Christmas Day falls on December 25 and is an occasion for Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In Australia, Christmastime is the weeks and months leading up to Christmas which are a season of family holidays, shopping for food and presents, and the sending of cards. Many people, even if they are not Christian, give each other gifts, prepare special meals and decorate their homes at this time of year. For retailers it is the boom season.
Christmas in Australia is a bit of an oddity. The country is in the southern hemisphere which means that 25th December falls in mid-summer so instead of white, snowy scenery, Australia is filled with blue skies and sunshine and intense heat sometimes up to 35 degrees Centigrade. However, many British and American traditions featuring winter images such as a red fur coated Santa Claus and shop displays covered with fake snow and icicles are all part of the Australian Christmas.
Decorations start to appear in shops and streets in November. Homes are decorated with decorations during December, usually with a Christmas tree covered in baubles, tinsel and strings of fairy lights in red, green and gold. There is often a small nativity scene at the base. On the outside Australians hang wreaths on their front doors and many homes are transformed with amazing arrangements of light and colour. Displays range from the modest to elaborate, sometimes with hundreds of lights and decorations depicting seasonal themes such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, or nativity scenes. Neighbours sometimes have competitions to see who has got the best light show. These exhibitions can attract a lot of visitors to view the light shows at night. One street in Sydney raises over AUS$35,000 every year for charity with their co-ordinated street presentation!
Families traditionally gathered for a Christmas Day lunch similar to the British traditions that include decorated hams, roast turkey and roast vegetables. It has become increasingly popular to serve a cold Christmas dinner or a barbecue/picnic with seafood such as prawns and lobsters and salads. Similarly, desserts also include a mix of traditional winter Christmas food (such as Christmas pudding with brandy butter and fruit mince pies) alongside local traditions such as pavlova, a New Zealand dessert popular in both countries. Christmas crackers are pulled before eating and more likely than not, carols will play somewhere in the house throughout the day.
For international visitors who are in Sydney at Christmas time, it has almost become a tradition to go to Bondi Beach which is visited by thousands of people on Christmas Day.
Key Christmas highlights:
Everyone Loves a Parade
There are huge Christmas pageants and Santa Claus parades in each state capital city, that are also broadcast across the country. Most towns and cities have their own festivals and parades.
However, the grandest Christmas parade takes place in Adelaide. The Adelaide Christmas Pageant started in 1933 and has now grown to be the largest of its kind in the world. The pageant is staged in early November usually on a Saturday morning and marks the start of the Christmas season. Over 400,000 people attend and it involves a procession of floats, bands, clowns, dancing groups, and walking performers, all culminating in the arrival of Santa Claus. At the end stage of the pageant Santa makes his way to the Magic Cave in the David Jones department store where he can be visited by children.
Carols by Candlelight
This is a favourite Australian tradition that was popularized in Melbourne in 1938 and has since spread around Australia. These spectacular events are held every year during the week before Christmas Day multitudes of people gather at public parks, music halls and stadiums to sing Christmas carols while holding candles. Traditional carols are sung as well as some Australian ones like “Six White Boomers” and “Santa Never Made it into Darwin”.
The cities of Melbourne and Sydney host huge staged events, with well known entertainers. Carols by Candlelight events are broadcast live on television and radio across the country and other parts of the world and it has become a tradition for many Australians to watch the performance.
Christmas Church Services
On Christmas Day, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. According to the Census Bureau, Christianity is the largest Australian religion. Christmas worship services are held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Different denominations have a range of traditions and types of Church service around Christmas Day. Catholics often attend midnight mass, which starts at midnight as Christmas Eve leads to Christmas Day. Other denominations attend special church services during the day on December 25.
The day after Christmas day, Boxing Day is celebrated in Australia and is a public holiday. Traditionally it was when employees received a “Christmas box” from their employers. On Boxing Day most Australians settle down to the Australian Cricket Team compete in a Test Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground or the beginning of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race in Sydney Harbour.