Shopping when it’s cold, streets twinkling with fairy lights, mince pies, the smell of cheap mulled wine in a pub, shop windows bathed in fake snow, midnight mass… there is nothing I don’t love about Christmas here in the UK.

As someone who grew up in Brisbane, listening to Bing Crosby sing about a White Christmas while I was in a swimsuit and 30-degree heat, I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to be in a place that actually matches the wintry aesthetic of Christmas that you’ve seen in every festive film and book. And so, no matter how much I miss my family in Australia, that’s why I can’t ever imagine going back for a hot summer’s Christmas.

As a kid, Christmas was a week-long parade through various relatives’ back gardens – the line-up featuring barbecues, seafood feasts, swimming pools and lots of suntan lotion. My parents divorced when I was five and subsequently remarried, so my sister and I had a lot of relatives to get through. It was fun and frantic, and no two years were quite the same.

My parents lived in London during the 1980s and I was born here. But we moved back to Australia when I was just shy of two. A visit to Europe when I was 12 ignited an obsession with moving to London and on returning to Brisbane, I started saving money for my plane ticket. Nine years later, on the day I finished university, I booked my one-way flight.

The run-up to my first Christmas as an ‘orphan’ in London was spent with my Aussie flatmates, working through every British Christmas cliché we could imagine – carol singing, yule logs, a huge tree in our very non-huge Whitechapel flat… Then I headed to the Cotswolds for the day itself, to spend Christmas with my surrogate British parents. Ingela and Chris had been my parents’ best friends when they lived in London so staying with them and their children, Anna and Tom, made me feel very at home and connected to my family too.

Since then, I’ve spent eight more Christmases with them in the Cotswolds. They’ve welcomed me into their traditions, introducing me to ‘Molly’s stuffing’ (named after Chris’s mum) and Swedish Christmas Eve, plus we’ve started a few rituals of our own, like devouring endless cheesy Christmas Netflix movies while polishing off slabs of Cornish Yarg.

I’ve also enjoyed Christmas with other friends and family too. Each time, being enveloped in another household’s traditions feels like a huge privilege. It also allows me to assemble a pick’n’mix of highlights about everything from a late-night walk on Christmas Eve, to what game to play after lunch (a competitive round of Linkee) and what to serve for Boxing Day breakfast (bagels and egg salad with leftovers).

It also stops Christmas from becoming too static and weighed down by tradition. There’s a pressure that comes with routine and the ritual of Christmas can often be a reminder of what’s missing – whether that’s a relationship that’s ended or someone who’s died. Instead, being part of other families’ Christmases reminds me that there isn’t one perfect way Christmas is supposed to look.

This year will be different for everyone. As someone who particularly relishes the planning, I found November difficult – I missed the early buzz of Christmas excitement and filling my diary with ice skating, meet-ups and work parties. But I’m hopeful that this December I’ll be able to batten down the hatches with my surrogate British family and take a breath after a difficult year. And should it one day fall to me to play host, I’ll be ready – armed with all my ‘best bits,’ borrowed and stolen from everyone who’s opened up their family to make room for me. 

As told to Fiona Cowood

The Little Library Christmas by Kate Young (Head of Zeus, £15) is out now

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