Cold?

I’ve been in Europe four months. Two left. People back in New Zealand keep asking how I’m coping with the cold. They’re experiencing a warm, humid spring whilst I’m experiencing a cold, rainy autumn. My answer surprises them. I’m not finding the cold difficult to cope with at all – it’s the warmth.

The cold – easy. I bought myself a pair of fleece-lined boots and some fleece-lined leggings and they work perfectly. I can walk around all the German Christmas markets I like in comfort.

But then you go inside, into a shop or café, and no matter how many layers you shed, it’s too bloody warm. Like almost-passing-out warm. I’m always having to go and stand outside!

In New Zealand, the temperature change when you enter or exit a building is never so drastic. This is partly to do with the fact that New Zealand rarely gets that cold, (at least the North Island doesn’t,) but also New Zealand’s buildings are, in general, poorly insulated.

It’s not the cold, but the constant and extreme changing of temperature that’s getting to me.

Also, the darkness.

In New Zealand, when the sun rises and sets doesn’t vary all that much between winter and summer – not compared to where I am now, in any case. Here, I feel like the day’s barely gotten started before it’s getting dark. It makes me feel unproductive and sleepy!

But I don’t want to complain. This is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to experience a European Christmas – I haven’t experienced one for seventeen years! I wanted the cold and the darkness. They make the Christmas lights seem cosy.

So far, I’ve been to three different Christmas markets, in Luxembourg, Aachen and Bremen. (The one in Bruges was still being set up when I was there.) You can imagine a typical Christmas market: fairy lights twinkling amidst a labyrinth of wooden stalls, surrounded by old, stone buildings… people sipping mulled wine, swaddled in warm clothing… various smells drawing you this way and that, roasting chestnuts and sausages and sweet things… And don’t forget to add a cathedral looming over the scene like an indulgent grandfather.

Yes, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time. When Christmas Day comes, though, I bet I’ll be missing New Zealand.

(All the photos in this post are from my recent trip to Bruges, by the way.)

Here are some things I’ve written about Christmas in New Zealand:

Christmas in New Zealand

The Immigrant’s Christmas

My First Christmas in New Zealand

Out of the Frying Pan…

People are always saying how warm and sunny New Zealand is.

In 2014, my Kiwi partner and I were in Britain visiting relatives, and he was baffled to find that the British summer was warmer and sunnier than the New Zealand summer! Surely this wasn’t the norm?

Well here we are in 2018 and we’re about to visit Europe again.

Yeah.

Summer temperatures in Auckland usually waft around 25˚C. At the moment, in the dead of winter, it’s 15˚C. In three days, we’ll be landing in Zürich, where it’s currently over 30˚C. Britain’s facing record temperatures, and everyone here in New Zealand is wishing us comically pessimistic good lucks.

Care to join?

The Eve of Christmas Eve, New Zealand

That was what our weather was like yesterday, the day before Christmas Eve. Then, yesterday evening, we were treated to this:

bethellssunset

Spoiled with such visions, we dared to hope that, this year, the weather would be just as glorious on Christmas Day.

It is now Christmas Eve, and it is cloudy.

You always hear New Zealanders saying, “Typical. It’s always raining on Christmas Day.” This isn’t strictly true, of course, but it rather feels like it at the moment.

I know I said that, being a British immigrant, I like Christmases that are dark, so you can cosy up indoors, but…

Come on, sun, shine for us!

bethellssunset2

The Immigrants’ Christmas

My mum’s just put up the Christmas tree! Here I am, staring at the shaggy, green pyramid, bare for save for the angel at the top – the same angel that superciliously surveyed our lounge when I was a kid back in England.

Decorating the tree will be extra-special for me this year. I’m about to leave my parents’ home; not just for university. I won’t be back for summer holidays. I won’t have summer holidays anymore. My boyfriend and I are about to move into our own place. Start our real lives.

Wow.

