It’s late on a warm summer night and too hot to sleep. The only comfort is found in turning the pillow over every now and then to press your cheek into its cool underside, as delightful as a freshwater pool on a long walk.
Your bedroom window is open but there is no breeze tonight, only warm fragrant air and insects that are drawn to the strip of light beneath the door. But it is neither the heat nor the insects that keep you awake.

You cannot sleep tonight because you are seven years old and tomorrow is Christmas Day.
Growing up in southern NSW, Australia, December brought a conflation of childhood joys: the summer holidays, Christmas and New Year were all packed into a magical five or six weeks of freedom and February’s drudgery of back-to-school seemed barely a speck on the horizon.
We lived in a small country town and from late November the shop windows would begin to frost over with spray-on snow. The town’s various festive committees oversaw the installation of street decorations with stars and angels dangling from the street lights. Christmas carols piped through supermarket speakers describing sleigh-filled days, frozen evenings and reindeer.

By mid-December, Red-suited Santas with nylon beards would appear with their photo booths in the airconditioned malls while tired, hot families queued for photographs, children’s hands still clammy with melted ice-cream.
Our own house would be filled with the fresh resin smell of the Christmas tree, which was usually the decapitated top of a radiata pine that grew in the backyard.
I remember the sticky conifer dominating the tiny lounge room, adorned with rocking horses, tiny
nutcracker dolls and angels, all exquisitely hand-crafted in painted wood. The decorations were from Germany, a gift sent to us by distant cousins before I was born. Cotton wool ‘snow’ was draped over the branches, bright glass icicles hung among its needles and a shard of glittering crystal, like a star, bent the top slightly, as the tree wilted in the midsummer humidity. Even now, I cannot walk past a pine furniture shop without being transported to that tiny lounge room with its immense and perfumed tree.
At the time this juxtaposition of seasons, where opposite points of the year converged, never struck us as odd. It was taken for granted that the central motif of all our summertime celebrations was Northern Hemisphere midwinter.
Christmas Day for us commenced very early beneath our tree. We opened our presents in the bright morning light, among its dropped needles, before the long drive to the coast where we would spend the day with relatives.
Lunch was the main event but unlike many Australian families, we did not gather around a barbecue. Ours was heavily imbued with recent European heritage and the table was laid with every kind of roast bird, potatoes were served in savoury salads (not roasted) and the whole ordeal was punctuated with liqueur sweets, sour plumb cake, ginger biscuits and of course our Aunt’s pavlova.
There is something ancient and magical about celebrating Christmas in the heart of winter. As wet streets reflect the city’s lights, the snow-flaked cards and reindeer make sense now. Carols about warmth (inner and outer) feel right.
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Lunchtime was also a refuge from the heavy coastal heat and everyone gathered about the table, or (with plates balanced on knees) in front of a television that silently showed movies about Christmas miracles and redemption in the snowy streets of distant cities
After lunch, nauseated and half crazed from sweets, we would venture down the road to play on the beach before the hot drive home.
I was in my thirties when I experienced my first Northern Hemisphere Christmas, only a few short months after moving to London. During the build-up to December, Christmas Day itself and its precise order of activities, made me realise how casual the festive season had been for me growing up in the Southern Hemisphere. A Christmas of bright days and short, hot nights has become wet, cold and busy with shopping, meeting friends or undergoing that right-of-passage that is the office Christmas party.
There is something ancient and magical about celebrating Christmas in the heart of winter. As wet streets reflect the city’s lights, the snow-flaked cards and reindeer make sense now. Carols about warmth (inner and outer) feel right.
Trees are bundled-up and sold in ‘Christmas tree popups’ and unlike our lopsided radiata, I know these
cultivated things will not drop their sour needles on the floor.
When I moved to London, I left my family on the other side of the world. Shifting Hemispheres shifted my perception and what was normal to me, what I had built my expectations on had to change.
Our own tree stands in the corner of the room, as it has always done, though (sadly) this one is a plastic number from the pound shop. But it’s lights illuminate the room all day and enjoying the moment and the company I am in is the motif of Christmas now.
And when I am at my cosiest, on the night before Christmas, the same juxtapositions occur. As I call home, I know that my parents will pick up the phone on a bright midsummer morning and while I am looking through the closed window into the cold and dark, speaking with them I remember looking through an open one, which let in the warm air and the insects, on a hot December night.
Emma Kirsopp is an Australian-born artist and Technical author
Creative work, visit For work as a Technical Author, visit