Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Christmas 2013.

I normally include my Christmas photos in my year-in-review posts, but this year I took so many that I felt like they needed a post of their own. I've become more committed to photographing (and sharing) life, so I took more photos than usual.

Christmas in Brisbane means bright, white hot days and warmer evenings. Both my family and Martin's family celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, but seeing as Martin and I can't be in two places at once, our celebrations were staggered over two days.

Dinner with Martin's family is always beautiful outside, where we can sit amongst the breeze and the glow of the sunset falls all around us. Before long, our tables are transformed by the dusk and the candlelight, highlighting gold and silver accents from bon-bons and baubles, spoons and forks. Martin's sister has styled everything beautifully, having a creative eye of her own; her handmade citronella & eucalyptus candles keep the mosquitoes away.

We feast and talk until it is time to go back inside, sitting around the tree as everyone's gifts are passed around. Coming from a family of seven, six children and his mother, our gatherings at Martin's house are always large and loud. Everybody's invited: family friends and neighbours and partners, and I love that his family always welcomes everyone with warm, open arms. Two year old Leo delights us with his laughter and his character, still growing and seeing the world with new and curious eyes.

The next morning, Martin and I load the car full of presents, overnight bags, ingredients for punch and the food he will make for my family; we make at least seven trips up and down the stairs of our small, cosy house. Our tree is not green, but white, a testament to our own unique lives.

Martin bakes sweet potato pie and makes us punch. Our young new bird, a budgie named Snow, that my sister gave my brother for Christmas, chirps away outside. We cut up summer fruits and mix cold macaroni salad, lighter options for this warm summer's day.

Our family has never been one for heavy food and we are small, fitting only a little into our bellies; but Martin buys a big, organic, locally sourced ham from Byron Bay for us to share, glazed with honey and whiskey and oranges, and my mother cooks a small chicken with roast potatoes—our nod to traditional Christmas meals, even though we are far from a traditional Australian family. I write quickly with a brush pen at the table, putting together place cards for each guest as I do every year.

Soon, it's dessert. We have Czech Christmas cookies Martin's mother makes by hand, by the kilogram, every year; we have petite caramel tarts, something my mother has known how to bake since we lived in The Philippines. I think it is a family recipe. We have ube cake, a traditional Filipino dessert, given to us by one of our neighbours—it is made of sweet purple yam, commonly used in The Philippines.

Finally, we open presents. Every Christmas, my mission is to buy everything before December (I hate the shops at this time of year), and to make sure each gift is thoughtful, rather than extravagant; personal, rather than meaningless.

As my parents open their gifts, my brother brings out Santa hats labelled with "Mum" and "Dad", the letters each meticulously cut out and glued to the hat by his very own hands. My siblings and I gift my father a silver, miniature Christmas tree adorned with money—he is hard to buy for, but has a lot of fun with quirky gifts, even if they are, in the end, money.

I give him and my mother square prints that sit in a neat wooden block for their living room table and a photo of us that we took in January last year, where we sat in identical positions to our first professional family photo, taken when we were still living in New Zealand in 1997.

We finish our Christmas Day in the pool, cooling off as the humidity leaves the air. This year my father has strung up wonderful lights all along the tall hedges that line our backyard; hedges that he and my mother planted carefully by hand 12 years ago when we first built our home.

There has always been so much nature here, and I think this is why I love plants so much. Martin makes everyone pancakes for breakfast and we laze about on Boxing Day, staying cool indoors, until Martin and I go back to our own home, where we are graced by a wondrous sunset.

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