So, speaking of Christmas, that was another thing that was completely different from back home and another dose of culture shock. In December, in Texas, it’s winter, and it’s cold. Of course, that may seem obvious to those reading this back home, but that’s why it was so different for us since we were in the beginning of their summer in December, with mostly sunny, moderate days (it had usually been in the 70’s F since we had been here). There had been several cloudy rainy days since we arrived, and a bit chilly (the nights especially as I mentioned earlier) on some occasions, but it was not the bitter cold of winter where you bundle up in your big jackets, scarves, and gloves, drink Mom’s homemade Wassail by the fire, and smell the burning of wood filling the air and feel the warmth from the house’s heater. I felt myself missing that familiarity that just naturally comes with Christmas; what makes Christmas, Christmas, if that makes sense. And, to boot, hardly any one decorates for this holiday! In America, and always around my house and must be where I gained my love for this time of the year, because of my mom making our home a winter wonderland, people go all out decorating. I saw a few houses with decorated Christmas trees in their front windows, but people didn’t put lights up on the outside of their houses or Rudolph or Santa Claus on their front lawn! Honestly, I could count on one hand the houses that I did manage to see that had any lights. That is just unheard of, and I found it very depressing.
Our spirits were uplifted one night, however, the week of Christmas, when after church on Wednesday several of us met up and carpooled and followed each other to go look at lights. I had mentioned or asked Jeanette and Antony the following Sunday if there was a good place to look at lights, and they said there was a couple neighborhoods in the area that do this and they could take us. Well, I guess that had turned into a good idea and turned into a group thing, which made me feel completely delighted to be sharing in the joy together. That was always a tradition in our family, on Christmas Eve usually, to pile together into our car, with mom’s Wassail, bring our favorite Christmas CDs, camera and a video camera, and drive around to gaze in wonder at all the houses with bright lights. I loved, loved, loved doing that . . .just writing about it now and thinking about it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I can still hear “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, “Sleigh Ride Together With You”, and “Carol of the Bells” now, as those were some of my favorite songs, though I have so many favorites when it comes to Christmas. This was a very bonding time for Josh and I as we got to ride together in our little, red hatchback and listened to Christmas songs on my I-Pod and followed the rest of the crew to search for lights. And I mean hunt them houses down! Apparently, there was a map that had a list of houses in the area that had actually decorated for the season. It was a handful, literally. Our first house we came upon, I was so happy to finally see a house decked out in lights! I think I was even more excited than the little kids who came along, and I didn’t want to leave the house as we stood in the driveway staring dreamily at the lights and decorations. Others didn’t seem to be as thrilled as I was, and we were the last to leave, but my heart was filled with joy. We drove around for about an hour stopping along the way at houses that were decorated to take pictures, and then came upon this one house that is the main attraction. The neighborhood was packed with cars and I could get a glimpse through the fence and trees that we were about to walk into a magical wonderland. We had to pay a couple dollars each to get in, but it was worth it. There were little display windows everywhere with the tiny little Christmas villages, and all the windows of the home had a beautiful Christmas scene or theme going on. The front door to this immaculate, two-story home was opened and the staircase was covered in presents, Christmas trees and decorations. I gasped in wonder at the beauty and I felt so happy. Josh was amused and filled with happiness to see me like this; he must really love me. We stood underneath one tree together sprinkled with blue and purple lights and I felt like we were living in a fairy tale as we hugged and I twirled around looking at the romantic glow all above me.
