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Goodbye New Jersey. Hello World! A record of my journey as I give up my job, my possessions, and life as I know it to go off and see the world!

Have Yourself a Very Aussie Christmas.....

AUSTRALIA | Sunday, 26 December 2010 | Views [2269]

This Christmas Eve I got to have my photograph taken in front of a giant cod.  I am thinking not too many people can say that.  The gigantic cod is a large road side attraction in a town called Swan Hill, located a 4 hour drive north of Melbourne in Victoria.  Australia is filled with “large attractions” including the Big Banana that I saw in Coffs Harbour a little over a month ago.  It’s mouth and size are massive and I had no issues being a cheesy tourist and flashing my largest grin in front of the fish as the warm Australian sun soaked into my hair and skin.  Not the traditional Christmas Eve that I am used to. 

I had the pleasure of celebrating Christmas this year with Stacey and Francis’s families.  I met them both, along with Stacey’s brother Shane, in Ireland at the beginning of my long journey.  I have been extremely blessed with being welcomed into their homes as I have traveled through this part of Australia.  I still can’t get over how kind and generous they have been to me considering we really didn’t know each other long in Ireland.  I hope that they understand what this has all meant to me. 

So Christmas Eve was spent up in Swan Hill with Francis’s family.  The drive was something else - something that people might expect “outback Australia” to look like.  For hours and hours there really wasn’t much out the window.  You would see an occasional tree, some sheep, cows and dried grass blowing in the wind for miles and miles.  I commented to Stacey and Francis that this must feel like what Africa is like out the window.  There are some areas where swarms of locusts would fly into the car and mess up poor Stacey’s bumper.  Despite the starkness of the land I must admit that I still enjoyed the ride.  This drive was very different from driving along the coast in New South Wales, or even inland in Queensland.  Things were greener up there.  I can’t get over how in just a few hours of driving the landscape can change so much.  I guess I just will always have this romantic place in my heart for the great land out there.  Part of me always wants to get lost in it, as idiotic as it sounds.  I would prefer it to be locust free I must admit. 

Swan Hill reminded me of some of the other small towns that I have encountered in Australia.  One thing I liked about the place was the sun!  It was so much warmer here than in Melbourne, with temperatures in the 90’s.  And that glorious, wonderful sun.  I could have stayed out there all day sleeping and reading and I would have been as happy as a clam.  Francis’s family lives on a vineyard outside of town.  This is where Francis grew up, and I tried to picture what childhood would have been like there.  His home has a court yard filled with colorful flowers and large cages with beautiful parrots and small birds inside.  At dusk we took a walk amongst the grapes and saw the fiery sun set in the distance.  The powerful rays of light blazed over the grapevines.  I could have stayed out there longer to watch the sun dip below the land had it not been for the mosquitoes having a bit of a buffet on the back of my legs.  That’s Australia for you.  

Christmas Eve was similar to home and yet different at the same time.  The family got together, we had a dinner consisting of noodles, turkey, ham, beef, green beans and curry shrimp.  This meal was different from the usual pierogies, fish, and mushroom soup I was used to but delicious all the same.  We drank, ate like happy pigs and exchanged presents.  Dessert was bread pudding with custard and an Australian dessert called Pavolova which I have grown to really like.  It’s hard to describe, but I would say it’s sort of like this white meringue dish with fruit and crystallized sugar on top.  It was a nice family get together. 

Christmas festivities in general have been different here in Australia - and it really doesn’t have much to do with the weather.  In the states it is hard to get through any day without constantly being reminded that Christmas is coming.  The streets are lined with Christmas lights on the homes.  Large inflatable decorations are on many a lawn.  Christmas music starts getting played on some radio stations as early as Thanksgiving time, and gets more and more popular as it gets closer to the 25th.  You are constantly bombarded with commercials on TV for Christmas and holiday shopping.  And the shopping malls during the weekends in December…well let’s just say that a close parking spot is hard to come by.  Most people I know always made an attempt to decorate the house quite a bit.  You’ve got your tree up, plus your favorite ornaments and wreaths on the door and garland and perhaps even some collectible Christmas houses and a train set around the tree.  Time leading up to the big day involves cooking holiday cookies and of course the day you put the tree up and decorate it is always a full day event.  There are Christmas parades to attend at home, charities looking for your donations and cheer to spread all along. 

