Category Archives: annual events

Vivid With Kids – It’s All North of the Bridge!

annual events, art, Sydney

Vivid Festival With Kids - North of the Bridge

I’ve made no secret of my love-hate relationship with Sydney’s annual Vivid Festival. On one hand, the light displays are spectacular. On the flip, there’s the crowds – the soul crushing crowds. Add a small child to the experience, and it can become an experience that makes a woman question her own sanity.

It’s like the organizers of Vivid heard my agoraphobic cries, and arranged for families with small children to have a completely satisfying Vivid experience, all on the north side of the Harbour.


Last year was the first time Chatswood took part in the Vivid Festival, and we loved the easygoing and family-friendly atmosphere, so we headed straight there with our girl this year. The theme is on dinosaurs, which could not have been more perfect for our dino fanatic (ours, and just about every other 2 – 5 year old I know).

We started our night at The Concourse, where a moving dinosaur show was projected on the huge outdoor screen and dino eggs glowed below in a smokey swamp. Vivid Festival Chastwood

Hushpuppy’s favorite part of the night was interacting with the roaming mechanical dinosaur skeletons, which were manned by Vivid guests who could take a turn wearing them. Both the kids and volunteers seemed to be having a great time playing with these puppets.

Vivid Festival ChatswoodFurther down Victoria Avenue is a fun moving light display full of dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures, which was particularly fun for the little kids to interact with. Vivid Festival Chatswood

Vivid Festival Chatswood

At the Interchange (next to the train station), is definitely the coolest part of the dinosaur spectacle. Large glowing and squawking pterodactyls soar up and down 3 stories, powered by visitors on step machines below. It’s definitely a sight.
Vivid Festival Chatswood

Finally, up at The District (dining district above The Interchange), the kids found the “crumbling bridge” – another light projection that young children were loving. Hushpuppy managed to “cross” the uneven bridge, and then looked up with amazement with it crumbled away under her feet.  We ran into some friends, and from The District, we decided the best way to end the night was with dumplings at Tim Ho Wan (can recommend!).

Lights at Chatswood are on at 5:30p.m. and there are plenty of dining options at Hawkers Lane, The District, and in between.

If you happen to be in Chatswood during the day, or between 5-7p.m. on a Thursday evening, there’s one more display you might try. On Level 1 at Chatswood Chase is “The Luminarium,” where kids (and grown ups, too) get to dress up in underwater explorer costumes and enter a “deep sea” adventure, mostly to do with projected light sea creatures and some mesh and light “jellyfish.” I wouldn’t say it’s worth a special trip, but if you’re there, it is fun for the kids to wear the costumes and enter through the secret door.Vivid Festival Luminarium

Taronga Zoo

We didn’t know what to expect when we booked tickets to the Vivid Festival at Taronga Zoo, as this was the first year they’ve had a display there. Our day finally arrived, and what a bummer – there was a huge rainstorm. On top of that, my daughter decided that she didn’t care to leave the house without her “super duper” jacket, which after running through all possible candidates, I found out was the one that was soaking wet in the washing machine. Though we’d been looking forward to it, none of us were in much of a mood as we arrived at Taronga!

The good news was that there was no crowd, thanks to the weather, and we hopped right onto our round trip ride on the Sky Train (booked through the ANZ Blue Pass, which is limited, but the same price as regular admission). The bad news is that we couldn’t see much out the windows, which were covered in rain. So much for our view of the city.

Aaah, but everything turned around when we got off, found that the rain had stopped, and started to make our way down the ramp into the zoo. The path was illuminated in blinking green rays of light that felt like stepping into a mystery jungle land.

From there, we spent an hour or so walking the well marked path with illuminated sculptures of endangered animals around every turn. “LOOK AT THAT!,” was Hushpuppy’s refrain for the remainder of the evening. Many of the displays moved or had an interactive quality, and zoo volunteers staffed each display, happy to tell you more about the animal.