That was a happy night, and I was sad for it to end. The hardest thing about Christmas in New Zealand, however, no matter if every street corner had been decked out so that we felt like we were at the North Pole, there would still have been something missing. Our family. This was our first Christmas together, married, husband and wife, which was neat and special for us, but we both had a longing to be with our parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, and I wanted to be with my nephews too. It was our first Christmas to ever be away from our family. The miles between us, that I had been busy and not trying to think about, now really seemed infinite. I thought of all the memories I have with my family growing up and all the traditions we did which I hope to still keep alive once we start our own. With each year that has passed, I have mixed feelings of Christmas; of course it makes me feel happy, but lately I had noticed this almost sad, empty feeling when it was over and after the presents had been opened. I don’t really know how to describe it or explain what it means, but as you get older you miss having that child-like excitement that makes kids squeal and believe in Santa Claus. It’s sad to have to grow up sometimes, haha. I think that child-like wonder and excitement is still in all of us, though, sometimes and in some people buried deep, but it almost always shows its innocent face again. Part of it too might be that as I’ve gotten older, I can’t ever really think of anything to ask for. What has mattered is sharing in the traditions and the spirit of Christmas with your loved ones; your family. Since my sister has gotten married and raising a family now, there have been a couple times when we have not been able to spend it together, as they alternate every year between my brother-in-law’s family. I know that’s part of life, but I always thought it was a bummer when we didn’t get them for Christmas. And this year, being all the way in New Zealand of all places, so far away that we are 18 hours ahead, well, I decided that we aren’t going to have any more of this business in the future. We are spending every Christmas with both of our families, all of us together, and that’s just all there is to it! If Josh and I want to have our own time alone, well we can do that too, but every December we are going to make sure we share our time with both of our families. So weird to me still, to think, that I am married now! That I have my own family now, me and Josh.
Anyways, so we both found ourselves missing our family and I dearly wished to be home in our decorated house with my Mom, Dad, my sister Hollee and brother-in-law Wes, and my adorable nephews. I missed just being with my mom and dad and talking to them in the living room or in the kitchen, and sitting around the dinner table catching up and laughing, and me telling stories. I missed sitting in the living room with them watching Christmas movies and my dad’s new love of the Wallace and Grommit movies. I missed the smell of the crème brulee candle, or warm apple pie, or spiced Cinnamon candle my mom would always have burning, and her delicious baking; just to be in the presence and comfort of your loving parents who love you so much and who you are and who are proud of you and where you can always be yourself. And I wanted to also be with my new family, my in-laws, as well as my brother and sister in-law(s), and the rest of Josh’s family whom we had celebrated Christmas with together the year before when we were engaged. I also remembered my college friends, and the fun times we would have together celebrating the season the days before our exams and before heading to our homes. One of my best friends, Emily, always listened to Christmas music for like two months leading up to Christmas, haha. I found myself missing those songs and singing along with her as we would decorate our apartment, and the Christmas parties we would have at our place with all our beloved friends.
Christmas is a sentimental time of the year, what with all the heart-warming songs and cheesy family movies that make me cry when I watch them. I’m an emotional and sentimental girl, what can I say. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, haha, because at the same time, this was a new experience for Josh and I and made us grow closer in the end. Despite the differences between the two cultures and the climates during this time, it was also very exciting to be spending our first Christmas together and part of our first year of marriage in a new country, in New Zealand. It still floors me at times that we are really here. Downtown Wellington and around the harbor they did decorate, and there were the native trees all along the bay that had white lights and the shape of them really look like Christmas trees. Wellington harbor is known for being one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. Also, by the waterfront was a tree of lights that changed all different sorts of funky, brilliant colored lights.
The following Sunday, the week before Christmas, after church my new friend Adeline had asked if we wanted to go shopping, so we followed her family and she rode with us to the mall, which I was happy to see was filled with the Christmas spirit; purple and gold décor everywhere. She and I shopped around and I was figuring out what she liked so I could get her a gift later and I was also getting ideas for Josh, which I had no idea what to get him. That was fun, and I was glad to get to know Adeline better and make a friend.
