If you’ve ever hosted a visitor from overseas during the festive season you may have seen them a little bemused by the way we celebrate. It’s quite understandable as we do things a little bit differently down under.
Christmas in Australia – while fundamentally a religious festival celebrating the birth of Jesus – is also a melting pot of traditions we have inherited over time, mainly from the northern hemisphere.
Look no further than our Christmas carols, many of our festive songs and imagery reference snowflakes and cosy nights by the fireside. Think of how many of our songs are about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, riding in one-horse sleighs, and building snowmen – even though this kind of imagery is not so appropriate in Australian on a scorcher of a day.
Warm weather traditions
Santa would be much more comfortable in Australia in a pair of board shorts and a t-shirt than his fur trimmed red robes and warm hat. In fact, he has been spotted at Bondi Beach on a few occasions hitting the surf, in the lead up to his busiest time of year.
Instead of playing in the snow, we are playing in the waves, with those who live near the coast hitting the beach for a picnic or game of beach cricket during the festive season.
Prawns on the barbie at lunch
While many still opt for the roast with all the trimmings, Australians have embraced the seafood platter or something they can throw on the BBQ – or better still – seafood on the BBQ. Pavlova and trifle are common alternatives to Christmas pudding. And with no eggnog or mulled wine in sight, a refreshing drink of something icy cold is the Aussie way.
As opposed to the European tradition of having dinner on the 25th of December, we Aussies tend to have a big, long Christmas lunch (preferably with a snooze on the couch after opening all the presents).
Christmas street parties
In the suburbs, entire neighbourhoods organise street parties, getting council permission to close streets to traffic. Barbeques are pulled out onto the asphalt and tables set up with goodies. Kids roam around with water pistols and inflatable wading pools are set up if it’s warm enough, with games organised. Tug of war between the odd and even house numbers anyone?
Carols and pageants
Even though we are singing about snow falling gently and jack frost nipping at our toes, we are usually watching carols on a balmy evening with bats flying overhead in the Botanic Gardens if we are in Melbourne or the Domain Gardens in Sydney.
In Adelaide and Perth millions of kinds have grown up watching annual street parade pageants which liven up the festivities with a carnivale atmosphere and floats, music, and dancing.
Boxing Day sales and the cricket
While the various origins of Boxing Day are not universally agreed upon, the day is traditionally a day of rest after the excesses of Christmas day. It is said to have its origins in England when the wealthy gave their servants a day off and sent them home to their families with boxes of gifts and leftover food from their celebrations the day before.
We don’t tend to have much of a rest on Boxing Day. If we are not hitting the Boxing Day sales or packing up the car to head off on holiday, we are at the cricket. The Boxing Day test is one of the most attended and watched games in the country since its inception in 1950.
The start of summer holidays
Christmas in Australia comes at the start of the summer holidays so the lead up to the festive season also involves workplace break ups and celebrations with colleagues.
Then after the festivities on the 25th are done and dusted it is time to take off for what will hopefully be a nice relaxing break.
Of course, there are many ways to celebrate at this special time of year. We are blessed to live in a vibrant multicultural nation, feeling the influence of other cultures and traditions from all over the globe.
However you choose to mark the occasion, we wish you much joy and happiness in your celebrations.