Each display was just so beautiful and charming. I was particular to the gorgeous elephant, and Hushpuppy loved the tail-wagging tiger. Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

At a few spots along the walk, there were additional light displays, several of them made from paper lanterns shaped like animals, made by Sydney schoolchildren. Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

And, we got one final surprise on the way out – a real animal, out for a late night snack.Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

I was a little sad when we came to the end – I could easily have done another loop around, as it was all so magical. But, the parent in me knew that was pushing our luck way too hard with Little Miss Super Duper. Fortunately, on the way out, we had one more treat, which was the light and sound display that was projected on a loop on the front of the Taronga entrance. We’d passed by it on the way in, not wanting to stand in the rain, but settled in for the show on the way out. The theme was on human’s responsibility towards protecting endangered animals and featured moving images of all of the species that were displayed inside. It was gorgeous. I wanted to applaud at the end. Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

If you’re thinking of going to Vivid at Taronga Zoo, do make sure to book your tickets online ahead of time. Lights are on at 5:30p.m. Food options are limited both inside and near Taronga Zoo, so either eat before, after, or bring food in with you.

The Vivid Festival runs through 18 June (Chatswood ends 13 June). If you’re attending with young children, my best recommendation is to head over the bridge for these perfect family nights at Chatswood and Taronga Zoo.

Sculpture By The Sea 2015 … Almost

annual events

My little family never misses Sculpture By the Sea. It’s non-negotiable. Must do.

We went in 2010.
And 2011.
Oh, and in 2012, of course.
In 2013, we strapped our 8 month old baby into the Ergo and went.
Ditto with our 1-1/2 year old in 2014.

We had it on the calendar to go during the first of two weeks this year, but kept having to push it back because … music class … grocery store … sailing … I don’t know, just generally being very popular and in demand. We were wide open and completely unpopular this week, But, then it started to rain. And, it rained all the rain until there was mo more rain. After four days, it cleared sometime between last night’s thunderstorm and breakfast this morning.

We set out this afternoon, feeling very Pollyanna about the whole thing, even though the skies could have been bluer, if we’re being completely honest. We didn’t arrive at Bondi Beach, so much as we ran into this wall…IMG_5878

…which, you know, doesn’t exactly bode well for a fun family day by the seaside. But, we had come all this way…

So, I guess you could say that I was the one who made us proceed. (“We have come all this way.”) Hushpuppy, who for the first time, is old enough to walk on her own, was gleeful about us counting together all the stairs we had to walk down to get to the path. 63, if you’re curious.

We joined the throngs and masses of weather blind souls, and trotted along to ultimately see approximately five sculptures.

This is Hushpuppy’s rain dance. It worked.

About 14 minutes after arriving (and walking down 63 steps and up about 72 more), the skies opened – as you would probably expect from that rain cloud we so haughtily breezed past – and we went running for the car.

Thoroughly drenched, we then had the harrowing job of driving right back home in a sheet of rain. By we, I mean, Partner-in-Crime did. He was a champion.

Somewhere along the way, we made a wrong turn – nothing to do with P-i-C, but because we couldn’t hear the GPS over the pounding rain, and so between the horrendous road conditions and our ever so slight detour, the drive home that should have taken 30 minutes lasted one and one half hours. We felt every minute. rain

We were all wet, impatient, and disappointed, and none of us was more consistently vocal with our feelings as the toddler contingent in the backseat.

She wailed with abandon.

She asked to be let out of her car seat.

She wanted her Band-Aid off.

She was tortured mercilessly by the sudden pain of a never before noticed week-old bruise on her knee.

She wanted her window wiped.

She wanted her shoes off.

She wanted to see a train.

Not that train.

She growled. She literally growled.

She wanted a snuggle.

She wanted a granola bar.

She wanted Dad to give her a granola bar.

I’ll tell it to you straight. At some point 50 or 70 minutes into the trip, we cranked the radio up to tune out this barrage. Not that we could find anything we wanted to hear. But, we weren’t really listening, anyway.

Then, I noticed that “The Wind Beneath My Wings” had come on, and I was just about to turn the station when I realized that my kid had not only stopped crying, but was singing along. She’s never heard “The Wind Beneath My Effing Wings” before, but I guess if you think about it, aren’t we all just pretty much born knowing it?

That was the most peaceful three minutes of the day. You, Better Midler, are the wind beneath my wings.

We sailed home from there (no we didn’t, but doesn’t it make a better story that we were just spiritually lifted up by the Divine Miss M?). By the time we got changed and I had dinner on the table … scratch that … By the time we got changed, I had a glass of wine, and had dinner on the table, the sun was shining again. I was silently thinking of whether I’d drag Hushpuppy out first thing in the morning on the bus to tackle another round of Sculpture By the Sea on closing weekend. I was really bummed to miss it.

