Over twenty years ago I had the pleasure of spending considerable quality time as a backpacker in the heart of Bali. I was touched and deeply influenced by the rich social fabric of these simple-living islanders. It seemed they were always celebrating something or preparing for the next celebration. For them life was art.
To a certain extent my family and I have taken those Balinese messages and assembled them into a quality lifestyle that resounds with simple ritual and celebration.
First of all, Christmas in the southern hemisphere feels a little strange as its original date was established based on the pagan festivals of the coming of light. December 25th is a few days after winter solstice and is the first day that was obvious to our ancestors that the days were getting longer and, hence, the light was returning. It is my understanding that’s Jesus’ actual birth date was in January. Here in New Zealand Christmas falls in the heart of summer, creating stress for people as they attempt to finish off activities and shopping in this busy, outward and naturally warm time.
What do we do now? Both daughters make their own Christmas cards. The youngest, who is almost 16 now, still makes paper snowflakes and festoons the French doors in our living room with them. Soon I will prune several large branches from a cedar hedge to create a ‘Christmas tree’. The girls will decorate it with many, mostly handmade, decorations.
For the past three years the girls and I have sung Christmas carols at homes for the elderly. That is an extremely rewarding pastime. Our family will host an annual summer celebration on December 21st on the beach below our house. These events are attended by an eclectic crowd who follow a diverse range of religions and beliefs. We share a meal, leap over the fire to strengthen friendships, sing together, swim and relish the spirit of friendship. I usually attend carol singing at a couple of local churches. I sang in the church choir as a boy so it feels great to share these traditions. On Christmas Eve I’ll join a few friends for Sanskrit chanting. We have no family nearby, so Christmas day is a quiet family affair followed by a get-together with another immigrant family (from England) who are actually like family for us. All in all, it is a season rich with celebration and low-cost sharing.