A few days later, Josh and I went back to the mall, split up and went shopping for each other. We had a time limit and I was frantically searching to find him something he would love. Over the past few years I have also found myself stressing out about Christmas, when shopping (which, who doesn’t I guess) but I love getting gifts for people and I just want it to be the perfect thing for them, and it takes me forever to decide and pick it out, because, well, I can be very indecisive and like to take my time. Josh and I are completely opposite in this, which maybe that’s just because he’s a boy and I guess guys don’t like to shop, but he always, even at the grocery store – it’s like he is on the game show Supermarket Sweep, where as for me, I can stand in one aisle looking at the shampoo bottles or makeup for an hour. On I went, to the bottom floor of the mall, and he stayed on the second, and we were to find our gifts for each other and meet at the food court in 2 hours. That’s not long enough for me! I had seen this book in the bookstore when looking with Adeline that drew my attention for him, and I kept seeing it, so after double checking in every store that there was nothing else, then I decided to get him that book: a travel memoir about a man’s travels in the middle east. I hoped he would like it, made me feel stressed out hoping he would haha. By the way, that is another difference here, is the price of books. I mentioned already how expensive the cost of living is here, well for example, most paperbacks go for 30 to 40 NZD. Crazy! In America, these same books would be like $15 to $20. I was so relieved to have found my husband a gift. I also found a dessert cookbook for Adeline, which I thought would be perfect for her. I actually found his book on the second floor, so I was looking around and hoping he wouldn’t see me or be in the same bookstore, then found the gift wrapping service, and got it wrapped up and hid it in my purse. We met at the food court and were very happy to see each other and he of course was trying to figure out where my gift was and where was mine; we were both very sneaky.
We had already gone shopping a few days earlier for our families, which I got my parents a picture book of New Zealand that would be perfect for the coffee table, my grandma a NZ magnet, and for my sister’s family and nephews I got a children’s book ‘Kiwi Christmas’. We got those wrapped and packaged and dropped them at the postie (post office) en route to America. I hoped the gifts would get to our families before Christmas so they could open it when they were all together and read the story.
Josh and I received a sticker-slip on the door when we came ‘home’ to Keith’s house a few days before Christmas, so we stopped by the post office and found two packages; one from his family and one from mine. It was neat to think that how far and where all these packages had gone, that they had flown across the ocean. It’s amazing how all that works. I wanted desperately to open the present from my parents, but I resisted the urge, with Josh’s help, to save it. He opened, or at least snuck a peak, at the package from his parents, but after looking in and seeing a couple things, he felt bad and then said he would wait too.
Before Keith had left, he told us that they had a Christmas tree in their closet that we could put up if we wanted to. One morning I walked into the living room and found that Josh had found the Christmas tree and set it all up and placed the red and gold ornaments on the tree, and gold star on top, and had hung up a couple stockings. I thought that was so sweet of him.
Josh had a little trick up his sleeve, and said he had a Christmas present surprise for me. Oh goody goody gum drops, I love surprises! So, on Christmas Day, he drove me to my surprise. We drove into Wellington and I had all kinds of ideas of what he could be up to, but I was trying not to think about it and guess; I was so curious! We then drove along the Oriental Bay and found a parking place. We had passed by a sign I noticed that I thought I had then figured it out because we had talked about it when we first arrived. The surprise was . . . Josh was taking me SAILING!!!!! He had booked us a ride with an experienced guide who would lead our little excursion. I was thrilled! Never in my life have I done this before, so I was very exited, and a bit nervous too, hoping I wouldn’t get seasick. We waited at the station and saw who the guide was; a sandy blonde, long-haired surfer looking guy who had to have been from California, until he started talking and then I remembered we were in New Zealand because of his thick accent. Far out dude! Josh and I lathered up with sunscreen and he could tell I was nervous, but ready for this new adventure. Wellington is nicknamed “Windy Wellington” so it was kind of funny that the day we sailed the water was as still as glass; the calmest I had seen it since we’d been here. That was fine with me, though, as we loaded up in the sailboat with the guide, a young lady about our age, and a little boy. Since there were so few of us and the guide seemed to like us, this was going to be a hands-on boating experience. We were sitting at the back, so the guide asked if I wanted to steer the boat. “Sure . . .” I said hesitantly as I grabbed the lever and he directed me on how to move it. I guided the ship out of the harbor, maneuvering in and out of anchored boats, all on my own! That was cool, but I was hoping I wouldn’t have to steer the whole time; I didn’t like the pressure and thought I was gonna sink the boat.