And then I looked up, and decided that – no – you can’t ignore signs from above. There are only so many mistakes that Bette Midler can fix.IMG_5914

A Very Vivid Week

annual events, art, Sydney

The Vivid Festival is one of those annual events in Sydney that you just do every year. You have to. I must admit to becoming something of a Vivid grump in the years since our first magical experience in 2011. It’s so crowded. Sometimes the displays are kind of a bust. Did I mention the crowds? I”m not a crowd person. You’re not supposed to say this, but Vivid is a hit or miss proposition for me. However, hope springs eternal and we keep going because, in theory, a city full of light displays – particularly the iconic Harbour and Opera House – is an event that lifts this city from quite nice to mythichal. We dedicated three whole nights to Vivid this week, and didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all there is to see. But, from my vantage this year, it was once again a mixed bag with the very best of intentions and a lot to like.

Here’s the rundown of our Very Vivid Week:

On Sunday, we took advantage of the “Sunday Funday” $2.50 public transport fares and rode the ferry to and from Circular Quay. This is the perfect way to see Vivid, as you can get a close up of all the displays, particularly the light show on the Opera House, and you arrive at the ferry terminal in the midst of the action.

We had about an hour and a half to play with, including a frenetic stop at McDonald’s, taking into account Hushpuppy’s bedtime and my patience with dragging her through crushing masses of human bodies (minimal). The first place we stopped was the Customs House, which every year has a moving light display projected onto it. This one, more than anything else we saw, was the winner with the toddler. It really was beautifully done, and four days later, unprompted by me, she was still reciting parts of the display that she remembered like it was in front of her – “House breaking! Dinosaur! Garden! Snail – ride it! Lift! Fish!” I’m actually considering taking her back just to watch this one again. 

From there, we went for a wander around The Rocks side of Circular Quay, just as far as Cadmans Cottage. There were a few interactive displays, though long lines for most of them. The Museum of Contemporary Art never fails to impress, and the lawn in front of it was open for kids to run around on, which was very much appreciated by my entire little family.

FullSizeRender (6)

There are quite a few more displays beyond where we stopped and further up into The Rocks, but we’d reached the limit of our patience with toddler crowd surfing, so we left some unseen, to be enjoyed by those with later bedtimes. It’s always a special view on the ferry out:

On Thursday, we boarded a Vivid cruise to get a different perspective of the display. We’d booked this family-friendly cruise arranged by a local “mum’s” group several months earlier, and were excited about it. It’s always nice to be in a safe place where Hushpuppy and her two year old antics will be understood, and we were going on a hunch that she’d really like being on a boat and seeing the lights. We were blessed with a nice night, and the experience was pleasant enough, but our tactical error was not getting in line early enough to secure a spot on the upper deck where the good viewing was. From the bottom of the boat, we couldn’t see much, so we took turns walking up and down stairs with Hushpuppy and trying to squeeze into a spot to see the sights. The cruise’s course was actually just a short swath from the Opera House to just under the Bridge and then back again, probably six or seven times over an hour and a half. We didn’t enter Circular Quay, so it was more of a view from the distance, aside from the great close up we got of the Bridge from right underneath it.

vivid 2015 1 vivid 2015 2 vivid 2015 3

I think next year, we’d skip the cruise and just stick with a trip or two on the regular ferry. It’s a better view, shorter, and much less expensive!

Hands down, our best Vivid night out was to Chatswood, which was hosting its first display this year. We drove in and parked easily at Chatswood Chase mall (free parking if you enter after 6). The first display was inside the mall, and set up the funky underwater theme.We then went out and wandered up and down Victoria Avenue, finally stopping at one of the food trucks and eating our Yum Cha picnic style on the Councourse yard, where there was plenty of room for Hushpuppy to run around with other kids in the shadow of the large projection display.

Display at the Councourse

There’s not nearly as much going on at Chatswood as in the city, in terms of the number of displays, but it was just my pace – bustling, but not overwhelming, and easy to enjoy.

It truly is exciting to have this event grace Sydney every year, even if I don’t love everything about the experience. For our busy Vivid week, my “misses” were the crazy crowds at Circular Quay and the Vivid Cruise. The definite “hits” were the ferry ride, the Customs House display, and a great night out in the underwater world of Chatswood.

