We have friends who recently emigrated to Australia. They told us how much they were looking forward to spending Christmas Day on the beach! Many years ago, when I was sitting in front of a roaring fire back home in Old Blighty, that concept sounded wonderful. A hot, sunny beach in December? Absolute bliss!
These days, the reality of spending Christmas on a hot, sunny beach goes against everything I have always associated with our jolly Festive Season. We actually tried it once, and booked a luxury cruise over the entire Christmas period to get away from the UK’s frosty climes.
Initially, the experience was great. The excitement and thrill of leaving a grey and cold UK for a two week cruise around the Caribbean was quivering and dream-like. The ship was magnificent and beautifully decorated with an abundance of glittering festive cheer, yet there was something missing! At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then it hit me between the eyes! I was missing all those nostalgic, familiar touches that only ever manifest at Christmas in your own family home.
Special memories, linked to each and every one of those faithful decorations and tree ornaments, come out year after year like welcomed, old friends. The mouthwatering aroma of cinnamon and spice hits the senses as the smell of Christmas baking permeates the household. The sharp snap of weather outside, against the warm, cosy kitchen with sausage rolls and mince pies freshly slid from a hot oven is sublime. The heart of Christmas. The soul of the festive celebrations. All those things are right there at home!
It was great having everything done for us on that luxury cruise ship, yet I missed doing some of those things for myself. I actually enjoy putting up fairy lights, trimming the tree and getting the house ready for Christmas. I like lighting an extravagant amount of candles and transforming the lounge into a Santa’s grotto.
Christmas dinner on the cruise ship was taken in the evening, and Christmas day was spent on a beach in St Kitts. It felt great for a while, lapping up that December sunshine, but then I found myself, once again, missing all those little details that I have always associated with Christmas. In the end, I felt I had missed Christmas completely.
Here in Majorca we are lucky to have the best of both worlds. We have 300 days of sunshine throughout summer. And in December, it’s often still bright and sunny, but the days and evenings are cool enough that you know there’s the brrrrrrr of winter. Sometimes the mountains are white. Fires are lit. But you can still pull on a Christmas jumper and feel the festive vibe. For me, it’s the cooler, cosier weather that makes Christmas feel ‘Christmassy’. Besides, never in a million years are you ever going to get the chance of snow in Australia or the Caribbean! And a white one will always be the ultimate on a bucket list!
However, a white Christmas, even in UK is more often seen on Christmas cards than in reality. Snow is actually more common in January than December, so if you really want to see snow at Christmas you have to head off to Austria, Switzerland or further north. Lapland anyone? Historically, December has always been a time for feasting and great celebration, particularly with ancient pagan cultures that held festivals to celebrate the winter solstice – 22nd December – when the sun is furthest from the Earth. Farmers were totally dependent on the climate and weather to grow and harvest their crops, so these festivals were created to herald the return of the sun.
Yet it was the Romans and Scandinavians who had the greatest influence on creating the Christmas that we know and recognize today. In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated as the ‘Festival of Saturnalia’. Saturn was the Roman God of planting and harvest, so it was also a great time for feasting and merriment in honour of a good crop season.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated their winter solstice as ‘Juul’ or ‘Yule’ from 21st December through January. Their return of the sun was celebrated by decorating homes with pine cones and fir tree branches. There was also the burning of a Yule log, with great feasting that traditionally lasted for the duration of the burning log itself, which could last up to twelve days. Now that’s a fiesta worth going to!
In 4th century Rome, during the early years of Christianity, Pope Julius 1 announced that Christ’s birthday should also be celebrated, and chose 25th December as the official date. He cleverly chose a day right in the middle of the already popular pagan celebrations to absorb the festive traditions. The rest is history, and has evolved in essence into what we customarily celebrate today.
Sadly, the religious aspect of Christmas often gets a little lost amongst the fiestas, the partying, and the glitz of market frenzy commercialism.
On a previous pre-Christmas trip to Vienna, although the lights were strung and the streets looked sparkly and stunning, private tree trimming didn’t take place until Christmas Eve. The overall atmosphere was magical with street choirs singing Christmas hymns and carols in most of the delightful squares. An enormous ice skating ring was set up, winding its way through the illuminated gardens in front of the magnificent Rathaus (Town Hall ).
The quaint Christmas markets also managed to totally capture the essence of everything I want and expect from the Festive Season. OK, it was a little commercial in parts, but in a more natural, organic way with handmade crafts and traditional decorations. It was also freezing, but there was ‘glüwein’ galore and we loved every aspect of it.
Plus it definitely confirmed that Christmas for me, will never feel natural on a hot, summer beach, Australia, the Caribbean or anywhere else. Besides, you can’t see twinkling fairy lights in the bright, midday sun. G’day.