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Home: The Toast

1. Spend your entire childhood and adolescence in Australia reading books from the northern hemisphere. Pretend that you understand the following things: mint jelly; tobogganing; conkers. Dream about snow. Dream about roasted chestnuts. Dream about mince pies. Dream about Christmas tree forests, the heavy scent of pine and cold. Dream about Christmas sweaters, the uglier the better. Dream about opening presents in front of an open fire. Dream of deep, long, dark nights, and the hope of stars.

2. Move overseas. Spend a Christmas in Ireland sitting in a pub with your aunt and uncle, drinking hot whiskey. Wander down cobblestone streets and come across Glen Hansard and Sinead O’Connor busking on a corner. (Leave before Bono gets there.) Go ice skating on Boxing Day, which they call St. Stephen’s Day. Call your family across the hours and miles. Be incandescently happy.

3. Spend a Christmas in England: you and your girlfriend, both of you alone without family for the first time. Prepare the roast yourselves, careful and then skipping around the kitchen with pride when it turns out okay — better than okay, delicious. Take a morning walk through cold, bare streets, one hand tucked into a new faux fur jacket, one hand holding your girlfriend’s, both of you wearing terrible Santa hats, and smile at the other families you pass and the little children rugged up in coats so puffy they seem in constant risk of toppling over and rolling harmlessly down Bristol’s hills. When they wish you a Merry Christmas, say it back, thrilled at your own accent here, here at last.

4. Start planning your third Christmas, your first with your girlfriend-now-wife-haha-oh-man’s family. Plan presents and lie awake drowsily talking them over with your girlfriend-now-wife-etc. Discuss family traditions, swapping stories in the dark. Start to get excited about Hastings, the little seaside town she’s from, with its pebbled beaches and stormy hills and cosy pubs. Start thinking about what the sky will look like on Christmas morning: fog and steely grey, your favourite kind of weather.

5. Laugh along with all the people who are complaining, outraged, that it’s too early to think about Christmas shopping. Then stop and realise that actually, if you want to be sure your parcel home will get there in time (unlike the last two years), you’d better send it by the 1st of December. Go shopping. Buy your mum the traditional joke present. Buy your little sister every Taylor Swift-related item you can find. Think about them opening the gifts. Think about your favourite part of Christmas, which is the opening of presents — not the receiving but the giving — truly nauseating, you know, but the thing about your family, as you explain over and over, is that you’re all really good at it.

6. Try to explain how funny your family is. Your presents to one another are always both thoughtful and hilarious. Talk about the time your sister, aged seventeen, declared it was an outrage that your younger siblings — aged respectively six and nine — were allowed to make their presents, while she and you must spend actual money on them. Tell how you spent one Christmas Eve in spasms of laughter, watching your sister create a series of deliberately awful presents: a tissue disguised as a bookmark. A drinking straw, bent in half, for the six-year-old boy who wanted a toy gun. The next morning, you watched your extended family members stare in gentle bemusement while you and your parents and your siblings shrieked with laughter at a shoebox labelled with a Sharpie: “IPOD SPEAKERS, I GUESS?”

7. Miss your family. That’s normal.

8. Miss the food. Miss the last Australian Christmas, when you and your mum made four or five bowls of different salads: spicy potato salad, lacking the mayonnaise, with extra spring onion; watermelon and feta salad, pink and sweet and salty in a giant glass bowl; chickpea salad; coleslaw salad; a salad that was all spring greens; a salad that was all earthy browns. And then complemented with the barbecue your dad presided over, his akubra tilted back, sweating and laughing over sausages and lamb chops, Triple J turned up high on the radio.

9. Miss even the food on the Christmases when everyone grimly bowed to tradition and spent four or so hours in a kitchen that was rapidly climbing over forty degrees (Celsius, thanks). Miss everyone’s sweaty, cross faces and the arguments over whether Australian turkeys are even the same breed as northern hemisphere ones. Miss your mum’s gravy and your dad’s bad jokes about marrying her for her gravy. Miss lying under the table, aged ten, with your sister, dropping ice cubes down each other’s backs. Miss everyone taking their plates outside, to hot verandas, in search of a breeze.

Miss waking up on Christmas Day and launching yourself into the sea, shrieking with your sisters and brother, the sun hot on your shoulders, the water a cool slap in your face.

10. Miss Christmas on a beach. Miss Christmas in some rented or borrowed beach house, and the troop down to the sea first thing in the morning, dragging along presents if you’re still attached, hoping the sand doesn’t get too engritted in the pages of a new book or the wheels of a new remote-control car. Miss waking up on Christmas Day and launching yourself into the sea, shrieking with your sisters and brother, the sun hot on your shoulders, the water a cool slap in your face. Miss taking your body board down with you and skimming along the foamy surface of the waves, delivered tumbling and laughing to where your parents sit on the sand, their legs outstretched and their faces grinning. Miss someone’s tinsel-strewn beach towel. Miss comparing presents with other children in the sand. Miss the slow trips back to the house for meals and naps, and then back down to the beach again, until these treks blend into a long and endless day with waves lapping at you, with salt drying on your skin, with your sister’s nose peeling pink. Miss the low cry of seagulls. Miss the sunset, when it finally comes, pink and orange and bouncing across the water.

11. You can even miss spending Boxing Day sunburned and grumpy and aching from fighting the strength of the current. Miss the way the ocean beats you up. It’s kind of fun.

12. Miss Australia’s bizarre, endearing attempts to marry northern hemisphere traditions with a scorching southern hemisphere sun. Miss the stories about Father Christmas travelling in this part of the world with kangaroos, rather than reindeer. Miss the attempts to replace ugly Christmas sweaters with ugly Christmas rashies. Miss the updated Christmas carols, with their occasionally dodgy rhyme schemes (“Dashing through the bush / In a rusty Holden Ute”). Miss the way your dad used to leave out carrots and a bucket of water for the reindeer (“They’ll be thirsty!”) and biscuits and a cool bottle of beer for Father Christmas (“He’ll be thirstier”).

13. Miss the cool change, the real magic of Australian Christmas and Australian summer, which people talk about as some mythic, anthropic thing. Miss waiting for the cool change, sitting out in the baking-hot, still evenings, counting down your advent and tasting the moment the air changes.

14. Don’t miss the way Christmas specials, Christmas movies, Christmas TV shows always seemed vaguely bizarre to you. Admit it: Christmas special episodes are excellent. They make much more sense now that you’re no longer watching them sprawled on the couch in short shorts and a singlet, pressing a cold beer against your cleavage, watching with the drugged glazed look in your eyes you get when it’s that hot. Enjoy the Christmas specials now. Watch all of your favourites every year.

15. But you can miss watching Love, Actually with your mum.

16. Miss the length of the day, a Christmas Day that is maybe two or three times longer than you get in the northern hemisphere. A Christmas Day that starts early enough to please even the most excitable children, a Christmas Day that lingers on and on and on, from a sweet blue-skied morning to a hot afternoon that leaves you panting and stretched out still, through the kind of lazy afternoon that demands naps and a night that never comes. Miss the way you would sit outside with your family, swatting mozzies, sleepy-drunk and full of food, watching the sky stay light, and light, and light.

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