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A Very Aussie Christmas or how I've adapted to spending holidays in completely opposite environments

Today, I’m in Sydney. It’s rather overcast to be honest but most of last week was spent sweltering in the sticky, hot humidity that marks the Sydney summer. Looking out the bus window as I traveled down the main straight in the city, the storefronts are adorned with wreaths and multi-colored Christmas lights. All the while the locals are skipping down the street with the flip flops loudly clapping against the pavements. Flowing dresses fill the streets and you won’t see any signs of mulled wine or chestnuts roasting here. An eye-opener to say the least. To an Aussie, Christmas means lazy days spent on one of the coastlines famous beaches. Sweating through the holiday cheer, wrapping gifts and sunburns. I have to admit it’s a cultural eye-opener after a childhood filled with hot chocolate and peppermint candy canes plucked from the tree all while cozy inside the warmth of a heated home.

Last Christmas, I was lucky to experience a true Italian Christmas. As Lorenzo and I woke up on Christmas morning in the brisk cold of a Florence December we unwrapped the one present each of us could afford to buy the other before getting ready to meet the whole family. I had spent many nights listening to the endless chatter of an Italian family lunch or dinner but I somehow just knew that this one would be different.

We arrived at Lorenzo’s grandmothers house around 11 o’clock in the morning to be greeted with cousins, aunts, uncles and parents. The smell of paté fresh out of the pot and fresh bread being sliced on the table. Lorenzo’s sister instantly handed me a still hot slice of bread smeared with homemade paté. Although not something I particularly enjoy, the homemade elements made it worth eating. This was only the beginning as we soon sat down to enjoy what seemed to be an endless Christmas lunch. Homemade ravioli so simple that it fell apart in your mouth, smothered in savory ragú. Peas with butter and a million other dishes true to the Italian lifestyle were passed around the table as the entire family chatted on and on as if it had been years since they’d seen each other.

The desserts were a very special treat, with cakes coming from very particular regions, home baked cakes with “Buon Natale” written in the frosting and snowmen cutout cookies. As I politely stuffed a dried date in my mouth and slowly chewed the sticky mess, I thought there was no way I would be able to fit anymore food in. We moved from the table and lounged on the couch to watch an old Italian film and, just as I would back at home with my family, I was warm and cozy as I drifted into an after meal nap. Later, gifts were exchanged and we all went around the room saying our thank you’s as we gave the traditional Italian kiss on each cheek. I’m still awkward about that by the way. I assumed this would be it and at around 5 o’clock after a short visit to the other side of the family we’d head home to have a nice evening together in our quiet apartment. I was ever so wrong.

As the clock moved closer and closer to what should be dinner time if we hadn’t just stuffed the entire contents of an Italian grandma’s fridge into our bodies, I whispered to Lorenzo, as not to seem rude, what time we’d be leaving. He looked at me confused,

“But we haven’t had dinner yet…” he replied.

Although only metaphorically, my jaw dropped at the thought of stuffing more Italian delicacies into my protruding tummy. Who in their right mind would be eating again after such a feast? Apparently, everyone would. And this round of dishes was much more traditional and much more exotic than the last. With less to choose from we started with a “light” meal of just tortellini in broth, meant to not be too filling. I suppose the Italian metabolism welcomes so many carbs without thought of it being more than the perfect meal but my meager American tolerance of so many starchy foods meant that as I was shoveling in tortellini, my entire body was in protest. How could I possibly fit anymore? The meat dish of the evening consisted of the traditional boiled chicken, with it’s dull yellow skin, and, wait for it, cow’s tongue and hoof. That’s right. And I ate it. With mayonnaise.

How many times can you say you’ve done that?

This year I’ll be longing for the closeness of family as I’m possibly as far away from any family as I could be in the entire world. But I’ll be soaking in the sun in my traditional Aussie garb of a bikini and santa hat, eating pavlova’s and ham, pineapple and mangos. That is to say that it will stop raining one day soon and start acting like a real summer. Hey, I’ll take it, bring on the culture!

Published December 7th, 2011 by Annie
Posted to Wayward Traveller

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