Australia, of course, is in the southern hemisphere. The early British colonists and others brought with them the traditional Christmas fare and customs of their homelands. Undaunted by the searing heat of summer, Christmas traditions have evolved and developed around the winter themes of the northern hemisphere – fir trees, snow, reindeer, fur trimmed Santa suits and hot Christmas dinners.
Adorning the exterior of one’s house with lights and Christmas decorations is becoming increasingly popular with street competitions and prizes given to the best house – a source of pride. All young children wait excitedly for Santa, or Father Christmas, to mysteriously leave presents while they sleep on Christmas Eve. The sound of Christmas songs can be heard everywhere in public places, in the weeks prior to Christmas.
Christmas in Australia – a Melbourne Focus
Christmas in Melbourne occurs at the beginning of the long summer break for school children. Traditions which have been passed down through generations and are part of the memories of adults and families are special. Whether you call him Santa, or Father Christmas, that jolly man in the red suit is part of the Christmas legend for most Australian families. Here are some remembered Christmas traditions.
Myer Window Display in the Bourke Street Mall
A much loved tradition in Melbourne is to visit the window display in the Bourke Street Mall, in the heart of the city. The window display is the classical Christmas tale of The Nutcracker. The main character, Clara, receives a nutcracker in the form of a soldier for Christmas. Clara is transported in nightly dreams, by the Nutcracker, into a magical world where she meets the Sugar Plum fairy and others.
The Myer department store has enchanted the children of Melbourne for 55 years with these magical window displays which feature a different theme annually. Families return again and again, often accompanied by grandparents, who remember the windows from their own childhoods.
Carols by Candlelight
Another time honored event held on Christmas Eve, this hugely popular charity event is hosted at the Music Bowl, on the edge of the city. Well known presenters, musicians, singers and choristers donate their talents to perform a wonderful collection of Christmas songs to a huge crowd, swaying lighted candles as they join in the singing.
The highlight is the arrival of Santa and his helpers on the stage. It is televised so that those involved in preparations for Christmas celebrations the next day can watch and listen, at home. Proceeds go to Vision Australia to help the blind and visually impaired. Out in the suburbs and in regional centers, community carols events are held in parks and on ovals in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Christmas Street Parade: 11.00 am Saturday, November 11
For the past five years, a massive street parade has been held in the Bourke Street Mall, in the heart of the city. In this year, this exciting event will feature nine huge floats and around 1200 participants including street performers, ethnic groups, sports stars and the casts of some of Melbourne’s current musical successes, Mary Poppins and Hairspray. The highlight, of course, will be Santa’s Sleigh.
Traditionally held as the midday meal, Australian families persist in having a hot, fully, traditional Christmas dinner with roast turkey, ham and piping hot Christmas pudding in spite of the fact that temperatures can be in the 30s (Celcius) on Christmas Day. Youngsters wait in anticipation of family gift giving and perhaps a surprise token in the pudding.
Many families rotate the hosting of Christmas dinner often because of the tyranny of distance, with family members widespread across the country. Preparation of various courses may be shared around. Some families also use Christmas as a reunion time with large, picnic-in-the-park, family gatherings during December.
A Visit to Father Christmas
The cry of all young children: “How will Santa know what to bring me?” All large shopping centers have a booth where children can sit on Santa’s knee, whisper their Christmas wish list to Santa and have their photos taken with him.
In the city, the large department stores have Winter Wonderlands, usually adjacent to the their toy departments, with wondrous displays, elves or helpers in attendance and a willing Santa to greet children and perhaps even give a small gift. Young children, excited and wide-eyed, are found with their parents, either eagerly anticipating their talk with Santa or sharing their experience with their parents. The postal service also provides a “Letter to Santa” service.
Preparations for Christmas at Home in Australia
Integral to Christmas is the fun and anticipation, especially amongst children, of putting up the traditional decorations at home – the Christmas tree and lights, the advent calendar, the nativity scene and placement of treasured, family traditional items. Gift buying and present wrapping add to the excitement.
For young children, the anticipation of preparing the food for Santa’s tray on Christmas eve prior to going to bed, “Will Santa prefer milk or beer?” or “Will he prefer cake or crackers?” and placing their stocking, or pillow case, somewhere prominent for Santa to find, are treasured moments. The focus is on preparing for the much anticipated Christmas Day.
Christmas Church Service
All churches have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services which are always well attended. Many people prefer to attend the midnight service or the early morning service so they can go visiting or return home to prepare the Christmas lunch and receive the family. Often families attend together sometimes as a once a year occurrence. Sadly, the tradition of attending a special Christmas service is diminishing as the younger generations choose to do other things.
Christmas celebrations are above all a wonderful time for children. Of course, the religious significance is paramount as well. Yes, those traditions passed down through the generations and shared within families are very special. After Christmas celebrations are over, many families head off to seaside resorts for camping and surfing holidays, at the beach.
The jingle of bells and a distant “Ho! Ho! Ho!” cement the joy of Christmas.