We crawled out into the bay with the use of the motor, and then finally he lifted up the sails as he explained how the wind and sails work hand in hand. Very complicated and I wish I could relay it back to you, but I don’t remember and I didn’t understand a thing he was saying about watching the red and green strings on the sail to see which direction they are blowing in the wind and all the technical aspects. Josh was intrigued and got it, but I was just trying to keep the boat afloat. It was funny though, because the guide had turned off the motor and was using the wind to move us along, but there was hardly a breeze. We could tell he was embarrassed, though the weather of course was not his fault, he still wanted this ride to be entertaining and worth our money. He was watching the couple of other sail boats further out in water and said he could see the wind blowing on top of the water, so we headed that direction to see if we could catch some action. Up until that point, I had gotten used to the calm progression and being flat on the water. Boy, was I in for a ride! The wind definitely picked up a lot. We at last reached where the wind was, and the boat came to life. It was all a fast blur as he explained what we had to do, and that we had to walk across from one side of the boat to the other once he got the sails up . . . and I was still steering, and Josh was in charge of the ropes. He told us when to go on the other side of the boat, but it was more like fall for me. That was not pleasant as I fumbled when the boat was then going all the way up on its side and I hadn’t moved out of the way enough (though I did duck so that the big pole didn’t hit me) but the rope somehow got my ear when we were switching sides, giving me ropeburn and I’m pretty sure I remember hitting something else too along the way. It all happened so fast. By then the boat was all the way sideways . . . so the part we had been sitting on, that side was now resting on the water, and we were now up in the air. I was still steering, which was very hard in those moments and hurting my arms, and my heels were digging into the boat and my legs were straining too and started shaking as I was trying so hard not to fall down. The boat was at a 90 degree angle, and I was so scared that it was going to tip over and we would fall out and go underwater. It was very scary! The tour guide was just laughing at me though and said not to worry, that this was nothing and that it had weights underneath and was made so that it was impossible to tip over and sink. We finally leveled out again and were sailing straight and flat on the surface, which was much better.
He showed us how to tack and jibe, and I got to do the ropes as he explained all that to us. We had to keep switching sides too, which scared me because of the last time, but I got better about it, though I still stumbled once and Josh just tried to help me and was making sure the rope didn’t get me again. I feel like everything’s out to get me sometimes! Haha. Josh was having so much fun and I had more fun once I didn’t have to do any of the work. I was amazed at how complex it was and that one person can man all of it on his or her own. It was awesome, though, and so beautiful out in the harbor and seeing all the other boats and the buildings and mountains and kayakers and seagulls and the list goes on; there was so much for the eye to behold and take in. What a wonderful and unique gift! That was something I’d been wanting to do my whole life one day . . . I love sailboats, they are so pretty and peaceful looking, and here I was sailing, actually controlling the boat myself and not just riding. And that I was with my husband, sailing in one of the most beautiful harbors in the world, in New Zealand, on Christmas Day!
That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I felt so proud of myself and very accomplished afterwards. Josh and I were both very happy and I was so thankful to him. He was completely impressed with sailing, and said he was going to buy a sailboat now. It was funny seeing him so excited about it, and asking our guide about taking sailing lessons, which I hope he gets to do while we are here.