Christmas here has been somewhat different.  There were days in December where I could have easily forgotten that the big day was coming.  There are lots of decorations in the shopping malls consisting of beautiful trees and lights and there were occasional Santa cardboard decorations on the lamp posts in towns but Christmas was definitely not crammed down my throat as much as it would be at home.  Most homes I visited had a small tree on display but there were no lights outside or other decorations on the inside.  The only Christmas music I could find to listen to was being played in shopping centers.  Things changed a bit as we got to about a week away.  The streets in Melbourne filled with hundreds of shoppers as it seemed that people finally got around to the process of buying some gifts.  Salvation Army volunteers would play music in the streets with their Santa Hats, T shirts and flip flops on. 

Perhaps this is why I actually watched a Christmas concert on the television on Christmas Eve.  I couldn’t help but be in almost a trance as I watched a live performance in Melbourne consisting of some famous Christmas songs.  I actually missed hearing them.  I couldn’t help but feel a swelling of emotion as I let these songs affect me.  It made me think of my family celebrating Christmas Eve without me, even though at home the day had barely started.  Not being bombarded with Christmas things this year made me truly appreciate it when I did see and hear some holiday cheer.  And no song will ever touch me more than Oh Holy Night sung in a wistful tone.  But I didn’t want to let myself feel too sad here in the presence of a family that generously let me into their home on this holiday.  So I went outside to gaze at the stars. 

Stargazing is one of my most favorite things to do here in Australia.  I suppose that it’s because on any night I can see far more than I ever could back in Jersey.  And the stars look different here, positioned backwards from what I am used to.  Regardless of how foreign the stars may seem I can always find Orion and think of home.  On this night the stars blazed above me and Stacey  was able to point out the Southern Cross for me.  For 2 solid months I have been in search of this constellation - and there it finally was.  My spirits were instantly lifted and I started to feel excited for the next day to come. 

The next day involved the usual Christmas drama you might find at home:  Waking up early to go visit the next family, being caught in traffic and worrying about being late for lunch.  We were back in Melbourne to celebrate the day with Stacey’s large family.  I went to three homes that day and met more relatives than the size of my family doubled.  Everyone was extremely nice to me and it felt like a Christmas at home….well except for the fact that we were able to enjoy ourselves outside and not be shivering in the cold.  We had a large delicious meal with potatoes and macaroni salad and more ham and turkey and bread pudding.  We drank our fill of beer and champagne and wine.  Some of the kids got involved in water pistol and Nerf Gun fights - another thing you would never see at a Christmas at home.  I had the pleasure of playing Mario Kart on the Wiii for about an hour, although my performance was slightly embarrassing.  The old gamer in me would have been ashamed to meet me now!  It was nice to see everyone happy and enjoying themselves.

The evening ended with me going back to a flat with Shane, Stacey, their sister and boyfriend, their parents and Francis.  Their parents went to sleep and we hung around and watched a movie as we felt buzzed off of the earlier Christmas drinking.  Some of us were more intoxicated than others and it was quite amusing.  This was probably my favorite part of the evening.  I enjoyed watching the family joke around and tease each other.  Surprisingly we were able to have pizza delivered to us at 11:30 at night - although I can imagine they were making good money that evening off of all the Christmas partying.  I guess this part was my favorite because I was able to spend time with some people I have started to feel quite close with.  People I would like to think of as my family away from home. 

So while Christmas may not be as advertised or promoted as much in Australia the spirit is definitely there.  This was my first Christmas ever away from my family and I was very lucky to have such great people to spend it with.  It really was the greatest gift Santa could have given me.  Nothing will be the same as home but I think I got to experience the closest I could get.  I look forward to a warm New Year’s although I have on my mind heavy thoughts on what I am going to do afterwards.  Decisions need to be made, although in my heart I made up my mind awhile ago.  But that’s another blog post altogether.  In the meantime I am just going to enjoy the rest of 2010.  Happy holidays everyone.

Tags: australia, christmas, melbourne, swan hill

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