This will be our third Christmas together, but our first Christmas together. Until now, we’ve each spent Christmas with our own families. Now we have to balance our time between them both. It’s just lucky that Tim’s family are German immigrants to New Zealand. Germans open their presents on Christmas Eve, so we can have a German Christmas on Christmas Eve with Tim’s family and an English Christmas on Christmas Day with my family.

Still no Kiwi Christmas.

candles

I’ve been in New Zealand thirteen years and never had a Kiwi Christmas. As English immigrants, my family stubbornly sticks to our English Christmas, even though it’s thirty degrees in the sun-drenched garden and none of us can stomach a huge, hot turkey dinner.

Tim’s family’s the same. Their first Christmas in New Zealand, before Tim was born, his mum insisted on closing all the curtains and lighting a load of candles – bear in mind that they lived in a bus at the time. The heat was suffocating, but it just wasn’t Christmas without darkness and candles.

Despite the weather, the New Zealand Christmas still strongly resembles the European/North American Christmas. I’ve often thought it must be weird for Kiwi children growing up hearing ‘Let It Snow’ at Christmas, and seeing fake snow in all the shop window displays, when in many parts of New Zealand it never snows in winter, let alone at Christmas. I wrote about the paradox of New Zealand Christmas last year, so I won’t dwell on it now. I’m just waiting for mum to put the old Christmas CD on.

I know she will. It’s tradition. We always listen to it while decorating the tree. Apart from the one year we lost it. But we found it again the next year. It’s just not Christmas without Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ and The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’.

Little Girls on Santa's Lap

Fourteen years ago, my little sister and I tell Santa what we want for Christmas…

Oh my god – I won’t be decorating the tree next year! I might have my own tree to decorate. I’ll have to rip that CD!

I wonder if I’ll ever have a Kiwi Christmas. What would you do? Spend Christmas in a campervan at the beach, having a barbecue and drinking cold beer?

The first year we were in New Zealand, my nana actually sent us a load of Christmas wrapping paper from England, thinking we wouldn’t be able to buy any here! She soon learned that the spirit of Christmas consumerism is just as alive in New Zealand as anywhere else. Take a walk down Auckland’s Queen Street right now and you’ll be simultaneously enchanted by the Smith & Caughey’s Christmas window and creeped out by the colossal Santa Claus looming above the big Whitcoulls.

(The Whitcoulls Santa used to be even creepier with his beckoning finger and winking eye. There was never anything explicitly wrong with it, but it somehow made everyone who saw it a little uncomfortable.)

Because of this consumerism, Christmas in New Zealand isn’t really that different from anywhere else. It’s just the weather. The bright, warm sunshine still sends me crazy at Christmas… although there is something appealing about the way it illuminates the deep red blooms of the pohutukawa trees.

Pohutakawacroppe

Will I ever have a true Kiwi Christmas? Maybe. One day. I’m all grownup now. I’m moving out; moving on. Maybe in a few years I’ll have my own Christmas traditions.

But right now I’m going to close my laptop and help my little sister decorate the tree.

The Great Kiwi Barbecue

New Zealand campervan hire

Last Night of the Poms: The Story of Our Move to New Zealand

A blossoming pohutukawa tree in Kaikoura

A blossoming pohutukawa tree in Kaikoura

 

My Upside-down Summer

I’m English and I’m a June baby, which means I was born in summer. Believe it or not the English summer can be quite lovely. Yes, it’s overcast a lot of the time, but it’s not overly humid. I remember with great fondness the sunny birthdays of my childhood, running around on the grainy, over-exposed grass and splashing about in the paddling pool.

Montana walk

On a summer bush walk in New Zealand

Summer in New Zealand really is quite different. For starters, it’s on the opposite side of the year, so now my birthday is in winter and Christmas is in summer, which is just wrong!

