They have a terrible reputation. Their sharp bitter personalities do them no favours. Like some US presidents they’re loved or loathed in equal measure. But still, every year they’re trotted out, these small green cabbages. Most people have to eat at least one, because that’s what you do in England. You eat brussel sprouts at Christmas.
In many ways our Christmas this year felt upside down. The nights were short, the days were cool. There was even a threat of a white Christmas, had it not arrived two weeks too early. I told people that it felt like I was living in the Christmas set that you see in American family movies. Snow bells ringing, Christmas lights in every front window, cue the Christmas music in the background and you get the picture.
What I came to realise is that Christmas is about tradition and family. No matter where you are. It was delightful to experience a whole new set of traditions with my girls that I didn’t know existed. Brussel sprouts were one such revelation. Then there’s bread sauce. There’s at least a couple of food groups in that one. Then the delectable pigs in blankets come out. Little sausages wrapped in bacon. I wonder if the vegans have an equivalent?
Short days were helpful. They made lighting up a house seem much more sensible. The girls took to counting up how many Christmas trees they could spot if we went out for a drive. Santa coming down a chimney is possible too. I can’t imagine how he’d fit through an air conditioning unit back home.
Eating together is the same. Although I’d suggest the Christmas tables are more beautifully dressed in the UK when you have a set menu and a plated meal. It’s hard to do pretty for long when you’re hovering around a BBQ to collect prawns or steak for Christmas dinner. It’s easier to eat more too in the cold. Although many regret it the next day.
We still watched Love Actually as part of our own Christmas tradition. We still walked to a family service on Christmas Eve and sang hearty carols. I missed Te Haranui this year, my favourite carol from home. But it’s hard to beat the setting of an historic village church full of familiar faces from the past.
Family time was the triumph this year. Most years we Skype the family as they’re settling down to bed on Christmas Eve. Then there’s a madly executed call on a UK Christmas morning, by which time we’ve had our festive full and are ready to head to bed ourselves. It was incredibly special and possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity that the UK side of the family could be all together, in one place at Christmas. Even the dogs were there. Moss, Rachel’s magnificent pointer dog, was lying on the floor with layers of wrapping paper and excited children all around him. He barely acknowledged their presence. Of course there’s family in New Zealand too. But we know that Christmas together is a given most years.
This Christmas was a very important part of our sabbatical plan. The triumph over six months of triumphs. Building memories that will be imprinted on the girls young minds forever. Seasons Greetings everyone.