“Casual” and “relaxed” are two words that describe most Australians. It’s in our DNA to not take ourselves too seriously and to find anything to laugh about. Our sense of relaxed fun carries into the quirky ways we spend Christmas.
Family and friends are at the core of our festivities, as with the rest of the world. However, we don’t pile too much pomp and ceremony onto that time of the year. As Santa’s reindeer aren’t allowed into Australia due to our quarantine regulations, we use kangaroos to tow his sleigh.
Christmas Down Under is in summer, after all. We love that we’re not rugged up and confined indoors. We can revel in our climate; consequently, our celebrations invariably spill outdoors into our natural environment.
Here are eight ways Aussies traditionally enjoy the festive season.
1. Outdoor Pageants And Festivals
Australians start to get in the Christmas spirit around the end of November when major cities hold street parades and festivals. Pageants are held in cities and regional areas. Children covered in sunscreen on every inch of exposed skin wear wide-brimmed hats and sit on the edge of the street to enjoy the parade. The float-carrying Santa is eagerly awaited. Decorations in homes and on buildings start to appear from this time.
2. Alfresco Dining When Possible
If we can eat outside, we will. Most houses have an outdoor entertaining area, so many Christmas meals will be enjoyed outside. Australia is a vast brown land, however, the weather can range dramatically from one coast to another. However, if there is an opportunity for people to spend part of Christmas Day outside, then they’ll grab that opportunity. Those living in apartment buildings will head to a park or beach to walk off a hefty lunch and enjoy the fresh air.
3. Lunch Is King
Generally, Christmas Lunch is the main meal of the day. For many, this allows a nap, then a game of backyard cricket before easing into dinner. Invariably, the day can turn into an all-day grazing feast, with lunch leftovers becoming the evening meal.
Orchards flourish in December, meaning that cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and mangos become synonymous with summer and Christmas. A fresh fruit salad with ice cream is served for dessert as an alternative to Christmas pudding and custard. Children snack on stone fruit or watermelon while taking a break from the post-lunch outdoor games. The sweet, sticky juice that runs rivers down their tanned arms is easily washed off with the garden hose.
4. Hot Or Cold Meals
Australia was initially settled by the English after 1788. They brought with them their tradition of a hot roast lunch for Christmas. Despite the temperatures often nearing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the traditionalists persevered with cooking a hot lunch on Christmas Day. Rudyard Kipling was perhaps right when he penned that “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” Although he was referring to India’s oppressive heat, Australia can sometimes feel just as hot.
Things have changed in the modern era and the hot lunch tradition has relaxed. While people in the northern hemisphere may cry, “cold Christmas lunch should be a crime,” common sense had to prevail at some point, and now it is only the die-hards who use their ovens for hours on a hot day.
Those determined to serve roast turkey and ham mostly cook them on an outdoor barbeque or charcoal grill. Alternatively, a lunch consisting of cold roast turkey, ham, prawns, lobster, and a range of crisp, fresh salads is served.
5. Prawns On The Menu
Americans call them shrimps, and to Australians, they are prawns. We still cringe when we think of the Australian Tourism Commission advert featuring Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) aimed at attracting Americans to Australia back in 1984. The ad was successful, however — at that time, Australia went from number 78 to 7 on the list of most desired holiday spots. American visitation increased 25 percent each year for the following four years.
However, Hogan’s words, “I’ll slip another shrimp on the barbie for you,” were just wrong. To Aussies, they are nothing but prawns, and we have four main species that grow wild in our seas.
Yes, we sometimes cook them on the barbecue, but they are mainly purchased pre-cooked for Christmas. Served cold on platters with a bowl of seafood sauce, their vibrant pink-to-orange shells form quite a centerpiece on the table. A finger bowl with lemon and water is kept close for rinsing one’s hands after peeling the prawns.
6. Christmas On The Beach
Australians love the beach and spending Christmas Day there is a popular choice for many. Ice boxes (or eskies as we call them) are packed full of cold meats, prawns, salads, wine, beer, and soft drinks. Eskies are carried to the beach along with fold-up chairs, tables, and sunshades.
Bondi Beach in Sydney is a famous beach at any time during summer. In Adelaide, South Australia, there are several beaches you can drive your car on. These are especially popular on Christmas Day and during the holidays, as there is no need to carry all your food, tables, and chairs. Load it all into the car, drive onto the beach, set up with everything on hand, then relax!
7. Holiday Homes
Holiday Homes, known as shacks, are a part of Australian culture, and those lucky enough to own or rent one at Christmas always have a special day. Generally located near a river or a beach, families enrich the festive season with swimming, fishing, kayaking, sand-castle building, and many other water activities.
With all these activities on the agenda, there are many gift ideas for the children. A new kayak, fishing rod, buckets and spades, goggles and snorkels, beach towel, or swimming costume. I use the generic term “swimming costume” as these are called different names depending on where you are in Australia. In Queensland, they’re called togs, and in South Australia, we say bathers. In other parts of the country, they’re called swimmers. Either way, many children get a new swimming costume for Christmas as it’s the time of year when they’re needed the most.
8. Houseboat Festivities
Imagine waking up to nothing but birds singing in majestic gum trees and the gentle lapping of water. Houseboating is a fabulous way to travel any time, but it is magic during Christmas in Australia. For some families, this is their yearly tradition. With the ability to motor upstream, moor against a grassy riverbank, and be far away from everyone else, hiring a houseboat at Christmas is a popular way to spend quality time with loved ones.
Cooling breezes off the river, and with all amenities on hand, a hot or cold lunch can be prepared and served efficiently. The larger houseboats can sleep up to 12 people, so there’s room for two families; even grandma and grandpa.
Forget snow skiing; with a beautiful river at your back door, water skiing is what you’ll see in Australia on Christmas Day.
Cool And Casual
We all love to buy new outfits to wear on Christmas Day. However, don’t expect too much formality here. It may be a bright summer dress or shorts and a t-shirt, but invariably it will be teamed with sandals or thongs (flip flops). We don’t have a national costume, but if we did, I think thongs would be a part of it.
With our hot summer temperatures, the key is to keep cool. Even those not near the beach or river will find novel ways to stay cool and keep their sense of fun high, from turning on the garden sprinklers to water pistol shoot-outs on the back lawn. People may even fill large tubs of water to sit and chill in — Aussies will make Christmas a fun and relaxed day, sprinkled with a hint of mischief.
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