This week, we’re savoring this season of Christmas, the sunshine, the celebrations, and the slow-paced days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. All around us (and on our social media feeds), there are reminders that we’re deep into the season of Christmas. These are 10 signs it’s Christmastime in New Zealand. And, while some of these are slightly belated because the days leading up to Christmas are full-on in every first world country, we’re not finished with our Christmas celebrations just yet. My parents are coming next week, and we can hardly wait!
So, in the spirit of the season…
You know it’s Christmas in the Southern hemisphere when…
Santa-types are wearing fake beards, black boots, a red, red coat and matching pants rugby shorts, and a cut off t-shirt.
Also, if rugby shorts and cut off sleeves are not your thing, rest assured. They sell Santa costumes like this one with shorts and short sleeves.
Families are watching ‘The Grinch’ and ‘Frosty’ in Christmas jammies short-sleeved pjs.
Every event has mugs of hot cocoa with marshmallows water with ice.
There’s an explosion of red baubles, stockings, wreaths and heavily decorated Christmas trees strawberries, cherries, and heavily flowered Pohutakawa trees.
This picture was taken on a trip over to the Coromandel Peninsula last month when the Pohutakawa trees were just turning. Now the coastlines are filled with the vibrant red blooms of the “kiwi Christmas tree.” This one has a stunning view of the marine reserve.
The oven BBQ grill has been working non-stop in preparation for Christmas dinner. (We had a fresh caught snapper served grill-side for our Christmas dinner.)
Dining tables Picnic tables are laden with festive foods of every kind.
We celebrated Christmas with our dear friends. Precious people, great fun (and nerf wars), delectable foods, and the most stunning setting makes for a wonderful celebration. (P.S. There really is brown on those hills. Can you believe it? After an exceptionally wet start to the year, we have been unusually warm and dry for over a month.)
Worshipers gather for Christmas Eve candlelight services Christmas morning daylight services. (There’s just something odd about a candlelight service when you’ve just had the longest day of the year. That said, we still had a Christmas Eve candlelight service. We joined our friends at an Anglican/Methodist/Presbyterian Cooperating Church for Christmas morning.)
Cities Beaches are bustling.
Flipping the calendar to January means going back to work summer holiday, church camps, and 3 consecutive weeks off work for many. (We don’t have a three-week holiday coming up anytime soon, but we are making the most of summer vacation and looking forward to a few days at youth camp in a couple of weeks!
We’ve spent the rest of our holiday week hosting friends, picking strawberries, playing tennis, and catching up on a few work-related projects. Shhh… don’t tell the kiwis. They’re all in full vacation mode.
Life gets back to normal January February 2. (Actually, Q will be back to school and our mums’ groups will resume February 7. There’s a new year to ring in and plenty of fun to be had between now and then!)
Merry Christmas from the Southern Hemisphere. We hope you are warm (by the sun or the fireplace), well fed (with fresh fruit or comfort foods), and enjoying family and friends who are like family!
This boy. He loves animals and asking questions. And, apparently, embarrassing his mother.
These have been the dog days of summer. Literally.
It began with a simple question.
“Mommy, when is Bailey going to come visit us?”
We’ve talked about it dozens of times, and will probably discuss it dozens more. That’s part of it.
The reality is that one of the hardest parts of leaving the United States was saying goodbye to our big, furry dog-child, Bailey. Bailey, who was once a roly-poly puppy with soft wrinkly fur and velvety ears. Bailey, the reason we bought our first house with an extra-big yard instead of living in a townhouse. Bailey, the gentle giant with a tail like a whip that whacks the back of your legs repeatedly. Bailey, Quentin’s first playmate, pretend horse, cuddle buddy, and backyard companion.
Bailey is a member of our family. However, when it came time for us to move to New Zealand, bringing her along proved to be nearly impossible. You may have heard this story of Johnny Depp’s wife getting caught smuggling their dogs into Australia this past spring. There was a big to do about it being a potential bio security issue. New Zealand operates in a similar fashion. Even if we found a company that could transport Bailey to NZ (we truly tried), and even if we paid them multiple thousands of dollars, she would have to be in a 10-day quarantine and could possibly be denied entry into NZ once she was on the island. Those are hurdles that seem a little high even for our girl who can scale nearly any fence.
My parents graciously offered to take Bailey to live with them where she gets daily walks, constant tennis balls thrown her direction, and grandparent-ly attention. She’s as happy as a clam.
My dad sent us this picture after Bailey played in the snow this past week.
But four weeks in to our time in New Zealand, this question came up.
