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"My first Australian Christmas ended up being back-up Two Minute Noodles and cask wine. And lots of al-fresco pashing."

What do I remember from my first Aussie Christmas?

Not much. Like every young ‘orphan’ freed from the obligations of family celebrations, mostly, I was drunk.

Tipsy and giddy with the novelty of feeling sun on my skin as I tore snowman wrapping from presents posted from another hemisphere.

Oh, but I do remember that birds ate my Christmas lunch.

I was camping. With my first ‘real’ Australian Boyfriend. I was in awe of a man who knew how to pitch a tent and build a fire, unlike the pastie pommy men of my Mancunian youth, my Australian Boyfriend was unfazed by spiders, sand in absolutely everything and the idea of cooking Christmas lunch in the open air.

In his tiny creaky Datsun we’d driven to a bush camp, stopping to stock up on supplies along the way, a supermarket visit for fresh fish, a cask of wine (of course) chocolates and chips and for scrubbed potatoes to bake in the campfire embers.

how to be brave
"Tipsy and giddy with the novelty of feeling sun on my skin as I tore snowman wrapping from presents posted from another hemisphere." Image: Supplied.

I have a photo of me on that Christmas morning. I am wearing a crooked paper hat, a slightly insane grin and am waving a plastic champagne flute in triumph at having escaped the European drizzle, all-day television and shouted conversations with slightly deaf relatives. Oh yes, I was young and free. There's a kangaroo in the shot, for God's sake.

After bubbles with the roos and the world's shortest gift exchange, we hiked to the nearest phone box to call our loved ones, his in Melbourne, mine in Manchester. It was probably the middle of the night for my poor parents, but they couldn't escape the bellowed "MERRY CHRISTMAS, IT'S REALLY HOT HERE!!!"

We returned to our campsite to find, of course, that the oh-so-pretty birds had eaten the potatoes cooking in our embers, and had broken into our improvised eskie to terrorise the fish fillets. My first Australian Christmas ended up being back-up Two Minute Noodles and cask wine. And lots of al-fresco pashing, so, you know, all was not lost.

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In the years that followed, I got myself "adopted" by my great friend's Aussie family. They taught me about the true joys of a southern hemisphere Christmas. Mountains of plump pink prawns, ham for days, bubbles that didn't taste like lemonade, pavlova, pavlova, pavlova. And a cheese plate that would have been lunch itself on any other day of the year.

"Lunch at Aussie grandma's house, Kiwi songs with my partner's brothers, and still, a cheese plate for days and endless, endless ham, a fruit platter that no-one will touch until the chocolates are gone, and candy sticks from the tree." Image via iStock.

And it was just as well that the food - and the company - was so sensational, because after the giddy heights of that first festive season of freedom, the sense of being far away from everyone who knows and loves you the best began to bite. I spent Christmas mornings in tears, wondering why I had ever allowed myself to drift so far from all that tied me to my roots, pining for the traditions that for years I had dismissed as lame. I steeled myself to sound cheerful as I made those inevitable phone calls - this time at a more considerate hour - and I cursed the hot rain that seemed to always fall as the third glass of red made you a little maudlin on Christmas night. How foolish, I thought, how foolish I was to be so eager to shake off the slush and the flaming plum pudding and the 33 roast potatoes of my childhood Christmases.

And then, then I built a family of my own. A family of little people who could no more imagine a cold Christmas and a hot stuffed bird than they could an empty stocking at the end of the bed. Our own traditions have grown up around us - drinks with friends at our place Christmas Eve, bucks fizz and bagels on Christmas morning, a compulsory swim at the beach. Lunch at Aussie grandma's house, Kiwi songs with my partner's brothers, and still, a cheese plate for days and endless, endless ham, a fruit platter that no-one will touch until the chocolates are gone, and candy sticks from the tree.

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Holly and her own family at Christmas. Image: Supplied.

Now I see the beauty in a Hot Christmas, the lightness of it, just as I did that first year. It's not the end of something, it's the beginning of a summer that stretches ahead, full of possibility. If you're lucky, it's not a few stolen days of togetherness, it's the opening event in a festival of family and friends.

I have spent enough Christmases without my people to know how absurdly fortunate I am to have found them again. To have built my new world, from friendship, from work, from love, from blood.

Holly's children opening up their Christmas presents. Image: Supplied.

Now I know it doesn't matter which side of the world you are at on Christmas Day, all that matters is who is beside you when you're peeling a prawn, or pulling a cracker, or swigging your bubbles from a plastic flute.

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I don't know whatever happened to my first Aussie Boyfriend, my fellow victim of bird-based theft. But I raise a glass to him on all the other Christmas mornings because that was the year that my life changed forever. And you never forget who was with you when that happens.

How have your Christmas traditions changed over the years?

Let's be honest, the best Christmas traditions involve food...

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