Driving home for Christmas

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Several weeks ago, I met up with an Australian friend who has recently relocated to the UK in search of a new adventure.

He was experiencing the lead up to his first ever cold Christmas, following a lifetime of festive barbecues and Santas on surfboards.

It was all completely alien to him, but I found one of his observations particularly interesting. He said that for the first time in his life, he truly ‘got’ Christmas.

I spent many festive seasons down under, sweltering in the heat and feeling sorry for those poor in-store Santas, sweating under the weight of their costumes, no doubt wishing they could be dressed like everyone else, in shorts and T-shirts.

If truth be told, I never really felt ‘Christmassy’ in Sydney, no matter how well I decorated the tree or how many Christmas parties I attended.

I tried my hardest. I really did.

One year, I even invited people over for an evening of mince pies and mulled wine. Most guests politely sipped at a steaming glass before requesting a cold beer instead of a refill, possibly on account of temperatures being in the low 30s.

It was a fun evening, but just didn’t feel like Christmas.

I put that down to the fact that my Christmas expectations must have been hard-wired during childhood and that the same would be true in reverse for any Australians transplanted to the northern hemisphere in mid-December.

They would most likely be missing their own sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Christmas – the bucketloads of prawns, the smell of sunscreen, the sound of cicadas, the prickling feel of the summer sun… symbols of a traditional Yuletide down under.

And maybe for many Australians, that is the case. But not for my newly-arrived friend.

Indeed, the more he talked about it, the more it made me reflect on exactly what shouts out “It’s Christmas” to me, even louder than Noddy Holder ever managed.

Here then, is my list of 10 signs that Christmas is coming:

1. Cold weather – whilst many might cite this as a disadvantage of being in England in December, I find the chill in the air, the frost on the ground and the sight of your own breath in the morning a welcome sign that Christmas is just around the corner.

2. Warm clothes – hand-in-hand with a drop in temperature is a change in wardrobe. There’s something rather festive about donning extra layers, gloves, scarves and hats. As someone once said, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”.

3. Carol singers – this Christmas, carol singers seem to have been omnipresent. From a gospel choir singing outside my office, to the charity singers on the station forecourt to the street buskers, the traditional sounds of Christmas are everywhere.

4. Christmas decorations – a benefit of short days is it allows longer to see Christmas lights in their glory. From the spectacle of Regent Street, to the ornate shop windows, or more modest light shows on every street corner, it creates a magical atmosphere.

5. Christmas TV – Christmas has strong links to TV. In my youth, I recall Christmas Day TV involving the Queen’s speech, a circus and a Bond movie later on. Now, whether it’s Dr Who, Corrie or The Snowman, there’s plenty to keep you on the couch.

6. Christmas songs – every year, the Christmas classics are a year older, but every year they get played on high rotation and invoke the feeling of Christmas from the first bar. John Lennon, Slade, Wham, Wizard, Bing CrosbyThe Pogues..the list goes on.

7. Shopping – not always a good thing, especially when leading to unedifying sights like the ‘Black Friday’ retail frenzy, but there’s something Christmassy about wandering aimlessly through stores in search of inspiration for various gifts I still need to buy.

8. Christmas cards – every year I say I’ll send cards earlier next year. That I’ll sort out my address book and update it. Every year I leave it too late. But in such a digital world, there is something very pleasing about sending and receiving real Christmas cards.

9. Mulled wine – it may not have made much sense in Sydney, but it does make sense now. The rich aroma of red wine, orange, cloves and cinnamon as it simmers on the gas, ready to wash down those mince pies. Cold beer? No thanks.

10. Family – living in Sydney, I was used to seeing friends loading the car and driving home for a family Christmas while I’d spend it with my mini family unit, toasting the empty roads, but lamenting the lack of nearest and dearest to toast them with.

I’m not sure how many of these symbols will strike a chord with my Aussie exile friend, but for me they help to explain that whilst I always enjoyed Christmas in Sydney, it has taken a return to my homeland for it to feel truly special once again.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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