Vivid Sydney runs through 8 June in various locations across Sydney.

Jacaranda Day

annual events, Sydney

Every year when the jacarandas start blooming in Sydney, I get all fluffy and gooey inside, like my internals have partially turned into cotton candy. I do feel like I’m on the precipice of melting into a puddle on the spot when it’s a particularly blue sky day and the purple flowers shine against the backdrop.  The jacaranda feeling is the same one that leads otherwise regular Joes and Janes to suddenly burst out into song in musical theatre.

The jacaranda blooms only last from around mid-October to late-ish November, so it is one’s duty as a human being so blessed with the capacity to turn into sugar candy just from a gift of nature to take into your eye line and spirit as much of the purple wonder as you can possibly manage during this short window. We had an afternoon free for a family outing today, so, as is my mission, I requested a jacaranda field trip.

In years past, we’ve done jacaranda spotting in Hunters Hill, which is wonderful, but I’d been given a tip that McDougall Street in Kirribilli is one of the best in the area for jacarandas, with the added bonus that we could reward our toddler with a playground shrouded in purple. We came around the corner and involuntary gasps of “wow” flung forth as we saw the block completely lined in purple blossoms like something out of a cartoon. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe weren’t the only ones who had the McDougall Street idea, as there were a number of other people wandering the street with cameras. We joined the throng and took our share of photos. Then we went into the beautiful Milson Park, which is bordered by the jacaranda street on one side, and a sailboat dotted part of Neutral Bay on another. On one end, there was a blooming rose garden and in the middle, a thriving community herb and vegetable garden next to the playground. I realized that I’d been in this park several years before when I’d been early for a meeting at the Ensemble Theatre next door, but somehow the beauty and charm of this park had escaped me. I must have been nervous for my meeting to miss it. And, clearly, it wasn’t jacaranda season. I would have remembered that.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


The Sydney Side: Sculpture By the Sea 2014

annual events, art, Sydney

Having a background in the arts, there are few things that endear a city to me more than a commitment to public art. I carry a belief that the arts need to be accessible – both from a cost perspective, but moreover that anyone can get the feeling that “I belong here.” Art teaches us so much about what it is to be human, to be alive in our world, about how to think critically, and adds many layers of beauty and emotion to our lives. And so it is that Sculpture By the Sea is the one annual Sydney event that my little family never misses.

It is a showcase of over 100 pieces of art, which are displayed along the Bondi to Tamarama Beach coastal walk (approximately 2km). The website says that it is “one of the world’s largest free to the public events.” Indeed, it is an extremely popular event, very nearly always crowded, but worth making the effort. 

We went yesterday, and without thinking, we actually picked an amazing time to go, as we were there just as the Melbourne Cup was underway (one of the other biggest events around), so the crowds were very manageable. We carried Hushpuppy in the Ergo Baby most of the time, which I’d highly recommend to anyone bringing a small child – don’t bring the pram! She was also manageable for almost the whole trip, until the very end when she realized that we weren’t going to let her go swimming, and she launched in on a terrible-nearly-two-tantrum to demonstrate to all spectators about the injustice of this world, which in and of itself is its own piece of performance art.

I’ve written about Sculpture By the Sea every year, and you can have a look through past years on the Sydney Side page under Annual Events. Now on to the photos from 2014. Partner-in-Crime always has a lot of fun photographing this event, so the bulk of the images are his handiwork.

I just like the perspective P-i-C got on this one, same sculpture as the one above.

I just like the perspective P-i-C got on this one, same sculpture as the one above.


This one dealt with climate change, particularly the melting glaciers. It really got to me.



I always like the ones that asthetically work with the natural features.


I can’t exactly explain why, but this is the one that most stuck with me. I really loved it.


View of part of the walk.


This is another shot of the piece you can see in the above photo.


I  liked this one. You couldn’t tell what you were looking at until you actually got onto the piece and walked around it when an image was revealed in the mirror.


Another perspective on the one above.



This one was quite fun to photograph from different angles. Please indulge me…








The Sydney Side: Night Noodle Markets

annual events, food

Every year that we’ve lived in Sydney, we’ve made a point of heading to Hyde Park for the fabulous Night Noodle Markets, and so I’m amazed to find out I’ve never written about them here.

photo 3 (4)

Each October, dozens of Sydney’s Asian restaurants set up stalls in the park where diners can come each evening and sample their cuisine in an al fresco setting. They’re usually one of the first events on the summer festival calendar, and they always get us in the mood for all the outdoor fun we’re going to have in Sydney over the following months.

