Christmas in New Zealand is nothing like the Christmases of storybooks or American sitcoms.
We don’t have eggnog or mistletoe or roast turkey, and we most definitely don’t have snow.
Nope—this magical time of year is marked in my memory as a time of sunshine, beaches, baches, BBQs, my dad making disastrous present choices, and setting himself on fire.
A typical Hawk family Christmas takes the user experience one step further (or backwards, depending on how you look at it). They’re all about laughter and family – the human experience.
I’ve always taken a certain kind of pride in being a thoughtful gift giver. I love spending hours making lists, poring over present ideas and indulging my online shopping habit with impunity.
I didn’t inherit that from my dad.
Dad is a great man. He’s fiercely loyal, has an amazing work ethic, a killer sense of humour, and is without a doubt the best golfer in the ladies team that he’s somehow wangled his way into.
But a great gift-giver he is not. Let me tell you about a few of his most notorious gifts.
The most traumatising of all my Christmas memories was the year I turned 6. Dad bought mum a wall-mounted rechargeable kitchen knife and assorted other utensils unit. His plan was to mount it on the wall, charged and ready to go for when it came time to carve the ham.
Somehow, I got roped into that plan.
We waited until mum was at a neighbour’s house having a traditional Christmas Eve gin and tonic and snuck home to execute the plan. It was very nearly more than the plan which was executed.
Unsure as to where the wires were situated behind our 1970s brown tiled splashback, Dad got me to stand beside him with a gumboot on each arm, ready to push him off the current should he drill through a wire and electrocute himself. I stood in a state of paralysed fear and watched him systematically destroy the splashback with a progression of inappropriate drill bits.
Check out that splashback
Fast forward 6 years to the summer that I turned 12. That was the Christmas that dad bought us kids a self-buttering-microwave-popcorn-popper. Microwaves were pretty new on the scene in those days, and the technology wasn’t great. Disregarding all warnings on the box, dad substituted margarine for butter and cranked up the microwave. We watched in shock as the entire contraption melted before our eyes, emitting a cloud of toxic gas which filled the house and took several days to clear.
That Christmas stands out as particularly memorable because when Dad reached over the dinner table to hand to me the gift, he got too close to one of mum’s special Christmas candles, and his polyester shirt caught on fire.
To carry on the ‘80s microwave theme, the year I turned 16, dad bought my mum a contraption for hard-boiling eggs. Mum pretended to love it did an admirable job of looking heartbroken as she re-gifted it to me when I left home to go to university. The night before my graduation I’d had a few celebratory beers and upon arriving home, needed a quick snack to soak up the booze before heading to bed. I popped an egg into the aforementioned contraption, shut the lid, cranked up the microwave and sat back for 2 minutes to wait. Upon opening the microwave door, the device exploded open, blowing burning hot egg yolk all over my face.
Fair to say, those graduation photos aren’t much to be proud of.
But without a doubt, my favourite dad present (and fire) was the year I turned 10. The night started with a spectacular display at the church carol service. True to form, dad got confused about the order of singing and rather than waiting for the third verse of the hymn to sing with the congregation, he belted out a momentous duet with the soloist.
This was punctuated by the fact that the paper guard around his prayer candle had caught on fire and was slowly burning his hand, filling the church with the smell of singed hair.
Then it was gift time. To this day it remains a mystery as to what he was thinking and where he got it from, but under cover of darkness, dad presented me with a full, adult sized windsurfer. It still sits slowly disintegrating in its never-been-used state behind a shed somewhere in suburban Auckland.
The year I was gifted the windsurfer
So, Dad doesn’t always get it right when it comes to Christmas presents, but it’s those memories of beaches, baches, BBQs, sunshine and time spent with family that are the real gifts.
They’re the things that I’ll carry with me forever – the laughs and the love. The human experience.