When we planned this trip, we anticipated an amazing New Year’s Eve of viewing the Sydney fireworks—what we did not expect was how amazingly different the Christmas holiday would be!
We had been invited to spend Christmas and Boxing Day (a British holiday celebrated on 26 December, with our friends at their country home in Hawk’s Nest. Our expectation was of a Christmas dinner of the sort we have at home. OMG, were we in for some great surprises!
About Christmas Down Under
It was interesting to note that pre-Christmas activities in Auckland are low key, with few street and store decorations and little to no Christmas music blaring in stores. It was difficult, in fact, to find some Christmas wrapping for some small gifts we had brought from home to share with our Sydney friends. We learned that that is the case in Sydney also. Given the price of commodities in both Auckland and Sydney, it doesn’t surprise me that people don’t go crazy buying armloads of gifts.
They do have after-Christmas style sales on Boxing Day (26 December) when there are bargains to be found (though not nearly as affordable as some of ours) . We did hear a funny story, though, from an English friend. It seems that WalMart has invaded there, and introduced “Black Friday” sales on what is our day after Thanksgiving!
Christmas Day in Hawks Nest was like none we had ever experienced. First we learned that the traditional dinner (called lunch) is eaten mid-day and traditionally consists of ham and/or seafood (turkey is not readily available and quite expensive; I thought we might be having a “traditional” English dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, but was informed that was old-fashioned) In fact, there were stories on the TV news about people buying tons and shrimp and oysters to put on the “barby.”
For us Christmas morning (or Christmas Eve in our case) is when gifts are exchanged. Not so for our Hawks Nest friends. Rather, after a light breakfast, they suggested that we (Bob & me, along with two other friends–one from England, the other from Scotland that had come to visit) drive to Dark Point, about 10Km away, to climb some sand dunes (a bit steep but doable they said) for a swim/walk on the beach.
Dark Point (which is neither dark nor a point) is an aboriginal site with ongoing archeological digs. More notable (to us), was that is consists of humongous dunes of fine white sand that almost look like snow. The entrance is fact, is like a short but steep ski slope—and almost as difficult to climb. Once we reached the top, we continued trekking over sand dunes until we finally reached the crest. It was worth the climb as we faced a beautiful, deserted white sand beach. As we approached the water, we found a “Christmas tree” that someone had created on the sand by joining seaweed for branches and shells for decorations, with a beautiful star of shells on top. How nice!
Dark Point is actually part of a 7-mile long stretch beach with many entrances. It is possible and allowed to drive onto to beach at two of the locations. In fact, we saw some cars and a group set up with a tent and water toys. We stopped on the way back to view one of the beachfronts, called Hole in the Wall, (which has neither a hole nor a wall) and were treated to more natural beauty. From there we returned to the house to Christmas lunch.
Christmas Lunch was ready about 4 pm. We enjoyed hot ham and cold chicken with sweet potatoes, asparagus, and a beautifully assembled salad. Desert was fruit and ice cream drizzled with Bailey’s Irish Cream and served in crunchy brandy flavored cups–yum. A cheese plate completed the meal.
Before we started eating, we were presented with English party favors called “crackers.” Accordine to an internet site: ” They consist of a beautifully wrapped and decorated cardboard cylinder containing a paper crown (tissue party hat), a motto (British joke or riddle, e.g. What does an angry kangaroo do? Gets hopping mad…LOL), a snap (popping device), and a small gift or novelty item. At dinners and parties, crackers are used to decorate individual place settings and are usually opened prior to serving the meal or refreshments. The pulling of crackers and donning of the party hats creates a relaxed, festive atmosphere certain to get any party function off the ground.”
After dinner, we watched a Sydney travelogue (that our host presented for the benefit of his guests) then, finally, we opened Christmas gifts. The evening ended with watching the Queens’ Speech (a taped version, obviously, given the time change). It was actually quite touching as she described a Christmas truce story about ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. According to the internet: In the week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, giving one of the most endearing images of the truce.” How civilized was that—imagine if that happened today! Then she went to talk about reforms in pensions and planning laws as well as extra powers for voters to kick misbehaving MPs (members of Parliament) out of Parliament. In total, the speech lasted about ten minutes, and was pretty cool to watch, keeping in mind that she is a titular head of state.
Note to readers: This has been a really long posting, but there was no brief way to describe the day…hope you enjoyed it.