Over my first 23 years on earth, Christmas in my house developed a dependable rhythm – early morning presents torn open with glee, followed by a sleepy morning preparing all the odds and ends for Christmas lunch. The extended family would then come round to eat, the Queen’s speech would be watched semi-attentively, games would be played, and we’d all slowly drift into a food coma as we gradually ate our way through the vast quantities of food left over. Some years were extra special – the year I got my electric guitar, for example. Others, such as when I was laid low by the flu and couldn’t stomach anything more than some toast, were not so great. But each was eagerly anticipated and (largely) enjoyed.
Then, I moved to New Zealand, on the other side of the world. Getting back for Christmas was a non-starter, as I couldn’t get enough time off work. Not only did I have to consider the cost of the flights, but also the effects of the inevitable jetlag. This would be my first Christmas away from my family and friends. The sense of isolation was heightened by the physical isolation of my new home – a tiny town nearly an hour’s drive from any other civilization, and nearly three hours from the nearest decent-sized city.
Luckily, all of my new friends were in the same boat. There were a few Kiwis who couldn’t get back home over Christmas, but the majority were foreigners like me, hailing from Europe, South America, China and Japan. We made plans to celebrate our “Orphans’ Christmas” in style, with a smorgasbord of different foods from all over the world, and plenty of non-traditional forms of entertainment – one advantage of having Christmas in the middle of summer is that you can go swimming outside and cook all your food on a barbeque. Together, we managed to get rid of any feelings of homesickness we may have had, and enjoyed a memorable, unique Christmas Day.
The year after, however, was perhaps even better. Where I lived was next to a huge lake, and we were within touching distance of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. On days off, we would often go swimming, or drive up the valleys into the mountains to hike and camp. So, for that Christmas Day, we decided we would do just that. Usually only a handful of us would head off, but for this special occasion we managed to get fifteen of us up to one of the (very handy) mountain huts used by campers and hunters. We loaded up the trucks with supplies, including some special, non-traditional Christmas fare, and made our way up the valley on Christmas Eve.
Once at the hut, we settled into our stunning surroundings with food, drinks, and music. As night fell, we watched the last rays of sunlight give way to the full expanse of the southern night skies. A fire was lit, songs were sung and, despite some being a little worse for wear, we all safely made our way to bed. The next day we woke up to a slowly lifting fog on Christmas morning. With some fuzzy heads we headed up a nearby slope to take in the full splendor of the valley where we found ourselves. After returning to the hut, finishing off our final scraps and tidying up our temporary home, we slowly made our way back along the trails and across the fords and streams to our home. It was certainly an unconventional Christmas, but one that will live long in the memory.
glee (n) – great delight or happiness
odds and ends (phr.) – various random small things or remnants
non-starter (n) – a plan that has no chance of succeeding or being effective
in the same boat (idiom) – in the same difficult situation as someone else
smorgasbord (n) – a wide range of something (usually used with food); a large variety
worse for wear (phr.) – tired or in a bad state from being through a difficult experience or drinking alcohol