Australian Christmas Traditions - History of Christmas
Christmas is always the most exciting time of the year. School children get six weeks holiday, and many professionals close their office from Christmas eve to the Australia Day Public Holiday on 26th January, so many families are in a holiday season over this period.
Christmas in Australia
Businesses and shops close on Christmas day and Boxing Day, however the major retail centres open after Christmas for clearance sales on all Christmas stock that did not sell. This has become an important part of Christmas for many bargain shoppers. Some people now wait to buy their gifts after Christmas at the sales. Those families that can afford it head for coastal resorts and beachside caravan parks for the holiday period.
December is one of the hottest months in Australia so outdoors sports like swimming, surfing and fishing are common and easy cold meat & salad dominates most meals.
Most Australian Christmas traditions have derived from our British beginnings, European influences and later the American commercial influences. Typical Christmas traditions include:-
From December 1st, we decorate the house with our Christmas table ornaments collection, ribbons and bows. Set up the Christmas tree and decorate with our collection of hanging Christmas ornaments. (This can take 2-3 days for some serious collectors). Some people also put up house and yard lights. ( a few of these become local tourist attractions).
Shopping commences to buy all close friends and family a Christmas gift which is wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree.
Christmas cards sent to friends and relatives, some of whom you have not contacted since last Christmas.
Anytime from December 1st, Visits to friends homes, for Christmas drinks.
Christmas parties or Christmas drinks at work.
Children's letters sent to Santa Clause before Christmas.
The countown continues with Carols by Candlelight in a park nearby from mid December. (see below)
On Christmas eve, children leaving out the Christmas stocking, or pillow case (because you can't fit much into a stocking in this commercial world).
Church services, both on Christmas eve and Christmas Day, although this has developed into midnight services on Christmas eve which covers both in recent years.
Santa still comes silently down the chimney and eats a piece of cake and takes a drink left out for him before he goes.
Santa rides 'a miniature sleigh', with 'eight tiny rein-deer". (although in the Australian outback it is too hot for the reindeer and Santa is pulled by Six White Boomers.
The small children are brimming with so much excitement that they can't get to sleep on Christmas eve, and then wake you Christmas morning, when you have hardly closed your eyes, with excitement and wonder as they rip the wrappings to pieces.
Then comes a formal gathering around the Christmas tree as the presents from each other are handed out by the patriarch of the family, wearing a Santa suit or at least a Santa cap and a "tinnie".
Christmas dinner, served at lunchtime on Christmas day, is at Grandma's home, (while she is still able bodied).
The dinner table has a special Christmas tablecloth, Christmas napkins and napkin rings that you didn't know she had. Also bonbons or Christmas crackers, streamers and balloons are added to the dining room and lollies and soft drinks are already on the table. Often the kids are on a separate table on the verandah.
The traditional Australian Christmas dinner had been the English style roast Beef or lamb sometimes also a turkey, with Gravy and baked potatoes & pumpkin followed by plum pudding and custard, which grandma used to fill with little silver thripences.
Occasionally Dinner would also include Christmas Damper down under, a throw-back to colonial days when times were tough, or white Christmas, a white coloured sweet snack bar made with Rice Bubbles and icing sugar, or even apple pie with cloves and home made ice cream, when she had a large crowd to cater for.
In recent years more and more busy mothers are not subjecting themselves, and the family, to the heavy baked dinner on hot days and go for the cold meat and salads. Cold turkey with cranberry sauce and ham with apple sauce are now the leading Australian meat dishes for Christmas. But the steaming Christmas pudding with hot custard is still common and much, much, beer is consumed in the delirious heat.
Australia also has a large number of people down under from other parts of Europe and Asia which make up our population, so many other dishes have become second nature in our Christmas cuisine. European families are also more inclined to have baked pork, have the main Christmas meal on Christmas eve and believe Santa arrives through the window and rings a bell when he has left.
The Boxing Day Tradition
Boxing day is a Great Australian tradition at Christmas time. Boxing Day is the day after Christmas day. It's a commemoration day that we inherited from the British for a reason we have forgotten about and never cared about anyway. It's a big day out. It's always a public holiday and always much cherished. It is a sports day, but we don't fight.