Before Hushpuppy arrived, we would go after work and meet up with friends. If we were lucky, we’d get a table, or otherwise, we’d just grab a patch of grass (even the grass become a hot commodity at a certain point in the evening). Now that we have a child, we try to be a bit more strategic. It’s actually a great event to take children to, even ones as young as Hushpuppy (she was 8 months when we took her last year, and it was no problem). For us, the keys to enjoying the Night Noodle Markets with a young child are:

Last year's Night Noodle Markets.

Last year’s Night Noodle Markets. Hushpuppy loved the dumplings.

-Arrive early. This year we arrived at 4:50 for a 5p.m. opening, which was perfect. We were able to get a table with no problems, find the stalls where we wanted to eat, and take turns getting food before the lines got very long or the kid got cranky.
-Know that there are no high chairs. We have a snack tray attachment for the stroller, which is the perfect Night Noodle Market seat for Hushpuppy.
-Be aware that there are going to be big crowds. There’s not much you can do about this, but for me at least, it helps to mentally go through how you’re going to maneuver crowds with a child.

Normally, I don’t have any idea what I’m going to eat. I just wander around the stalls and try to find the perfect combination of something that looks great coupled with a reasonable line. This has resulted in mixed results. I’ve had some incredible meals and some forgettable ones. This year, I decided to go with a plan. I consulted my favorite Facebook mother’s group for suggestions, and I got back the recommendation of Bao Stop. After looking at the pictures on their Facebook page, I decided that was my choice. photo 1 (7)The “baos” were sort of like little Asian tacos. The lobster one was in high demand, but honestly, the pork belly was my favorite. I also picked up an order of the sweet potato fries because I knew Hushpuppy would eat them, if nothing else, and just wow. They were unbelievably good, even better than the main course.

Partner-in-Crime had a crunchy noodle green curry from Longrain that he said was really good (too spicy for me, but that’s not saying much). I’ve eaten at Lograin’s stall in year’s past, and they are always delicious.

photo 2 (7)

I noticed that Gelato Messina had a stall this year (maybe they have in year’s past, but I haven’t noticed it before), and I was very curious. If you’re not familiar, Gelato Messina is a wildly popular dessert restaurant known for their many flavors of gelato. On any given evening, there’ usually a long line out the door to get in. They are not, however, an Asian place, so I wondered what they would have. Turned out, they’d put together several “potluck pies,” which were bowls of amazing concoctions with a mildly Asian bent. Here’s the one I settled on:photo 3 (3)copy

photo 4 (3)

I was so excited that I forgot to take a picture until I was well underway.

We also got a fortune cookie from Gelato Messina, whose “fortune” read:

photo 5Don’t think I’m not tempted to go back for just that very reason.

The Night Noodle Markets go on for a few more days until the 26th of October.




Vivid 2014

annual events, art

Vivid is one of the the most fascinating events of the year in Sydney, a cultural festival whose main attraction is a series of light-based public art displays that come on each evening. There are displays all over the city – Circular Quay, Martin Place, Darling Harbour, Milsons Point, and maybe a few more. Last year, we skipped it, as we had a four month old, and taking her out into crowds after dark in the cold seemed like the laest appealing prospect on offer. This year, though, we thought we’d give it a try, as we now have an inquisitive toddler who even seems vaguely aware that there are such a things as lights (i.e. – she points to the lights on our ceiling and says, “gah! gah!”).

We confined ourselves to the Circular Quay and The Rocks festivities and chose a weeknight, as the crowds can be crushing on the weekends. We got to Circular Quay around 5p.m. and sat down at one of the overpriced and mediocre tourist restaurants for a meal so that we’d all be in fine form when the lights came on at 6. Thankfully, our dinner special came with (terrible) glasses of wine because, even early on a weeknight, the crowds were large, and a little pre-game mellowing was helpful in dealing with the stress of it all. The festival seems to be growing every year, and I’m afraid that aspect of it is making it less and less fun. But, the new excitement for us was letting our girl interact with the exhibits a bit. We found a few for her to play with and, more or less, she was pretty taken with the lights and people everywhere. It did get scary for her when we hit a dark section in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art. She was being pushed in her pram and couldn’t see either of her parents, as we were behind her, so she got pretty scared. From then on, we tried to stay in her sight, and she’d every once in awhile reach up for a reassuring hand. We didn’t stay terribly long – maybe an hour and a half after dinner – as it was all a bit much for Hushpuppy, but got a good taste of the festival, nonetheless. I’ll look forward to going again next year with an older toddler who can get even more into the interactive exhibits.

