One of my favourite memories from my childhood was having an advent calendar. When the first day of December arrived I knew that Christmas was finally just on the corner! I can still remember the excitement of opening up one little window everyday and finding a chocolate with various shapes behind it. Later on my Mum got me a nice Santa sock, which she filled with 24 of my favourite treats. As I got older I felt that I had to surprise my loved ones too. So year after year I made it my mission to create personal and fun advent calendars for them. This year is no exception, although there is no real chocolate involved (sorry about that!) and I am doing it online. I thought of sharing my new advent experience in a form of a mini diary. I have never celebrated Christmas outside of Europe, so being in Australia during this time of the year is pretty new,and there are plenty of things to get used to and to discover. This is what this post will be about. Every day I will be adding one photo and a little story to it, which will tell you about an advent/Christmas related moment in Australia/Brisbane – from the little and ordinary to the big and magical. So if you want to open the next advent window all you need to do is come back every day J.
In the first morning of December thinking about what bikini to wear was new but I kind of liked it! We decided to spend the day at the beach. Sea, sun, walks and fish&chips, what could be a better way to celebrate the first day of summer? (photo above)
Ever since I can remember I was fascinated by koala bears: their sweet nose, sleepy eyes and their love for hugging… more the trees, then humans, but that’s OK. In fact before we came to Australia I made André promise that one of the first fun things we would do would be going to the zoo and hug a koala. Of course, I kept hoping that one day I would see a koala in the wild – because that is kind of the ‘real deal’. So whenever we were on the road and I saw a sign for ’koalas nearby’ I kept looking out from the window more eagerly. Or during our bush walks I was searching for tall and comfortable gum trees, places, which would suit a sweet little eucalyptus eater. Then yesterday during our walk in Noosa finally it happened. I spotted a koala in the wild! We noticed him first in the morning but it was sitting (sleeping) in the exact same position in the exact same location even 6 hours later. They often say that advent is the most magical time of the year. The time when people believe more, the time when miracles can happen. Like seeing a very rare animal in the wild J.
One of the things that I love most about Australia is that it is so multicultural. The people you meet, the food you eat, the stories you hear… to embrace and connect all the cultures and languages even a broadcasting company was created back in the seventies. And today the SBS network is available in 105 languages – one of them is Hungarian. Even though there are some differences in how various nations prepare for Christmas there seem to be at least one pretty common thing. The importance of food. As part of their advent preparation the Hungarian radio program is sharing good and tested Christmas recipes of its audience. Today I also shared one of my favourite cake recipe, which has the traditional poppy seed ingredient but it also has a modern twist. Advent is a good reminder that life is about sharing! Let it be a travel experience, a home, some delicious bites or even old traditions it feels so much warmer and content if we get to experience it together with someone!
I remember one of the first surprises about plants was finding a poinsettia in the park in July. If you think about it actually it is pretty logical. Poinsettia is a winter flower; back home in Europe these days you start seeing more and more of it. Its redness and elegance is part of the holiday glamour. But what flowers you find in Australia during this time of the year? Undoubtedly there are a great variety of beautiful plants in season. One of my beloved favourites is the Frangipani, which – for me at least – with its nice colours, beauty and fragrance, also qualifies for being an exceptional ornament of the holiday celebrations. And the best thing is you do not even need a pot, it greets you wherever you go in the city or in nature. J
The day has come when you need at least three showers a day to cope with the summer heat. I know that for those who are experiencing below zero temperatures these days it is hard not to dislike those who live under the sun and close to the sea… but for the record, the truth is that the sun is so boiling hot that you can hardly be outside during the day, and if you are you really have to be super careful with the strong UV. And the sea? Well, it is truly unspeakably one of the most beautiful things in Australia; I just wish I were not afraid of the sharks when it comes to swimming in it… I do think though that the most important thing is not where you are or what is the weather like. What matters is what you make out of it and how grateful you are for what you have. Everything has its own time, its own importance. And every day we have the chance to live and appreciate every moment exactly for what it is.
As children we always heard the story that Santa has super magic, which helps him to go around the world during one single night and give presents to kids (and adults, as I like to believe J). In Hungary today is Santa’s day! By this morning, if you were good all year, cleaned your shoes well and put them out on the windowsill you should find them filled up with chocolates and all sorts of sweet treats. But this year I have not found anything. Maybe I misbehaved or did not clean my shoes properly. Or after arriving to Australia Santa just decided to go to the beach straightaway to get as much suntan as possible before returning to the North Pole. So this year there is a new strategy in line. If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed. Or if you do not see Santa just create one – from fresh little strawberries, cream and chocolate J
Although during the day it is scorching hot, as soon as the evening falls I easily swing into the festive mood. One of my favourite spots to catch the Christmas spirit is Brisbane’s CBD, which is all dressed up in fairy lights and decorated with giant presents – as if they have fallen out from a bag of an angel, scattered around in the heart of the city. You find a cute teddy bear, a happy red train, a silent rocking horse, and my favourite, Santa’s little helper. Today, he was our inspiration, as we were preparing some surprises for our loved ones. Oh I love advent Saturdays!