Saturday was a pretty perfect day, and it continued to get better after our sailing. People were really taking care of us too, and knowing that we were away from family, we were invited by our friends to spend Christmas with them. So, on Saturday, Christmas Eve, we went to the Raines house to spend time with their family. I was delighted to see how Jeanette transformed the dining table into a Christmas display so decorative and festive it looked like it came straight from a magazine. She had even made name plates by putting decorative cards with our names onto pinecones in front of our place settings. A beautifully decorated and lit Christmas tree in the living room certainly made us feel the spirit as well, and we had a wonderful dinner with Antony, Jeanette and their sons Kevin and Jeremiah. Toby, their beloved dog who we had grown quite fond of, was there as well. The home-cooked meal was delicious; barbeque ribs, roasted potatoes and kumra, corn on the cob, and green beans. We even had sparkling grape juice in fancy glasses, one of my favorite things to drink and celebrate a special occasion. Jeanette is originally from Alabama, and knows the importance of and how to make the perfect glass of sweet, iced tea (which apparently is not popular over here, only hot tea). All of the food definitely hit the spot. We also had little wrapped presents on our table, which I had seen in the stores called Christmas crackers. It kind of looks like a big tootsie roll wrapped up in Christmas paper, and Josh and I opened our first one together by pulling a wire from each end. I screamed and felt my heart jump when it made a loud popping sound like a firecracker just went off in my hand. All along, whenever I had seen those in the store I had been wanting to buy a package because I thought there were cookies inside (or biscuits, as they are called). I was quite surprised that there were no cookies or crackers but that it was called crackers because of the loud cracking, pop sound it made. Inside were little souvenirs; charms and a paper Christmas hat crown to place on your head that also had jokes written on the inside. That was a neat tradition to be a part of and something I wasn’t expecting. The Raines had also gotten Josh and I both gifts that were placed under the tree; I opened mine and couldn’t have received a more thoughtful gift. It was a glass Christmas ball ornament with a two-sided picture inside; one side had a picture of the Kiwi bird and flag and said “Happy 1st Kiwi Christmas 2011”, and then I turned it around to see me and Josh’s wedding picture! She said she had gotten it off of Facebook and then printed it out. I thought that was so sweet and it is something I will always cherish. They gave Josh a 2011 Rugby World Cup shirt, which he really loved. We had bought them a coffee table book of landscapes from around the world that we thought they would enjoy.
After eating supper and opening presents, Josh and I rode with Jeanette and Antony and Toby to the green, peaceful countryside outside of Wellington, somewhere we had not discovered yet. We stopped at this one farm nestled in a valley between the hills and took pictures of the sheep and petted the miniature horses and donkeys that came up to the fence to greet us. Antony and Jeanette both have a passion for photography like Josh and I do, so that is something we have in common. They are very talented photographers. We drove around some more listening to a variety of music from Antony’s playlist, which I really enjoyed listening to, and a few Christmas songs until we reached another beach we had not been to yet. As we stood on the rocky beach, in the distance, we could faintly see the outline of the mountains of the South Island. When we got back to their house, we ate a delicious trifle that Jeanette had made; berries, creamy pudding, and bits of vanilla cake inside; so yummy. We had a wonderful evening and were very appreciative of them inviting us and making us feel so welcome.
Since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, we decided that we would celebrate our Christmas the following day, on Monday, and open our presents then, and also it would be Christmas back home so we could Skype with our families. A few days before, Josh had another treat for me and wanted to spoil me and we booked a room at the Museum Hotel on the waterfront and across from the famous Te Papa Musuem (which I forgot to mention that part along the way, but we did go there one day because its on the must-see list for Wellington. I guess I just don’t like museums after all, I decided after going there, and maybe I’ve always been like that. I would recommend it still to others because there was a lot of cool interesting stuff to learn about, but it was huge and so much to see and I just felt very antsy and like it was too much information to take in. But that’s just me, Josh really found it fascinating as do many people.) Anyways, so we were going to spend Christmas Day night, Sunday night, in a fancy hotel overlooking Oriental Bay, not far from the Copthorne where we had spent our very first night in New Zealand. And we were to pretend that it was actually Christmas Eve, and that Monday would be Christmas Day. So, after church Sunday night, and before our next Christmas party at the Arulandu’s house, we checked into the hotel and took our stuff to drop off in our room. That is seriously one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever seen, especially when you walk in and see the artsy décor and fancy paintings, furniture, chandeliers, and floor length mirrors. Our room was fashioned in dark blacks and silvers, creating an elegant and romantic mood. We were on the fourth floor, and I was surprised to see that we had a view of the harbor, and a big balcony. That is one of my favorite areas in all of Wellington, on the waterfront and Oriental Bay, because of the beauty and all the people out and about to enjoy the view. We also had a view of the tree of lights, that was in the park across the street. Originally, we had talked about spending our first Christmas in New Zealand somewhere way up in the mountains in an isolated, rustic cabin in the woods, but we couldn’t complain at all. “It don’t get much better than this!” I said to Josh. I could tell from his smile that he was quite satisfied with our room and we both ran across the room and jumped onto the big comfy, fancy bed like we were little kids. We didn’t want to leave, but then we were excited to come back to our room later that night, after another Christmas gathering.
