Friday, May 30, 2008

A “Down Under” Christmas By Eve Taylor

Celebrating Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, or “Down Under” is different from the way we celebrate it. However, what can one expect in Australia where our winter is their summer, the water goes down the drains counter-clockwise, the hot water ‘tap’ is on the right, and they walk and drive on the left?

Our arrival on December 13th, 1968 began an adjustment that we had not foreseen. Christmas is not in summer. How could we experience the exhilaration of the holiday in 100 degree temperatures?

Our family valiantly tried to maintain our traditions to keep some semblance of sanity in a world gone “crazy”. Naturally, a turkey dinner was a must, so I visited the nearest butcher shop to order a twenty pound turkey. The butcher’s response of laughter surprised me—only six to seven pound turkeys were raised there. The rest of the dinner came together with further struggles: squash was called pumpkin, cranberry sauce was unheard of, molasses was treacle, nuts were “dear” (expensive), raisins were sultanas, and the kinds of apples were totally unfamiliar to me.

To add to our difficulties, we were in a rented house, which we had for only six weeks, while the owners vacationed. This was a common practice for people at holiday time to make some extra money. The house was furnished in folding aluminum furniture that did not lend itself to curling up and relaxing in. Everything belonged to someone else, making it hard to cook and set a traditional table.

In spite of all this, we all pitched in to make it seem like we were home. The heat did us in, though, being over 100 degrees. My husband who had a great sense of humor came to the Christmas table in shorts, bare chest, with a tie around his neck. He laughingly said, “If the folks back home could only see us now!” And with a flourish he began carving our scrawny bird.

There were other differences which also contributed to our homesickness. All the street and store decorations were pastel-colored, not our bright greens and reds. The greetings were “Happy Christmas” and “Merry New Year”. Many Australian families spent Christmas Day at the beach picnicking. Santa Claus was Father Christmas—red-suited, but thin. At a nearby mall, we saw one wandering around in the intense heat, looking weary, bedraggled, and far from jolly.

The Christmas tree was another problem. It was selected from a pile of very skinny trees that were hourly wetted down to preserve them from the heat. Until the tree was dried out and put up, we did not know what it really looked like. All I can say is that it was our first ever see-through tree.

On that Christmas Day, 1968, we had our first and last American traditional turkey dinner. We adapted to many of the Australian ways in the three years we lived there, but I am so glad we finally came back “Home for Christmas".

Picture One: Bryant Taylor's family just before they left for Australia in August, 1968.
From L to R: Evie, Lance, Pam, Mitch, Bryant


sue kinsella said...

From your posting, I can feel the pain of being in a strange place with strange customs at a time when "tradition" is so meaningful yet unachievable - and yet how humor can be the other side of that and carry you through. What a wonderful story about valiantly trying to make touchstones while you're also adapting to new ways.

So many questions! Where were you in Australia? What did all of you do for work and school? So what IS a "traditional" Australian Christmas? Do they have special foods? Do they have Christmas trees? When you came back after three years, did the traditional Western New York Christmas seem a little strange after living with all those differences, or was it all you'd been dreaming of? Thanks for wonderful insights!

Anonymous said...

Evie, Does water really go ' Counter clock wise"? CB

Anonymous said...

Another note, that tie was pure BRYANT!!! Just weks before he died, when Doris and I visited him , leaning over his bed to kiss him, he had a buzzer in his hand and scared the juice out of us with the noise!!! He was a favorite of all!! CB

Sue Kinsella said...

Wow, gorgeous picture of the water in the sunset at the top of the blog, Pat. I love the pictures you find for that!

Pat said...

Thanks! I like this picture also.

Right now, we are watching the Celtics, in the finals for the first time since Brian was a wee babe ( 1987), so while the Red Sox are beating the Tampa Rays at Fenway Park, the loyal baseball fans are chanting as loudly as they can "Beat LA"--as in basketball.

Gotta love sports in Boston!

Tim Kinsella said...

I clearly remember hearing about our cousins in Australia. I'm pretty sure Pam came over to our house not long after they got back - she looks very familiar.

Even back then, as a young teenager I thougth that it was really neat and exotic to live or travel to Australia. Years later I finally got to go (only once however) and found it absolutely beautiful with friendly people who stopped me in the street to listen to my "cute" American accent.