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Being a Christmas orphan in New York: Thermals, frostbite, and unexpected pavlova.

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Christmas for me has revolved around food since the time I became too old for a Christmas stocking.

Before then, you could have your turkey because I was perfectly content with my Hawaiian Barbie.

On the day, Christmas is measured in meals. It begins with fresh, fragrant mangoes and buttery croissants for breakfast; the day meanders from mid-morning to lunchtime in a blur of prawns and cold baked ham.

All our extended family brings a dish, and we sit in the sunshine and eat and drink long into the afternoon. My stepdad will tend the barbecue with uncles and cousins standing around (requisite stubby holders in hand), my mum and her sisters will laugh uproariously as they do whenever they’re together, and everyone takes it in turns to chase around the newer small additions to the family.

And come evening, even though we hardly need it, there will be snacking and perhaps a second round of pud. It’s comforting to know how our day will pass each year.

But Christmas in New York City was a very different animal.

Christmas in New York
Standard get-up. Those leggings are thermal and those socks are pure alpaca wool. Sexy, no? Image: Supplied.

It was cold. It was so cold that there were warnings not to stay outside in the elements for more than ten minutes lest your face get frostbitten.

And it snowed, but not like in those Christmas movies. This snow would be a fresh white blanket in the morning but within an hour it would be hard, dirty and slippery.

Christmas in New York
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though… Image: Supplied.
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I was poor — money poor and time poor. I was working crazy hours right up until Christmas day because Americans don’t really care that much about Christmas.

In the US, it’s all about Thanksgiving. I had worked the night of Thanksgiving, eating slices of cold pizza in front of my computer screen. No turkey passed my lips. Not a single bite of pumpkin pie.

And now Christmas was here and I was cold, and miserable, and I would have given my snow boots for some of my stepdad’s barbecued prawns.

Christmas in New York
Decorating our little tree. After Christmas every street in New York is littered with the skeletons of discarded Christmas trees. Image: Supplied.

I envisioned another long night in the office, but when I checked my diary, I realised I wasn’t working Christmas Day. And then I got a phone call from a new friend, one with a nice big house and a child and lots of cats.

She invited me to join her and her family on the day. Obviously, we jumped at the chance since our only other plan was staring mournfully into other people’s windows at their warm, cosy Christmases.

We put on our coats, which can only be described as doonas with sleeves, our beanies, our scarves. Laden with wine and presents, we descended on Brooklyn.

There were presents, and a warm fire, and laughter and Christmas crackers. I ate turkey, I played with a five-year-old’s doll’s house (and the kid), and I drank wine.

Christmas in New York
I really wasn’t alone. Image: Supplied.
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It was starting to feel a lot like Christmas.

Before we’d even finished eating, another new friend called, inviting us to join her at her Christmas party.

We made our way to her house for celebratory drinks with other Christmas orphans, who were all very merry by the time we got there.

My friend was an Australian who had baked a pavlova in her tiny East Village kitchen, and somehow found fresh berries to put on top of it.

In between arguing with Kiwis about the country of origin of this most famous dessert, each bite I took tasted like home.

Finally, after an evening that involved a lot of red wine and an ill-judged kitchen dance-off with our small tribe of Christmas waifs, my boyfriend and I reluctantly piled on our coats and headed homeward.

When we got home from our festivities, there was a wrapped present waiting for me, delivered by family friends who were in the city. It was a care package from my Mum, with everything I was really needing (well, except prawns). Vegemite featured heavily.

Christmas in New York
Care package complete with 15 boxes of Twinings Russian Caravan tea. V. pleased. Image: Supplied.

And so that first Christmas in New York ended with us at home, warm, eating Vegemite on toast and drinking tea. It was actually kind of perfect.

Have you spent Christmas abroad? How was your experience?

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