Adeline had also graciously invited us to spend Christmas with her family, so it was held at her parent’s house, the Arulandu’s. There ended up being quite a few people as more were there from the church, which kept it very lively and entertaining. The food was so good as it was catered from the Malaysian restaurant they owned; we had curry, barbequed wings, rice, and a table full of desserts. It was a perfect evening and we all ate outside on the picnic tables and on the patio. I wore a dress and walked around barefoot and didn’t need a jacket . . . on Christmas Day! I gave Adeline her present, which I take it that she loved because she squealed with delight when she opened it. She and Carl gave Josh and I these pretty, glass New Zealand coasters and an oven mitt/pad that had a map and pictures of New Zealand on it; perfect for us to decorate our new place with (when we found one!). Their family had also previously made a gingerbread house (a tradition my family and I used to do too, haha, which made me think of them) and then we all gathered around and ate the creation they worked so hard on. My belly was full and content! We had a wonderful time and just felt so blessed and amazed at how we were being taken care of and to have new friends who cared about us.
After that, we drove back and took the scenic drive along the bays, stopping to take pictures of the sunset and boats. We got back to our hotel, parked and then walked some more along the waterfront and Oriental Bay which is decidedly both of our favorite places. The tree of lights was a popular attraction, which we went to and were wondering if there were big presents under the tree, but realized there were huge bean bags for people to lay on underneath and look up and see the lights fastly changing colors. I thought that was awesome! We found us a bean bag and snuggled together and felt like we were on drugs if that’s what it feels like because it was weird looking at it from that angle. Felt like we were zooming into space traveling at lightspeed or that we were in some video game. It was fun, and neat to see all the families and little kids being so fascinated by it. I will say it was a little weird laying there and then looking beside you and a stranger’s face just right there in your face; a little bit of a space invasion, but it was cool nonetheless. There was even a telephone booth set up for kids to call Santa Claus, which I thought was cute. Then, we walked around the water some more and took pictures and looked at the stars above, and talked about how neat it was what we were doing. We never pictured ourselves being here and we really felt far away from the rest of the world. Though it was hard being away from family, there were times and at that moment when we told ourselves that we are a family now; we are starting our own and creating our new memories as Lindsey and Josh. It was very bonding and we felt so happy knowing that two years before, on December 6th, we met each other at the back of the auditorium at Shiloh Church of Christ, and that Josh gathered the courage to meet this new girl he saw come in late and sit in the pew in front of him. And that day, thus began our love story. Sigh.
Our first Christmas together, married. I love that boy Josh so much! The next morning, we awoke to a beautiful view of the harbor with the boats and the bright shining sun and people walking and just hanging out along the waterfront. By the way, Josh had brought the top of the tree of Keith and Elsa’s Christmas tree with us, along with all the decorations, haha. We placed all our gifts under it as well as the packages from our parents, then went to town opening them as we sat on the bed. Definitely a different Christmas than I’ve ever had before, and it was weird still as it didn’t feel like Christmas, but it was fun and happy nonetheless. Josh loved my book I got him, which was great news to me. My hubby gave me something I had been longing for and looking at each time we’d go to a bookstore, “The Lord of the Rings Location Tour Guide” book. Woo hoo! His parents gave us money and clothes, which I was happy to have some new blouses and my mother-in-law did such a great job picking them out! His grandparents sent him birthday money and Christmas money for us (which, I forgot to mention earlier, his birthday is on December 21st, and to celebrate that together, that week I had treated him, though I guess it wasn’t really a treat b/c don’t think it was my money and I wasn’t even able to drive him there, ha, to a place that had his favorite thing . . . wings!) Anyways, and then my parents had sent us money and gift cards to Amazon, Starbucks and Sephora. Also, a couple of my favorite movies for the time of year, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “Gremlins”. My mom sent some lip gloss and a little headband that had mistletoe on top! How cute! Lol.
We then checked out of our hotel and headed back to Keith’s house and Skyped with our families, which was so wonderful to see them, but that was emotional nonetheless. Our Christmas in New Zealand was definitely different and challenging at times, but it was also an experience we will always remember and that was special and we can tell stories about for years to come!