A long way from home at Christmas

CÉCILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 27/12/2013

Christmas is not the time to be far away from home.

This is why many expats from the north long for dark skies, rainy days and snowstorms at this time of the year. Everything is different here: it feels like July, not December.

My European brain thinks it is time to drink hot wine and have snow fights, not to wear togs and fire up the BBQ. New Zealand has always been far from home, but on December 25 I felt the distance most.

In the lead-up to Christmas, I wished I could retreat to the comfort of what I knew. I wanted to be with my family, eat familiar food, and feel like I was part of the clan, rather than an addition.

But homesick or not, Christmas is a time to celebrate. Nick's friends and family welcomed me with open arms and I felt lucky for it. Technology allowed me to share a moment with my family.

Feelings of being in the wrong place flowed in both directions when they saw me through Skype on Christmas morning sitting in a pool of sunshine, a glass of bubbles in hand. My dad was envious of the sun and the green hills in the background. My mother, sister and grandmother were surprised: "Are you already drinking at 10am?"

In Nice, we'd wait until lunchtime for a glass of wine. I did not struggle to adapt to this New Zealand tradition.

It's also a time to eat . . . a lot. My mother would usually have smoked salmon and stuffed turkey, and my dad lamb. Well, I had all of this on Christmas day, and ham. Dessert was different to France's traditional buche de Noel (a cake basically made of butter and chocolate). Here, fresh raspberries and strawberries flowed in pavlova, cream, and custard.

Returning from Nick's extended family lunch at 4pm, I had to retire for a long nap to build energy to face dinner. I certainly wasn't homesick for food but I wasn't far off real sick from eating so much of it.

Far from home or not, New Zealand Christmas felt like Christmas when I decided to be cheerful. The sunshine helped in the morning, and when the rain came at noon, it felt just like home in Nice where I usually spend this time of the year.

The mix of homesickness and curiosity at local traditions I experienced on Christmas day has become a common emotion to me. One that is part of a bigger life with a bigger family and friendships stretched from one side of the world to the other.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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