Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Firsts #18 : Where in the World?

Where in the world will FIRST  experience Christmas Day? Because of the time zones and daylight saving , the first places will be  Samoa,  Tonga and Kiritimati (Christmas Island) . They  are the first places to welcome Christmas. New Zealand and Australia see in Christmas Day soon after, while American Samoa and Baker Island in the United States of America are among the last. These statistics are more often quoted in relation to New Year's Eve, but I think it seems appropriate that Christmas Island is one of the first to celebrate Christmas in the world. 
Kiritimati,  or Christmas Island, is a Pacific Ocean raised coral atoll in the northern Line Islands. It is part of the Republic of Kiribati. The name "Kiritimati" is a respelling of the English word "Christmas" in the Kiribati language  The island has the greatest land area of any coral atoll in the world.  25 December is of course  during summer in Kiritimati   Christmas is celebrated in much the same way as in other southern hemisphere countries in the heat  with Christmas lights  church services,  carols by candlelight and many end of year parties with guest appearances from Santa.
The other pacific island states of Samoa and Tonga are also in the same time zone and celebrate Christmas in a similar, but perhaps in a  more "laid back" and much less commercial fashion. Christmas in Samoa is all about 'family", getting together and reflecting on the previous year.
 “The Christmas season is all about family. Wherever we may be throughout the year, we all make it a point to be together on Christmas time,” said Finauapai Siatuolo. 
 It would seem that Christmas celebrations in Samoa and Tonga, emphasise the spiritual and contemplative spirit of the festive season. 
“I would describe Christmas in Tonga as very spiritual and singing mostly,” said Tangikimoana Atiga, from Fou”i, Tonga. “All of the churches get together and sing all day and night.”

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas Firsts #17 :

Carols by Candlelight is an Australian Christmas tradition which has spread across the world. It is thought that the FIRST Carols by Candlelight might have been held sometime in the 19th century. However, in 1938, the Melbourne Carols by Candlelight, established and popularised the concept of large crowds gathering in public outdoor places to sing carols by candlelight, led by celebrity live performances and a live band. Today, the largest such event  in Australia is held annually at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne's King's Domain Gardens on Christmas Eve . 

This Victorian event was introduced in 1937 by Norman Banks, a radio announcer.  Whilst walking home from his night-time radio shift on Christmas Eve in 1937, he passed a window and saw inside an elderly woman sitting up in bed, listening to Away in a Manger being played on the radio and singing along, with her face being lit by candlelight. Wondering how many others spent Christmas alone, he had the idea to gather a large group of people to all sing Christmas carols together by candlelight. The first ever such event was held in Alexandra Gardens the following Christmas, 1938, and was attended by around 10,000 people.
Christmas Carols at Cardiff South Public School 

Now of course, candles have in most places been substituted by battery operated lights and glow sticks, but this year, Carols by Candlelight  will not only bring joy on Christmas Eve to a live and TV audience but will raise funds for Vision Australia for the 80th year.  All over the country, smaller versions of Carols by Candlelight will delight as well as raising funds for charity. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Firsts #16 : Simmons Family Christmas

Today, the Simmons family ( my husband's family, and hence my family too) is celebrating Christmas together for the 32nd year. As in all good loving families , there is most likely some disagreement about the actual number , but as far as some of us can remember, the family came together for Christmas for the first time in 1985 and that is, in another  home rather than in their childhood home in Bonnell's Bay.  This was some years after the tragic death of Rose Simmons , my mother-in-law who had previously always welcomed everyone "home" for Christmas and by 1985,  owing to various locational changes for work , most of the family were within reasonable travelling distance from one another. 
Simmons Family Christmas 2008 

And this is how the Simmons family Christmas works - one of the Simmons siblings organises the date and hosts the gathering in his or her home. 
Simmons family siblings 
Everyone in the family is allocated some food to contribute, and in a secret Santa draw, we are also allocated a family member as our gift recipient and depending on the number of children in the family at the time, each individual family also purchases a gift for one of the children - this means that everyone in the family receives a gift. While the presents are excitedly anticipated by the children, for the adults it is usually a day of indulgence - lots of great food! 
Simmons Family Christmas 2013 

Simmons Family Christmas 2016

Over the years, of course the family has grown ( in different ways ....  there are now children, their partners,  grandchildren and some of them have partners  and great-grandchildren . The Christmas gathering is a time when new relationships between generations are made. 
 There are at least half the number of the family who weren't even born in the 1980's and sadly, some of the family have passed away. Over the ensuing years, the Christmas gatherings have witnessed the growing up of many of the family members and the many changes of  places of residence. Christmas gatherings have been in Newcastle, Taree, Bonnell's Bay, Morisset Park, Pretty Beach, Sydney, Lake Macquarie, Tamworth, Cardiff South, Rutherford, Wallsend , Coffs Harbour, Ogunbil .... and more. 
Even after 32 years, the Simmons Family Christmas remains one of the most important days of the festive season and the whole year for us ...  Thanks to whoever thought of this way to celebrate as a family. Merry Christmas from the Simmons family! 
Just a note - the Simmons family in England also have a similar annual gathering on the last weekend in November.  

Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas Firsts #15 : Christmas in July

"Christmas in July"  has been recorded as isolated events in the 1930’s in USA , but  with the release of the comedy, Christmas in  July in 1940, the concept began to become popular. 
I understand a lot more why Christmas in July as a concept is popular  in Australia in the southern hemisphere rather than in the northern hemisphere. To capture some of the magic of ‘white” Christmas, mid-winter seems the perfect time to enjoy many of the traditional Christmas festivities.

 Christmas in July has become tradition down under. The story of the FIRST July Christmas in Australia is about some Irish visitors to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. They saw a snowfall in July, 1977. That's not out of the ordinary for mountains in the Southern Hemisphere, but the tourists were reminded of Christmas out of season. They requested a traditional Christmas dinner from their hotel, which they enjoyed so much they returned the following July. The celebration of Christmas in July was repeated in the Blue Mountain region, NSW,  as a tourist draw card, but locals loved it, too. The practice has of course spread to the rest of Australia but the “Yulefest in the Blue Mountains “ in July is renowned or recreating a traditional Christmas of the northern hemisphere.
The magical winter time (June, July and August) is Yulefest in the Blue Mountains where many venues offer traditional Xmas style celebrations. While cold winds blow and the occasional snow falls, experience warm 'Mountains' hospitality, log fires, Xmas fare, singalongs and perhaps even Santa. The Blue Mountains is truly a 'Winter Wonderland'.

Christmas in July is not a holiday, and it would appear that the celebrations are generated by businesses mainly in the hospitality sector to  boost and create a new market for their services. The real Christmas is still celebrated on 25 December no matter what! 
I found it interesting that when we have had exchange students from European countries, they found the whole idea of Christmas in July bewildering and even quite unacceptable!  I must admit with a birthday at the same time, I quite like to celebrate it with a hot Christmas dinner! And if the goodwill and peace of Christmas can occur at other times of the year, can that be so bad?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Christmas Firsts #14 : Royal Christmas Message

In the United Kingdom and in other countries with an attachment to the British Commonwealth, it is a custom to hear the Queen’s annual Christmas message.
The FIRST Royal Christmas message was broadcast in 1932 by King George V, at the insistence of Sir John Reith to introduce the Empire Service (now known as the BBC World Service). The king was most reluctant to deliver a message on the ‘wireless’ but addressed his subjects in a speech written by his friend, author Rudyard Kipling. And so began an annual event …
 King George V delivering a Christmas Day message 
I have been watching the second series of The Crown and discovered that in 1956 for the first time ( and only time) , Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip broadcast separate Christmas messages. Prince Philip was away at the time on the Royal Yacht Britannia touring the Commonwealth, and delivered his Christmas message from there. The Queen, spending Chtistmas with the family at Sandringham House, not only delivered her prepared speech but responded to the Prince’s speech with a personal message
Her message to Philip was: “From all the members of the family gathered here today our very best good wishes go out to you and to everyone on board Britannia, as you voyage together in the far Southern seas. Happy Christmas from us all.”
From "The Crown" -  still of Prince Philip delivering his message from Britannia 
 Queen Elizabeth broadcast her first Christmas message in 1952 and the 1956 one was the last on radio. In 1957, the Royal Christmas message was telecast for the first time. She was anxious about her first televised broadcast . The microphone  was concealed  behind  sprigs of holly but  the queen’s nervously clasped and unclasped hands  were visible. 
Queen Elizabeth II-  first telecast 1957 
Author Daphne du Maurier prepared draft suggestions to help her, and BBC announcer Sylvia Peters gave her a tutorial on the “five best ways to make a speech on TV”, but in the end the final draft was Prince Philip’s.
She reportedly  said to one of her staff after the first telecast : “I hope your Christmas went off well. Ours was upset by the television, which was nerve-racking.”
Note : There were only three years when there have been no Christmas messages from the reigning monarch .... 1936 when Edward VIII abdicated in December, reigning less than a year, 1938 - (no recorded reason) and in 1969 when a documentary about the Royal Family was released  and the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales took place. A reassurance was made by the Queen that the Christmas messages would resume in 1970... will you watch the Royal message this Christmas? 
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