Two Christmases from opposite ends of the earth and opposite ends of my adulthood, writes Nikki Gemmell.
The first: One of the most isolated Christmases on earth and one of the most beautiful.
A secret water hole a bone-jarring ride from town. We were mainly Alice Springs locals, childless and godless the enormous, glittery roof of the southern sky would be our midnight cathedral.
We turned off the bitumen, bush bashing by a dry creek bed; billies, swags and cocktail glasses piled high in four-wheel drives.
Arrived at a billabong of exquisite coolness in heat so thick you could lick it.
First tasks: Selecting our dwarf desert pine and decking it in tinsel with all the solemnity of ceremony.
Then scaling a nearby bluff and sitting at the top, with our ritualistic margaritas, letting the beauty of the land soak in.
What followed: Several cloistered days of camp oven roasts, bush tea, lazy swims, camp fire stories and $10 gifts. We felt cool and exclusive and defiant all from somewhere else and all secretly relieved, I think, to be removed to some extent from the hooks of family obligation.
The second: Fast forward 20 years. From 45°C to two. A clenching cold in the cram of London's Notting Hill, surrounded by a raucous bunch of Aussie orphans and their kids.
A Christmas organised entirely by email. Banned: faces flushed with exhaustion, arguments, stress. Everyone brought a gift of food. We’d all done the family pressies, church and phone calls home that morning. The focus: a meal of celebration among a group of like-minded people.
Planning began a month ahead. Gourmet cooks would do the turkey and tatties.
Killer shoppers would do the desserts (all with Johnny Carson on that one: "The worst gift is a fruit cake. There is only one fruit cake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.")
Everyone brought favourite (Aussie) wines. We provided the house, champagne and Tim Tams! (We’d also snuck in Nutri-Grain for breakfast, from a wildly expensive Notting Hill deli an extremely rare treat.)
As the woman of the house, I was joyous. Could it be possible I wouldn’t be run ragged by days of preparation? I’d end up as relaxed as my guests? The idea felt gloriously democratic, utterly simple and beyond reach.
Everyone male and female did their bit. Serving drinks, dishing food, clearing up, child-minding.
I surrendered to the relaxing; and as the matriarch of a busy family home, that was a first. It was a feast of light hearts and much, much laughter from beginning to end.
It was a Christmas that felt defiantly modern, but also, weirdly, full of grace.
A day stripped of rampant materialism; at its core was the simple idea of sharing a feast with beloved friends and giving thanks for good fortune.
It felt like the perfect day fresh and joyous but most of all, easy. It hadn't been emotionally draining in any way.
And you know what? We've done an Aussie Christmas like that, in London, ever since. Even sometimes, gloriously with distant relatives from Oz who’ve travelled over especially for it. Like my mum.
Your say: What is your favourite Christmas memory?
Video: The perfect Christmas ham