This is how I spent Christmas day on my career break. I had been travelling solo around the world and by Christmas had ended up in Auckland.
Despite being a mature and responsible adult, I woke up early on Christmas day, even though Santa doesn't come to youth hostels. I had got myself a private room for a few days as a festive extravagence, but it was odd not being in a dorm. I turfed Salvatore (a charming gay Frenchman who I'd met on the bus) out of his bed in the dorm downstairs, and we trooped off to the local Anglican church.
Why a French Catholic with a very shaky command of English wanted to go to an English Protestant church, I've no idea, but he joined me anyway. He didn't know any of the carols either. He seemed to enjoy the service - at least more than the kid in front of us, who shouted excitedly "It's finished now!" as soon as the service ended.
After church, we had lunch at the hostel then wandered into town. As we passed Auckland's famous Skytower, I offended Salvatore by telling him the Eiffel Tower was just a big pylon with a gift shop. He was very unhappy at this assessment of one of his country's most famous monuments, but fortunately my French is so poor he was too busy correcting my grammar to worry about the insult.
We clambered aboard a bus, which had a mostly Maori clientele, and discovered that it was free! It went around a bay, where some foolhardy Kiwis were attempting to have a picnic on the cold stony beach. You know the kind of face a person makes when they're trying really hard to have fun but it's not working? They mostly looked like that.
We arrived at Kelly Somebody's Sea Aquarium Centre thing, which was the only thing open on Christmas day. We started with a replica of Captain Scott's hut, which I thought was quite interesting, but Salvatore charged ahead (he found it hard to read the English explanations). Then we got into a heated pod on a track to go through the cold bit where the penguins were. They make their own snow there (the people who run it, not the penguins) which doesn't make the plastic landscape any more convincing. The penguins were cute though, especially the chicks which stumbled about in an endearing manner.
Then it was onto the underwater world, where we stood on a travelator to go under the fish tank. I felt a bit like supermarket goods, except there were fish next to the conveyor belt instead of a load of leaflets and a glum checkout person. The fish varied from acceptable to very ugly.
Salvatore was delighted to discover there were seahorses (he had a thing about seahorses, which is a weird animal to have a thing about in my opinion). He dashed off excitedly to 'make many photo' while I went to look at the octopi and pirhana. But there is only so long you can stare at fish, so we soon headed back.
After a well-earned and luxurious nap, I got up to cook the Christmas dinner. One reason I'd chosen this hostel was because it had boasted a 'well-equipped' kitchen, but I soon discovered this just meant more than one knife. I still managed to cobble together a very nice, semi-traditional meal, and fished out the wine I'd bought at a New Zealand winery earlier on my trip. Salvatore and I were the only ones being at all festive, the Germans having celebrated on Christmas eve, and the Asians not celebrating at all. We clinked glasses and wished each other a "Joyeux Noel".
Thomas, a German we'd collected along the way, appeared in the evening. He was staying at another hostel but wanted to hang out with us - I pretended it was because of our charming company but the fact we were keen card players probably had more to do with it. I broke out my secret stash of liqueurs to accompany our games and quietly worked my way through them while the boys muddled through a conversation in 3 different languages.
After I retired to my room, I reflected on my rather odd Christmas day. Although it wasn't the first I'd spent away from home, it was the first I'd spent without any family around. I had most of the trappings of a traditional Christmas - stuffing and cranberry sauce, carols in church and games with friends. Plus I got to ride a bus with Maoris, look at stingrays and insult the French.
So all in all, it was not a bad Christmas. Not bad at all.