Tag Archives: Christmas

Have an authentic Christmas why don’t you

Hey tipsters (tippies, tiperifics, tiptantulors), here is my tip from Christmas. Now that it’s the middle of January it’s more of a reflection on the past. However, the best time to really think about what Christmas means is probably not two weeks before (or, as my mum said on Christmas Day, “NOT TODAY SARAH!”)

99 tips for a better world: have an authentic Christmas (11 of 99)


I’m going to take a guess that you feel ambivalent towards Christmas.

I certainly do. Deep, wide-ranging, conflicting ambivalence that is harder to unravel than just getting through the season without asking too many questions. So I don’t.

I struck it lucky in the personality and preferences lottery for this time of year. I love wandering through a supermarket listening to the Beach Boys sing Blue Christmas. I think Christmas decorations are fun and anything can be improved by draping a string of flashing lights over it.

Yet, I feel conflicted by the rampant consumerism of Christmas. I also feel conflicted by the overuse of the cliché ‘rampant consumerism’. I feel confused about the secularisation of a religious holiday – I am less bothered by the secularisation than I am the meaning-vacuum left behind. In practical terms Christmas Day tends to be more about recovering at my mum’s place from a frantic December than a celebration of anything much at all.

I am also ambivalent about Christmas naysayers. There is an abundance of people highlighting all that is wrong with Christmas. I understand the compulsion to express your concerns about the wall-to-wall advertising binge that starts in October. But there also seems something counterintuitive about it – “this-is-a-holiday-about-kindness-and-love-and-you’re-all-crap-and-doing-it-wrong!”

Despite my ambivalence, or perhaps because of it, all I know is that I would rather be topping up the reserves of Christmas cheer than pulling out the plug and letting it drain. So I get into “the Christmas spirit” and give presents and share food and decorate a Christmas tree. I put aside those niggling thoughts and get through to the 26th of December with a smile on my face.

But what if my ambivalence is part of the problem? I’m bothered by the mindless way we plough through this period, and yet my current survival technique is to mindlessly plough through this period.

This year I will strive to unravel some of my ambivalence and cut through the noise. I will ask myself what Christmas means to me and try to celebrate accordingly. An authentic celebration of Christmas will be unique to each one of us – a representation of our histories and our values and the family and friends we celebrate with (or don’t). For some of us it will be bells and whistles, for others quiet reflection. But I think we will instinctively know it when we see it.

In my search for meaning I will do my best to avoid Christmas clichés about “the true meaning of Christmas” (what exactly would that be then?).

I will also be wary of “true meaning of Christmas” clichés about volunteering at soup kitchens (do we even have soup kitchens in Australia?) While I question the advertising and shopping I will also question the imagery I’ve been fed through American movies and Christmas catalogues since the day I was born.

I’m not sure yet what Christmas does mean to me. Although, I heard a great quote last night that struck me might encapsulate the whole thing:

Well, I mean, you know, the longer I work and live the simpler my theology gets. And there’s many, many things I’m willing to entertain and think about and talk about, but fundamentally it still comes back to that God is love. And I mean that pretty literally, that God is, if nothing else, and that’s a big if, but if nothing else, God is that force that drives us to really see each other and to really behold each other and care for each other and respond to each other. And for me, that is actually enough.*

*from the podcast, “Presence in the Wild” with Kate Braestrup, On Being, December 13 2012 (listen to it at http://www.onbeing.org)

(Image credit)


It’s milestone central at Where Is Sarah?

At roughly the same time that I reached 20,000 visitors, I also received my 1000th comment.

The 1000th commenter was Josh, and much to the benefit of my narcissistic tendencies, it took the form of a compliment to me!

In other news, it’s Christmas. I’m in Rushworth with many family members and we’re all moving from chair to couch to table and from coffee to wine to tea. It’s day three of this lazing about and the troops are starting to discuss the possibility of movement, but it hasn’t resulted in action yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Onward to Rome!

Have I mentioned my upcoming trip to the Continent. I’m going back to the land of my ancestors with the clever woman who played a key role in my being Italian, MJ. (who brilliantly thought to marry an Italian man – sure we don’t get passports, but the nice surname is something).

Today I started thinking about the itinerary which is being guided by a conference that MJ is attending in Rome and visits to places that relate to her work. I can accommodate that I suppose.

I drew up a spreadsheet just to extend the lovely planning process as long as possible. I’ve never really planned a trip before, tending to use the, “let’s get there and see what happens” approach, but I realise now that this way I get to THINK about Italy for much longer, which is certainly pleasurable in itself.

