For people in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas is all about cold mornings, large hot lunches, and snow. In Australia, Christmas is celebrated during the summer months with no snow and log fires for us! For Australians it’s about sun, the beach, and often inappropriate large hot lunches, though our Christmas Cards and traditions usually depict those of colder climates. Australians have Christmas Trees, Father Christmas, Christmas Carols and gifts which are a familiar Christmas scenario.
For the majority of Australians, Christmas Downunder experiences all the seasonal variations of a Summer Down Under…..electrical storms, floods, hailstorms, cyclones and bushfires. But 80% of the time they are blessed with blue skies and depending on the Australian location, temperatures ranging from 25 – 34 degrees centigrade.
Australia is a multicultural country and with this, the traditions we have are often mingled and derived from a mixture of other countries. Australia, although huge in size, has a population of just over 20 million people. Our country is a harmonious mix of many ethnic groups. Our backgrounds are very varied, with people having connections with England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Europe, Russia, Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Middle East, Vietnam, China, Japan, Thailand as well as North and South America. So you can imagine that each of these national groups brings the colour ,customs and festive rituals of the Christmas celebrated in their respective homelands. Australians are able to appreciate culturally diverse Christmas celebrations.
House decorations in Australia are not usually as elaborate as in the United States, although there are plenty of decorations and symbols, and even a few wreaths. Because it is warm weather, there are many native plants in bloom. These are easily picked for decoration around the holiday season – orchids, Christmas bells, and the like are common.
Christmas is special to the majority of Australians for it is their Summer Holiday season and students especially are “wrapping” up their school year. That means sitting for end of Semester tests or exams and waiting for their results, as well as getting ready for the Summer Holidays. For the majority of Australian students this means …SUN….SURF….SHOPPING. For students it means an end to homework and school studies and the beginning of lots of time for family, relatives and “mates” (friends).
Traditional dinners have been replaced with family gatherings in back yards, picnics in parks, gardens and on the beach. For many, it is the occasion to be with friends and relatives, to share love and friendship and not to forget, the exchange of gifts in the traditional manner. For many, it is a time to enjoy and consume massive quantities of food.
So how do we REALLY celebrate Christmas? Christmas for childen means presents, and lots of them! When I was a child, traditionally in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we would decorate the house with tinsel, Christmas lights, and a large plastic Christmas tree would adorn our front entrance. Christmas was an exciting time of year. Next to Easter and my birthday, it was my favorite time of year! 🙂
Every Christmas Eve, I would put a “Christmas pillowslip” (stocking) at the end of the bed and try to stay awake to wait anxiously for Santa Claus to arrive. Of course, I always fell asleep and never saw Santa arrive, but when I awoke in the morning, my pillowslip was filled with toys and goodies of all kinds. Each year was as exciting as the previous. I would throw off my bedsheets and open my presents from Santa while everyone else in the house slept.
In more recent years, I had the pleasure of spending Christmas with my sister in New Zealand. Although we had forgone the traditions we experienced as children, we still decorated the house with Christmas lights and various other decorations, and on Christmas morning we would sit around the Christmas tree and exchange presents we bought for each other. Of course, there was always one of us who would dress up like Santa and give out more gifts, which added to the magic that is otherwise “Christmas”.
In my sister’s house, the usual Christmas Lunch consisted of roast pork, roast turkey, roast potatoes, pumpkin and other hot vegetables as well as salad, cold ham, cold chicken. The traditional Christmas meal may either be taken in the middle of the day which is the hottest part of the day or in the cooler evening hours. With some families opting for a celebration meal as dinner on Christmas eve. In some households, Christmas Dinner may be a barbeque in the backyard or a picnic on a beach. The evening meal is leftovers from lunch.
Currently everyone is beginning to get ready for the “silly season“. Everyone is busily planning Christmas break-up parties. Children are writing letters to Santa Claus. Decorations are being bought and set up. Shopping centres and malls are experiencing record breaking crowds. In homes, many of the traditional Christmas rituals are being followed. Many children are helping to decorate the family Christmas tree. Australians have yet to follow the American ritual of getting “real” Christmas trees……though some do use gum tree branches. Children are learning Christmas Carols so that they may be sung at festive occasions such as public “Carols by Candlelight” and school concerts. Christmas stockings are being hung in homes….though fireplaces are in short supply. Cards galore are being written and posted. Everyone awaits…….the anticipation is high!
It must also be mentioned that Australians consider Christmas a time for remembering the true meaning of Christmas………a time for remembering the birth of Jesus and the spiritual meaning of Christmas. For many, Christmas will begin with families attending a midnight mass. 70% of Australians are either Catholic, Anglican or Lutheran. After the midnight Mass, a little sleep is attempted. For many, the children in various households, wake up the family at dawn. Gifts are unwrapped and the joy of Christmas begins. For many with relatives and friends overseas, it is a mad scramble to get an early phone call to relatives worldwide.
In order to celebrate an Australian Christmas in your house this year, consider displaying a map of Australia on the wall. Use an Australian animal, like a kangaroo or koala, as the gift or favor of choice for your guests. Create a beautiful tree with wooden decorations, tinsel or garland, and the fairy, angel or star on the top. Serve up a picnic instead of dinner, with champagne and pavlova, (a meringue dessert that is topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit). Or if you choose to serve traditional Christmas plum pudding, offer ice cream or cream on the side. The Christmas pudding during Australian gold rushes often contained a gold nugget; the lucky person who found it was considered to be blessed with good luck for the coming year. These days the gold nugget is replaced with small favors; consider adding these to your pudding.
This year will be my first Christmas in Russia, so although I will be celebrating the traditional Orthodox Christmas with my family, I will also be bringing a little bit of Australiana to Russia with celebrating Christmas “Aussie” style, with lots of decorations, roast pork, roast chicken, roast vegetables, salad, and not to forget, lots of presents for my family! 🙂
Happy Holidays everyone!
Australian Recipe: Pavlova
The Pavolova was first created in 1935 by Chef Herbert Sachse of the Hotel Esplanade in Perth, Western Australia, to celebrate the visit of the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova.
4 egg whites
1 cup superfine sugar (granulated)
1 tablespoon corn flour (cornstarch)
half pint whipped cream (one cup)
strawberries or your choice of fruit such as passion fruit, kiwi fruit…
Place egg whites in a clean glass bowl. Beat slowly until frothy, then increase the speed and beat until stiff.
GRADUALLY add the sugar, beating well after each addition. (When all the sugar has been added, the mixture should be shiny, very stiff, and should stand in peaks.) Gently fold in the corn flour with a metal spoon.
Line a cookie sheet with brown paper and grease it lightly. Pile the meringue mixture on it
Slow-bake the mixture at 150°C (300°F) to dry all the moisture and create the meringue, approximately 45 minutes. This leaves the outside of the Pav a crisp crunchy shell, while the interior remains soft and moist.
When cooked, turn off the oven and leave the door open to let the Pav cool on the oven shelf – this helps to prevent the middle of the Pav from collapsing (although if it does collapse, generous application of cream hides any mistakes)
When cold, peel off the paper and transfer to a serving platter.
Slice the strawberries in half. and roll in icing sugar (confectioners sugar), and refrigerate.
Cover top of the Pav with whipped cream about 1 hour before serving.
N.B. Turn the Pav upside down before decorating with cream and fruit because the bottom is less crispy than the top after cooking and, unless you serve it immediately after decorating, the “top” absorbs moisture from the cream.