Curious about how Australians celebrate Christmas in the middle of summer? Well understandably it is a mix of festivities however still one of our favourite holidays. Christmas is traditionally a time to spend with family, friends and work colleagues. Like many countries that celebrate Christmas, it can be a busy time full of catchups, celebrations, shopping and preparing for Christmas. Australian schools also close before Christmas for the longest holiday of the year, returning late January or early February. Christmas therefore marks the start of a very festive time in Australia.
Christianity is the dominant religious affiliation in Australia, even though on the decline, with less than a quarter of those attend religious services on a weekly basis. It is not uncommon for Christmas and Easter services to be the only time some Christians attend church during the year.
Church services usually reflect northern hemisphere Christmas traditions, often with the involvement of children. Charity work and carol singing may also be involved, with an emphasis on the less fortunate.
“Carols by Candlelight” services are also very popular, even for non-Christians, with many local councils or community groups organising these events in local parks. Melbourne and Sydney also broadcast their “Carols by Candlelight” each year which are held in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl (Christmas Eve) and The Domain (Saturday week prior to Christmas) respectively. The ticket sales raise money for charity with celebrity performers donating their time and talents. It is a common tradition for families to attend or watch the events on TV, perhaps while decorating their Christmas tree or preparing for Christmas.
Schools also get involved with celebrations, however in respect of Australia’s diverse culture, some traditions may not be as widely practiced. This is sometimes a hotly debated issue in Australia. If schools do celebrate more traditionally, then they might organise a Christmas play or nativity scene, maybe even with an Australian native animal twist with kangaroos and koalas. It is also common for younger children to make presents at school for their family, and to give their teacher a small gift and card.
Close family member usually have lunch or dinner together on Christmas Day, however larger extended families will spread out the festivities. This results in an increase of cars on the road late afternoon as some people move from one house to the next. Alternatively families may choose to celebrate in the weeks prior in order to fit everyone in.
Usually festivities are held at home or at holiday homes and caravans, however some also choose to dine in restaurants offering traditional Christmas fare. Visits to local parks for BBQs and picnics, as well as the beach as also popular. After the midday meal families may get involved with a game of beach cricket or football before the next evening meal is served.
Another popular tradition is attending or watching the Boxing Day Test cricket match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Australians are known for their love of sport, and while the cricket is a slow game it is also a great time to catchup with family and friends, and finish some of the leftovers from the day before. It also attracts a range of characters, some in costumes, all ready for a day of fun in the sun .. hopefully! An ideal time for visitors to get burnt by the harsh Australian sun so Slip! Slop! Slap! Alternatively sports fans can watch the Sydney to Hobart yacht race which has a proud history as a challenging and sometimes dangerous race.
Businesses will often have End of Year & Christmas celebrations in the weeks leading up to Christmas, starting as early as late November. It can be very expensive and difficult to book venues at this time of year with some larger gathering needing to be booked many months in advance with minimum spend requirements. Festivities may range from a simple Christmas morning tea to an elaborate all expenses gala event at a 5 star hotel. It just depends on the budget!
It can also be a tradition in some businesses to run a ‘Kris Kringle’ or ‘Secret Santa’. This involves staff members buying a present for a colleague, usually up to a small set limit of $10-$15, with the identity of the giver unknown through a secret ballot of names. Presents are then handed out, perhaps by a colleague or boss dressed as Santa. Many businesses will also decorate their retail and corporate premises with Christmas trees and decorations (avoid hanging tinsel from fire sprinkler systems though!)
Weather and Holidays
As Christmas marks the start of the longest Australian school holidays it is a popular time to be on holidays, especially given the warm weather. This may be at a local holiday home or caravan, or favourite camping spot. Australians may also choose to travel to beach areas such as Queensland, or overseas given 3-4 weeks minimum is ideal to incorporate the travelling required.
However the Australian summer can be very hot, with some part Christmas Days reaching over 40 degrees celsius (104 F). It also marks the beginning of cyclone season in the north, with the infamous Cyclone Tracy destroying the city of Darwin on Christmas Day 1974). The weather is unpredictable and watched with anticipation for those planning outdoor celebrations. Storms, hail and rain cannot be disregarded even though less common.
Christmas can be very hot temperature wise, so while traditional hot fare is still popular with all the trimmings, it is often mingled with or replaced by cold meats and salad, BBQs, prawns and seafood. Alcohol is readily consumed, particularly on hot days, however more traditional beverages such as hot toddies or mulled wine are not as common. However bottle shops are usually closed so it is good to be prepared in the days before.
The evening meal may often be leftovers from the midday meal, or another full meal with all the trimmings. Christmas mince pies, fruit cake, puddings and chocolates are popular too.
Decorations and Symbols
Christmas trees are very popular in Australia, as well as decorations for homes and offices. Not every home will have external Christmas decorations, however there are some residents who will use lights and displays to adorn their homes. In most cities and towns there are houses or streets known for their annual Christmas lights which attract visitors each year. More extravagant displays will often raise money for charity with an optional “gold coin” ($1 or $2) donation to view.
Presents and Cards
It is common to exchange Christmas cards in Australia, with many cards ironically still depicting northern hemisphere winter scenes of snow and reindeer. However comical cards of Santa dressed in his shorts on the beach are also popular. Electronic Christmas cards and novelty videos are also widely spread at this time of year. Many businesses are leaning towards electronic greeting cards to be more environmentally friendly (and cost efficient).
Presents are also bought for family and friends, however to what degree will vary considerably. Some give extravagant gifts while others may organise a ‘Kris Kringle’ amongst the group so only one present needs to be bought. Children are still encouraged to follow traditions of leaving out cookies and a drink for Santa (port, wine or milk), and sometimes even carrots for the reindeer!
Working over Christmas
Christmas Day and Boxing Day are legislative public holidays in Australia. However there are still many places open over Christmas such as restaurants and movie theatres. Any staff working on public holidays usually receive additional rates of pay and/or time in lieu depending on their labour agreement. Shops are usually required to close on Christmas Day.
Some businesses – such as manufacturing, building and professional services – also choose to ‘shut shop’ over the Christmas holidays which may be for a week, fortnight or a month depending on labour agreements. Employees are usually required to use their annual leave for any absent days, with the exception of the public holidays.
Merry Christmas from The Moving2plan Team!