Australia, Christmas in

Australia, Christmas in

Christmas comes to Australia during that continent's summer season. Therefore, Australians celebrate the festival with barbecues, beach parties, parades and other outdoor events. In fact, many Australians take their summer vacations during the Christmas holiday season.

The English brought Christmas to Australia in the late eighteenth century when they established the country as a colony of Great Britain. Australians have preserved much of their country's British Christmas heritage, especially carol singing, gift exchanges, Christmas trees, and the hearty, oven-roasted English Christmas dinner, though this last custom loses some of its appeal in the sweltering summer heat. Australia has adopted Santa Claus as its Christmas gift bringer, and many heavily sweating Santas, garbed in some variation of the traditional red velvet suit, cap, boots and beard, can be found at Christmas-related events throughout the holiday season.

Christmas Decorations

The traditional pine Christmas tree, decorated with tinsel, ornaments, and lights, is an important seasonal decoration in Australia. In addition to the tree, Australians have incorporated two local plants, the Christmas bell and the Christmas bush, into their holiday decorations. The Christmas bell produces green, glossy leaves and yellow or red bell-shaped flowers. Several different varieties of the Christmas bush put forth various kinds of flowers in the spring and summer, including one that sports white star-shaped flowers in the spring which drop to reveal brilliant red calyces at Christmas time. Some families decorate these plants with tinsel in honor of the holiday. Finally, homes, schools, shops and other places of business celebrate the season with displays of colored lights.

Christmas Eve and Day

On Christmas Eve many Australians attend carol-singing events known as "Carols by Candlelight." Norman Banks, a radio announcer from the city of Melbourne, started this tradition in 1938. It is said that while walking the streets on Christmas Eve of the previous year, he caught a glimpse of an old woman through a lighted window. She was sitting all alone next to her radio, holding a lighted candle and singing along with the Christmas carols that were being broadcast on the radio. The sight warmed his heart and also stirred him to create an event for those who found themselves alone on Christmas Eve. The following year he organized and broadcast "Carols by Candlelight," a sing-along caroling session in which participants held lit candles. The observance became more and more popular and eventually spread from Melbourne to other cities. Each year thousands of Australians attend these events, usually held in outdoor amphitheaters so that people can enjoy the balmy summer evening air as they listen to musical performances and sing the songs of the season amidst a sea of glowing candles. In addition to the traditional European tunes, a number of original Australian Christmas carols may be sung, such as "The Melbourne Carol," "Six White Boomers," and "The Three Drovers."

Australian children have their own version of the Christmas stocking, which often makes its first appearance on Christmas Eve. Before going to bed Australian children hang pillowcases from the ends of their beds. Santa leaves small gifts in the pillowcase; he deposits larger gifts under the Christmas tree.

Many Australian families open their presents over breakfast on Christmas morning. Religious people will also attend church. Later that afternoon many people enjoy listening to the Queen of England give her annual Christmas speech on the radio (see also England, Christmas in).

Christmas Dinner

Over the years Australians have come up with a number of Christmas dishes all their own. Some of these reflect the country's rugged colonial history. For example, a dish called "colonial goose" substitutes a stuffed leg of lamb for the more traditional English roast goose. "Billy can pudding" offers a simplified version of plum pudding made in a kind of tin tub used to carry water. Other colonial recipes include "Christmas damper," a quick Christmas bread, and "drover's plum pudding," a kind of rice pudding made with raisins and nuts. "Father Christmas salad," a red, white, and green mixture of cherries, pistachio nuts, and lychees, represents another original Australian Christmas recipe.

Many Australians eat their Christmas dinner out of doors, in order to enjoy the summer sunshine. Some barbecue or take picnics to the beach or other outdoor beauty spots. Others eat a cold meal at home, often combining salads with cold meat dishes. Still others, in spite of the heat, prefer an English Christmas dinner, complete with roasted meat, potatoes and gravy. Many families, no matter what they have for dinner, choose to end the meal with a hot Christmas pudding (see also Plum Pudding).

Boxing Day

December 26, Boxing Day, is a holiday in Australia. People enjoy sporting matches on this day (for more on the day's traditional sports,see St. Stephen's Day). It serves as the occasion for a number of important events, including the Sydney-to-Hobart Yacht Race and opening day test match held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Other December Holidays

Australia is a diverse society that hosts many different ethnic and religious groups. Its Jewish citizens often begin their Hanukkah celebrations in December, and in some years the Muslim holiday of Ramadan falls in December. Many former citizens of Hong Kong have immigrated to Australia. They and their descendants often celebrate a Taoist festival called Ta Chiu on December 27, in which they thank their ancestors and the deities for their protection and ask these spirits to bless and renew their lives. Australia's original inhabitants, the Aborigines, do not observe a festival of their own at this time of year. In the north of the country, however, many indigenous Australians mark the end of their six-season year in late December.

Christmas in July

Some Australians tire of reinventing Christmas as a hot weather holiday. In recent years many have attended Christmas in July celebrations, where a traditional English Christmas celebration takes place in July. These celebrations fulfill the desires of those who long to celebrate Christmas by snuggling next to an open fire and partaking of a hearty English Christmas dinner on a wintry evening.

Further Reading

Bowler, Gerry. The World Encyclopedia of Christmas. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: McClelland and Stewart, 2000. Griffin, Robert H., and Ann H. Shurgin, eds. The Folklore of World Holidays. Second edition. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1999. Hubert, Maria, comp. Christmas Around the World. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 1998. McGregor, Malcolm, ed. Christmas in Australia. Milsons Point, Australia: Hutchinson Australia, 1990. Tucker, Cathy C. Christmas Worldwide. Philadelphia, Pa.: Xlibris, 2000.

Web Sites

The following web site, sponsored by the Australian government's Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, offers information on Christmas celebrations in Australia: articles/1998/11/xmas.htm

The Australian National Botanic Gardens sponsors a page on native plants associated with Christmas. Gives photos as well as text from AustralianNative Plants by John Wrigley and Murray Fagg (1996): . au/christmas/christmas.html
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003
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