I find this time of year very hard in NZ.
I hate the changing of the seasons, because even though this is a good change (from cold to warm), it just reminds me that they will change again.
I hate having Thanksgiving and Christmas in the summer. It means all the heavy food and fun comes at the good time of year, and winter is one long, unending trudge with no holidays between June and October.
I hate how commercial Christmas is here. It’s nothing but ads on TV for consumerism, and spend, spend, spend.
And I really, really miss my family, and all my family traditions.
As a Baha’i, I don’t put a huge emphasis on Christmas, but I do have a great deal of respect for the religious origins of the holiday, and for all the traditions that encourage creativity, and generosity, and spending time with friends and family.
My family was big on that kind of traditions. We had gingerbread house making parties, and cookie decorating afternoons, and we made wreaths together. Money was always tight, so from a very young age we all made handmade gifts for each other, from the really lovely to the really awful.
The best tradition of all was the Christmas tree hike. One day after Thanksgiving we (my sisters and I, perhaps my parents, often some friends), would all hike into the mountains behind the farm, trudging up steep, steep hillsides, and clambering through ravines until we reached a secret patch of Norfolk pine trees.
After a picnic and much debate and discussion on the merits of various trees we would settle on our tree for that year.
Then would come the process of cutting it down. Inevitably, we would pick the hardest tree to access: the one that was growing on the near-vertical side of a ravine, or the top of a tall one that could only be cut by climbing up into the trees around it to get high enough to chop it down.
Cutting the trees served a dual function: it supplied us with trees, and it kept the invasive introduced Norfolk pines from taking over.
With the tree cut, the hard part began. First we would wrap it in old sheets and blankets, and then tie it up with rope. The would begin the process of carrying it back downhill.
We would balance it on our shoulders, and trade off as the terrain got trickier, or as people got tired. This section is where my unique talents come in: I’m part mountain goat and can navigate the trickiest, steepest hillsides as easily as a walk in the park.
The hardest part of the hike is the very last section: an almost sheer hillside descending down to the farm. It took all 5 people handing the tree from one to the next to get it down the hill, so no photographs.
And then, with the tree finally home, we would have cookies and rosajamaica tea (my other favourite holiday tradition), and a little rest. Everyone would exclaim over the size of the tree: every year we swore we would get a smaller one, but every year we got more ambitious, and the trees went from 7 feet to 14. Good thing my parent’s house has a very tall ceiling!
The next day we would decorate the tree with our random assortment of ornaments: antique blown glass from Mum’s side, little wooden ones from my parents first tree ever, funny ones that Grandma sent, ones we made as kids, and best of all Mum’s fabulously quirky handmade loofah critters. Every ornament had a story, and putting them up was an excuse to retell them
That was a tradition worth having. I haven’t done it since the year we got married.