Projections on Customs House
Projections on Customs House
Hushpuppy enjoying some light play.

Projections on the Museum of Contemporary Art
Projections on the Museum of Contemporary Art

The most exciting part of Vivid is the “lighting of the sails.” 

Sculpture By the Sea 2013

annual events, art
Yesterday, we had our annual afternoon out at Bondi/Tamarama for Sculpture By the Sea, a can’t miss event on our calendar. We sped through a little faster than past years, as we were toting some extra baggage this year. Speaking of, since I was carrying the Hushpuppy in the Ergo Baby, I gave Partner-in-Crime full rights to my camera. All photos are his handiwork. 
I’ve written about Sculpture By the Sea a number of times before, so let’s just look at some pictures, shall we?
Past years:

We heard the funniest conversation around this one. A mom trying to explain to her two kids. She was doing great, talking about how fleeting life is, etc. Then the kids asked why there was a baby. She says, “… …I don’t know. I find it a bit gross, actually.”

Favorite. I have a trend of always loving the one in this spot. 

Close up of the one above. This was really cool.
And one of the Hushpuppy eating a big handful of sand.

New Year’s Eve 2013

annual events, Sydney

Happy 2013!

It has been the new year for almost 15 hours here, and I seem to have spent most of it asleep. After ringing in the new year and retiring at 3a.m., I managed to sleep until 12:30pm today, a feat I can’t remember accomplishing since college.

Well, no wonder …. there is so much to take in on New Year’s Eve in Sydney. I just looked back at my post from our first New Year’s in Sydney, and reflected that I have not lost that sense of awe.

This year, we were invited to a party at our friend A’s apartment in Potts Point, which features a pretty stellar view of the Harbour, particularly the Bridge and the Opera House. This was the first year we’d watch the fireworks from the city side of the Harbour, rather than the north shore side, so it was fun to get a different vantage point.

When we first moved to Sydney, we lived pretty close to A’s apartment, so we decided to arrive a bit early and have a walk around Rushcutter’s Bay park, which our old place overlooked. This was the park where I took up running and the location of our wedding reception. Funny to have lived here long enough to have a place where we can take a sentimental journey! Partner-in-Crime took a few (a lot) of photos and we witnessed a couple of planes doing an aerial show as part of the early festivities.

Walking up to A’s apartment, the streets were already full of revelers: families with coolers walking towards the park, which has an alcohol-free celebration and the younger and more, shall we say, enthusiastic headed towards Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo. There were security guards everywhere, including one with a sniffer dog outside A’s building.

A assembled a really nice group of people and prepared a feast on his barbecue, so we had a lovely evening. I’d vowed this year to just enjoy the fireworks and not get distracted by taking dozens of photos … but I couldn’t help myself entirely and did snap a few.





Sparklers off A’s balcony.

Far better than these photos, I suggest watching this video of the bulk of the display, as shot by the professionals. There is nothing that compares to starting the new year on such a high.

As for my 2013: I have, as usual, made a solitary resolution, which was more like a November resolution – I got a head start. It’s a little hard to define, but the gist of it is to be less judgmental of other people. It’s harder to quantify than my usual resolutions, but I’ll know … And, regardless of anything I resolve, this certainly promises to be my most challenging, perspective-altering, and rewarding year with parenthood on the nearing horizon. On this first day of the year, I’m looking forward to what – and who – 2013 has in store.

An Aussie Christmas

annual events, expat issues, food, holidays, Sydney

This year marked my third Australian Christmas. I remember the first two as both sort-of-nice and sort-of-sad (2010’s very strange trip is here. 2011, spent quietly with friends, seems to not even have warranted its own post). This year, I decided that I was approaching the holiday all wrong, and determined that I needed to, not just accept, but actually embrace that Christmas takes place in the middle of summer, and that either ignoring it all together or doing anything that tries to recreate a Norman Rockwell North American holiday was just going to leave me melancholy and disappointed.

