No matter what part of the world you live in, Christmas is usually a wonderful time of year. It is no different in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas time comes in the summer. The schools are all closed for several weeks while December 25th and 26th are considered national holidays. The average temperature in Australia during the month of December is 38®C (100®F) and many take advantage of the good weather by going outdoors for the festivities. During this time of summer vacation combined with the celebration of Christmas, many families and friends commemorate the occasion with feasts, gatherings, musical events, outdoor activities, camping or trips to the seashore.
The climate of Australia is tied together with its Christmas traditions. When the English colonists arrived in January of 1788 they must have noticed how warm it was. Starting with Australia’s very first Christmas it was clear things were going to be different. Many Christmas traditions such as pine trees, reindeer and snow were not available anywhere. So they had to improvise with tropical plants of red and green, white kangaroos, swimming and cricket. The Australian Christmas traditions as we know them today took years to develop. However the British roots of early settlers and government continue to be a strong influence to this day.
Australia’s First Christmas
According to historical records the first Christmas in Australia was celebrated in December of 1788, almost one full year after their arrival at Sydney Cove. Reverend Johnson conducted services for Governor Arthur Phillips and his officers before they enjoyed Christmas supper. Unfortunately for the convicts they only had their daily rations of bread and water. But the prison guards did lessen the sentence for one unlucky fellow who had stolen a bag of flour named Michael Dennison. He only got 150 lashings by the whip instead of the usual 200.
Australian Christmas Plants
In the British Isles, the practice of decorating with evergreen plants such as holly and mistletoe during the winter holidays has been common since the days of the Celtic Druids. By the mid-1800s putting up Christmas trees and sending Christmas cards had come into fashion. It was not very practical for the settlers in Australia to import live fir trees, but they continued the tradition using the native plants found in the area. Merchants and women gathered tree ferns, palm fronds, eucalyptus boughs, Christmas bells, Christmas orchids and Christmas bushes in the forest, to sell or use as holiday decorations.
Traditional Meals & Dishes
The British influence on Australian culture can be seen in their traditional Christmas meal, which still includes fare such as roast meats, meat pies, and plum pudding with a surprise baked into it for dessert. In more recent decades, serving an array of cold ham, turkey or bush meat has come into favour, as it is considered more appropriate for such hot weather. There is also a lot of barbeque and local seafood, such as shrimp and prawns, as well as cold salads and other traditional side dishes. Christmas dinner is very important. Basically everyone in Australia eats as much as they possibly can to celebrate Christmas.
When Father Christmas Visits Australia
Santa’s reindeer cannot legally enter the island of Australia due to issues of quarantine. But the image of Santa’s sleigh being pulled by kangaroos appears on Australia’s earliest Christmas cards. Today one of the most popular Christmas carols in Australia is about “Six White Boomers” that pull his sleigh. But Santa still comes down through the chimney, leaves presents and has a drink or a piece of cake. Old Saint Nick used to visit the small towns in the out back on a train to hand out presents to children. These days however Santa Claus likes to surf or kayak into Bondi Beach for the annual festivities.
To learn more about the early history of Christmas in Australia, watch classic films such as Bush Christmas (1947), Prince and the Great Race (1987) and the 1987 tele-series Bushfire Moon (Miracle Down Under).
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