Strays and Waifs

By Jen Haeger

December 2010 found my husband and I fulfilling one of our dreams, living in Auckland, New Zealand. Amongst some of the things you should know about New Zealand are that there is at least one single-lane bridge that shares the road with a train track (in case you hadn’t guessed, the train always has the right-of-way), their feijoas are so abundant that the sidewalks are often littered with “freejoas,” most Kiwis (people who live in New Zealand, not birds or fruit) enjoy a good Sunday roast with Watties tomato sauce (not even close to ketchup), a favorite candy is the pineapple lump (a chocolate covered confection with a soft center that tastes a lot like Juicy Fruit gum), they have no native mammals save bats and marine life which is why they have small-mammal sized insects (Google weta if you don’t believe me), and, since they are in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas takes place in the summer.

That year, instead of enjoying snow, ice skating, and hot chocolate, we were introduced to an Auckland Christmas tradition, the Whitcoulls creepy Santa. This was a 59ft, fiberglass and steel structure that lived atop the Whitcoulls book, stationary, gift, and toy store in downtown Auckland. What made this cheery decoration creepy? I’m glad you asked. First, the Santa’s face was covered with a white cloth until the big holiday reveal. Second, his leering face had a winking eye. Finally, a single, moving finger beckoned observers to come closer. Don’t worry though, this disturbing Christmas icon was retired last year (

But it wasn’t the creepy Santa or a holiday trip to the beach that made this particular Christmas special, it was the Waifs and Strays Christmas Dinner. For many years, our Kiwi friend Karen had opened her home to those of us who couldn’t or wouldn’t be with family during the holidays, a tradition that continues to this day. For the 2010 event, instead of exchanging gifts, we watched “The Mummy,” parts one and two, whilst we dined on chicken, potatoes, veggies, Mediterranean salad, and berries with whipped cream.

Even though my husband and I were thousands of miles from “home,” and were missing the winter weather, this gathering made us feel warm and welcome. It was also the first time I was introduced to the concept of “found family.” The Waifs and Strays Christmas Dinner will always hold a special place in my heart, and reminds me to extend myself beyond friends and family around the holidays. Especially now, there are a lot of waifs and strays out there who could also use a little holiday cheer and feeling of community.

Happy Holidays!

Jen Haeger

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