It's been a weird time recently. Lovely in many ways, but rather odd.
Christmas in the summer shouldn't be a hard concept to grasp. It sounds fun. Let's head to the beach for a luxury picnic or barbecue! We'll bask in the sunshine without a care in the world!
When we knew we would be having our first Christmas in the southern hemisphere, I hadn't really appreciated how much Christmas isn't just about the day itself, or even the few days either side. It is seasonally ingrained, and the period of Advent reinforces the anticipation.
It never 'felt' like Christmas this year. The lightness of the evenings means you don't have that childhood pleasure of seeing of the sparkly Christmas lights in windows and on high streets. There is greenery and colour all around in the natural world, why bother to bring evergreens into the house augmented by baubles for colour? We have hydrangeas from the garden above our fireplace this year. It is hard to get a cosy glow from candles and wood burners, if you've not had to wrap up against the elements and fight the winter chill.
Some things about Christmases past are best avoided. I don't like the commercialisation of Christmas - who does? - with the constant bombardment of advertising, and by and large this year's change of scene means we have skipped much of that. Sure, there are Christmas adverts here too, but the whole thing seems less frenzied.
Also, adding to the sense of being a bit more laid back, we are early into a long summer holiday season. The schools broke up on 16 Dec and don't go back until the beginning of February. We had days at the beach before Christmas and have plenty more to look forward to afterwards - including an actual summer holiday away in January.
That said, the weather is unpredictable. The winds could have been howling, and the rain could have been battering down. There was no knowing if winter coats may after all have been required. Just because you know someone hopping over waves in their best bikini somewhere in Australia doesn't mean it is baking everywhere south of the equator! Sunshine is not guaranteed! We were lucky - it was breezy but fair (about 19 degrees?) and the water was just warm enough for a dip.
But of course what has made this Christmas a tough one despite this seaside fun, is the huge distance between us and loved ones. For me, Christmas is about family. I was blessed with many happy Christmases throughout my childhood, which included catching up with grandparents and extended family too. Until this year, this pattern was replicated for our own family - we'd be with one set of grandparents on Christmas day itself, and meet up with the others shortly before or after. Dates would be juggled and motorways tackled to fit in siblings and, with luck, some close friends too.
Once again, I let myself down with the lack of Christmas cards sent. Good intentions thwarted... well, I have excuses lined up but do you really need to hear them? It is now several years since I have achieved what I aspire to in this regard.
But, please don't think that a lack of Christmas greeting, a lack of card doesn't mean that I haven't been thinking about you. Also, I am so very grateful for everyone who has taken the time to send a message or card. Thank you.
Next year will be easier I think. This year was so different, it was hard to think how to make it special while being true to both ourselves and our new environment. Now we see we have enjoyed new things that could happily become annual traditions: pavlova with seasonal berries for dessert, Christmas swimming, FaceTime our Christmas morning while it is still Christmas Eve in the UK, and then again in the evening. I would be very happy for my Boxing Day morning walk to be a regular event.
Also, we count our blessings. We are in a beautiful, friendly country. We are not mourning loved ones, we are just missing them. The global political situation aside, there is much to look forward to in the coming year.
This morning I was reminded (thank you Facebook) that four years ago, I blogged about belated festive greetings. So here it is again! Wishing you a very happy rest of 2016. May your 2017 be filled with love, laughter, hope, kindness and friendship. xxxx