Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Christmas in Melbourne

Thanksgiving was a day that came and went. The two day food fest I usually spent with family was one that I didn’t observe until the next afternoon and oddly at that.

Christmas is the other major family holiday for me. A similar two day event (divorced parents) that usually stretched out even longer (significant others, roommates) spent relaxing, opening presents, and enjoying conversation with those closest to me. Here I was in a strange land, 16 time zones away from my closest, about to face the second of two major family holidays in my first six weeks overseas. My timing may not have been the best.

I woke up at Leanne’s family house, showered and grabbed a small breakfast in anticipation of the day. The crowd of 4 was going to grow in the next couple hours. I took the time to soak in the relative calm and quiet. And to make a video call home. My mom, dad and his partner* were over at my sister and hers’ apartment for Christmas Eve dinner. And after a few technical difficulties, I got to see them all. It was the first video chat I’ve done since getting here. I had expected that I would be on Skype constantly checking in home. Turns out that the cell phone I have is cheaper and easier to use to call home than finding a wifi to Skype. So here it was, Christmas morning, and I was presented with my first face to face chat with family, all at once.

Talking with one person on the phone is fairly easy for me. It is a conversation. Talking to a group in person is fine as well because all of the nuances of body language convey easily and immediately, all of the little cut-ins and responses also do their trick. But talking to a group over the phone, and certainly with a delay, is awkward. It was fantastic to check in and hear that everyone is well, but I think I’ll be making calls individually in the future. The main benefit of the group call is that you can say everything once and not have to retell it over and over, but I’m at a stage where I like the sound of my own voice and I love telling my stories. I actually prefer having the three levels to work through what I think of what has been happening. That all said, seeing the family all together, feeling like I was in the room with everyone together, was the most comforting gift I could have received short of flying home.

Once the call was over (dropped, whatever), it was onto family stuff here. Sitting around outside with the 11 people in attendance and eating appetizers while talking. Then heading inside when the rain started to a starter plate of salad and smoked salmon. Then the gift portion of the day. Everyone exchanged presents secret santa style so that there wasn’t the obligation of excessive gifting. And everyone showered the only child (so far) with a barrage of books, toy cars, stuffed animals, and so on. It was fun to watch the excitement and the piles of paper build up, and to get a chance to stand off to the side and try out my present to myself – my new camera.

Then we sat down to a dinner. Veggies, sides, ham, lamb, chicken, breads, etc. So much food. And then desserts. After all of that, coffee and most of the crew headed downstairs to play pool for a few rounds. Apparently my skill at the game drops off significantly when I am too full to lean over the table, and I wasn’t very good to start. People slowly headed out and we wrapped up the evening.

Christmas back in the states involves incessant advertising, Santa hawking everything he can. Jingles are constant, shopping malls become war zones, radio becomes somehow worse than usual. Decorations line the streets and houses. The whole country goes crazy for Christmas. That doesn’t happen here anywhere near the same degree. In the DC area December is winter, it is cold, I can see my breath and I hate having to go outside for anything. Here is summer. Even it being a relatively cold day meant I wanted pants with my tee shirt. Christmas at home is with my family, in the houses I know, in the areas I know. It is an expected routine of leisurely presents, Greek soup, tea and chatting with Mom and Renee. It is the known quantity of a crowded house with constant food and hanging out with Dad and Renee and Sandi. I’m not sad that I missed it this year because I know why I did and those reasons are important. And I love that Leanne’s family took me in so that I wasn’t alone on Christmas day. I am truly appreciative. But what I celebrated here this year was a family gathering in the summer where everyone seemed to get presents instead of just the birthday person – it didn’t feel like Christmas.

* I’ve picked up the use of ‘partner’ here. It is used in lieu of ‘girlfriend,’ ‘wife,’ or any other such word. There is no implication of status or gender, just simple acknowledgment that there is a romantic connection between two people. So much simpler.

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This entry was posted on January 4, 2012 by in Australia, Victoria (Melbourne).

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