Two great Australian sporting traditions always capture us on Boxing day. The Cricket and the spectacular Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Many families hang around at home on boxing day and snooze whilst they watch these events on the TV, whilst the kids play cricket in the backyard. Others pack up for a picnic or a trip to the beach. There is always boating and fishing, also great family outings.
An extract from a poem, "Tangmalangmaloo" by John O'Brien, perhaps captures the way many Australians feel about Boxing day. The poem describes the day the bishop called in at an outback school and questioned the class about religion.
"And oh, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
'That's good, my boy. Come tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?'
The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew -
'It's the day before the races out at Tangmalangmaloo.' "
Over 100 million Christmas cards are posted within Australia each year which is a high portion of the 450 million articles handled by Australia Post during December. The first printed Christmas card was in England by Sir Henry Cole in 1843. The first Australian Christmas card was produced in 1881 by John Sands. In 1957 The first Christmas stamp was issued by Australia Post which has since issued more than 100 Christmas designs. The volume of mail sent by Australian children to Santa during 2004 was approximately 120,000 letters. In the Aussie spirit of "a fair go", Postage on Christmas cards is at a reduced rates, currently 45c for local standard size Christmas cards or $1 to send cards overseas.
Another emerging form of Christmas greeting common today is the Christmas E-Card usually available to send FREE a personalised greeting by email on Australian websites like Free Australian Christmas e-cards from christmas-e-cards.com
One of the most visible signs of Christmas in Australia each year is the Christmas Lights displays. A very large number of families display a Christmas light of some type, lighting up their home and saying to all passers by; "Peach on earth and goodwill to all". It might be a Christmas tree with lights showing through the window. A string of icicle lights are very popular. Possibly a Garden tree coverered with a net light or a string of fairy lights.
Some families take christmas lights to a whole new level each year adding to their collection of Christmas lights decorating their home and the most dedicated even have a collection of Christmas ornaments on display through window boxes.
Multitudes of familys travel around these highly decorated homes and get out and walk up to the most interesting homes during December evenings, leading up to Christmas. These outings are fantastic, free, fun-filled outings for families with small children.
Many of the dedicated people that decorate their homes so elegantly with Christmas lighting, to entertain Australia's children, are so generouse with their time that they also collect funds for charity and/or sell raffle tickets.
The annual Santas Warehouse Christmas Lights Competition co-ordinates the donations and raffle ticket sales for raising of funds for Charity, with great prizes and even an online voting section.
Carols by Candlelight
Great December weather allows Aussies to enjoy a tradition which commenced in 1937. Carols By Candlelight is held every year during the week before Christmas Day. They are held out in the open in the cool of the evenings in nearly every town and city in Australia.
Families arrive with rugs to sit on, picnic hampers, and folding chairs, weather it is hail rain or shine. Thousands gather to sing Christmas carols whilst holding candles.
It's a celebration of "peace on earth and goodwill towards all men" a theme which most Australians are very sincere about all year round.
Other traditions leading up to an Aussie Christmas include kids photos in the Shopping centre on Santa's Knee, Santa arriving at kids parties with bags of lollies, and a special Christmas tradition on Lake Macquarie just north of Sydney. On Christmas eve on the majestic Lake Macquarie, Santa Clause travels around the great lake on a big old ferry the famous Wangi Queen Show Boat. (Lake Macquarie is a huge lake over 4 times the size of Sydney Harbor). The stylish old ferry's loud speaker blasts out the Christmas carols as it chugs it's way along, and all of the lakeside communities get involved.
Santa stops off at all of the public jetties around the shoreline and brings a big bag of lollies out sharing smaller bags out for every small child, who gather around the lake in huge throngs giggling and cheering in wonder. It is a spectacular and exciting annual event to see Santa Clause arrive at each local jetty.
Christmas in July
Another Aussie Christmas tradition is Christmas in July where a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and decorations is served to those who, miss the northern hemisphere's 'White Christmas', feel or simply enjoy another reason to celebrate.