’ll just think of the extra high price of gas as our piece of winter-Christmas.  See?  It’s not so bad, I mean different, after all. 
Our little tree.  As tradition mandates, it is named Mendelson.

1 comment:

  1. If you have to turn on the air conditioner during Christmas...that's just wrong. :-) And that is exactly what is happening this week here in Austin, Texas, where it will be around 80F tomorrow. ~Feliz Navidad!~