By Rachel Evans Deputy Travel Editor
Deputy Travel Editor Rachel Evans tells the story of her time spent celebrating Christmas in New Zealand.
I love Christmas. I love the build-up: seeing Christmas markets pop up, shopping for gifts, buying a tree and bringing it home to decorate. I love the food: tables laden with pigs-in-blankets, roast potatoes and fancy biscuits your mum only buys at this time of year. And most importantly, I love seeing family. The fact that we get a nice, long holiday over the Christmas period also means it is a fantastic time to visit family abroad. In 2015 we decided to do just that and head to New Zealand to go and visit my Aunty and Uncle.
My Mum is very traditional when it comes to Christmas and so she took quite a lot of convincing to go anywhere that isn’t one of our relative’s homes. Because it’s such a long flight, we broke it up by stopping over for a few days in Singapore. Singapore is one of my favourite places. Tropical weather, beautifully clean and just generally amazing, however, definitely not somewhere that you think of as being Christmassy. It was pretty surreal stepping out into 30 degree weather but seeing Christmas decorations all over the buildings and lights everywhere. Christianity is one of the four main religions in Singapore, but it definitely felt more like a commercial holiday (not that it doesn’t feel that way in the UK too); and the fact that it was so hot meant it was just a bit…odd.
Flickr / Hafizul I. Choudhury
After spending a few days there seeing the sights we headed back to the airport to continue on our way. Back in these days my Mum still had an ancient Nokia brick phone and so we presumed that the network just didn’t work abroad and this is why she couldn’t get in touch with my Grandpa. Sitting in the airport, we finally managed to get a call from my Aunty. I remember we were through security and sitting on the floor by our gate, it was quite obvious from my Mum’s expression that something wasn’t right. Shaking, she put the phone down and told us that our Grandpa had died. Losing a family member is hard enough when you are at home, but losing a family member when you are thousands of miles from home, and know you won’t be back for a few weeks is a pretty awful feeling. In that moment, it felt like a very strange sense of togetherness, my family hugging each other, sitting on the floor of the airport crying.
It is probably a question we have all asked ourselves before setting out on a big trip: what would I do if one of my family members died? And that was quite a hard question we faced. Should we go home, or should we continue with the trip? A death in the family is never simple. It felt unfair that we should be on holiday whilst the rest of our family was at home grieving. Surely the emotional impact would affect the trip for us too? And practically speaking, funerals have to be arranged; friends and family informed; and houses, bills, and finances need to be sorted out. After a long time on the phone with my Aunty, it was decided that now we had got as far as Singapore, we should carry on with the rest of the trip, and funeral arrangements could be made when we got back. It wasn’t an easy decision to come to, and I could tell my mum desperately wanted to be back with her sister.
Flickr / Mark Eldridge
The fact that we had just lost my Grandpa probably didn’t help the fact that it didn’t really ever feel like Christmas. We still had a fantastic time seeing my Aunty and Uncle and making the most of being in such an amazing country. Considering we hadn’t seen them in a few years, it was amazing to be able to just spend a few weeks with them, and I think for me and my sister it was our first Christmas with them. We flew down to South Island and went on a road trip visiting Arrowtown, Queenstown and Wanaka. As much as I like to think I am a decent writer, I really don’t think I can do justice to the breath-taking beauty of the scenery. Picturesque mountains with the last bits of snow still clinging to the peaks surround lakes of the most vivid shades of blue you’ve ever seen. So vivid in fact that ‘blue’ seems almost insulting, and ‘azure’, ‘sapphire’ or ‘ultramarine’ still fall short. No matter how sad you may be, it is hard not to appreciate the world when you are somewhere so incredible.
I was only sixteen at the time, so when I raised the idea of bungee jumping (something Queenstown is famous for) that suggestion was met with a quick ‘absolutely not’, but there were loads of other (not quite so dangerous) activities such as zip lining. We also tried white water sledging. In retrospect, bungee jumping may have actually been the safer option! Imagine white water rafting, but instead of being in the safety of the raft, you’re given a sledge-like float and basically just try not to drown. Before we headed out, our instructors said "if you get sucked down in a whirlpool, don’t try and swim against it. You should just pop back up within 10 seconds," so we probably should have known we were in for a wild ride.
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Not sure if it’s a Winter Wonderland... but hey! It just hit me yesterday that there’s like two weeks ‘til Christmas! (For those that care, that first sentence fits the rhythm of “walking in a winter wonderland”) . f/3.9 . ISO 200 . 1/3200s . #LUMIXG85 #LEICA1260mm #LUMIX #LUMIXNZ #LUMIXNZxmas #WhereLUMIXgoes #PanasonicNZ #LeicaNZ #ChangingPhotography #Mirrorless #M43 #MicroFourThirds #MicroFourNerds #Adobe #Lightroom #AdobeCC #AdobeLightroom #NewZealandChristmas #Summertime #Pohutakawa #Beach #View #TheMount #MountMaunganui #Summer #Holiday #HolidaySeason #Tauranga #NewZealand
We headed back to my Aunty and Uncle’s house on North Island in time for Christmas Eve. Because I associate Christmas with having cold, miserable weather, it was really strange to wake up and put on shorts and go surfing, instead of layer upon layer of knitwear and staying firmly inside. It’s also a bit too warm to want to eat a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. We still had a roast dinner, but my Uncle did the chicken on the barbeque instead. It definitely didn’t feel built up anywhere near as much as it does here. There’s something so nice and cosy about eating so much you could burst, then spending the rest of the day on the sofa in the warmth, knowing that outside it’s dark and cold.
The day before we were supposed to leave to go home, we had steak for dinner. Somehow my sister managed to get a piece lodged in her throat. It wasn’t enough that she was choking and struggling to breathe, but it was big enough to cough back up whatever she drank, so my Mum took her off to hospital. It must have been reasonably serious because they decided she had to stay in overnight, meaning we would miss our flight back the next morning. My Mum tried to get my Dad and I to fly home without them, but (to my delight) my Dad said that we should all stay together as a family. I know at times like this you are supposed to be concerned (my parents definitely were), but from my perspective I got an extra few days of holiday in the sun, didn’t have to go back to school for a bit longer, AND we could only get a flight home through Hong Kong so I got to visit another country. As far as I was concerned, it was win win.
Eventually we made it home from what was a pretty eventful holiday. It must have scarred my parents because we haven’t been back to New Zealand since, and my Mum now refuses to go away over Christmas ever again. We had the funeral, but life caries on and we soon slipped back into our monotonous routine of school and work. My Grandpa never got to open his Christmas present from us that year; and my Mum couldn’t face having to either open it up and use it herself, or getting rid of it, so it stayed sitting in her room for at least a year. Serving as a little reminder that Christmas is a time for making the most of family and loved ones.
Featured Image: Unsplash / lastly
Have you ever celebrated Christmas abroad? Let us know!