Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Does Santa Wear Board Shorts?

Christmas in Australia is an upside-down, topsy turvy, higgledy piggledy kind of affair.  It's neither cold nor frosty, not wintry nor white. On the surface, it's quite simply all wrong.

I'm a traditionalist at heart. Nothing beats a frozen white Christmas, the overdone festive build-up through the month of December, copious amounts of mulled wine and Christmas carolling, long walks through the country after a turkey feast with all the trimmings, and enough merry-making and yuletide fun and games to fill the darkening evening. This is my idea of the perfect Christmas holiday.

When I moved to the land down under, the concept of my ideal Christmas was turned on its head in typical Aussie fashion. Rather than spend my time curled up on the couch with the heating turned up high or snuggled under the duvet in my warm PJs, I now bake under a hot southern sun. I no longer wake up on the morning of the 25th to the sight of a frosted lawn or angry winter's sky, but instead roll out of bed in my shorts, don my 'thongs', and confront a blistering summer's morning. While most of the world is waking to the frigid cold, my Aussie pals and I spend Christmas cavorting in the semi-tropical heat.

Sydney-Hobart yacht race

Whilst my whole being rebels against the notion of a hot Christmas, I've come to appreciate the uniqueness of the situation and accept that this is the Australian way in its purest form - and it's not without its pluses. While I might cherish the memory of a snowy Christmas setting, it's not a bad substitute to open my pressies in the mid-morning warmth of a summer's day, knowing that a lengthy day at the beach awaits me, that it won't get dark until 9pm, and that my summer holidays have officially begun.

A 'Chrissy' in Oz has its own peculiar traditions, such as Christmas caroling by the water, beachside Christmas markets, the obligatory kilo of prawns served as an entree on Xmas Day then lashings of cold ham and turkey washed down with an Aussie Shiraz or Kiwi Cab-Sav thereafter. Families spend the afternoon together, but play outdoors beach cricket not indoor charades. Boxing Day is a lively affair with thousands either watching the Sydney to Hobart yacht race or the annual Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. As BBQs are fired up across the country, the sun shines and the heat rises.

Christmas also signifies the official start of the summer holiday season. Christmas for Australians is literally two days of public holidays, immediately followed by a long summer break. Once Boxing Day passes, many Australians disappear on their holidays, Christmas is quickly forgotten, there is no post-Boxing Day hangover, and a well-deserved rest lies ahead.

Australian Christmases are too short but very sweet, a little tacky but a lot of fun. The combination of public holiday then personal summer holiday is a bonus but it can come at the expense of any further holiday midway through the year. A Christmas Down Under is not ordinary for an Englishman and will probably never feel right, but then life is about new sensations so, for now, I'm happy to go with the flow.

As I bask in 30 degree heat, with sun cream on my body and cold beer in my hand, I think about Christmas, absent family and friends. Then I wonder how Santa feels when he hits these hot shores.

Does he wear his usual outfit or in fact wear board shorts?

Surfin' Santa

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, wherever you may be, and have a wonderful 2011.

Sign up for regular email updates. It's easy and free.

Monday, 13 December 2010

The Sun, Sea, Sand and Me

On 1 June 2006, we arrived in Sydney, Australia.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, not quite. 

Continue to follow my journey as I recount the more interesting experiences, relive those amusing moments, and explore the deeper side of my search for a different way of life in this topsy turvy, sun-drenched country that is Australia.

For now, let me introduce you to the neighbourhood that I've called home for almost five years.  Sydney's iconic Northern Beaches. 

Just another summer's day in paradise

Unsurprisingly, it was the water that attracted me most to Australia.  That and the endless sandy beaches. The thought of living near the ocean invigorated me. If we'd remained in Vancouver, it would have been a life by the Pacific. In moving to Ottawa, we gave this up and immediately had our regrets. With a new life in Sydney on the cards, I adopted the typical expat mentality.  I suggested - no, insisted - that we live near the ocean. And so we came to live on Sydney's Northern Beaches - a place of absolute watery distraction combined with ridiculously high costs of living.

Beginning at the North Head entrance to Sydney's harbour, the Northern Beaches is a stretch of more than ten golden sand beaches ranging from the backpacker's mecca in the south, Manly, to the exclusive Palm Beach in the north (coincidentally home of one of Australia's more interesting exports, the Home and Away television series). With names such as Curl Curl, Freshwater, Dee Why, Narrabeen, Avalon, Mona Vale, Newport and Whale Beach, the region is an area of outstanding natural beauty, where the bush rolls down to the beach, and the calm waters of gentle lagoons offer a brief respite from the wild southern ocean.

I enjoy the story of the naming of Manly. The first Governor, Arthur Phillip, named the area in recognition of a group of ‘manly’ Guringai Aboriginals who waded out to his ship when he visited the area, and it's one of my favourite spots to grab a bite to eat on a Saturday night with its long stretch of fine and casual dining facing four beautiful Norfolk Pine-fringed beaches – Manly, South Steyne, North Steyne and Queenscliff.

Sydney's Northern Beaches
Other favourite spots include dog walking at the tranquil Bayview lagoon, sneaking a coffee at the legendary 'Curlies' close to Curl Curl beach, hiking the headland path at Long Reef and glimpsing a magnificent humpback breaching out at sea on the 'humpback highway', and browsing the cutesy Avalon village stores on the weekend.

It's an idyllic environment, full of natural beauty and postcard views, but it isn't without its negatives - from exorbitant house prices to inadequate transport links, from overpopulation to increasing alcohol-fuelled incidents.

The low lights are yet to overcome the highlights.  It's a place I've come to call home and it's a work in progress for me and mine.  There continue to be so many questions to answer from over the past five years - Is this a better place than Canada to call home? Can we create a different life for ourselves here on the other side of the world away from everything and everyone? Can we love this place as strongly as Vancouver or as dearly as England? Is this our 'forever' place?

It may not indeed be a 'forever' place but it is a part of the world where I'm 'experiencing' life, not just 'co-existing'. It's somewhere I'm living a life more fulsome, less ordinary.  I have much to tell you about.

Come follow me.

Sign up for regular email updates. It's easy and free.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More
To contact me about writing or advertising opportunities, email