At 9:30pm tonight, the last rays of sunlight faded to a faint purple over the hills, allowing me to say that the "eve" of Christmas Eve has truly arrived. Even now I have trouble believing it's almost Christmas, as every other Christmas I have experienced has started with a sunset before 5:30pm!
This morning I got up at the positively late hour of 8am (as compared to my 6am starts when I was living in Waipawa), had a shower and breakfast, and then Frank and I headed out to brave the Christmas Eve Day shopping hordes. Our first stop was the corner butcher shop, where the owner didn't even ask Frank what he wanted, but promptly wrapped up six sausages... Frank's a regular! Secondly we went downtown to the library, where I returned the DVDs Skye had signed out of the Hastings library like she asked me to, and Frank let me sign out a book on his card along with his own selections (I got out an illustrated edition of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Hold your tongues...).
Our third stop was the Countdown grocery store, and here we experienced the greatest throngs of holiday shoppers whizzing up and down the aisles (I tell you, I do not envy checkout clerks working on Christmas Eve!). It was here that I let Frank in on Stefan and I's scheme for he and Fay's Christmas present; Stefan usually sends a hamper, but was unable to organise it this year, so instead I bought a selection of things, and even though Frank knows about it it will still be a surprise for Fay. I bought a Whittaker's milk chocolate bar, strawberry jam, marmalade, cheese crackers, tasty cheese, brandy snaps, and a bottle of cream (to make whipped cream). I also bought (or attempted to buy) a bottle of Lindaur sparkling sauvignon blanc, but when we went through the checkout I was asked for ID and the woman couldn't accept a BC driver's licence as proof of my age (and my passport was back at the house), so Frank ended up purchasing it! (I paid him back.) Sigh, I'll be getting carded in my 30s, I just know it (to add insult to injury, the drinking age here in New Zealand is 18... do I *really* look that young?).
By the early afternoon it was quite warm; I was in capri shorts and a t-shirt and was still feeling uncomfortably hot. However, in the afternoon the wind picked up, and it is still quite windy outside, occasionally causing the house windows to rattle even as I type this. Our hope is the wind will blow away all the clouds, and tomorrow will be beautiful and sunny. At the very least, the northernly direction of the wind allowed Frank to burn some of the yard waste in an oil drum out back, as the smoke rapidly blew out and away from the direction of the house.
I had planned to attend the "midnight mass" at the Napier Cathedral this evening (which isn't really a mass, because it's an Anglican church, not a Catholic one, and held at 11pm, not midnight), and when I told Fay of my intentions to take a taxi she became all concerned and started trying to remember the name of a woman who sang at Peggy and Stefan's wedding, lives nearby, and is a pillar of support for the cathedral who would most likely be going to the service and could possibly give me a ride. I ended up texting Stefan at Fay's request and asking for her name, and he responded with not only her name but the street she lives on, so we were easily able to look her up in the phone book. Fay gave her a call, and while it turns out she is in Taupo with her sons for the holidays, she was overjoyed to hear from Fay after so many years, and sends her love and Christmas wishes to Stefan, which we will be sure to pass on to him tomorrow when he calls.
Frank drove me downtown to St. John's Cathedral for 10:30pm, and the Choral Eucharist began at 11pm with the singing of carols. Thankfully there was only one I didn't know ("On Christmas Night") and one that I knew in another form ("Angels from the Realms of Glory" is essentially "Angels We Have Heard on High"). Within the service itself were several more carols, including "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", both sung to alternate melodies I have never heard back home in Canada. Thankfully by now I have sung both alternate melodies enough that I was able to sing through them without any trouble.
It was a magical moment as the service began; the lights dimmed, leaving us sitting in the flickering glow of our handheld candles, and the Cathedral Choir at the back of the sanctuary started singing "Ding Dong Merrily on High"; it was the first live performance of Christmas Carols by trained singers I have heard this season, and warmed my ears and made me miss being in a performing choir that much more.
For the second time in my life I took communion (the first time being during the Easter service at the United Church in Duncan back in 1995 or so). I didn't intend to; I just sort of got swept up into the line getting up to let the people beside me get out of the pew row. Call me paranoid, but the idea of sipping from a cup that forty other people have just put their lips on - even if the servers do wipe it off immediately after each person - heightens my germophobia.
The sermon and the blessing performed by Bishop David Rice spoke of the traditional nativity scene; how we are all familiar with it, how it is a symbolic rather than historically accurate depiction of Christ's birth, and that however things may have really been two thousand years ago, hope, faith, and potential were certainly present that night. The Bishop reminded us that we are all full of hope and potential, and should go out into the world in peace and to do good. His accent was not one of a New Zealander; at the end of the service, when I shook his hand at the door, he told me he was originally from the north-eastern United States. He thanked me for coming, and when I told him I was here for six months touring around the country he told me with a big smile that he hopes I "have a blast".
I got back to Fay and Frank's around 1:30am, brushed my teeth, came into my (Stefan's) room, closed the door... and what was merrily climbing up the back of the door but a cockroach! UGH! I knocked it to the floor, crushed it with repeated whacks of my shoe, and put the pieces in a paper towel to throw in the bin. Oh, yes, my Christmas cockroach, lucky me. I just hope there aren't any more lurking around in here; I'm going to keep telling myself there aren't, otherwise I'm never going to be able to sleep.
It's now 2:15am here, Christmas Day, so I'm off to bed. Peace on earth; goodwill toward men.