‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house
Not much looked very festive, just the tiniest ounce (oh wait…that’s not metric)
Three stockings were hung on the wood walls with care
On oddly spaced nails that had already been there
A hand-made nativity perched near the TV stand
Awaiting numerous retellings oft reenacted unplanned
And mama in her workout capris, and I in my shorts
Relaxed as the warm breeze blew in from the north
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my couch to see what was the matter
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the curtains and pushed open the glass.
The sun on the breast of the fresh-mown grass
Revealed lush green and a hydrangea deep purple at last
When what to my wondering eyes did appear
But a passel of small children heading to the pool that’s near.
With little bike riders so lively and quick
I knew in a moment this wasn’t a trick
More rapid than eagles the vacationers came,
Others whistled, and shouted, and hopped on a plane
To Brittan! To Aussie! Now a beach or a mount!
On a trip! On holiday! We’re off! School’s out!
To the islands up north! They’ve been planning since fall…
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!
Last week, school let out for the summer holiday. Kids are running around in shorts and bare feet. The breeze is ruffling the curtains as it provides some cool relief from the afternoon sun. Businesses are shutting down. “I’ll be back mid-January” automated e-mail responses have been set. The beaches are filling up and every flight off the island is packed. It’s Christmas-time in New Zealand.
We’re experiencing a very kiwi Christmas, indeed. We live very near one of the biggest shopping districts in the country where a giant Christmas tree graces the lawn where the children play while parents shop. Garland with gold and red ornaments are draped across the store fronts. But it’s just not quite the same. For one thing, there are very few Christmas lights. After all, what’s the point, when it’s still light outside at 9:30 p.m.? No one is rushing in out of the cold. Santa costumes lack fur and padding (who can blame them?). But there are other things that seem slightly amiss too—we haven’t seen one Salvation Army bell ringer, despite the fact that the Salvation Army has a significant presence in New Zealand. Very few houses have wreaths on their doors and we haven’t spotted any lawn decorations—tacky or otherwise. There’s no Christmas music station on the radio.
When I mentioned these differences to a kiwi friend, he pointed out that most of the traditions associated with secular Christmas celebrations apply to the Northern Hemisphere where candles and Christmas lights distract from cold, dark nights and greenery gives life to barren landscapes. Then he quickly said, “The biggest culture shock I ever experienced was walking into an American mall at Christmas time. I just said… ‘Let’s get out of here!’ The displays piled high. The music. The decorations. The people. It was just too much.”
That’s not to say that kiwis aren’t as easily distracted. They’ve had graduations and Christmas parties and end-of-the-school-year celebrations on top of each other for back-to-back weekends. Not to mention plans to holiday abroad, trips to the beach, days on the lake, and two weeks to a month off of work for almost everyone!
We’re not gallivanting off of the island we’re just getting settled on, but we do have a very kiwi Christmas planned. (Disclaimer in case you’re feeling sorry for us: We celebrated Christmas all-out, tradition-packed Northern-hemisphere-style with our families in November.) We’ll celebrate with our new church family on Christmas Eve—though many kiwi churches opt for a Christmas morning service. Our tremendously gracious neighbors down the street have invited us to join their family for Christmas brunch that is sure to include sausages, sweet mince pies, and tea. Then, we’ll load the car with a camp-stove we discovered in our garage and cookout foods and drive about 45 minutes to Raglan, a beach town with black volcanic beaches and a big reputation among surfers. We’ll dip our toes in the cold surf and fly a kite per Q’s request months before we moved. “When we live in Moo Zealand, can I get a kite and fly it really, really high?” Your wish is our command, Buddy.
And in the midst of it all…big moves and new cultural norms to navigate or gifts to wrap and food to bake, Christmas lights or no Christmas lights, shorts or sweaters, ski slopes or beaches, the Kingdom is breaking in as surely and as quietly as it did all of those years ago when in the middle of the night a special star appeared in the sky, angels made a fantastic announcement to a bunch of unsuspecting, rag tag shepherds and a young girl gave birth to a baby in a barn. I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to be so caught up in the differences (or the sameness), the decorations (or lack thereof), the holiday hoopla (or the relaxation of a summer vacation day) that I miss what this Advent season has been preparing us for. All the expectation and waiting and anticipation will culminate in the profound truth that the Light has come. Christ has come.
Parting Shots (1 just doesn’t do it justice this week)