Living in New Zealand, I feel the approach of summer with a small sense of dread. You see, summer in New Zealand is humid. It’s hot – the sort of heat that makes your brain go all drowsy – and all you can hear is the drone of cicadas. You can’t leave the house without putting sunscreen on, (and you sweat it off anyway,) and the mosquitoes – argh!

I much prefer spring and autumn. They’re warm and sunny without being scorching. In fact, if you’re thinking of coming for a holiday in New Zealand, you might want to consider coming in spring or autumn instead of summer. It rains a bit more, but it’s not bad. Besides, it’s cheaper to hire a campervan then anyway.

A blossoming pohutukawa tree in Kaikoura

A blossoming pohutukawa tree in Kaikoura

Oh, I don’t want to sound like I’m grouching. New Zealand’s summers are still a lot nicer than England’s, and, having been to Australia on holiday, I can say that New Zealand’s summers are nowhere near as bad as Australia’s!

The New Zealand summer has come to mean something special to me, and I’m sure I’ll miss it when I go on my ‘Big O.E.’ in Europe next year. Summer in New Zealand means beaches, barbecues and bush walks, (which, come to think of it, I’m sure is what it means in other countries too,) but it also, rather bizarrely, means Christmas shopping and parties with fireworks.

I’ll write more about Christmas in New Zealand next week, when I’m more into the spirit of the thing, (because it’s somehow hard to get into the spirit of Christmas when it’s over 30°C outside and your cat is stretched out on the kitchen tiles trying to keep cool,) but now I’m concentrating on summer itself – insofar as one can concentrate in this heat.

A New Zealand summer means cold beers and crisp white wines. It means going up to a friend’s family’s bach (beach house) and vegging. It means the deep, bright red of the pohutukawa blossoms and deep, bright blue of the crystal-clear sea. It means tanned surfer guys and ice-cream; campervans and jandals. (Jandals is Kiwi slang for the flip-flops that every Kiwi wears everywhere.) It means the infamous togs-undies ad. Here it is for non-New Zealanders – well worth a watch:

Okay, maybe I’m a bit harsh when I talk about New Zealand comedy – that advert is funny!

Most of all, summer means a break from school, which is ridiculous because I’m twenty-two and I’ve been out of university and in the real world for over a year now. I wonder how long it will take for that association to fade from my consciousness?

Aaand that’s it. I can’t write anymore. It’s too hot and the cicadas are too invasive.

Beach 1

The summery view from a friend’s family’s bach in the Coromandel

Four Seasons of New Zealand Weather

You often hear New Zealand weather described as “four seasons in one day” and I’m sick of it.

Not the weather, the saying.

Yes, it’s true the weather’s changeable – my jacket’s on and off like a Game of Thrones costume – but the prevailing conditions are usually sunny, and winter never seems to come, except in the south of the South Island.

Let me put it this way: in Britain, you can’t not have a big, warm coat; here, I didn’t even own one for years, and now I own one I don’t ever wear it, or my scarf, or gloves, or a fleecy hat. Most New Zealand houses don’t even have radiators.

You can’t go around quoting “four seasons in one day” when the weather merely switches from sun to rain, or windy to not windy. It’s three seasons in one day, tops.

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Honestly, kiwis have nothing to complain about.

Brits get so little sunshine they’re all miserable and Vitamin D-deficient. Something like seventy-five percent of days are overcast, whereas in New Zealand I find myself hoping for a bit of cloud cover so I don’t get fried on my way to the shops. (Summer’s only just ended here. It lasted well into autumn this year and, frankly, the rain came as a relief.)

New Zealand gets so much sunshine you have to be careful. My friend’s mum’s known exchange students from Africa with extremely dark skin, who’ve come to New Zealand and been sunburned for the first time in their lives! I’m sure you know all about the hole in the ozone layer, the legacy of mankind’s reckless use of CFCs, which New Zealand was rather unfairly burdened with. It means you absolutely have to wear sunscreen in summer (and on sunny days in spring and autumn, as this year reminded me,) and nothing less than factor thirty will do. Also, you need a hat, or you’ll get a headache and a burned parting that’ll hurt like hell in the shower and look like bad dandruff when it starts to peel.

