The world expectation is that Christmas is white and pristine – everywhere!
Not so in Australia, but there really is something special about Christmas in Australia. Not surprisingly, it all starts with good food, good wine and great company and chilling out with that unique laid-back Aussie style.
We really do love our warm weather over the Christmas holidays but most Aussies romanticise over the idea of building snowmen, throwing snowballs and toasting marshmallows by an open fireplace.
The Aussie Christmas Experience
For many I’m sure it’s hard to imagine a Christmas in the hottest part of the year, so if you you’re considering spending Christmas in the southern hemisphere there may be a few things to get used to before you arrive.
- The weather is hot and often humid, which can be a good thing if you love swimming, ice-cream and sunshine!
- There’s no snow. Also a good thing!
- You won’t need any warm clothes – at all!
- Christmas day is about lazing around at the beach, or if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard swimming pool … be like a whale.
- Christmas day is a revolving feast.
School’s out during the summer months (December – January) so it’s the perfect time for families to take vacation time and hang-out together.
Christmas time, is one of the most popular times Australians take holidays so if you want to holiday at the coast during the Festive Season, take my advice and book early!
Most of us head to the beach whenever we can, but with 10,685 beaches in Australia there are many to choose from. Hot favourites are Coogee, Bondi or Manly Beaches in Sydney, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Glenelg in South Australia and just about any beach at all in Western Australia.
The lead-up to Christmas in Australia
Aussies are quick to get into the Christmas spirit. Although most of us groan when we hear the first Christmas carols played in the stores in October, it’s not too long before we’re humming along.
Before you know it, everyone is doing the crazy shopping thing and happily counting down the days until Christmas.
Shopping for Christmas cards in Australia can a bit tricky. Traditional Christmas cards usually feature holly and mistletoe, snowy white mountainous landscape, Rudolf the Reindeer leaping off snow covered roofs and rosy cheeked children in mittens, huge coats and wrapped up in overly long woollen scarves.
As you may have guessed, that’s not our kind of Christmas, Down Under. There’s nothing particularly magical about hot humid days and the fierce glaring sun. Worse still, can you imagine explaining how Santa is going to sneak in and leave gifts when there’s no chimney?
We really do love the idea of Santa riding a surfboard in his santa-suit pants rolled up to his knees or paddling around in a canoe.
The reality is he’s usually that guy wearing a wide-brimmed hat, a strip of white zinc cream painted across his nose and sunburnt from spending hours at the beach watching over the little ones bobbing around in the surf.
Christmas trees, Decorations and Christmas gifts
Once upon a time we used to go out into the bush to cut down our lovely green Christmas tree. Sadly, after 2 or 3 days inside in the sweltering heat, our freshly-cut Christmas tree shows signs of dehydration and the needles have begun to drop. There is no way even the most freshly cut trees stay green until Christmas Day in this heat!
Decorations are usually a combination of home-made decorations, tinsel and tree ornaments, with a welcoming Christmas wreath at the front door.
Santa arrives during the night leaving sack of treasures for the children. Family gift-giving usually takes place after a big family breakfast on Christmas morning. Different families have their own gift opening traditions and in our family, the patriarch is the one who passes out the gifts from under the tree with the youngest child as helper.
Christmas Protocols and Dress Codes
Celebrating Christmas in Australia is not especially formal when it comes to sharing the ‘big day’ with friends and family. It should be noted though that despite a ‘laid-back’ tone in most households, there are a few protocols that should always be followed.
Rule 1: Always bring beer or wine to share. No Aussie ‘do’ is complete unless everyone contributes refreshments.
Rule 2: Bring a little gift for the hostess. Just a small box of Chocolates is a nice gesture and a good show of your appreciation.
Rule 3: Always compliment the cook and offer a toast of congratulations for the fabulous feast they’ve prepared. It often ensures a second helping of desert!
When considering what to wear, it’s important to look the part.
