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The first Thanksgiving was in Texas? Well, THAT certainly goes against what every American kid learns in elementary school! But travel opens your eyes to all sorts of new possibilities, and a visit to west Texas challenged our childhood memories . . .

Oh to be present at the first Thanksgiving in the Americas; a hearty feast to celebrate surviving a difficult ordeal, indigenous people looking on, and settlers clad in Spanish conquistador helmets . . . wait, what? The Pilgrims wore shiny metal helmets?

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Christmas in New Zealand and Australia comes in the summertime so it was a bit different for us, northerners raised with visions of a “White Christmas.” In Auckland, we stood on the sidewalk waiting for the Santa Parade and took in the crowd around us; it was the usual mix of families, old-timers and teens traveling in packs. One thing was different though for a December activity, almost everyone was wearing t-shirts and shorts under the watchful gaze of palm trees and sunny blue skies.

Christmas in New Zealand Santa in Auckland parade

It’s beginning to look a lot like . . . wait, what?

Due to the balmy weather Christmas Day traditions include firing up some shrimp on the “barbie”, sailing on the turquoise tinged waters of Waitemata harbor or playing a game of cricket in the park. That may not be much different from warm places in America like Miami or San Diego; but we doubt that the highlight of those cities’ Christmas Parades is a giant balloon of a Kiwi bird wearing a Santa Claus hat.

Christmas in New Zealand Kiwi bird Auckland parade

A Christmas tradition in New Zealand, the kiwi bird.

A “White Christmas” even in summer

We joined the crowd in cheering on the floats featuring beach and surfing scenes. But when it came time for the big guy, Santa himself, the palm trees were just a memory. His float was covered in white with “snow” covered trees and a castle. Even Down Under, the dream of a White Christmas lives on.

Many smaller towns host Santa Parades as well. Dunedin on the South Island featured that old Christmas chestnut, Snoopy and longtime nemesis the Red Baron engaged in a blocks long dogfight down the main drag. We’re not sure what it had to do with Christmas but the kids seemed to eat it up.

Run, Santa, Run

Christmas in New Zealand Santa run for charity

Santas and surfers come together in New Zealand.

A new event is the Santa Run to raise money for the KidsCan charity. The race takes place in seven cities throughout New Zealand. For a donation each runner is given a Santa suit to wear. Race veterans often show up in homemade outfits as elves or reindeer. The run in Dunedin takes place on the beach with the starting line just across from the local pub. It’s easy to find affordable hotels in Dunedin close by. There was clearly a party atmosphere but fortunately the race, if it can be called that, was mercifully short so casualties were few.

Dunedin santa run on beach

Cue the “Chariots of Fire” music. 

New Zealanders also include customs of the first settlers of this land, the Maori. Christmas cards and decorations bear Maori motifs while many dig into a Maori treat called a hangi. Similar to a Hawaiian luau, hot stones are placed in a hole in the ground and then lamb, potatoes and whatever else strikes the chef’s fancy are placed on top of the stones to bake. A warm Meri Kirihimete is wished: that’s Maori for Merry Christmas. Not so different from the Hawaiian Mele Kalikimaka.

Maori float Auckland Christmas parade

A tribute to the original island people, the Maori.

Christmas in Australia

Across the Tasman Sea the Aussies have put a unique spin on Santa’s flight path. Apparently it’s too hot in the Outback for reindeer, so Santa is propelled by six white “boomers,” also known as kangaroos. One bush country resident, innkeeper Deb Wright, said, “It’s so hot that we usually have cold meats and salads for the main meal and much beer is also consumed due to the delirious heat.”  Despite the weather, stores are decorated with snow-filled winter scenes.

Queen Victoria building Sydney Christmas tree

The Christmas tree at the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney is the only one we’ve seen that visitors can walk under.

Christchurch recovers

The holiday season was a poignant time in Christchurch last year. The city suffered a devastating earthquake that destroyed the downtown and killed 181 people. There was talk of cancelling the annual Santa Parade due to the traditional downtown parade route being closed off for safety reasons. However, the parade was rerouted and went on.

Over 100,000 people, one-quarter of the town’s population, turned out for the event which provided a much need lift to local spirits. We spoke with one woman, a nurse who was preparing a patient for surgery at St. George’s hospital when the quake struck. “It’s certainly been a challenging year,” she said. “But we’ll survive and rise above it.”

Christchurch Angel Gabriel

In Christchurch a message of hope for the New Year.

The international symbol of the devastation wrought on the city was the heavily damaged Christchurch Cathedral. At Christmastime last year three larger-than-life sculptures of angels were hung from the rafters. However, due to the quake the building was rendered unsafe and will eventually be demolished. This year the angels are being suspended from construction cranes that are assisting in the rebuilding. The angels represent consolation, comfort and hope. What fitting symbols to watch over the residents of Christchurch during this season of birth and renewal.

Santa Ballantynes Christchurch New Zealand

You’re never too old to pose with Santa Claus, here at Ballantynes in Christchurch.

