I was looking through my phone recently and came across a picture from my parents of the backyard of the house I grew up in covered in snow. “winter wonderland”. Waves of nostalgia washed over me.. I remember the days we would have off from school because the snow was too high for the school bus to make it to our houses. On those days we would strap on our snow pants and boots, bundled up in jackets and hats and rush outside to the awaiting untouched fresh snow of the back yard. The hill in the back seemed huge to our little bodies. Snow tube and toboggan in hand we would race down the hill time after time until mom called us inside for hot chocolate and hot water to run over our nearly frost bitten hands. Most of the time I don’t miss the snow and the cold at all. By the time I left New York, I had had enough of the sludge, the snow that turns a brown/grey color almost immediately after it falls to the ground. Sydney brings what seems like endless sunny and cloudless days, perfect for outdoor activities, not too hot but just hot enough to encourage swimming. Yet, despite the near perfectness of Sydney’s summers, falls and springs, I find myself longing for those snowy winter days we had as kids. There was an excitement about the snow, a sense of quiet peace that would fall over the city and over my little apartment. Allie, my dog, loved the snow, would run around for ages in it. Sticking her nose right down into the drifts, leaving little paw prints behind her as she walked. Rolling around in the snow covering her back in its flakes. Now she rolls around in ever green fresh cut grass of the Sydney parks. Why do I long for something I was so ready to leave?
Around Christmas, I become especially nostalgic for the snowy days. Christmas means snow in my head. The songs (A winter wonderland), the decorations (snow flakes and frosted evergreen trees), even the ginger bread and peppermint lattes at Starbucks call out to snowy, fresh winter days heralding the start of the holiday season. In Sydney, people pull out their board shorts and swimmers, lather on the sun screen and hit the beach extra hard or head out to various warm holiday destinations overseas. I myself am heading to Bali to enjoy some extra sun and warmth over Christmas.
Since living in Sydney, I've had to transform my thoughts and expectations around what Christmas means. For years in the U.S., it was my favorite time of year. The cold was made excusable by the excitement in the air, the buzz and the happy looks on people's faces. The anticipation of presents, giving and receiving, the music, the greetings, the food. Each holiday season, I made the space to go home to my childhood house, spending ample time with my parents and my sister. We engaged in all sorts of traditional New England traditions, baking cookies decorated with frosting, hanging stockings, cooking turkey and mashed potatoes, seeing extended family, buying silly gag gifts for secret santa, sledding...
The past 2 Christmas holidays I've spent in Australia, instead I've played cricket, gone to the beach in a santa hat, ate sea food and lobster with salads, worn shorts and swimming. We Decorated a miniature tree, because the 'real' evergreen trees don't seem to make their way into shops here. This year, I'll be celebrating with the Balinese, who don't even really celebrate Christmas on account of their Hindu faith... We'll see what comes up there!
Ex-pat life has made me reflect on my own expectations and traditions around holiday and family. On what I think should be happening and how I react when it's not. It's opened me up to many possibilities of new traditions and ways of living that are different than my own. So this season, here's to a very hot and sun soaked Christmas!