For most people, Christmas is a time to spend with family. Wherever you are in the world – whether songs about letting it snow and chestnuts roasting on an open fire are largely accurate or vastly incongruous – most people spend time with their parents and relatives during the festive period. And for me, that’s a huge part of why it’s my favourite time of year.
But this year, due to being on a different continent, eleven hours in the future of all my family, “Christmas” became a whole new being. No long drives to visit cousins with a car stuffed full of presents and food; no wine-fuddled evenings filled with board games and nostalgic telly. No parents, no brother, no family.
(Don’t panic guys, this isn’t going to be as bleak as it sounds).
Phea and I were both a bit nervous in the lead up to the holiday. We’d both spent a month or so settled in one place – different places – and were reuniting for the festive period, displacing ourselves from the comfort of our respective hostels in Surfer’s Paradise and Coff’s Harbour. So there was that upheaval to deal with: getting moving again after a long time stagnant. And then on top of that, even though in general I don’t tend to get homesick (because I know that home will always be there when I return to it) I’ve never spent Christmas away before. Even if I have always squeezed holiday trips to Brighton, New Year celebrations in Edinburgh, and university ski trips around it.
Yet in the event, we were both incredibly lucky with our first experience of Christmas abroad. For a start, the mere fact of being in Australia for Christmas made it feel so far removed from the image I hold in my head that I could hardly even compare it to a Christmas in England. It just felt like a strange, slightly farcical celebration that just happened to coincide with a totally separate and distinct set of events going on at home. I saw pictures on Facebook of friends cosied up in front of the fire; fluffy clothing abounded; and Snapchat stories were filled with mulled wine, terrible weather and comfort food. But over here, though shopping centres’ tinny speakers still piped out songs in which Jack Frost featured heavily, in reality the only thing ‘nipping at your nose’ was the slightly overenthusiastic air conditioning. The thirty-degree heat made mulled wine an unappealing thought (shocking, I know), and comfort-eating (while always fun) was staunched by the desire not to resemble a hippo in a bikini by the time New Year came around.
An even better antidote to homesickness was the fact that we had somewhere to spend the festive period. I’m not sure how we lucked out quite so much, but Durham provided us with one friend in Melbourne for Christmas, and another in Sydney to show us a proper New Year (thanks Jacqui and Brogan and both of your lovely families).
Though both Phea and I made some great friends during our time in Surfers’ and Coff’s, we both agreed that it was so much nicer to spend Christmas in a real house, with people we actually knew well and felt comfortable with. Christmas at Aussitel, where I stayed in Coff’s Harbour, looked so fun – complete with Santa delivering presents (albeit conspicuously wearing flip-flops) – but you really can’t beat good friends, great food, and (importantly) a telly to watch Love Actually on.
One of the best things about Christmas spent at Jacqui’s house was that it was so completely different from any Christmas I’ve experienced before. We couldn’t miss home because there was no pang of recognition, and no attempt to make it feel familiar, which was fantastic. On the day we had a luxurious lie in, ate sushi and fruit for breakfast, and grazed on healthy, fresh food all day. We still got that overly full, more-than-slightly-uncomfortable feeling, without which Christmas would not be complete, but only from being a bit too greedy with the cherries.
Stranger still, we went to the beach post-lunch – all of us feeling somewhat as though a child was residing in our well-fed stomachs. It was an absolute scorcher of a day: we had to wait for late afternoon before we dared to venture outside, for fear that we might melt. We got very lucky in that respect – Melbourne is renowned for having four seasons in one day, and it promptly proceeded to rain for two days straight in the aftermath of Christmas.
Brighton beach was where we headed for our afternoon sunbathe (yep, you heard right – almost everywhere in Melbourne seems to be named for a UK counterpart). The beach was littered with families out to celebrate; some bedecked in Santa hats, others lugging eskies and picnic blankets and full-on beach tents. There was also a sizeable contingent of backpackers and tourists, made conspicuous by the long queue to take a picture with the beach hut painted with the Australian flag. After several leisurely hours reading and napping (and obsessively reapplying sun cream, of course mum), we queued up too. Unfortunately the photos we took far too accurately depicted the reality of our post-Christmas dinner bikini bods, so they will never be seeing the light of day (yes Jacqui, that is a threat).
Sun-kissed (okay, sunburnt) and content, we wandered home as the sun began sinking in the sky, and were welcomed back by Jacqui’s lovely mum offering us generous slicecs of the most indulgently delicious lemon tart I’ve ever tasted. Despite our bulging bellies, we could hardly refuse – and if there is one thing which remains the same about Christmas worldwide, it’s that the phrase ‘well, it’s Christmas’ can be legitimately used for all kinds of greed.
We spent the remainder of the day snuggled in our pyjamas, watching Love Actually, and feeling incredibly lucky to have done the Aussie Christmas experience quite so well. It’s been amazing to be on the other side of the world and still get a place to call home, at a time of year when travelling could end up being quite lonely. While there are things about Christmas at home that I’ll always be sad to miss (nothing beats the annual catch-up with Grandpa), I still managed to have a really lovely time doing without. Although I’m very grateful for the invention of Face Time, too.