Although Australia is not a very religious country, Christmas is one of the most important days on the calendar. However, a lot of older Christmas traditions don’t really make sense in the Australian environment, and Australia has some unique holiday traditions of its own.
Many traditions in Australia are similar to other English-speaking countries such us England and the United States. This means that even though Christmas comes in the middle of summer, Santa (whom we also call Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or Saint Nick) traditionally wears his red winter coat and hat, as well as heavy boots, and delivers presents in a sleigh pulled by reindeer; not really appropriate for the Australian climate.
The Christmas Pageant and the Magic Cave
The Christmas Pageant in Adelaide
Photo by: Alex Sims, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
In my home city of Adelaide, South Australia, Santa “arrives” in November every year at the end of the Christmas Pageant. The pageant is a parade of people in costumes, specially decorated vehicles, marching bands playing music, and other performers, with Santa on his sleigh coming at the end. Traditionally, at the end of the pageant Santa would go to his “Magic Cave” in a local department store, where children could visit him to sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. The first Christmas Pageant in Adelaide was in 1933, and the first Magic Cave in Adelaide was set up in 1896.
Christmas decorations in Australia
Photo by: Donaldytong, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
People often decorate both the inside and the outside of their homes before Christmas. Christmas trees with colourful decorations and flashing lights are very common, and many people also put these “Christmas lights” or “fairy lights” on the outside of their houses. Sometimes whole neighbourhoods or towns are decorated in this way, and people often travel to visit such places.
Photo by: Kgbo, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Festive Season
Christmas parties are common in December; many workplaces in Australia will have a Christmas party for their staff, and this will often include a “Secret Santa” or “Kris Kringle” where each person must buy a gift for another person, and the person receiving the gift does not know who it’s from.
The “Festive Season” in Australia starts in late November/early December and goes right through until New Year’s Eve. School and university students have their longest holiday during this time, and many people take time off work to travel or visit family.
Singing carols (traditional Christmas songs) is also very common. Traditional (religious) Christmas songs, such as Silent Night and Joy to the World, are popular, as are many secular (non-religious) songs about the season, such as Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Jingle Bells (which is really a song about winter, not about Christmas, and doesn’t make much sense in the Australian climate). Unlike some other countries, it is not common in Australia for carol singers to go door-to-door to peoples houses, but there is a popular event called “Carols by Candlelight”, which started in the 19th century and involves people gathering in a park with candles to sing carols together, often with performances by famous singers and other celebrities.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
December 24th in Australia is “Christmas Eve” or the night before Christmas. Australian children wait for Santa to come and leave their presents under the Christmas tree, and it’s common to leave a glass of milk (or beer) for Santa, plus some cookies, and a carrot for Santa’s reindeer.
Many families attend church services at midnight on Christmas Eve (Midnight Mass); for many Australians, it is probably the only time of the year when they go to church.
On Christmas morning, many children wake up early and race to the Christmas tree to find out what Santa has left them. It’s common to see kids wobbling down the street on new bikes on Christmas morning! After presents have been unwrapped, many people will be travelling to “see the rellies”; that is: to visit family members and have Christmas lunch with them
More traditional Christmas food and drink, such as roast meat and mulled (warm) wine, are not appropriate for Australian summer, so many Australians enjoy cold meat such as ham along with salads, or maybe a barbecue. Prawns are also very popular at Christmas, as are cherries, which are in season around this time.
And Christmas lunch wouldn’t be complete without Christmas crackers! These are brightly-coloured parcels which must be “popped” by two people, with one person pulling on each end. Inside, you will usually find a paper party hat (which must be worn for the rest of the meal), a small toy of gift, and a piece of paper with some jokes to read out to other guests. Traditionally, the jokes in crackers are always terrible.
Christmas crackers on the dinner table
Photo by: Amelia Wells, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
December 26th is called Boxing Day. On this day many people are relaxing and enjoying their new gifts and some leftover food, but it is also a day when after-Christmas sales start at many shops, similar to “Black Friday” in the USA. There are also some sporting events which traditionally begin on this day, such as cricket’s Boxing Day Test in Melbourne (which will last for up to five days), and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
After Boxing Day it’s time to relax, enjoy the hot weather, and wait for New Year’s Eve!
There is much more I could tell you about Christmas in Australia; too much to fit on this blog. I suggest that one day you go and celebrate Christmas with a difference!
Merry Christmas everyone! From Josh.