I’ve never not been with my family for Christmas. Mom. Dad. Brothers. And me. Every year. My whole life. (In more recent years, there have been sisters-in-law and an increasing number of nieces and nephews added to the mix, of course.) And since both my older brothers married girls from our hometown, everyone stays right where they are for the holidays. And I fly in from wherever I am to spend a week or so. At home with the people I’ve known and loved the longest.
It has always been this way. Except, last year. Last year it was not this way. Last year J-dub and I decided to stay in Sydney for the holidays. Barely 3 months had passed since we’d had more than our fill of flying back and forth across continents and oceans and such. So. We thought we’d give that a rest for a bit.
Plus, we thought the idea of spending our first Christmas together, just the two of us, in a faraway land sounded like the romantic, newlywed thing to do. And so. We celebrated our first Christmas together about as far away as you can physically get from everything that has heretofore made Christmas…Christmas.
Sydney at Christmastime, in many ways, is very much like most US cities at Christmastime. Evergreen garlands adorn store windows, and all the familiar tunes about Santa Claus and silver bells and chestnuts roasting are piped into all the shops. There is a hustle and bustle that is different from the usual comings and goings. But. It is not the same. Mostly because all of this—the garlands, the Christmas tunes, the holiday hurry—is happening at the height of the Australian summer. It’s hot. It’s humid. The air is heavy. It’s right there. Pressing against you. All the time.
Somehow, the usual activities…sipping hot wassail, baking fragrant breads and spicy cakes, cozying up in front of a fire to let your bones thaw from a jaunt out in the wintry air…just don’t hold the same appeal when it’s hot as blazes outside. You know? Yes, well.
It’s all part of the adventure, you see. We will likely spend most every Christmas season for the rest of our lives much the way we always have. Which we are glad about, and look forward to. For that is Christmas as we know it and love it.
But. There will always be the year we spent Christmas in Sydney. And that’s pretty fun, too.
Here’s how the holidays went down.
We hit up the city for some Christmas shopping. Obviously. We checked out the tree downtown and pretended not to notice that it doesn’t hold a candle to the tree in Rockefeller Center.
I sufficiently wore out the J-dubhub with our very own hustle and bustle. He’d just flown in on a red-eye from India that morning and hadn't even had a minute to rest, so I let him sit a spell while we waited for the train.
We didn’t have a traditional evergreen tree, as they’re a mite hard to come by where we live. But I managed to come up with a mini, makeshift tree that served the purpose. Found these adorable little red, glass birds in a boutique on the path to Shelley Beach, and couldn’t resist. A few homemade paper snowflakes finished ‘er off.
We spent Christmas Eve outside enjoying the sunshine while walking part of the trail from Manly to the Spit Bridge (a 10-kilomaeter walk that runs all the way from Manly to…well, the Spit Bridge).
I love this walk, ‘cause it gives you a little bit of everything. A harbor full of sailboats, a view of the lighthouse that hangs out all by its super charming self over on the South Head, some good bushwalking, and some not-too-shabby views of the harbor and the city from afar.
From this point, we could look back and see our little neck of land, otherwise known as Manly. (I love how that skinny little stretch of ground just lies there all lazy-like on the water between the harbor and the ocean.)
My family’s tradition for Christmas Eve dinner is a full Mexican spread. Most of the ingreds you’d need to pull that kind of feast together aren’t easily obtained way out here where the Mexican influence hasn't seemed to reach so much yet. (I know, right? Who knew there was such a place on earth?) So, we had to do something different. Some steaks from a nearby butcher shop got our vote. And for an appetizer, we decided to try our hand at making mussels for the first time ever. I was proud of us for being so adventurous and brave but I didn’t expect them to be so dang AMAZING. (Or oh-so easy.)
I've never had a Christmas morning quite like this one. We spent it at the beach with friends. Everyone brought food to share for breakfast. Needless to say, our traditional southern grits and fried eggs and hot biscuits weren't on the menu. BUT...the Stephens served up some pretty amazing Australian eggs benedict, which I thought made for a pretty perfect stand-in.
Our little friend, Davis, (who belongs to our friends, the Helmers) came to show us the jellyfish he'd been catching in his bucket. (Look closely to see the translucent jelly blobs in their hands.)
The husbands braved the chilly water for some diving, and I was overcome with pride knowing that this icon of grace belonged to me. I mean, just look at that form, would you?
And, don't worry. The ice cream man comes by sea in Australia.
The Hubs and I spent the rest of the day delivering goodies to members of our ward, and then came home and opened our gifts. The whole thing was so small and quiet, and kind of great.
Best Christmas gift ever = a pack of dish cloths courtesy of the good ol' US of A. When my mom told me she was stumped as to what to send in our Christmas package, I told her this was at the very top of my wish list...which makes me think my wishing needs a little work. But the heart wants what the heart wants. And a simple dish cloth is just one of the many things I can't find in Australia. Now I have seven. Merry Christmas to me!
We rented a car the day after Christmas and drove down to Kangaroo Valley which is a 2-hour drive south of Sydney. We stayed at a cute little B&B and spent a couple of days exploring the neighboring towns and doing some bushwalks, and generally enjoying the scenery. It was misty and rainy and cold, so we got a little taste of the type of weather we're more akin to this time of year.
(As a side note, we did not see any kangaroos in Kangaroo Valley, but we did see many a wombat. We’d catch them in our headlights and they’d slowly lumber away. Just exactly the way you’ve always imagined a creature answering to the name of “wombat” would lumber. And don't pretend you haven't imagined that, 'cause really. Who hasn't?)
On New Year’s Eve, we got up close and personal with the Sydney Harbor fireworks show. Kinda surreal to be standing right at the base of the bridge for one of THE grandest New Year’s spectacles on the planet.
I've always thought that someday I'd like to be in Times Square to welcome in the New Year. I think if I never make that happen, having been in Sydney to say goodbye to 2010 is pretty good.
Why hello, 2011. Welcome.