As the granddaughter of an Australian immigrant, it surprised me to learn that Chrismas in Australia is celebrated much differently than Christmas in the U.S. Many of us become so entrenched in our own Christmas traditions, that we don’t realize how differently Christmas is celebrated in other countries. This series will provide a glimpse into Christmas celebrations internationally. Read on, and perhaps even add a new and exotic family Christmas tradition to your holiday this year!
Imagine celebrating Christmas in July. Heat, outdoor activities, picnics, bathing suits, and surfing don’t elicit pictures of Christmas for many North Americans, because December falls in winter time in North America. This isn’t so in Australia. In South America, December is the middle of summer. This fact alone draws a very different Christmas picture for those in Australia.
Reason for the Season
Christmas is the holiday celebrated in the Christian religion to remember the birth of Christ. Jesus Christ is believed to be the Son of God, Savior of the World.
Much as in America, the weeks leading to Christmas are filled with decorating homes, sending cards, and singing carols. Australians put out and decorate Christmas trees in homes and public areas, and Australian children anticipate Santa’s arrival just as American children do.
Leisurely Christmas vacations in Australia are not spent watching football, but instead, sports enthusiasts welcome the official start of ‘Boxing Day Test’ at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The largest and most popular Christmas Caroling tradition in Australia began in 1937. “Carols by Candlelight” gathers tens of thousands of citizens and tourists on Christmas Eve night in Melbourne. Each caroler holds a candle, and the crowd lifts its collective voice to sing favorite Christmas carols. Other cities also enjoy this tradition, but Melbourne has the most turnout by far.
Though traditional Christmas carols sung in America are popular in Australia, Australian carols are popular as well. The Three Drovers is probably the most well known Australian carol, but other songs, including Aussie Jingle Bells,Australian Twelve Days of Christmas, and Six White Boomers are important and popular as well.
Australian Christmas dinner is similar in makeup as American Christmas dinners. Traditionally, diners feast upon turkey, ham, and pork. In Australia, however, dessert usually consists of mince pie, and a flaming plum pudding with a small favor baked inside. The favor represents the gold nugget that used to be baked inside plum puddings during the gold rush days. Whoever found the gold nugget (or finds the favor) would be blessed with good luck.
Many Australians and tourists have their Christmas dinner at lunch on a beach. Bondi Beach near Sydney often hosts thousands of diners for Christmas Day. For those not dining at the beach, picnics, swimming pools, games of backyard Cricket, and other fun punctuate the day.
Parents tuck little Aussies into bed on Christmas Eve, and read stoires such as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol, as well as contemporary Australian Christmas stories such as Wombat Divine (Mem Fox) andAussie Night Before Christmas (Yvonne Morrison).
Children struggle to sleep with the anticipation that Santa will visit them and leave gifts beyond their wildest dreams under the tree, much as American kids do. The story of Santa Claus was inspired by the generosity of St. Nicholas. His generosity created the spirit of Santa Claus to celebrate the joys of giving, and the importance of a generous spirit. Children in the U.S., Australia, and many other countries worldwide believe that Santa (with the help of elves and reindeer) makes gifts for them year round, and brings them to all good children around the world on Christmas Eve night each year.
As most of us in the Northern Hemisphere rely on cool temperatures and thoughts of snow, cozy fires, and other winter wonders to help put us in the Christmas spirit, most in the Southern Hemisphere would likely feel out of place celebrating Christmas in the cold weather. Shopping in tank tops and shorts would seem foreign to Americans, but putting on a parka and braving a blizzard to purchase presents would seem a bit odd to Australians. Though my grandmother missed traditional Australian outdoor activities when she moved here with my Grandfather, and American soldier, she did eventually acclimate. She has embraced our traditions and activities, but has not forgotten her roots. This year, our family will hang a koala bear ornament on our tree to honor our Australian heritage. Perhaps we will also read Wombat Divine come bed time Christmas Eve. A new tradition is a new memory.