So, this year, I undertook Operation Aussie Christmas.

Step 1: Ban all songs from the White Christmas oeuvre from my holiday playlist. Instead, put in heavy rotation “Mele Kalikimaka” and Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun” (Stand warned, if you don’t know Tim Minchin, he’s a humorist and a bit of a cynical atheist, who has written an Aussie Christmas song that ends up making me cry every time).

Step 2: Choose the festivities. Going to the beach is a big thing to do for Sydney Christmas, but my aversion to crowds led me to decide we’d have a picnic at our favorite park – Blues Point Reserve, which is rarely crowded and features the most marvelous view of the Harbour I’ve yet to find. I’m loathe to even mention it here, lest the best kept secret in Sydney get out!

Step 3: Plan the menu. I opted for a cold ham, cheese, a prawn salad, fruit and a pavlova for desert. These were all cool, light dishes that required minimal heating of the oven, but still felt festive.

Step 4: Under the tree. (Our little tree hasn’t changed much over the past 3 years). Partner-in-Crime and I are both starkly practical when it comes to gifts, so he chose to have me gift him some accouterments for his new Kindle. This year, though, I picked out something a little more impractical. Our dear friend Tanja is a brilliant jewelry designer, so I asked for a couple of her pieces. The week before Christmas, we went to her apartment/studio and I picked out exactly what I wanted. She custom made my beautiful necklace on the spot, and mailed the bracelet a couple days later, so I had something shiny under the tree to open. After a few other little odds and ends, a charitable donation to Heifer International from my mom, a couple of boxes of baby gifts from friends at home, along with some Christmas crackers, we really felt overwhelmed in the gift unwrapping department!

Step 5: The best laid plans. By Christmas Eve, all was well underway – grocery shopping done, presents wrapped, pavlova prepped, we’d watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and we spent the stiflingly warm afternoon in the pool. I was hot, but I was also elated, as this was exactly how my new Christmas fantasy had unfolded in my mind – sunny, toasty, and super casual.

Then, it started to rain. And overnight, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. It proceeded to rain for the entire Christmas day. I was glad that I had decided to preserve one North American Christmas tradition – cinnamon rolls for breakfast, which now seemed perfectly in place in all their warm, comforting gooeyness.

We devoured the better part of the plate of rolls, opened gifts and had a most delightful Skype date with my family, who really were wrapped in full Currier and Ives style Christmas regalia (minus the snow). We then rented “Elf” from i-tunes, and its slapstick silliness and sentimentality perfectly fit my Christmas mood. By the sappy end, it was late afternoon, and with the rain still falling, we sat our picnic blanket down in the living room, cranked up “Indie Holiday” on Pandora and shared what I do believe was the nicest Christmas picnic I could have asked for.

Christmas in Australia doesn’t end with Christmas, as the next day is Boxing Day, a holiday which really makes no sense. Despite its vague origins, it’s a good excuse for prolonging the holiday and post-Christmas sales. I had only one thing on my agenda for Boxing Day, which was again heading out to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. This year, we got to Middle Head National Park with our leftovers picnic in time to get a most amazing viewing spot. It was still a little chilly and quite gusty, but the sun returned so it was actually a beautiful morning. 
I had to snap a cheeky shot of this couple in front of us – epitome of Australian picnic culture.
11:30a.m. No plates for their sandwiches, but you’d better believe they have wine in actual wine glasses!
Because of the wind, a lot of the boats had their bright spinnakers up, making for a particularly beautiful start to the race. Last year, we were not positioned well to see the actual line up for the race start, so this year, we were absolutely enamored with the whole scene: Over 70 sailboats lined up on the world’s most beautiful Harbour, waiting for a cannon to mark their start, and then taking off to sea towards one of the most difficult boat races around. It’s spectacular. 

Wild Oats, the winningest Sydney to Hobart yacht, took off with a massive lead and is still ahead 21 hours later.
Hordes of spectator boats, along with the racing sailboats.

This wasn’t the Christmas I grew up with by any means, but since we plan to live here for at least a few more years, I am elated to have finally found the secret to actually enjoying Australian Christmas, rather than just accepting its inevitability. It was a unique celebration, for sure, but I could not asked for a nicer one.