Australian Christmas Essentials
A short while ago I posted about my seasonal job working at the snow, which in Australia translates as working mid year in the June-August months, or thereabouts. I know it’s all very confusing for those of you on the upper side of the Earth, but really it’s all very simple. We still have the same four seasons, just in reverse. So as you currently enjoy the warm sunshine and summer holidays, I am sitting here, wrapped in a blanket by the fire.
But what does this mean for Christmas?
At the time of my post, my magnificent blog friend, Angela Wallace, made a most valid request:
You’ll have to explain Christmas to me later, because I’m suddenly starting to feel unbalanced with the idea of hot Christmases and no hot chocolate if December is your summer…
You are not alone, Angela! Now, as I grew up in the UK until the age of 10, I am more than familiar with a wintery Christmas. As December approached during my school days in England, we would make Christmas cards decorated with snow flakes, snowmen and open fires. The Christmas holidays would be spent frolicking outside in the snow, our mittens permanently attached to our fingers, and coming inside at the end of the day with red noses, rosy cheeks and a fatigue that only an entire day of absolute merriment can deliver. On Christmas Eve we would leave Santa a mug of warm milk and a plate of chocolate biscuits. Christmas dinner was always a feast of hot food to warm the heart (and the body) – a turkey that had been slow cooking all day, roast potatoes, parsnips and (always to my dismay) brussel sprouts. I hold fond memories of those English Christmases and am grateful I had the opportunity to experience them as only the Europeans know how.
One winter morning in England a few years ago
An Australian Christmas is a different experience entirely.
When my parents first told my brother and I that we were moving to Australia, I was genuinely excited. Mum had come back from a recent recon trip with a huge illustrated children’s book of Australia and a sing-along video, amongst other fascinating souvenirs, which succeeded in getting us most enthusiastic about the imminent journey to the land down under. I honestly don’t remember once contemplating the thought of leaving my friends behind, or having to start afresh at a new school. I was at an age where I just saw it all as very cool and a bit of an adventure. The only time I cried was when I realised we had to leave our German Shepherd behind, and a brief moment when I found out I wouldn’t be around to participate in a skipping rope competition I had trained so very hard for. Despite these two unhappy affairs, I never looked back.
I believe this enormous transition at such an early age truly contributed to how well I have adapted to every move since. Back then, the internet was still in its very early days, and not yet commercially available. Flights were expensive and snail mail was precisely as slow it sounds. In hindsight, I was unreasonably optimistic in light of the circumstances that strongly indicated it would be some time before I saw or heard from my friends or extended family again. But optimistic I was, and it hasn’t let me down yet. Ever since, with every move I’ve made, I have always looked forward to what adventure awaits, unafraid of what I might be leaving behind. I’m a strong believer that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the technology of today is a testament to that. Nowadays you need only an internet connection to keep in touch with friends and family across the globe, and although I have made new friends in Aus, I have since been able to reconnect with old ones in the UK.
But I digress.
In light of my optimistic attitude, I was not at all unenthused by the prospect of a Christmas without the traditional snow glazed trees and hot chocolate suppers. Mum and dad had filled us in, and we were as fascinated by the idea of a hot Christmas as we were hopeful at spotting a koala up a tree along a suburban road, or a kangaroo hopping down the streets of Sydney. (Although this didn’t actually happen quite as we hoped, I can since assure all those non-Aussies out there, that there are plenty of places in Australia where they do exist amongst urban living. Just the other night I took the dog outside and was greeted by an enormous kangaroo, taller than me and gawking like a deer caught in headlights. I froze, and after a moment it took off into the night in a few huge bounds, the soft thumping sound of its feet betraying its graceful getaway.)
So what do Aussies do for Christmas?
Well, obviously every family is different, but generally speaking, Christmas Day will involve a BBQ. It’s usually too hot to have the oven on inside, so a backyard BBQ or a barbie on the beach is the answer. The beach? I hear you ask. Yes, the beach. Aussies LOVE the beach and most beaches have BBQ’s under a nearby pergola, which on Christmas Day requires an early morning, some organisation and a basic knowledge of kung fu in order to lay claim to one. Fresh seafood is the cuisine of choice, with prawn platters and smoked salmon followed by our national desert, Pavlova.
The 2008 Santa Claus Pub Crawl crew
A lot of Aussies will just spend the day as they would most summer days, lazing on the beach with a cool beer in hand. The Christmas parties are never ending, and usually involve some kind of dress up theme and a pub crawl. For a number of years I participated in a Santa Claus Pub Crawl, which involved dressing up as Mr or Mrs Claus and with a bag of candy in tow, ‘crawling’ the pubs along the Northern Beaches of Sydney, handing out candy canes to children and getting just a little bit more inebriated with each passing pub, and a little more sunburnt with each walk to the next. I would like to take this opportunity to promote stranger danger, SPF 30+ sunscreen, and to encourage responsible drinking.
As is customary with the summer months, we too hold many summer music festivals, which a lot of people attend over the Christmas period. Some people travel up north to the Whitsundays for even warmer weather, and some people travel down south to cool down, just a little. Some people go camping, cruising or hiking. As our school year ends around November, Christmas time is also a time for many to celebrate the end of their exams, school year or school life.
Whatever the occasion, Australians have this unusual knack of being relaxed, content and eager to forget all their worries and just have a good time. Cheer and beer. It’s their thing. It’s our thing.
So Angela, and all, I hope this has cleared up some of the mystery behind how we manage Christmas in summer. I do miss the white Christmases of England, but I can’t really complain about Christmas at the beach either. We have the tinsel, the tree and the carols that come with any Christmas, we just do it a bit differently.
In the meantime, enjoy the summer, those of you all the way up there…yeah you! I’m not jealous, because the funny thing about seasons is that they come around every year, and as it turns out we’re due for another summer in just a few months. Now I’m going to get back to my fire and mittens, and despite the cold remain eternally content that I get to call Australia home.
N.B. I can still rock a skipping rope.