Byron Bay: Peace, Love & An Aussie Christmas

I don’t know which of the songs felt the weirdest to hear whilst I lay by the pool in the 27 degree heat on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Wham’s classic Last Christmas, Elton John’s Step Into Christmas or Band Aid? Definitely Band Aid. Do they know it’s Christmas time? No.

Never once have I spent a Christmas somewhere that’s not below 10 degrees and that’s not home. It’s a strange one. I booked myself a place to stay over Christmas before I even left the UK because I panicked – after seeing a couple fully booked – that this was something I MUST do 2 months in advance. Turns out, I probably could’ve waited. Nevertheless I’m in Byron Bay now, the super cool beach town full of hippies, hipsters and everything that’s hip. It’s a town decorated with peace symbols, dream catchers and rainbows. It smells like irresistibly-expensive food, incense sticks and weed (in some parts). It’s streets are paved with trendy cafes where everyone wants to eat and take photos of their food, big brand surf shops and smoothie and ice cream bars each advertising their best acai bowl (ah-sy-ee – in case, like me you were wondering how the hell you pronounce the bloody thing).

It’s a place that’s easy to wander around and I’ve found it amusing watching the different kinds of people you’ll find in Byron. Hippies – as I think of them – are supposed to be these free spirits who aren’t interested in following crowds but when I look around here, it’s mobbed with the same dread-locked, tie-dye-wearing, spaced-out hippies on every other street corner. I’m surprised they haven’t got bored of the look yet. Then there’s the beautiful men and women of Byron Bay, the sun-bleached surfers and their girlfriends dressed head to toe in their Billabong’s and their Roxy’s sipping their chai lattes and munching on their avo on toast. And there’s the backpackers of course, a mix of tiredness and excitement amongst them, roaming the streets for the bar with the best happy hour.

Anyway, back to Christmas…

Despite a few tinsled shop windows and seeing the odd person in a Santa hat, it’s been very easy for me to completely forget that it is in fact Christmas. In the week leading up to it I was almost stressing that I needed to have this amazing Australian experience and find cool people to spend it with. That’s where my eager decision to book a place backfired slightly. I’d met more people in my last hostel who I could’ve more easily enjoyed Christmas with had I not booked Byron already. But now I had 3 days to miraculously make a bunch of best pals to sit round a table (or BBQ) with and enjoy Christmas, it just wasn’t gonna happen – not for me anyway. It’s not natural for me to bond so quickly with a bunch of strangers, it takes a bit more time unless by chance you meet your exact kind of person, someone you can instantly connect with. This is rare and I can honestly say it’s happened maybe a total of two times for me over the past 2 months of meeting people.

Eventually I decided not to force anything. Once again, I feel I proved if you don’t build such high expectations (which I have a habit of doing) you don’t have to deal with as much disappointment! I wasn’t feeling Christmassy in the slightest, not in the week leading up, not on Christmas Eve with the aid of festive songs by the pool and not on Christmas day when I woke up to blaring sunshine and joined the crowds of people at the beach. So I treated it as a normal day and just… let it be.

My hostel at least threw a little Mexican-themed bash on Christmas Eve which I joined for $15 and maybe it was when I was tucking into my fajita and watching the staff hang up a piñata that I was once again reminded how un-Christmassy this Christmas would be. But I’d accepted it by then.

On Christmas Day I woke up late and had a lazy morning before finally getting myself ready to head to the beach and see just how many people really spend their Christmas there. I found the kitchen empty and made myself lunch, which was basically rolls bought fresh from the bakery the day before which I filled with sweet potato, halloumi, salad and hummus. No turkey and stuffing for me. The usually-busy streets were empty too. I took a couple of ciders and wandered down to the beach to find it crowded with families and groups of friends. You’d think the sight of that would make me sad but I was quite content by this point. I ate my lunch and opened cards from home that had been sitting in my bag for the last 2 months. The weather was beautiful and I relaxed under the sun before craving something cold and although most things were closed, the Fro-yo shop in town wasn’t!

After my $8 cup of frozen yogurt, I strolled back to the beach and heard busking in the distance. A girl with a guitar was playing to an audience of more families and friends huddled around on the grass by Main Beach. I joined. Later she was replaced by a male busker on a guitar playing very mellow songs, including a slo-mo version of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. A drunk man hurled abuse at him for playing shit music and repeatedly shouted in his face ‘BUT CAN YOU MAKE THE PEOPLE DANCE?’ The people shouted back at him and I watched from my little patch of grass as the commotion transpired. Then a group close by to me laughed as one said ‘Welcome to Australia’. Did my expression give off a I’m-not-Australian vibe? I smiled and buried my head back in my book again until about 6pm rolled around and I decided to take a slow stroll back to the hostel for the night.

By this point it was Christmas morning at home so I skyped my family and pictured the usual movements of my mum rushing round the kitchen in the morning, Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album playing in the background, my dad impatiently picking at the peanuts all day before lunch was ready and my brother unfortunately getting ready to go to work! And while all of that was happening, I was slouched in the hostel lounge area, eating Pringles and dips and chocolate – just as I would at home – with my Christmas Day almost over. I still didn’t feel homesick (as I’d expected I would), it was just different. Of course I missed family and friends and I even briefly missed the cold and felt some envy as I saw friends enjoying chilly London days. I do love those.

Finally to round it off, Boxing Day. It is also a public holiday in Australia, just like in the UK there were no big plans and no real understanding of what this day means. So I treated myself to breakfast pancakes followed by a few purchases in one of the open shops with 25% off everything in store. Later I swam in the pool at the hostel which was glorious, read more of my book and joined an afternoon walk organised by the hostel to Cape Byron Lighthouse. The walk – there and back – was around 2-3 hours and provides some pretty lovely views of the coast and a small section takes you through the rainforest before finally reaching the Lighthouse.

And that’s it. Christmas is over! Went by in a flash for me, what about you? Thanks for reading again. Merry Christmas wherever you are in the world. See you at New Year (for another blog). Cheers!

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