I believe in fairy tales! And so on the second Sunday of advent I thought of sharing one of my favourite quotes of this month: “Everyone wants some magical solution for their problem and everyone refuses to believe in magic.” – Jefferson, Once Upon a Time
One of the best things about seasons is that various fruits hit the shelves of the markets. In Hungary December always brings all types of citrus fruits. But in Australia we have just entered the blessed period of abundance of fresh mangoes – of course, these days you can find any fruit, almost any time of the year, but as once I wrote about it here, I really believe in seasonal eating. So back to the cheerful mangoes! Until someone tells you the trick of how to cut it you are doomed to make a mess. But after you get the hang of it, loads of happy breakfasts and smoothies are to come plain sailing! Apparently it is considered to be one of the new superfoods – bursting with essential nutrients such as vitamin C, dietary fibre, polyphenols, and pro-vitamin A carotenoids – which is a pretty good reason to eat even more of it. And since they say that it is promoting weight loss, I do believe that if I make a cheesecake out of it, it would be still considered a healthy dessert!
It looks like that no matter at which corner of the world you are gingerbread is an essential part of the Christmas preparation. Back home the baking of the spicy joyful gingerbread biscuits has always been one of my favourite things about advent. When I was younger it was a special time with my Mum, these days it is a special time with my husband – when we would stay up late, listen to Christmas songs, laugh about silly things and start planning all the fun things we would do during the holidays. I love the smell of the sweets; the cosy atmosphere of the kitchen while outside it is snowing; the timeless moment we always share. When I saw this shop window (picture above) in Brisbane I remembered all this. Then I started wondering if this year, in the summer heat, we would venture upon baking or just watch the funny video we shot last year instead. I have not decided yet, but the calling of the Gingerbread Man gets louder every day. After all it is our family tradition, which should be preserved!
I do believe that the second most popular person of the festive season (strictly after Santa of course!) is the postman! The carrier of the Christmas messages – all the words of love and blessings travelling between families and friends who might live far far away from each other but in their hearts remain close. In the age of digital communication, the era of texts messages, emails, and social media channels sending Christmas cards by post might seem like a long forgotten tradition. Only the privileged luxury of those who have time – loads of it! But I beg to differ. I think you have time for things that you want to make time for. Like sending a handwritten card to someone special. Someone important. Someone who touched your life in a unique way. Just think about the feeling of opening up your post box and finding a Christmas card in it. Sending one as a surprise is even a better feeling then that!
Every city has their emblematic spots with Christmas decorations – squares, which demand an elegantly shining Christmas tree; streets, which cry for loads of fairy lights; buildings, which look glamorous in garlands. By being new in Brisbane I have got the chance of discovering my favourite Christmassy spots. One of them is the riverside of South Bank. This quarter of the city is just gorgeous at any time of the year. With a piece of the rainforest, the panoramic Wheel of Brisbane, the cooling promenade next to the river, the cultural precinct and the ample cafés and restaurants you can always find things to do. Like sitting in the small park and just watching the skyline and the twinkling Christmas stars.
Being in a “new” country for Christmas means learning about its local traditions, which starts with its festive food. Christmas pudding seems to be one of the most popular Christmas desserts in Australia, thanks to the British heritage of the country. Most of the shops offer nicely packaged Christmas puddings in various sizes – ideal presents for any food loving person. But I guess making it is even more fun! When I first heard the name “pudding” I straightaway connected this sweet with milk (in Hungary pudding refers to custard), but since then I have learnt that the main ingredients of Christmas pudding are loads of dried fruit, nuts, alcohol and time! Just like wine, the Christmas pudding also ripens and gets better with time. Since it takes at least couple of weeks to make it (2-12 weeks) it can be an ideal advent project – one that I should put on my list for next year.
Four years ago around this time in December I received a Christmas package from André, who at that time was living in Australia. The box was filled up with loads of Aussie goodies, but my two favourite items were magazines! (the Australian issues of my favourite mags) and 1 kg of Macadamia. Although I heard of this indigenous Australian nut before this was the first time that I actually tasted it. And got hooked on it straightaway. It has this silky, buttery texture and a very distinctive flavour – I cannot compare it to any other nut really. The shell of it is brown (on the photo), but normally you buy it ready to eat. It is widely used with sweets and an amazing companion to dark chocolate. And definitely a not to be missed ingredient when it comes to prepare some divine Christmas treats.
Staying on fairy tale grounds, on the third Sunday of advent I thought of sharing another one of my favourite quotes of this month; which can also be a great motto for next year. “Happy endings always start with hope.” – Snow, Once Upon a Time.
