On the face of it, the way we celebrate Christmas here is similar to the way it’s celebrated in the UK.
Families get together and exchange gifts. Most people will take an extended holiday over the Christmas and New Year period. The Christmas imagery is pretty much the same in both countries, and it’s recognised as one of the big religious festivals of the year.
There are some differences however – some straightforward, and some not quite so obvious.
With the help of the legendary Nat King Cole, here’s a summary of some of the differences and similarities in how the festive season is recognised here and in the UK.
‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’
Australia doesn’t have much of chestnut tradition. They are only grown in a small area of NE Victoria around Beechworth, and rarely seen in the shops outside that area as a specific Christmas food.
Even when they are part of the Christmas fare, it’s unlikely they’ll be roasted on an open fire. Who is seriously going to light a fire in their house when it’s 30 degrees outside?! If cooked at all, it’s more likely to be on a barbeque as an accompaniment to seafood.
‘Jack Frost nipping at your nose’
The icy imagery – snow lying ‘deep and crisp and even’ – is very much confined to the UK. Even there, proper wintry conditions don’t tend to arrive until January or February. Britain has only enjoyed one traditional white Christmas in the past decade.
The average temperature in December in Sydney is 25 degrees which makes ‘slip, slop, slap’ more of a priority rather than wrapping up in warm clothes against the cold. Sunstroke is far more of a threat here than frostbite, even in Melbourne!
‘Yuletide carols being sung by a choir’
There’s a big tradition here of groups getting together to sing carols by candlelight under the stars. This will be a big, organised event in the main cities, often led by a well-known singing celebrity. Small towns will also have their local events.
Weather constraints mean this isn’t the case in the UK, although there’s a tradition of a local celebrity switching on Christmas lights in towns and cities. There will often be a charity collection associated with each event.
Going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve is more of a tradition in the UK than here, with churches hospitably welcoming revellers on the way back from the pub as long as they ‘stand at the back and behave!’
‘And folks dressed up like Eskimos’
As we’ve already stated, this kind of dressing up is far more advisable in the UK than here.
If you’re joining in one of the impromptu Christmas evening street parties you sometimes get in the main towns and cities, you’re likely to need little more than shorts and a T-shirt.
‘Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe, help to make the season bright’
The Christmas turkey is very much a tradition that has come to Australia from the UK – although originally the meat of choice there was goose rather than turkey.
The main meal of the day is also eaten at lunchtime in both countries, with extended family in attendance.
The warmer weather means that here the turkey is more likely to be eaten cold with salad outdoors rather than indoors – and it’ll be presented alongside whatever comes off the barbeque rather than the full spread of roast potatoes and vegetables (Brussels sprouts, anyone?) which is standard fare in the UK.
Seafood is very much an Australian tradition on Christmas Day. The fish markets in every town will be packed on Christmas Eve as families stock up for the following day.
‘Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow, will find it hard to sleep tonight’
When it comes to presents for the kids, traditions are very much the same in Australia as in the UK. ‘Santa Claus’ or his stealthy representative will traditionally leave a stocking at the end of each bed on Christmas Eve, although this will often now be a pillowcase, or even a bin liner.
As an alternative, presents are often left round the Christmas tree for discovery on Christmas morning. The only difference will be that Santa will enjoy a cold beer with his mince pie in Australia, whereas in the UK it’s normally a glass of sherry!
‘They know that Santa’s on his way, he’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh, and every mother’s child is gonna spy, to see if reindeer really know how to fly’
Given the weather conditions, popular culture is more likely to portray Santa Claus arriving at Bondi Beach on a surfboard than over the rooftops on a sleigh pulled by a team of reindeer.
As well as the weather, bear in mind that it’s a bit of a trek from Lapland to Australia, whereas in the UK the journey is a far more manageable three hours – whether by plane or sleigh!
The different length school holidays mean that children in Australia have far longer to enjoy their toys and goodies before going back to school. In Australia schools tend not to go back until the end of January rather than in the first week of the month, which is the case in the UK.
‘And so, I’m offering this simple phrase, to kids from one to ninety-two’
There are two very ‘simple phrases’ associated with the day after Christmas Day.
The first is the ‘Boxing Day Test’. With cricket being the national summer sport, it’s a long-standing tradition that the first day of the Test match at the MCG becomes very much a focus for all sports fans across the country – whether planning a day of TV viewing around it, or actually going to ‘the G’ to watch it live.
It always draws a massive crowd – especially if England are touring with the notorious Barmy Army in tow.
In the UK, a full fixture list of football (soccer) matches is traditional on Boxing Day, but it’s not something people will plan an entire day around as they do with the cricket here.
The second simple phrase is ‘Boxing Day sales.’ These are very much a tradition both here and in the UK. The rise in online shopping hasn’t deterred legions flocking to the shops on the day after Christmas in hunt of a bargain.
‘Although it’s been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you’
So, a very Merry Christmas from all of us here at BDH. However you plan to celebrate, we hope you have a wonderful time, and enjoy a peaceful, healthy and prosperous new year.