A winter view of Novodevichy convent in Moscow, Russia
A winter view of Novodevichy convent in Moscow, Russia Nickolay Vinokurov

TRAVEL: The joys of a cold Christmas

EVEN though I have spent almost all of my Christmases here in Australia, I still cannot get used to a hot Christmas.

Maybe it's because I was born in London and one of my earliest memories is of standing in front of a huge department store window in the cold on Christmas Eve with snowflakes falling softly around me, holding my father's hand and looking longingly at a big doll with blue eyes and brown hair. My astonishment that the same doll should show up under our Christmas tree the next morning was a delightful mystery that stayed with me for several years.

A few other cold Christmases spent in my 20s in the UK are just as memorable.

The lead-up to Christmas in a cold country is joyful: the short dark days illuminating the Christmas lights in every town, village and city, the dazzling shop windows with over-the-top Christmas displays, the feeling of anticipation in the frosty air, the frantic pace of shoppers.

I remember shopping in Oxford St in London one year where the footpaths were so crammed with shoppers that police with megaphones had to stand on every corner directing pedestrian traffic, urging us to stick to the left to avoid congestion or accident.

I loved the brightly-lit, warm supermarkets and specialty shops filled with fat white turkeys and giant plum puddings and colourful Christmas crackers and enormous boxes of Cadbury Dairy Milk.

Rugging up in a coat, hat, scarf and boots to visit the food markets in the icy cold, watching the stallholders stamp their feet against the biting frost, calling out to us about the superior quality of their brussels sprouts while their warm breath made cloud puffs in the freezing air is a good memory (even though it involved brussels sprouts; they are a mandatory part of an English Christmas lunch.)

I would love to spend more cold Christmases if I ever have the chance. The people at Booking.com tell us destinations we should put on our bucket list for a frosty Christmas include Lapland in Finland where we are guaranteed a white Christmas. Santa couldn't have it otherwise, it's his home. Christmas activities even include reindeer rides through magical forests.

Alaska is another destination guaranteed to give us big snow. An Alaskan winter begins in October and runs until April. Moscow is like a snowglobe during the winter months. To see Saint Basil's Cathedral on Red Square covered in snow would be the stuff of dreams. Iceland has snow on the ground from November through April and if you eat too much at the Christmas table there is always glacier hiking or a dip in the geothermal waters in one of the many natural pools.

These are all dream Christmas locations to lock away in the mind (or better still, the diary), and plan for next year if you'd really love to experience the difference between a hot and cold Christmas. Or, if you are fancy free and spontaneous (as well as cashed-up), you have three weeks to plan for this year. For the rest of us, we will still enjoy our prawns and pavs in the steamy heat of December.

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