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Merry Christmas from Great Barrier Island, New Zealand

Christmas and New Year in New Zealand fall conveniently in the middle of summer. Schools and universities break up for the year, and every business and institution that can close, does. The week (or month…) before Christmas is the usual mad rush of present buying, parties, stacking the pantry and fridge with goodies, and putting up tents in the garden for the overflow of visitors. From Christmas day until the middle of January, the country is virtually closed, the cities are empty, and everyone is at the beach or by a river. Here on our peaceful island, most holiday home owners and holiday makers (mostly campers and hikers) arrive between Christmas and New Year, and our usually deserted beach is almost busy. Busy is when there are twenty or more people on the sand, ten people fishing and another twenty surfers and kayakers in the sea. Evenings are long and light, and fish, crayfish (lobsters) and mussels and scallops are barbequed and consumed with too much beer and wine. On a dark night, our Southern skies, especially here where there are no artificial lights, are filled with stars (with a Milky Way that northern hemisphere visitors marvel at) and sometimes the breaking surf flashes with green luminescence, as millions of tiny glowing creatures tumble in the wash. The moon rises out of our sea here on the eastern side of the island, and when the moon is full, I can read a book by it. By mid January most people have left the island and returned to work, although many families stay until the beginning of February when the kids have to go back to school. Then we and the birds have our empty beach back. By then we are ready for it! But for those few weeks it is wonderful to be a part of doing what “new” Kiwis have done for 150 years (and Maori for 600 or more years): enjoying our beautiful “outdoors”.

We have children, grandchildren and friends staying, and there will be lots of noise and sand inside, and giggling and reading and playing board games (which the 8 year old will invariably win). Like many New Zealanders, we can’t give up the English traditional Christmas dinner; turkey and all that goes with it— but often with a modern twist, à la Gordon Ramsey for us this year! On New Year’s eve we will make a toast— in fact we’ll make many toasts— but for next year our special wish will be for Christchurch, still having the occasional earthquake but after more than a year of many thousands of shakes and a shattered CBD, many deaths, and many still homeless, here’s to a new beginning for a low-rise, green, beautiful Christchurch to rise out of the rubble. The resilient people of Christchurch can do it, if anyone can.

Happy Holiday Season to all, and to everyone everywhere, peace for 2012.

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