Watching Christmas movies has always been part of the holiday atmosphere for me. There are films, which bring back childhood memories, others remind me of great times with friends or family, and again others are just simply classics and have to be watched over and over again. Until now Christmas movies equaled a cosy room, a warm blanket, some mulled wine or spicy fruit tea and good company. But living in Brisbane has put Christmas movies into a new perspective. As part of the festive programmes on Southbank you can sit on a blanket near the river, grab some chilled refreshments and watch Christmas classics under the stars. Of course, with some good company J.
The other day we were just walking in Brisbane when in front of the Performing Arts Centre we heard some children singing. All the girls were dressed in snow white, bell shape dresses, with matching shoes that looked like old gold. But the best were their fairy wings and headpieces, which completed their angelic look perfectly! They sang Silent Night, wished Happy Christmas to everyone and off they went with their parents, who were waiting for them nearby the scene. It was such a sweet and joyous moment! It was just later on that I discovered that we listened to the Street Corner Carollers, whose performance is part of the city’s festive programme. What a nice tradition to make pedestrians happy all over town! (Photo credit: http://www.bnecity.com.au).
On the 12th of December I already wrote a little bit about Brisbane’s festive style, and the shining stars of Southbank. Today I would like to mention another favourite place of mine. The iconic sight of the city, the Story Bridge has also dressed up in her best Christmassy dress. Three times a day (at 7.30pm, 8pm and 9pm) the bridge features a dynamic red and green light show, each lasts about 10 minutes. We were watching it today from Kangaroo Point – another sweet moment of the advent period.
One thing is for sure, no matter in which corner of the world you are, the last few days before Christmas and the long waited holiday season always gets super busy – with wrapping up pending jobs, doing the Christmas shopping, baking, planning the meals and the activities and cleaning and decorating the house… and by the looks many people around me are coping very well – how frustrating is that! But instead of being jealous I will just keep on working hard so that I get to the finishing line in time… and style!
I love Fridays in the city! When I first arrived in Australia one of the most surprising things was that the shops (except bigger supermarkets) tend to close very early, between 5-6PM. Also by the evening the streets get pretty much empty, not much is happening. Except one day, the late night shopping day or bonus day, as I call it. In the CBD the late night shopping day is Friday, which means that shops are open till 9 PM, restaurants and bars stay open late too, many also offers live music entertainment. The city just comes alive with all the buzzing of the people – girls meeting up for their regular shopping night, boys having a beer night, couples going on dates, families sharing some fun time and so on. The great thing about advent in Brisbane is that apart from the late night shopping there are many festive programs on the agenda, swinging you into a summery Christmas mood.
When it comes to Christmas traditions in Australia I must admit I have been more of an observer then a doer this year (or maybe I am just collecting ideas for the future J). For example, instead of experimenting with new recipes I stuck with baking Hungarian sweets. But turns out it is not only me who loves giving presents from the kitchen. Today a great friend of ours surprised us with a beautiful home made Christmas log, which I have never tried in my life. For biscuit and nut lovers it is just one of the prefect Christmas treats, which I will definitely do next year!
Since Christmas is all about magic, for the last Sunday of advent I brought another favourite quote from fairytale land, a great reminder at any time of the year: “Happy endings aren’t always what we think they will be”– Snow, Once Upon a Time.
When do you put up your Christmas tree? In Australia you find people decorating their house and, of course, the tree during December. As opposed to Hungary, where we decorate the tree mostly on the 24th. When I was little it was always a surprise. “The angels came to their magical job”, which meant that until I was out with my Dad my Mum decorated the tree beautifully (which was bought few days before and got hidden on the balcony). Then when it was all dark suddenly you would hear the bell ringing, which was the sign that the angels finished their job and that you can now enter the room filled with pine smell, finding the Christmas tree in its best and most glittering clothes. This year we will have a symbolic tree at home, but in the city the angels already have done their job and left a very special tree near the Town Hall of Brisbane.
Being in Australia this year has put Christmas into a new perspective for me. During the advent period I missed my family and friends terribly but I also realized that I had to find Christmas within my heart. It is about finding peace within yourself, reflecting the year behind you, counting your blessings, learning from your mistakes, dreaming new dreams, bringing back magic to your life! I am also spending Christmas with the most important person in my life, which is much more than anyone can ever ask for. And everyone whom I love is also here with me – no matter how far they are geographically. Thank you for this amazing, life changing year together! And thank you for all of you who followed and supported Lisy Writes during 2013, it means so much to me! <3 Wish you all a magical, beautiful Christmas.
Another interesting thing: here the advent calendars have 25 windows to open (in Hungary it is only 24). So, Merry Christmas once more! Now I am going on a bit of radio silence on the blog but I will back in January with more stories. Hope you will be back too J Also in the meantime keep checking Lisy Writes on Facebook, since there will be some updates there. Take good care and enjoy the holidays!
Thank you for following this advent diary! 🙂 And if you would like, please let me know which day was your favourite story during this December. Thank you <3