And if you are planning to visit New Zealand, don’t make the same mistake we did and make sure you have a roundtrip ticket. We almost got deported flying to New Zealand on a one-way ticket.

We’ve been traveling around the world as global nomads since 2011. To receive free monthly updates and valuable travel tips from us sign up here.

The Good Friday procession in Malta is an epic event, with several parades around the Mediterranean island clocking in at two plus hours. This is one of country’s most important public holidays; Malta basically shuts down for this event. We attended the Good Friday procession in the village of Zebbug (which means “olives” in Maltese). Hundreds of its residents take part in the parade, which is the high point of Holy Week in Malta.
Malta church-Good Friday Procession Changes in Longitude

The Good Friday Procession in Malta

The Good Friday procession in Zebbug starts at the 17th-century St. Philip Church.

Malta good friday procession-Ramses Changes in Longitude

Although it is a Good Friday parade, the cast of characters goes back to the Old Testament, as depicted here by the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Malta good friday procession- women with trays -Changes in Longitude

Serving girls from the Pharaoh’s court.

Malta Good Friday procession-Jonah and the whale-Changes in Longitude

Jonah and the Whale make an appearance at the Good Friday procession in Malta.
Malta good friday procession in Malta-drummers-Changes in LongitudeMoving on to Roman times with the presence of a Roman marching band. One of the reasons the procession is so long is that all participants first march into the church, before marching out of it for the actual procession. The pre-Church parade is to the soundtrack of Gladiator which boomed out of large loudspeakers set up on the piazza.

Malta Good Friday procession- old roman centurion, blue-Changes in Longitude

The Gladiator theme makes sense because part of the movie was filmed on Malta where the Colosseum was recreated. Many locals served as extras in the film, the gentleman above looks like he came right from central casting.

Malta Good Friday procession bar tv Jesus movie-Changes in Longitude

For those not watching the parade, the TV over the bar at the local tavern shows The Passion of the Christ on a continuous loop.

Malta Good Friday procession-drummers front of church-Changes in Longitude

Now that the parade has entered the church, they all turn around and match right out for the real parade.

Malta good friday procession-masked pilgrims-Changes in Longitude

At first we were taken aback by these folks, but they are not what you might think. These cloaked characters represent penitents who are repenting for their sins. They wear the hood to hide their identity.

Good Friday procession Malta-Feast-marching band-Changes in Longitude

Each village has a brass band that provides a soundtrack for the procession.

Good Friday procession Malta-feast-Jesus and cross-Changes in Longitude

Although there were 10 men carrying each statue, we could tell by their grunting that the statues were really heavy.

Feasts in Malta: Devoted Preparation

Like many countries with a strong religious heritage, feasts in Malta involve a lot of patience and preparation. Members of the 12th May Band and Social Club spend the weeks leading up to Good Friday diligently creating short-lived artwork to commemorate the day. Known as Il Mejda Ta l’Appostli, which is Maltese for “Table of the Apostles,” the Last Supper is commemorated in grains of semolina and rice. Participants must be extremely careful as one gust of wind will blow away all their efforts. Teenagers start on rice; it is somewhat easier as rice grains are large. Eventually they graduate to semolina, which is finely ground wheat (those tiny grains on the bottom of a loaf of Italian bread that keep it from sticking to the counter—miniscule!)

Good Friday Procession Malta feast-rice last supper painting-Changes in Longitude

Here’s the colorful display at the 12th May Band and Social Club. It’s hard to believe these paintings are made with just grains. Since the grains are not glued, I was afraid to lean over too far to take the picture for fear of creating a breeze that would mess them up.

Good Friday procession Malta-feast- rice mosaic-Changes in Longitude

In this photo the individual grains of rice are visible.

Good Friday Procession Malta-feast- last supper rice drawings Changes in Longitude

The artists who put these pictures together devote seven hours a day in the week leading up to Good Friday. What makes this magnificent artwork more poignant is the fact that it is ephemeral, at the end of the day it is just swept away.

Good Friday procession-Malta-Feast-brothers rice drawing

Thank you to two of the artists, brothers Dylan and Ayrton, from the 12th May Band and Social Club, who explained the display to us.

Religious feasts in Malta are a big deal, and the Good Friday Procession at the end of Holy Week is one of the most important events of the year. One of the things that’s really cool about this Good Friday procession is the homespun charm and sense of community. Everyone in the town who wants to participate has a role; many take part year after year, often reenacting the same characters annually. Don’t go expecting something that’s run with precision down to the last minute–this isn’t the Olympics Closing Ceremony. Rather it is a community celebration of an event in Malta that is important to all. Despite the fact that Good Friday is a solemn day, everyone enjoys themselves, and their pride in participation is evident.

If plan to be in Malta during the Easter holidays, make a point to attend the Good Friday Procession, and be sure to seek out the fascinating artwork created by the 12th May Band and Social Club.

 

Changes in Longitude travel blog-Larissa and Michael Arctic Circle

 

Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free newsletter with quarterly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.