I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year celebrations.
If you don't celebrate Christmas I hope you enjoyed your respite from work and got to spend some quiet time with family and friends.
Stuart and I have a number of Jewish friends and a couple of Muslim friends who, although they don't celebrate Christmas, still enjoy the break and take the time to relax and catch up with family.
Regardless of your culture, religion or belief system, Christmas in Australia is a fantastic time of relaxation and friendship in one of the best climates in the world; it's summer after all! Think barbecues, long sultry evenings beneath the stars and crisp, cold wine.
On clear nights I like to lie on the lawn in our garden and count shooting stars and satellites.
I live in Melbourne, and the weather here is hot and dry; we don't get the tropical humidity our Queensland neighbours enjoy. We're over 3,000 kilometers from Cairns and roughly 1,700 kilometers from Brisbane - our capital in the tropics. Yep - this is a big country!
Today in Melbourne the sky is cloudless, the air is dry and it's about 40C in the shade ... love it!
Last year, Stuart and I spent Christmas in Germany - Fussen - to be exact, with Stu's parents. We had snow, gluhwein, stollen, more gluhwein, pretty Germanic villages, Neuschwanstein Castle and gluhwein. We had a fabulous time. Did I mention the gluhwein?
Stu and I had spent the weeks leading up to Christmas in Italy. Ah Rome - che bella! I love that city more than any other in the world. And Christmas was beautiful - the lights, the food and a magificent, enormous Christmas tree beside the Colosseum.
Many of us in the southern hemisphere believe that you must experience a white Christmas at least once in your life. We did, and we thoroughly enjoyed it, but oddly enough it didn't feel like Christmas to me.
I love making a big event out of putting up our Christmas tree and decorating it. I love the excitement as Christmas draws near and I love Christmas itself with the family get togethers and celebrations. You miss all of that when you go away.
Additionally, I love, love, love summer in Australia! Being in Europe, we missed most of summer last year, so I think that's why I felt like I missed Christmas - because we were away, we didn't keep with our usual family traditions.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I'm very fortunate to be able to travel regularly and appreciate the uniqueness of other countries and cultures.
Which brings me full circle - here in Australia we're fortunate to have wide diversity of cultures. We speak many languages, worship many gods and observe a variety of important days.
In 2014, let's celebrate our diversity. Let us be proud Australians together. Let us welcome our newcomers as they embrace and respect our culture, as we embrace and respect theirs.
Best wishes to you all, and Happy New Year!