Christmas Wreath

Christmas in Australia

Australia has opposite seasons to the Northern Hemisphere so Christmas in Australia is very different from the traditional European concept. Instead of white, snowy scenery, (slushy brown yukky cold stuff) Australia is filled with blue skies and sunshine. It is not unusual to have Christmas Day temperatures in the mid-high 30 degrees celcius, or around 100 degrees farenheit in the western or top states of Australia. In Canberra the temperatures are usually between 20-30 degrees, though in 1980 we did actually have SNOW on Christmas Day!

Christmas trees can be purchased from any garden centre but instead of being a full tree, they are branches from our native pine trees. The smell of the pine at Christmas time is one of the best parts of Christmas in Australia! You know its Christmas time when you have your tree all decorated with lights flashing, and the fresh pine scent through your house. Christmas trees are usually put up sometime within the 2 weeks before Christmas day and taken down just after New Years Eve.

Each night until Christmas Night the lights flash from windows along each street and it makes a very pretty scene when strolling down the road in the balmy summer evenings. A new tradition of decorating your home with lights, figurines has taken off in the last 10 years or so, though most houses are decorated in the traditional “White Christmas” theme – which to me doesn’t seem right.

Advent calendars are a tradition in most Australian families with children. Daryl Lee Chocolates (an Australian owned and operated company that closed down) produced some of the best advent calendars – each day having a yummy Christmas chocolate hidden behind the door. Now you can get cheaper versions from local grocery stores. The calendars run from December 1 through to December 24 and the children really enjoy watching Christmas getting closer each time a little door is opened and another chocolate is eaten.

A letter to Santa is usually written a couple of weeks prior to Christmas. This letter contains the child’s “wish list” and a little information on the child and their whereabouts. A letter is definitely written if the child will be in a different place from their home for eg. visiting Grandma in Queensland. This is to make sure that Santa knows where they will be. Depending on the family, these letters will either be posted to Santa in a mailbox or left somewhere special in the house for Santa’s elves to pick up.

Santa’s helpers can be found in any large Australian shopping mall and sometimes even in the smaller ones. These “helpers” dress like Santa and love having their photos taken with children sitting on their knees. The child can also give these Santa helpers their wish list. All of these shopping centres are decked out with the traditional Christmas decorations and you can hear Christmas Carols wherever you go. Its a very special and heartfelt time of the year – and most people can be seen smiling and having fun buying Christmas presents for their loved ones.

The Saturday before Christmas (unless its Xmas eve – then its the week before), Carols in the Domain (Sydney) are held and televised live on TV for everyone to enjoy. People gather to listen to these live carols performed by some of the best voices and some wannabe voices in Australia. Everyone at the live event holds a lit candle and its a beautiful scene even if you are only watching it on TV.

On Christmas eve the same sort of thing happens though on a much grander scale. Carols by Candlelight (Melbourne) is held from around 9pm-11.30pm every Christmas Eve – perfect timing for Santa’s helpers to get things ready – or a great way to calm the children before they drift off to dream sweet dreams of Christmas Day. This is broadcast both on TV and radio. Thousands of Australians attend this gathering and the view is amazing with thousands of candles waving in the dark. Religious services are also held in many churches at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Between all this, Schools usually hold Christmas Carol evenings where parents can go and listen to their children singing Traditional Carols and Australian Christmas Carols. This is also the end of the Australian school year – the major summer holidays being from the week before Christmas through to the beginning of February. Each town or City usually holds their own versions of Carols by Candlelight as well.

The children leave out biscuits (cookies) and milk (or even a cold beer) for Santa, and a bucket of water and/or carrots for the 6 White Boomers (Kangaroos) that pull Santa’s Sleigh while he’s over Australia. If you didn’t know – Australia is too warm for Santa’s Reindeer, so Santa stops and gives the reindeer a rest while the 6 White Boomers take over the chore of pulling Santa’s heavy sleigh. Santa also changes into lighter weight clothing because its just too hot for all that fur and lining!

There are very few chimneys in Australia as it doesn’t usually get cold enough to warrant the traditional open fires, so Santa comes in through the front door instead. The traditional “stocking” is normally replaced by the Christmas Pillow Slip. This is usually printed with some Christmas theme and has the child’s name on it. Instead of being hung over the fireplace, this is placed at the foot of the child’s bed and is filled with little gifts and lollies (candies) by Santa on his rounds. Before the children go out to see what Santa has left under the Christmas Tree – the Christmas Pillow Slip is brought into mum and dads room to see what it contains. This is a wonderful way to be woken up!

Christmas Morning is spent in so many different ways depending on the “traditions” held in each family for eg. in our family the children get to rip into all their presents straight off before anything else happens. In my ex-husbands family though, the children have to wait until Grandma has her cup of tea, and then she hands out the presents one by one by one. In a family as large as hers it can literally take all day!

Breakfast is mostly overlooked because the children are allowed to feast on the lollies, chocolates and other goodies they have received in their pillow slips and under the Christmas tree. In some families a cold chicken and champagne breakfast may be served beside the swimming pool or out in the back garden.

The day is spent gathered amongst friends and family, eating, drinking and generally having a great time. The kids take off to play with all their pressies, with everyone gathering together again for the big Christmas Lunch. The afternoon is spent lying round feeling really fat and lazy in the sun once the dishes and cleanup has happened (or sometimes before!).

Instead of the traditional hot roast lunch (though many still do the Christmas Turkey with everything), a barbeque, or cold chicken, ham and turkey with salads are more likely to be the Christmas Day fare. Traditional Plum Pudding with money stashed in it, covered in Custard is still the favoured dessert YUM! Each person has a bon-bon (Christmas cracker) to pull as well – these usually contain a paper hat, joke sheet and a small toy.

For those with a taste for the unusual, roast emu, crocodile, kangaroo, galah, possum and other natives can be found in some Australian restaurants. These things are usually only consumed at work Christmas parties in the weeks before Christmas though.

Whole nuts (with a nutcracker), Christmas lollies (including chocolate santas, candy santas, jellies and other yummy things), mince pies, popcorn and other sweet things can be found lying round the house for anyone who feels peckish.

Some families have both a Christmas Lunch and a Christmas Dinner, eg. the Mother’s family at lunch and the Father’s family at dinner. It can be an exhausting time!!

Christmas Night is usually an early night as everyone is very tired, but sitting outside in the cool-warmish breeze listening to the crickets and reflecting over the days events is a wonderful experience if spent in the arms of your loved one.

History

The first official Christmas in Australia was celebrated in 1788 at Sydney Cove by Reverend Johnson. After the service, Governor Arthur Phillips and his officers dined heartily, toasting the King of England and his family. But for the majority of the first white inhabitants.. .the convicts… there was no change to their regular menu of meagre rations only. The only goodwill which seemed to have been displayed was to Michael Dennison. He was a convict who stole a pound of flour from Martha Pugh for which he was sentenced to 200 lashes by the whip. Because it was Christmas Day, only 150 lashes were delivered.

The day after Christmas Day (26 December) is commonly known as Boxing Day. This expression came about because money was collected in alms-boxes placed in churches during the festive season. This money was then distributed to the poor and needy after Christmas. The opening of the collection boxes gave Boxing day its name. Boxing Day became a legal holiday in Australia during the last century. By creating a holiday immediately after Christmas, people had more time to travel and be reunited with their families.

Christmas in Australia is also celebrated in a fun way on 25 July each year – this is our cold Christmas – its usually just another excuse for a get-together with friends and family – but its becoming more and more popular!