December Down Under

Manly Beach, Sydney, Tuesday Evening

Manly Beach, Sydney, Tuesday Evening

Sydney, Tuesday

This evening, before we did a massive grocery shopping to restock the shelves after being away for three months, we stopped by our local beach at Manly.  School is still in session, but there were small groups finishing their day, surfers checking out the waves, and walkers and joggers on the sand and promenade.


Christmas and the End of the School Year

Christmas in Australia comes in summer, when the weather is warm, the days are long and sunny, and everyone would like to be at the beach.

Every parent knows how busy the end of the school year is, with concerts, plays, exams, and graduation ceremonies.  Clive’s grandson has a pre-school graduation coming up, before he enters “big school” early next year.  In December, children come home with flyers advertising “Christmas drinks” (the word “Christmas” is used often here, in contrast to the U.S. where “holiday” is the norm) and end-of-year school get-togethers.

My son was in Year 4 (4th grade) when we moved to Sydney, and I was initially overwhelmed with the double whammy of Christmas preparation and end of school activities at the same time, not to mention planning for summer vacation while organising Christmas and Boxing Day dinners.  The Aussies take it all in stride, however, perhaps because they know that at the end of it all is the long summer break.


Shopping in the Sunshine

I’ve grown to love Christmas shopping in warm weather, when you can wear singlets and sandals and are free of heavy coats and overheated stores.  The downside of this is that the long days don’t offer much in the way of twinkly lights, which I also love.  We were so happy to experience the Paris Christmas markets last week, and the city’s beautiful night lights.

In my first December here, I worked late and came out of my office at 8pm only to find it was still daylight and 80 degrees F. outside.  We have a street near us that prides itself on its Christmas lights, and we have to wait until 9 or 10pm until it’s dark enough to fully appreciate it.


First Christmas, then Boxing Day, then New Year’s Eve, then Crash    

I think Boxing Day is the most civilised holiday on earth, following Christmas Day and being a national holiday on which everyone can relax and recover.  Many Aussies shop the sales, similar to the U.S. frenzy on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Boxing Day is also the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, another opportunity for Aussies to gather on the Harbour or have barbeques at home.

After New Year’s Eve comes the real summer break in January.  My Australian colleagues always asked, “How can everyone go right back to work on December 26 in the U.S.?”  January here is like August in Europe or the U.S.  Work is quiet, some businesses are closed, especially smaller ones, and it’s family vacation time.

My first year here in 1995, a woman who worked for me and led one of our most important projects told me she would be away from Christmas through January 20.  I must have looked distressed, because she said, “Don’t worry.  The client won’t be here, and no-one else will be, either.”  She was right.

I admire working parents always, but never more than at times like December in Australia, when they are juggling end of school activities, planning for summer vacation, and preparations for Christmas and Boxing Day.  January is, in my opinion, a very well-deserved break for all.

December is a special time for all these reasons – holidays, family, and significant milestones in children’s school lives all coming together at once.     

See you at the beach.

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