Christmas Tree Hunting

This weekend, I went Christmas tree hunting. Our family friend Diane used to come with us back when the twins and I were kids, and this year my parents and I joined her and her two kids, so we’ve come full circle. It turned out to be a warm day (by which I mean like 42 degrees, fully 10 degrees above freezing), so we were all walking around in coats and scarves and gloves, but no hats. That’s a December heat wave, I tell you what.

Anyway, I could describe the whole tree finding experience, or I could use this as an excuse to re-post my 2011 video about it. Imagine this, minus the snow, plus two adorable kids–including a 7-year-old girl waving a spare tree branch through the air like a superhero’s shield–and you’ve pretty much got my Saturday afternoon.

Also, I must include this photo of the siblings walking into sunlight together, because I almost said “aww” out loud when I took it.

Aww

Aww

‘Tis the Season in Auckland

I haven’t actually heard anyone use the phrase “tis the season” here in New Zealand, but that doesn’t mean the country isn’t ready for the Christmas season. Queen Street, the main drag in Auckland, is strung with glittery decorations, shops ring out with pop versions of carols, and one of the department stores has its windows set up with a story of a sheep having adventures with Santa. The first Saturday of the month, the city kicked off the season with a tree lighting and street party, and I went to see what it was like.

Decked-out palm on Franklin Street in Auckland

Decked-out palm on Franklin Street in Auckland

Franklin Street is a road in the Freemans Bay neighborhood of Auckland that dresses up for Christmas. In the States, we’re used to most neighborhoods decorating their houses in lights for the month of December, but that’s less common here, so the fact that most of Franklin Street does it is notable. The first weekend of December, they throw themselves a street party, and this year it got more notice in the paper and people from all over the city joined in.

Street party

Street party

Region-specific decorations

Region-specific decorations

I walked down the street (a giant hill, as most streets in Auckland seem to be), and watched as neighbors mingled on one another’s lawns, drinking glasses of wine and chatting. Families strolled by, the kids oohing and ahhing at the different set-ups. At one point, I stopped to listen to a women’s choir sing a carol, and then joined in for a couple verses of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

choir + children = Christmas

choir + children = Christmas

I can't get over the tropical Christmas thing

I can’t get over the tropical Christmas thing

By the time I reached Victoria Park, I was in a festive mood. I joined a group of people I’d met at a CouchSurfing event earlier in the week, and we settled in to watch the tree lighting ceremony. When I say “tree,” I don’t mean anything that you’d find in a forest. Strings of lights come together in the form of a giant pine, and the Telecom sponsors put on a little show to turn the lights on. It was strange to be at an event that was so clearly corporate sponsored, but I guess it does separate church and state more than the city-sponsored tree lighting ceremonies in the States.

IMG_3255

Titanium performed their hit song ‘Come on Home.’ Oh, you don’t know Titanium? They’re only Auckland’s biggest boy band! It was great fun watching the tweens in the crowd go crazy for them, even during their insipid version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” While they performed, little kids ran into the old English-style phone booths stationed around the tree, which were labeled “Santa Line,” and called Santa personally, presumably to relay some very specific instructions.

Direct to the North Pole

Direct to the North Pole

Then the emcee stepped up on stage, bizarrely clad entirely in Raiders paraphernalia. He informed the crowd that even though this was the fifth year of the Telecom tree, they still hadn’t figured out how to turn the lights on. Kids yelled out practical suggestions like “hit the button” and “try the lever,” but no, no, those wouldn’t do. We’d have to call Santa on the Santa Line and see if he could help. When the emcee informed him that one of the suggestions to turn the tree on had been “get more kids,” Santa said, “well, that could take some time”—naughty Santa! He then informed us that this particular tree operated only on the laughter of children, and just our luck, he’d been practicing some jokes. So he told us some terrible jokes and the audience groaned, and finally the emcee cut him off rather unceremoniously and suggested we all just say “ho ho ho.” It took a few tries, of course, because we had to build suspense, but eventually a bunch of kids piled up on stage, directly under the tree, and shouted “ho ho ho” into it, and it lit right up.

Maybe a whole crowd of kids will make it work

Maybe a whole crowd of kids will make it work

Good job, kids

Good job, kids

I hadn’t been to anything so cheesy or family focused in a long while, and I enjoyed it immensely. The kids in the crowd were adorable, and the whole affair was charmingly ramshackle, despite this being a major city. I’m used to the crushing crowds of wintry Chicago during December, and it was refreshing to see this little city’s relaxed approach to the holiday season.

Hurrah for cheesy holiday outings

Hurrah for cheesy holiday outings

A rainbow of Christmas cheer

A rainbow of Christmas cheer

Rockin’ Around the (Locally Grown, Hand-Sawed) Christmas Tree

I realize that not everyone celebrates Christmas. I have no trouble putting my head around the idea that most of the world’s population doesn’t believe in the immaculate birth of Jesus or even in the sacred maxing out of credit cards for plastic toys and cheap rum in late December. Those who do celebrate live all around the world, so there are plenty of Christmas revelers rockin’ around a palm tree or building sandcastles instead of snowmen. Despite the movies and songs about the season, it’s clear to any logical person that Christmas is not just a season expressed in gently falling snow and presents ’round a pine tree. But! If you are from a northern clime, celebrate Christmas, and have the space and money for it, I don’t see how you can go through your whole life without once cutting down your own tree.

I recently learned that one of my friends, who is from Michigan, has never cut down her own tree. Not only that, she’s only ever had artificial trees. Her family was worried about fire hazards, and I get that, but if you’re vigilant about keeping the tree watered and turning off the tree lights when you leave the house, a real tree is safe. And if you’re from Michigan, there are hundreds of places to go where you can select your own tree from a planted forest of them, which is a whole level of fun and adventure you can’t get from going to a lot.

I was in my hometown this past weekend for a couple of events, and while I was there, my parents and I got a tree. After an early setback (the first place we drove to was “closed for the season” — before Christmas?), we went on to Peacock Tree Farm in Laingsburg. Snow really was gently falling, so softly and slowly that I could inspect the individual flakes on my coat and see how different they were from one another. Not too many people were there, since a week before Christmas is too late for most folks (which is probably why the other place was closed), but we liked it that way. Just some fresh-faced workers, several red-nosed families, and a few eager dogs. I took some video of the afternoon so we can all take a look at what it’s like to cut down your own tree and get it back home for decorating. Don’t forget the egg nog.

I’ll be back in 2012 with more photos, essays, travel guides, guest posts, and interviews. Just nine months til I take off on my world trip–glad to have you readers along for the ride. Have a safe and restful holiday and see you in the new year!