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Christmases Past’s Ghost

 A quintessential Christmas with Krampus in Austria

I traveled to Vienna and Salzburg right before Christmas in 2010 and it was the most magical Christmas experience of my life. It had snowed heavily right before our plane landed, so the whole country was covered in a soft blanket of white – a perfect backdrop for its numerous bustling Christmas markets, where we drank a fair amount of gluhwein and ate too many holiday sweets. This American also had her very first run-in with the European-style St Nicholas and his more threatening counterpart Krampus; both happened to be walking down the streets of Salzburg like old chums, and I had to consult a local pretzel maker to figure out who Santa’s terrifying monster pal was.

Strange stocking fillers and a Christmas safari in Malawi

My mum’s cousin lived and worked in Malawi and in 1996 my parents decided to spend Christmas with them. It was both the best and strangest Christmas ever. We couldn’t bring many presents with us, so I remember getting a stocking filled with a toothbrush, Tic Tacs and some banana chips (things readily available in Malawi or the airport!). Our Christmas tree was basically a twig and we didn’t have a turkey, but we did run barefoot across boiling-hot sand to go for a swim in a lake and went on a safari to see the tallest giraffes we’d ever seen. It was definitely a Christmas to remember.

Four’s a crowd on a honeymoon in Thailand

I went to stay with my friend in Bangkok last December, and over Christmas we decided to head down to Phuket for a couple of days. Checking Facebook upon arrival, we realised that some friends of ours were in town at the same time – on honeymoon. After a day drinking Singhas on the beach, we decided to surprise them by crashing their first Christmas dinner as a married couple at Baan Rim Pa. Looking back, I imagine they didn’t much appreciate us joining them at probably the most romantic restaurant in Thailand. Still, it’s not every Christmas you get to spend catching up with friends on the other side of the world.

The unexpected guests of honour in Fiji

We were on a catamaran hopping between islands in the Yasawas, Fiji, when our names were called over the tannoy. Dutifully we reported to the nearest staff member and were told we’d been upgraded. Off the boat, it turned out we were less upgraded and more abandoned – we were the only guests staying in our bure (a Fijian cabin made from wood and straw) and it was also the only bure on this section of the island. We had planned to spend our Christmas Day lounging around, drinking cans of Fiji Gold beer and swimming in the sea. However, the bure‘s chef had other ideas. On Christmas morning he had us hiking up over the headland to attend church in the next village with his family. The tiny airless church was packed with the faithful and my partner and I – the sweaty guests of honour – were made to sit at the front, facing the congregation for the whole two-hour-long service.