The adult conversation that followed after bedtime went something like this:
“Just look at these dogs waiting to be adopted.” –J
“No way. We are in no place to get another dog.” –E
“He needs some company.”–J
“How about fostering a dog?” –E
“You never know what you’re getting or how long it’s going to be. Some of those dogs may have been abused.”–J
“O.k. How about dog-sitting?” –E
“How are we going to dog-sit when we don’t know anyone?” –J
Within moments we were signed up as official dog sitters through and online dog-sitting service. We figured it would be really nice to get to know a few families, build some relationships, and have a dog around periodically. It would be all of the fun and none of the commitment. In a matter of two days, we had three dogs scheduled for a total of two solid weeks back to back. And so began the dog days of summer.
Teddy–such a loveable pup.
First, there was Teddy, a large 8-month-old boy who joined us for Christmas. He sometimes had to be coaxed into going for a walk rather than getting a belly rub. We thoroughly enjoyed him.
Macey–Isn’t she cute?
Our next week-long companion was Macey, an adorable schnauzer with a sweet personality who would sneak onto Q’s bed during naptime. We sent daily pictures to her owners. At the end of our week with Macey, her owners invited us out to their farm for evening tea. It was a slice of Heaven.
Macey’s house is this 100-year-old home that used to be located somewhere near our house, but was moved (in 6 parts) to its current location by previous owners when the city started encroaching.
The view from Macey’s house.
However, it hasn’t all been roses. In between Teddy and Macey, Cody spent one day with us. He was small, with long silky hair and a shrill bark that made Q cry. He didn’t come to his name and tried marking his territory all over our house. When his owner came to pick him up at 7 p.m., I couldn’t have been happier.
“How was our boy?” the owner asked.
“He was just fine—“ I started.
Then, the cute little blond boy standing next to me on the front porch blurted loudly–
“Next time we’re not keeping that dog!”
I still wish there had been a trap door in the front porch for me to fall through at that moment.
Dog days of summer, indeed! 😉
We spent New Year’s Day at Hamilton Gardens. Entrance is free, and every single garden is absolutely stunning.
New Zealand’s west coast is defined by spacious black sand beaches. We enjoyed this one in Raglan (just 45 min from our house) on Christmas day.
Our boy loves all things cowboy so we drove 2 1/2 hours to watch a ranch rodeo on Boxing day when everyone else was shopping.
Jaron titled this “Lonely Cowboy.”
Enjoying a little snack at the rodeo.
Such a special treat– ice cream after a hot day at the rodeo!
He’s waffling between being a surfer and just being a boogie boarder (because being a boogie boarder is safer), says the 3-year-old.
On the way to the top of Hakarimata Summit.
I have long thought the great pastoral theologian Henri Nouwen nailed it with this quote on hospitality.
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
It’s a quote that is particularly relevant in our current political climate. It is also very relevant in this phase of our journey. In a more profound way than any other time in our lives, we find ourselves as the stranger in need of hospitality.
We’re the ones who don’t know the right words to say.
Who don’t have the right accent.
Who don’t know our way around.
Who are trying to navigate a healthcare system that is foreign to us.
Who find “our foods” in the international aisle at the grocery store.
Who don’t know the rules of the road.
Who aren’t sure where to purchase household supplies.
Who don’t know how to read the names of places.
Who misunderstand and mispronounce names.
We are other.
And we are in need of hospitality—a kind of hospitality that allows us to become a friend instead of an enemy, that allows us to change and grow, that doesn’t create dividing lines.
It is this very type of hospitality we have received in ways that keep us feeling humbled and grateful and ever-mindful of the ways God is calling us to extend hospitality.
Our neighbor from down the road, Cedrick, stops by weekly to check in—usually with something like passion fruit ice cream, or a bag of freshly picked plums in his hand.
Cedrick and his wife, Stephanie, graciously invited us to share Christmas brunch with their family, where there were delicious foods assembled in ways we’d never tasted or seen before. They told us they’d be giving each of their grandchildren a gift and then provided Q with a small gift as well.
Paul spent hours and hours one week helping us car shop, price compare, negotiate, and complete the purchase of our car.
Hope has invited me to work out on Monday nights, hike Hakarimata Summit early in the mornings, join their family at the park, and try new restaurants—and she has driven every time so far! 😉
Carlos and Mercedes invited us to their house where they treated us to a Guatemalan barbecue complete with homemade salsa, guacamole, and tortillas. We savored their food and the familiarity of their accents and the commonality of being other.
Andum and Joyful and Joan, members of our new church family, gifted Q with thoughtful gifts to commemorate his first Christmas in New Zealand—sand toys for the beach from Andum and Joyful and a stuffed kiwi bird from Joan.
Gladys made extra sweet mince pies to share at tea time on Sunday so we could taste a treat her family loves at Christmas time.
Hayley, our next door neighbor, brought a pot of yellow flowers for us and a Christmas gift for Quentin, even though I usually just see her through our kitchen windows as we prepare dinner in our own homes.