As a guest to a Christmas ‘Do’, board-shorts and thongs (of the footwear kind) are perfectly acceptable at most homes. If you have a Hawaiian shirt, that will likely be a big hit too. Don’t forget to bring your sunnies and a wide-brimmed hat as there’s likely to be a family game of beach cricket later in the day.
A typical Aussie Christmas Day
For those with young ones, Christmas day usually starts off with excited children clambering onto bed at the crack of dawn, excitedly relaying that Santa Claus had visited during the night. Listening intently, parents feign surprise as they pad barefooted towards the kitchen for coffee. The festivities have begun!
It’s not unusual for friends and other family members arrive early to share in the Christmas Day activities, join in for breakfast and gift giving.
Warm weather is usually expected on the big day and with that in mind, Christmas lunch (or sometimes called ‘dinner’) will most likely a banquet of cold cuts such as ham, turkey, chicken and pork accompanied by seafood platters.
Christmas Day starts with Breakfast
Christmas Day is a day of eating too much. Diets go out the window and treats and favourite delicacies are available all day long!
Breakfast is the first feast of the day and kicks off with a hearty breakfast. Everyone gathers together to share the breakfast feast of freshly sliced ham and eggs, served with fruit juice and toasts to a Merry Christmas with a glass of bubbles.
This is followed with a fruit platter with an assortment of plums, nectarines, cherries, rock-melon and watermelon. Mangos are also seasonal around Christmas-time in Australia and if you love passionfruit and kiwifruit, they’ll be on the fruit platter too.
Once breakfast is cleared, the grazing table is set for those who choose to snack all day. Expect to see a bowl of fresh fruit, an assortment of nuts, ginger, lollies, glaced fruits and a plate of Mum’s special fruit cake and everyone’s favourite, rum balls.
Christmas lunch – Aussie style
A traditional Aussie Christmas Lunch is not the hot Christmas dinner as you might expect to celebrate on Christmas Day.
I suspect, just like everywhere else everyone eats far more than they need!
Christmas Lunch in Australia is usually a cold banquet and includes a fresh seafood platter of lobster, prawns and oysters with platters of cold cuts of ham, pork and chicken. The meal finishes with a beautiful homemade trifle and pavlova!
Wine and beer are usually part of the day’s celebrations. Sometimes we make a sangria or a fruit punch and almost always we spend the afternoon in the pool relaxing in an over-stuffed blimp-like state.
The afternoon is when the obligatory Board games come out and the familiar family feuds start over Monopoly as siblings and cousins squabble about the rules! Some families bring out the slot-cars and hold mini-Grand Prix with the ‘big’ kids traditionally having more fun then the younger ones!
Dinner is on Christmas night is often very casual and may include a selection of ‘help yourself’ plates of your favourite lunch leftovers, or a family BBQ with some fresh salads and a nicely charred steak.
Read next: Set a traditional Aussie Christmas Feast (Coming soon)
In Australia the day after Christmas Day is celebrated as Boxing Day.
It’s a designated public holiday but has no special meaning for us, however we’re very grateful for the additional public holiday! Traditionally in England and Europe, Boxing Day was the day after Christmas day when affluent households gave gifts to their staff allowing them to have a day of leave to spend with their families.
Most shops are closed on Boxing Day however recent trends are changing and the Boxing Day heralds the start of the huge Boxing Day sales where bargain shopping begins with vigor and a great deal of competition!
Boxing Day is also the day that the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race commences which is quite a tradition for Aussies! It’s a spectacular day on Sydney Harbour for many boating enthusiasts as the yachts sail through Sydney Heads towards Hobart, Tasmania on one of the most grueling yacht races around the world.
Christmas in Australia is special
Christmas in Australia will always be our favourite time of year for families to get together. If you’ve ever spent a Christmas alone somewhere on the other side of the world, the importance of ‘family’ really cuts deep.
It is the one time when everyone makes every effort to make it home for Christmas.
And whilst we do sometimes dream of a White Christmas, we love the unique Christmassy feel of the Down Under experience. There’s not much that makes you feel more grateful to be where you are than spending the Festive Season with everyone you love, at home.
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