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New Zealand’s got one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, about four times higher than Britain, thanks to all those nasty UV-B rays let in by the depleted ozone. But if you don’t let yourself get some sun exposure, you risk other diseases like rickets. You just can’t win!

All this to say New Zealand is hands down warmer than Britain, often at the same time, despite the seasons being the opposite way round. Yup, a New Zealand winter can be warmer than a British summer. My mum still marvels that she can sit on our deck in shorts and T-shirts in the middle of winter here.

Sometimes it does get “too” warm, which is why my favourite season is spring, but I can tell you that Australia is far worse. I went on holiday to Brisbane a few years ago. It was the middle of winter and you could have cooked bacon and eggs on the pavement. I don’t think I could live there. Living in New Zealand is just right.

A sunbathing seal

And this sunbathing seal seems to agree!

The weather in New Zealand means you can do so many more outdoor activities here than in Britain, such as barbecues. Before I moved to New Zealand, I’d attended a grand total of one barbecue in my life. I couldn’t tell you how many we’ve had since. Partying outside is just what you do here, and when it gets cooler you light a fire. But, as my dad learned, you do not want to throw a couple of giant candles onto that fire.

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It did look cool, though.

The mostly-quite-warm weather also means that camping in New Zealand is generally a much more pleasant experience than it is in Britain, though I still prefer to do it in the comfort of a campervan!

Yes, the weather makes for a perfect New Zealand holiday, but be warned if you wanted to come in the “off” season: in winter it still rains a lot. Doesn’t mean you can’t go out – my birthday’s in winter, (which is messed up because I was born in summer,) and my celebrations have never been disrupted by rain. Besides, more rain means fewer tourists, and one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had was swimming in a hot pool in the rain.

Wonderful as the New Zealand weather is, however, there’s one aspect that – even after eleven years – doesn’t sit right with me: the idea of Christmas on the beach.

Trade your turkey for barbecued prawns; your snowflake jumper for a bikini – actually that does sound nice, but, trust me, the novelty soon wears off.

Christmas is a time for tradition, and spraying water at my little sister in a sun-soaked garden with the water blaster I’d just unwrapped simply wasn’t part of my Christmas tradition. We should have been having a snowball fight, not a water fight! Better, we should have been indoors, all snug and cosy. The sky should have been dark, so the candles looked pretty. All our family should have been there, not twelve thousand miles away.

That first year was hard.

beautiful sky 010

We still make Mum do our traditional Christmas dinner every year, even though it’s much too hot and humid to eat such a meal. We still spend Christmas resolutely at home, not at the beach, even though the sun beckons.

My uncle’s coming this Christmas. It’ll be the first time since leaving England that a relative who doesn’t live with us will be with us actually on Christmas day. I’m excited, but the picture still won’t be entirely complete.

I miss snow. Not that we got proper snow all that often in Retford.

I miss “ice-skating” on the frozen puddles in the street.

I miss going for walks along the iced-over canal, all wrapped up and wearing wellies, laughing at the ducks skidding along and that big, white swan that came in to land, slid uncoordinatedly for a bit, and crashed through the ice with a plop.

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My family are so desperately nostalgic for snow that, one winter, when we were driving up Desert Road, one of the highest roads in the country, and came across some, we got out of the car and revelled in it. I’d forgotten how much I loved the soft crunch snow makes under your feet! Unfortunately, we weren’t dressed for snow and soon got very cold. I’d forgotten how snow makes your toes tingle painfully inside your shoes. I’d forgotten that even snow loses its novelty after a while. It’s pretty to look at, but I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it was to be in.

Maybe Christmas in New Zealand isn’t so bad, I thought.

But by the time Christmas came around again, I was back to dreaming of snow.

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