Merry Christmas everybody (or Happy Holidays if Jesus gets on your nerves).
This year I’ll be staying in Austin for Christmas day so it will be my first Christmas away from family and friends in New Zealand. I haven’t found the pre-Christmas experience in Austin to be too different from my past in New Zealand, yet I found there were still some things to compare with my Christmases in Auckland to my adopted home in Austin. So here we go.
There ain’t no snow and stockings around the fireplace down-under. No sir, in Auckland it can be a sticky hot day with the deck doors and windows open (A/C is for wimps) to view the beautiful pohutukawa down the street which God keeps to the Christmas color scheme. I do say ‘sticky hot day’ with a smile on my face because after experiencing the Austin summer I now know Auckland summer is rather temperate. Though in fairness summer in Auckland doesn’t really kick into gear until late Jan. Plus the sun eats your skin.
Thus, if it’s a cloudy Christmas day it can be humidly uncomfortable and that eliminates… Christmas Sweaters. While I dig the fun of Christmas Sweaters, trying to wear them at a Christmas party in Auckland makes them live up to their namesake. It’s also not the best weather for Santa who usually ends up in shorts and his bright white beard soaking up the sweat. I’m sure when he’s doing the child on knee press circuit he praises shopping malls for their generous aircon.
As for Austin you might think I’d be talking about snowmen, beanies, and sleds; why no, this is central Texas y’all. While Auckland’s weather can be ‘four seasons in one day’, Austin’s winter is four seasons in one week. Summer was a consistent 38 degrees celsius (100 fahrenheit) every dang day, yet our recent winter weather report was a high of 24 and low of -2. Then the next day high of 3 and low of -4. Now for Christmas day it’s looking to be 25, with a low of 18. Blimey.
You might like Christmas sweaters but you have to seriously pay attention to the forecast before putting one on. Though you’re sweating regardless as most Americans like having their home A/C at a point where you can see transparent heat waves in the room. I’m told Jan and Feb is when things get consistently cold, but right now it’s up and down like a horse-top jokey on a Boxing Day racetrack (like the Kentucky Derby on Dec 26th).
Meals on Christmas day
It’s hard to put a definite stamp on this because my family Christmas lunch isn’t a nationwide reflection. Mine is like a Gordan Ramsey cook-off between my dad and my brothers. The Greatbatch experience from the crack of dawn is the ‘champagne breakfast’ of sparkling wine and orange juice (As I mentioned in a previous post, in Austin they call these mimosa’s. And when I went out for brunch with friends and was asked if I wanted a mimosa, I was a bit bemused as to why we were eating spicy Indian food at 10am.) Accompanied by Greek yoghurt with strawberries, as well as warm croissants with slowly melting cheese, ham and tomato inside. That’s normal right?
For lunch last Christmas, one of my brothers tried his hand at some smoked salmon which he salted and smoked for a number of hours. It was paired with a fine collection of ham expertly glazed on the BBQ, turkey from the oven, various tasty salads and wine by the gallon. Usually followed by a bowl of truffle or staple pavlova. Un-coincidently, the rest of the day was spent clutching one’s stomach while lying on the couch or floor, watching the Queen live from London recall how crap the human race was that year. Though after the popularity of ‘The Crown’ on Netflix I’m sure a number of Americans will be wishing to tune into this year’s broadcast. And because there was still about 10kgs of ham remaining, the next few weeks would be interspersed with ham and mustard sandwiches. Mmm mmm.
Being in Austin for Christmas, I’ll be spending my day with a caring family who had also hosted me for Thanksgiving. I’m not entirely sure what I’m in for though I’ve been told one of the boys is preparing some slowly cooked BBQ brisket. You know you’re in Texas when that’s on the menu. For Thanksgiving we had some terrific turkey, ham and veggies. One thing that stood out was a ‘salad’ of tiny cranberries that when paired with some turkey was quite the taste. Cranberries aren’t something we eat often in NZ but I’m sure looking forward to the variety of other treats on Dec 25th. Mmm mmm
NZ and Austin shopping isn’t any different. Buying Christmas presents the Western world over can be both joyful and stressful (#fwp). Plus, I’m a serial last minute Christmas shopper. One that’s not helped by a perfectionist attitude where if I don’t get it right and give one of my family members a gift that doesn’t suit, then I feel like sprinkling ashes over my sack clothed body. That’s a terrible way to think because it’s assuming the receiver of your gift has high standards which they’ll be angry about if not met. Christmas day to my family is generally about food and wine. Though there’s often one family member that goes overboard and makes you feel like a stinge as you hand over your $5 wax candle from K-mart. Which is fair enough. I remember buying my dad something and when he opened it I said ‘they were at a great discount so got them cheap’, which I immediately regretted because, once again, you’re outed as a tight wad. Which is fair enough.
As for my Austin Christmas shopping, I don’t have pressure in numbers. However, when my girlfriend who grew up in San Francisco tells me she doesn’t like presents, just cards, gosh that’s like some secret test that could cost a dude his place on The Bachelorette. I know she means it, but when I was handed a gift from her last night that I’m not allowed to open until Christmas day it felt good that I’d already bought something for her as well, not just a thoughtful card. You’d do the same, right guys?
Your appreciation for gifts does change as you age. I’m happy with whatever gifts I’m given. Sharing a fantastic meal with my family is a gift in itself, and I mean it.
Buuuut, remember as a kid when you opened your paper to a pack of socks ‘n undies from your grandparents and you felt bummed out? Then when you got older, and had just moved out of home, once the gift opening session had finished and you hadn’t received a restock of your smalls; you felt reversely bummed out? Who goes out to buy their own gruts? I do now, however when you’re 22 and eating jam on toast three times a day you appreciate a quality boxers and socks update.
To conclude, I’ve had a great year in the USA and Christmas is always the reminder that the year is coming to an end. I miss my family, I miss my kiwi friends, I miss watching cricket at a respectable hour. People are ruing 2016 as a year of great celebs passing away coupled with the craziest election the US has experienced, one in which many Americans are in shock and anger about. After I voted, and later saw the result, like a typical Kiwi I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. I go back to appreciating the tear inducing majesty of the Grand Canyon, the vastness of driving through Death Valley, the charismatic madness of Las Vegas, the familiar beauty of the California coast, and settling down in a city with a fantastic culture and making new friends who have made me feel like I’ve lived here a lot longer than I have. And of course, meeting a special somebody who I’m enjoying getting to know more and more each day.
So Koa Kirihimete, Merry Christmas, and a happy new year to you all. My goodness I’m looking forward to that BBQ brisket.
Featured image photo credit: http://www.rimutakatrust.org.nz/