I am delighted to feature a Guest Post from Rosie Hilton today. Rosie was raised on the island of Tasmania, off the coast of Australia and has lived much of her adult life on another island (Whidbey) in the Pacific Northwest, and many other places in between including three years in Saudi Arabia. Her two island life is chronicled in “Tales from Two Islands” (http://talesfrom2islands.blogspot.com.au) – musings and observations about life, travel, adventure and the human (and pig!) connections that happen in our ever-smaller world. I hope you enjoy this post and wander over to her blog to take a look!
Christmas in Australia is quite different than in the northern Hemisphere. When I was a kid I loved that it came at the beginning of the summer so when the excitement of the holiday season died down you still had the whole summer vacation to look forward to, plus the summer weather meant you could actually ride the bike you may have received!
With 7 siblings and no extended family, we had to create our own Christmas traditions that included singing carols around the piano, Christmas crackers and party hats, big lunches of fresh green salads and cold ham and special local “pinkeye potatoes“, family photos, and a softball game at the local football oval. This all happened after going to church to sing and listen to the choir, but then “sneaking” out (as only a family of 9 can do) before the sermon.
The one time we stayed it was about people who only go to church on special occasions!
When I married an American and moved to the USA there were times when my heart ached for a Tasmanian family Christmas. For several years I yearned for those old traditions, but as my kids got older I came to cherish our little family of five and our quiet, peaceful Christmases at home, with no other family dynamics. And when we started our annual Christmas carolling party at our home on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, the mild ache of not having my sisters and my brothers’ wives to sing the descant in “O Come all ye Faithful’ was mitigated by having a local musical genius from New Zealand playing the piano just like my father did, as well as knowing the Downunder version of “Away in a Manger’.
One day when the kids were quite young I read about a great gingerbread recipe in the Seattle Times and so began my very favourite tradition that endures to this day. I make a huge gingerbread house, complete with windows made of Jolly Ranchers (as much I love and prefer Australian “lollies” I’ve yet to find ones that melt perfectly to make beautiful stained glass windows).
The only rule is that everyone gets to do their own thing with their part of the house and no one is allowed to complain. That includes comments about the gummy bears on the roof with toothpick spears sticking out of them, courtesy of our son. Last year’s had an “occupy the North Pole” igloo, thanks to our oldest daughter and, from our other daughter, perfectly laid out flowers around the windows of what inevitably (and ironically) is a church every year, since we discovered the stained glass windows.
After several days or weeks of eating the gingerbread house till it becomes a sad wreck that looks like a survivor of a bomb attack, the part I used to enjoy the most was feeding the remains to my beloved pot-belly pig Isabel.
She was appreciative in a way that only a 300 lb pig can be, and when we moved back to Australia I wanted her to know that we were carrying on the tradition and hadn’t forgotten her. So, even though she can’t be with us when we make the house, I now have a new tradition – I pack up a huge doubled bagged heap of the remains and present them to her every summer when we return to our property. She is always very pleased to see me when I come back, even though she is loved and cared for by the people who rent our house, but she is even more pleased to see the gift that I carry 7,000 miles in my luggage to let her know that I miss her.