The farmer we bought a dining table from stopped by a couple of days later with trout he had caught and smoked the day before. Never mind that the reason he had to sell his table in the first place is because a new motorway is scheduled to go right through the middle of where their house currently stands on their family farm.
The couple whose dog we’re dog-sitting (more on that next week) has invited us out to their farm for tea so we can get a true taste of the country-side.
Phill and Pam generously gifted us their old barbecue grill when they got a new one and then brought it over along with ready friendship and delicious pavlova to share.
It’s hospitality. Defined in word and deed. We couldn’t be more grateful. These and so many others have been a means of grace to us. Just when I thought I hadn’t ever been on the receiving end of such gracious and continuous hospitality, I read this blog post by Dr. Dan Boone, president of Trevecca Nazarene University. The entire post is worth a read, but in the midst of this season of Christmas, I can’t get these thoughts out of my head.
“The heart of Christmas is hospitality…This God has provided posada – a garden with food, water, air, shelter, safety, clothes, and companionship. God has thought of everything we need and shared it freely. What a gracious host. And even there in the garden, we raid God’s tree to rid ourselves from being dependent creatures on God’s hospitality…. The story of Jesus is the ongoing story of the hospitality of God.”
As I read and I reflected, I realized that perhaps I have taken such extreme hospitality for granted. I assumed that I was not the stranger that needed a placed to stay or the one who was thirsty and needed a drink. And yet, I am a person in need of the great hospitality of God as much as any other.
What’s more, my call as a Christian is to extend radical, gracious, limitless hospitality to both stranger and neighbor. Those who are like me and those who aren’t. Those who know how the systems work and the words to use and those who don’t. For it is in my extension of hospitality that others will see and come to know the very image of God.
The view from the car park (parking area) at the rodeo.
Isn’t this how every living room should look on Christmas morning?
Daddies passing on the tradition.
Qoo and The Nut make cookies. Actually, The Nut made cookies. Qoo Qoo played in the flour.
Thick icing is the butter cookie rule in this family.
Qoo Qoo and The Nut practice their bear roar with Bapa and Gigi.
More bear roars. It’s the only way to capture a picture.
5 Generations of Patman/Graham family have enjoyed retreat at Bonita Park.
Gigi and her grandbabies.
Qoo Qoo and The Nut.
Qoo Qoo and The Nut
A precious moment captured during the family photo session with Danielle.
“Thanks for opening up the gym for us on the holiday—” My father-in-law stopped mid-sentence and laughed. He was talking to our friends Korey and Lauren Frazier, who had opened the Events Center at Bonita Park for us to play in. The words had snuck out before he realized what he was saying. We all laughed along with him. It wasn’t Christmas for anyone but us. But Christmas it was…complete with lights on the tree, decorations, chilly weather, a fire in the fireplace, gifts, yummy food, cookie decorating, matching Christmas jammies for the little ones, and a little bear nativity, all in one of our favorite settings—Jaron’s parents’ cabin at Bonita Park Nazarene Camp.
We may be #seasonallyconfused as my sister-in-law put it, but it’s not without purpose. There are traditions—as important for the grown-ups in this family as for the kids—that must be upheld and passed on, even (or especially when) your scheduled departure date is Dec. 1. The season is so important it’s worth celebrating with family six weeks early if need be. The Patman family butter cookie recipe must be made and piled with frosting and stowed in the freezer (because the “experts” say somehow they’re better frozen). A nerf shooting device must be retrieved from every stocking for impromptu battles. The table must be filled with delectable foods for every meal of the weekend, and gifts must be exchanged. All this in celebration of the greatest gift of all—the hope of Jesus.
Not one thing was amiss. Qoo (pronounced cuckoo, as Q’s cousin calls him) and The Nut as he dubbed her wrestled through our attempts to capture their pictures, played with their Christmas gifts, reveled in the rare opportunity to eat cookies with icing, wallowed in the giant beanbag chair, and only paused their shenanigans long enough to let the adults catnap in the afternoon. Together they are Qoo Qoo and The Nut. No title could be more fitting.
Wrapping and gifts were collected into piles. Stuffed snowballs were thrown across the living room. A puzzle was assembled way past midnight. Then, we all gathered for worship at Angus Church of the Nazarene on Sunday morning, squeezed in a family photo session with Danielle Rush, and played at the playground before hugging good-bye on Monday.
So, while you were probably thinking about football and fall leaves this weekend, we were jamming out to Christmas carols, thanks to Lauren, as we climbed the rock wall and slid down the giant slide late in the afternoon of our Graham family Christmas day.
The Graham Family
We are the Graham family–Jaron, Elizabeth, the little guy Q. The three of us are on an adventure in faithfulness, currently serving in Hamilton, New Zealand. Being faithful requires much sacrifice and brings great joy. Adventure Graham is the place we chronicle our journey.