12 reasons an Aussie Christmas is like no other
by Susan Redman
When you’re not used to it, an Australian Christmas can seem a little odd
Christmas in Australia is often a family affair, but it’s increasingly common that there are friends, blow-ins and ‘orphans’ from far-away lands at the table. This welcoming spirit seems to be particularly suited to the way in which the holy day of December 25th is celebrated. Take a trip to Bondi Beach on Christmas Day and you’ll see what I mean about the collective bonhomie.
An Aussie Christmas is mostly an informal event, and we tend to enjoy a course of cold seafood as much as we do a hot turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Plus, there’s nearly always a session of lazing outside, around the pool or at the beach, to which everyone is invited. But in case you’ve accidentally walked in on Santa wearing thongs and boardies and are wondering what’s going on, here are 12 signs you’re in the middle of an Australian Christmas.
1. It’s hot!
The first thing you’ll notice about Christmas Day in Australia is that it’s bloody hot! But with those warm temps come good vibes (and lots of celebratory cold drinks).
What’s more, you’ll get to loll about all day with little on, and possibly take a dip after lunch to cool off – or even move the whole affair to the beach. Non-traditional? I think not. Let’s not forget, the baby Jesus – whose birthday we’re celebrating – was born in the Middle East, where temperatures can soar even in December. Plus there’s tons of sand over there, and rarely a snowflake in sight. Sound familiar?
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2. There are gum nuts everywhere
In Australia, you’ll find that the smell of eucalyptus permeates the air. The source is the gum trees that are in virtually every second backyard or nature strip. Their leaves are beloved by koalas, but the nuts can be used in place of pine cones in wreaths, or for decorative touches on Christmas presents, and around the house.
3. Sports rule the day
Even on Christmas Day, Australians will indulge in a spot of sporting prowess. You could easily find yourself on a backyard cricket team playing for India, South Africa or England against the home side, or being cajoled into some other game such as table tennis.
It’s a good thing really, as it gets Aussie punters revved-up for what is usually a veritable smorgasbord of sport throughout January. You’ll also be in the mood ahead of the all-important Boxing Day Test (cricket, for the uninitiated) and the start of the yearly Sydney to Hobart yacht race the next day.
4. You’re sitting outside
An Australian Christmas feast is often served alfresco on an outdoor patio or deck. Quite probably the deck is made from a common Australian hardwood such as blackbutt, and positioned under a shady backyard tree, likely a eucalyptus.
Table decorations usually reflect the casual approach to the day’s proceedings, so you may be pleasantly surprised to see native blooms, such as rusty-coloured banksias or vibrant red Christmas Bells (Blandfordia nobilis), gracing the centre of the table instead of holly and ivy.
5. The first course is seafood
An Australian Christmas lunch or dinner doesn’t have to include seafood, but it often will. Some love seafood so much that it can indeed be the only course offered for the Christmas meal, but most Australians prefer their cold fresh prawns, slices of salmon or freshly shucked oysters as an entree, followed by a traditional hot meal of turkey, pork and ham.
6. Door wreaths are made from native Christmas bush
Nothing says Christmas in Sydney better than a wreath made from, or vase filled with, local native Christmas bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum).
Characterised by small bright red flowers and lush green leaves, it is sold just before Christmas in florists north and south of Sydney, and is often fashioned into wreaths designed to grace front doors. It grows in the bush along the eastern seaboard of New South Wales, and is a popular decoration throughout the state.
7. Kids are nagging to get their cossies on
Activities that include water are never far from the minds of Aussie kids on Christmas Day. Whether they plan on bombing in the pool, surfing at the beach, squirting each other with water guns in the backyard or simply running through a garden sprinkler, kids can’t wait for the main meal to finish so they can don cossies and get splashing.
8. Your neighbours can’t turn their lights on till 9pm
Depending on where you live in Australia, the sun won’t set until anywhere from 7pm-9pm. This means the kitschy displays of Christmas lights we have begun to see popping up throughout the towns and suburbs of Australia can’t be fully appreciated until the sun sets.
Traditionally, bleary eyed-kids are dragged around the neighbourhood late into the night, to ogle at the fun ideas their neighbours have come up. These will often show how at home snowmen and Santa can look on a hot summer’s night. It’s more fun than you can poke a sparkler at!
9. Decorations are tinkling; cicadas are humming
The sounds of an Australian summer are many, but one that signals Christmas is just around the corner is the sound of cicadas belting out their mating call. The male cicada’s song is the loudest any insect can muster, and can become almost deafening as the heat of the day intensifies.
You’ll also know you’re at an Australian Christmas Day event if you hear the sound of tree decorations tinkling in the breeze. There aren’t many cultures that celebrate Christmas by decorating their gardens, but as Aussies often eat outside it makes sense that any cheery indoor decor extends to outdoor areas as well.
10. You’re wearing a sunhat rather than a Santa hat
‘Slip, slap and slop!’ is a sun-safe warning that Australians take seriously, no matter what they’re doing – even spending Christmas Day at home. With the intensity of the Australian summer sun, wide-brimmed hats are going to be a more common sight at Christmas than sweaty Santa hats.
‘Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, and slap on a hat’ is one way Australians combat skin cancer, so don’t be surprised if you hear this phrase called out to you several times throughout the Aussie holiday season.
11. You get to laze about like a lizard on a hot rock
Even when there are no nearby water features to cool off in, you’ll find that many Australians like to chill out between the Christmas midday meal and dinner. It’s a chance to play with kids, enjoy your own gifts or catch some Zs. You’ll almost always find Aussie bums literally stuck to leather couches during this between-meal period too, while we watch something Christmasy on the telly.
12. It’s an all-day and night affair
Weather-wise, Christmas Day in Australia is usually fine, and even when it rains it’s still warm. Families can (and do) celebrate long into the night, and usually try to fit in a number of visits to the homes of various relatives and friends. Many will also attend a church service at some point during the day as well.
All this activity could prove stressful, and no doubt it is for some, but you might not notice. Generally everyone is so full of good humour – and good food – that they take it all in their stride.