I’ve got an Italian dictionary next to me so I can slowly trawl though Italian websites and a million butterflies in my stomach as I worry how we are going to fit everything in.

This will be my third trip to Italy but there is so much I haven’t seen and would really like to do. We’ll be in Europe for three weeks and also have dates with Paris and Bruges. How is this possible?

If only it wasn’t winter and I hadn’t become allergic to cold weather…I could have just stayed.

Oh, there’s one other brilliant aspect to this trip. We’re going in December, in the lead up to Christmas – which is my favourite time of year. There will be Christmas markets and actual religious references (novelty value!), and I won’t have to listen to everyone hating on Christmas, (ugh, so many parties, have to buy presents, have to eat delicious food, everything looks pretty, grumble grumble grumble), because they’ll be doing it in Italian!

Christmas day in Hanoi

Wow, that was the longest break between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day ever! If kids had to wait as long as my readers did for Christmas Day they’d wage war against Santa.
So after a late night of revelry on Christmas Eve, celebrating Vietnam’s soccer victories, it was time to get up and do the business of Christmas. Turns out that the business of Christmas in Hanoi (when you plan accordingly) is the same as everywhere else. You eat and eat and eat until you can eat no more.
We decided to go somewhere nice on Christmas day. This was made incredibly easy because Nicole knows all the right people and got us free lunch at the Intercontinental Hotel. Oh, did I mention the complimentary bottle of Roederer champagne?

Christmas dinner by the window

Simone, Cat and I arrived at lunch to find Nicole waiting for us at an elaborately decorated table with a view. We exchange gifts (I forgot that Nicole was the gift-giving master, this part was extremely fun) and got started on the buffet. Because we were in a fancy hotel and not Smorgies there was an air of grace to our binging. When we piled food on our plates we did so with our pinkies extended.


So much food!

There was every conceivable food at this buffet so we ate and ate and ate all sorts of things, and then decided it was time to settle into the traditional Christmas dinner.

Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner

Sadly, the eating and eating and eating didn’t warm up the troops for battle, it just weakened the battle stations and we were overthrown early.

Christmas dinner wins

Christmas dinner wins

And then we ate dessert…

but surely there is room for a little more

but surely there is room for a little more

We emerged from battle sometime in the afternoon and made it all the way to the hotel pool before taking a rest.

working off the meal

working off the meal

After an extended lounging period by the pool, we made our way back to the hotel and found Bridget Kelly wandering the streets of Hanoi. We made phone and skype calls to various families and then decided to make the most of Christmas in a non-Christian country and went shopping.

’twas the night before Christmas

I arrived in Hanoi in the evening of Christmas eve. On the way from the airport I saw Santa Clause TWICE. On motorbikes.

When I arrived at the hotel, Simone and Cat were waiting for me (they’ve arrived from Aceh earlier in the evening) and without unnecessary delay we headed out for Pho.


mmmmm pho

After dinner we wandered the streets a bit and bought balloons.


I bought a Santa balloon

Eventually we landed in a bar called the Loo Pub, which had converted toilets as bar stools. Towards the end of the evening the DJ played a very funny and danceable version of Jingle Bells and the crowd got pretty excited.


Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells!

The smoke machine went into overdrive though and we were driven out into the very crisp fresh air to take a breath. And met this extremely CUTE little girl!


Hanoi's cutest kid

She was on the run from parental supervision but eventually the olds caught up with her and she had to go home. Stupid no fun parents.

Once the smoke lifted and we regained our composure after the Jingle Bells dance-off we decided to head back to our hotel. Sarah was, as usual, sleeeeeepy (it was well past 10pm I’ll have you know).

But when we got back to the hotel, one of the staff told us we simply had to get down to the lake. Vietnam had played Thailand in a soccer match that night…and WON! So clearly every person in Hanoi took to the streets.


The leader of the pack?

It was crazy at the lake. Thousands of people driving around in circles and cheering and chanting and flag waving. I made a friend who gave me a small Vietnamese flag and a flashing neon Jesus on the Cross to hang around my neck. Best friends for life. Jesus stopped flashing sometime last week. He had incredible stamina.


brum brum


Lighting a lantern

Spoiler for tomorrow’s post: When we met Nicole for Christmas lunch the following day she said she’d been down there around 10pm (four hours before we made it there and the crowd was still going strong at 2am). She had a great time too, until she realised someone had SLASHED HER BAG! The gigantic butt face stole her wallet AND her favourite lipstick which is just about the worst Christmas present you could give a gal. Way worse than a flashing Jesus on the Cross.