In December, it is summer in Australia – hardly the right time for a big overweight man in a red suit, long white hair and beard to be roaming around the country! However, the reality is that despite the heat and humidity (in the northern part of the country) we celebrate Christmas in much the same way as our forebears from Europe did and still do.
Many of our Christmas cards depict scenes of Santa Claus or Father Christmas in his familiar suit, waving from his sleight being pulled by the reindeers with familiar Rudolph leading the pack. Other cards show snow scenes, snowmen, and so on, though now we are more likely to see many where a kangaroo is decorated with a red hat with white trimmings and other more appropriate scenery for Australians.
It is not only the icons that seem out of place here, but the food we consume at this time is often tradition fare from Europe. Roast turkey, glazed ham, roast vegetables, and a rich fruit Christmas pudding with brandy custard for dessert, and of course loads of chocolate fancy sweets, and the usual high calorie foods that grace tables around the world at this time.
It is a time for families too – we exchange gifts, have family for lunch or dinner, and generally try and have a good time with family members. I say try, as also this time of year can be difficult for some families.
Often houses are decorated – fake or real pine trees grace the loungeroom with various decorations and lights, and often the outside of the house is covered in lights, or some exotic Christmas decals. Wrapped parcels start appearing under the Christmas tree as the big day approaches.
On Christmas Eve (December 24th) some families have special events – we are a multicultural society so different customs also make their presence felt in various homes. Some cultures have their Christmas Dinner at this time, and the children receive gifts. This time is often a time for going to church and midnight services are popular in some places, though generally people go to church on Christmas Day itself.
In our family Christmas Eve is a time to catch up with those family members who we are unlikely to see on Christmas Day – perhaps they are celebrating with family members (grandparents often host Christmas Day on alternate years), and other times distance is the issue as we often try to share ourselves and children around to families.
The Christmas morning routine varies. If there are children in the house, they will normally be up early seeking for goodies under the Christmas tree. Children will often have a plate of food left out for Santa and the reindeers, and they usually check to see that it has been eaten.
Parents are often dragged out of bed very early as the first child in the family wakens and on discovering the parcels that Santa left, will wake all the family in great excitement. Many parents with bleary eyes sit around the Christmas tree very early in the morning as squealing children discover the gifts left behind. It is exciting.
The children try on new clothes, experiment with gifts, and generally enjoy the morning. Some families will have a formal breakfast – champagne breakfasts are popular, and the day has begun. Church, visits, or just quiet time. Every family is different.
The enthusiasm for the hot Christmas dinner is somewhat waning and seafood is popular, and beach picnics or picnics in the park are popular.
Charitable organisations feed hundreds who do not have the family around them – attempts are made to ensure that everyone enjoys this special day.
It is a big eating, big drinking day – and we look forward to Boxing Day (December 26th) where we relax. Many of us watch television on Boxing Day as there is always a top cricket match on, and from Sydney, the famed yacht race between that city and Hobart, at the far south of Australia, starts.
This year, there have been many problems because of the unusual weather. Consistent rain has meant that many towns are under water, and people have had to re arrange their Christmas to deal with the massive floods. In the north of Queensland, cyclone Tasha dumped a lot of rain – and floods throughout the state make life difficult. Farmers have suffered losses, many have damaged homes, and hundreds of cars have suffered flood damage.
Christmas 2010 will be remembered for the amazing rainfall and flooding, though many of us have had a pleasurable time, despite the weather. In some parts of Australia droughts continue and we try and work out how we can send all the unwanted water on the east coast to the parched areas of the centre and west.
Merry Christmas – Season’s Greeting from Down Under.