Four years ago, 23-year-old me burst into tears on Skype to my sister as she panned out to reveal my entire family sitting in the background on Christmas Day.
My emotionally fragile state probably wasn’t helped by the fact I’d tried (and failed) to keep up with my boyfriend’s family the night before, who have a tradition of necking vodka between courses on Christmas Eve. Apparently, the British constitution for booze is no match for the Latvians.
As I crept back into the living room, his family pretended not to notice the smudged tears on my face and spent the rest of the day going out of their way to make me feel welcome. I’m pleased to say after our seven years of dating, I’ve finally learned it’s okay to politely decline a drink (or four).
In the run-up to 25 December, other people have been sharing stories of their first Christmas away from home. It turns out I’m not the only one to panic on year one, but done the right way, shaking up your Christmas can be the start of new traditions.
Like me, Amber Badger, from South Hampton, ended up a blubbery mess during her first Christmas away from family in 2015. At the time, she was travelling through Melbourne on a trip around Australia.
“Honestly, it didn’t feel like Christmas and after spending the day drinking with new friends on St Kilda beach, I slept through UK Christmas and didn’t even get to wish them a proper merry Christmas, resulting in many many tears on my Aussie Boxing Day,” she says.
Lisa Wood, from Manchester, also struggled the first time she went to the family home of her boyfriend (now husband) for the holidays.
“I cried so much on Christmas morning, but his family made such a fuss and had brought Brandy and Babycham for me to drink – a fave of my now deceased Nana – which made me smile,” she says. “We had the best day.”
Lindsay Womack, originally from Phoenix, Arizona, missed her family’s traditions more than she expected when she spent Christmas in the UK as a student in 2014. She was used to a candlelit church service, going as a family to see the Christmas lights, reading ‘The Polar Express’ with her mum and watching ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, but ended up getting “very drunk” with her boyfriend’s family at the pub. He’s now her fiancé.
“It wasn’t a horrible Christmas by any means, I’m so thankful that his family included me, it just didn’t feel the same as it did with my family,” she recalls.
By the next Christmas Lindsay was pregnant and told her partner it was time they made their own traditions. “Now that we have our family we read the same book and watch the same movie as when I was a kid,” she says.
But others have loved the first Christmas away from home, especially when it’s involved warmer climes.
HuffPost’s own Nancy Groves enjoyed throwing some shrimps on the barbie in Sydney, and even found out she was going to be an auntie when she Skyped family back home and was shown the scan. Best present ever?
Eve Hartley, from Leeds, adds: “We tried to make a roast dinner without an oven in Colombia and ended up with some lukewarm vegetables and some not-quite-cooked Yorkshires. Had a great time though and ended up on a bus to a salsa festival!”
Meanwhile Almara Abgarian, from London, says: “I wore a chicken hat around my head, got drunk and thrown into a pool at the hostel where I worked. It felt strange not to be with the family, but it was sunny and Australia.”
If you’re taking the plunge this Christmas, trust me, it does get easier. Just limit your vodka intake...