Tag Archives: Christmas

A child’s Christmas in Aotearoa New Zealand

When I was a child in New Zealand, Christmas was a simple occasion. Compared to the excesses of today’s celebrations you might even call it meagre.  But it was fun and it was an adventure.

A beach in Aotearoa New Zealand
A beach in Aotearoa New Zealand

On Christmas morning, we would head off “down the East Coast”. Although Rotorua, our home town, had lakes, streams and hot pools where we swam all year round, the sea was something else and the very word was synonymous with summer, holidays, freedom and happiness.

There never seemed to be a plan. We stopped at will at random spots – for a swim, for an ice-cream, to explore the bush, to look at a tree, for a paddle in a stream, for “forty winks” (nap), to “see a man about a dog” (have a beer or raspberry and lemonade, depending on age) at country pubs  or for chance meetings with strangers and even long lost friends along the road.

Our Christmas dinner was ham, bread and cold Christmas pudding.  We ate it on the beach. Dad cooled his beer in a rock pool and lit a fire to boil up a battered kerosene tin for tea. Sometimes there was fizzy drink. Our Christmas tree was the ancient pohutukawa, the New Zealand Christmas tree, decorated with bright red flowers for the season. We watched the sun go down, and tucked up in an old army blanket on the sand we gazed at the fire and listened to Dad’s stories until we fell asleep.

Christmas in London

I’ll never forget my first Christmas in London.

Christmas Decorations, Burlington Arcade, London
Christmas Decorations, Burlington Arcade, London

In front of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, the Christmas Village opened in late November. Every afternoon, in the early four o’clock darkness, crowds of kids whizzed in reckless circles on the ice-rink. It was here, in a prefabricated tent café/bar, among the “defeated by, not brave enough or too cool for the ice” crowd, I discovered British hot chocolate. Thick, sticky and sweet it slid across the tongue and ran down the throat like liquid velvet.

Alongside the ice-rink was the Christmas market, a collection of little wooden huts, selling cards and exotic wares made by unknown and forgotten people from faraway places. At its centre were a Christmas tree and a carousel.

Further up the road, in Harrods snow dusted, icicled window, Versace and Prada-clad  mannequins gazed out over silver ice-buckets stuffed with champagne and Venetian glasses, past silver dishes laden with caviar and pate de foie gras.

Up in Picadilly, at Fortnum and Mason, the windows re-told the story of the Twelve Days of Christmas, while inside floor after floor unfolded tantalizing sights and smells.

Of course, there were the pressing crowds, the decorated streets, the Christmas trees, the jolly old chap in the red suit, the last minute rush through the shops and the queues at the counters which characterise Christmas everywhere. But those ice-rinks, that hot chocolate and those particular shop windows, were something entirely new to me. I’ll always remember them as uniquely London.