Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas in Australia

Christmas 2008 marks my 7th Christmas spent here in the Land Down Under. I've never really stopped to think too much about the Australian Christmas traditions, that is until now. Since I started writing this blog, I've begun to take a closer look at all the intricacies of Aussie society that I had previously taken for granted. I know, lucky you right? Here are a few of my observations from this Christmas.

1. Santa dresses the same despite the seasonal difference. Yes, that's right if you go to any Australian shopping centre (that's mall for those Americans amongst you) in the lead up to Christmas, you'll find Santa Claus as you know him--white beard, red suit with the white fur accents. He'll be wearing the hat and the glasses, boots, etc. My first thought when I saw these Santas dressed for winter in the middle of the Australian summer was, "Those poor fellows. They must be absolutely burning up in there." It just seemed a bit odd to me. Now though, I like seeing these men dressed in traditional Santa costumes because it reminds me very much of the Santa I knew and loved as a kid.

2. The stores and shopping centres begin to decorate for Christmas in October. It seems to get earlier and earlier every year, and I do remember feeling this a bit when I lived in the USA, but I feel like in the USA we have several big holidays before Christmas that puts a bit of the brakes on the early Christmas decorations. It seems like retailers take aim at Halloween, then Thanksgiving and finally Christmas. I don't know, I haven't spent much time in the USA during the lead up to Christmas in many years. What do y'all think?

3. Christmas lights and outdoor decorations are growing in popularity here in Australia, but haven't really caught on. I do remember when I first came here noticing that there really aren't many lights around at Christmas. There aren't a lot of houses decked out in decorations. You might find one or two scattered about, but there really aren't huge light displays on private homes. Each year though, I've noticed that more and more people are getting into the spirit and putting up Christmas lights and those larger outdoor decorations. I'm not sure what has changed in people's minds--perhaps more of these type of decorations have become available in recent years. Who knows?

Although, it's very easy to understand why Australians don't put up the Christmas lights with such fervor--because it's summer here, it doesn't get dark until about 9:30pm so you really can't appreciate the lights unless you are up quite late. Having young kids ourselves, it is quite tricky to find a time when you can take them to see the light displays--it has to be a late night for them, unfortunately.

4. The lead up to Christmas is a killer! December marks the beginning of the Australian summer, the weather fines up, the year is drawing to a close and almost everyone you come across is in a celebratory mood. This means there are heaps of parties, barbecues, and other social occasions to attend. December seems like one late night after another with plenty of indulgent food and beverage. I think it must have been Australians that invented the New Year's detox! Honestly, you really need such a thing after surviving the "silly season" as it's so aptly called here.

5. Aussies eat lots of different things on Christmas Day. Your normal Christmas Day lunch in Australia really depends heavily on which immigrant group the family in question belongs to. Those with British heritage stick to a menu that is very much like the North American tradition--there will be turkey and ham with all the trimmings and for dessert a plum pudding.

Those people who have acclimated a bit more, won't choose such a heavy meal on a hot summery day. Instead, seafood becomes the center piece. Prawns, crayfish and oysters will find their way to many an Aussie Christmas feast. Generally these seafood platters are all served cold.

Still others may opt for the good old Aussie barbecue. Perhaps there will be seafood or just meat on the barbie and plenty of cold drinks all around.

In my husband's family, there is not a traditional Christmas menu. One year we had cold seafood platters with salads. Another year we had a selection of curries. This year was a feast featuring mostly signature Lebanese dishes. You just never know what it will be until you turn up. Normally, I'm a fan of consistency and tradition, but I like the randomness of the Christmas menu in my husband's family--it keeps me guessing. Also, there are so many talented cooks in the family, it really doesn't matter what they serve--it's always really, really good.

More observations to come...


Becca said...

You had mentioned that the Christmas decorations were being seen earlier and earlier in the stores and malls and I have to agree and say that the same thing is happening here. I took my son shopping for his Halloween costume and happened to pass by an aisle where the Christmas decorations were being set out. It was mid-October and there were already 2-3 aisles full of Christmas goodies and more still to come. It seemed that there was nothing related to Thanksgiving seen anywhere in the stores. Not one Cornucopia, no autumn leaves, no turkeys (except in the frozen food aisle). Has Thanksgiving become the forgotten holiday? Wishful thinking has me saying that people are giving thanks every day instead of saving it up for the one pre-determined day. The season is one holiday away from starting again for next year! I hope you have a wonderful New Years!

suzinoz said...

Thanks Becca-Happy New Year to you too.

ibbabs97 said...

I agree with Becca. They are starting to put decorations out here even before Halloween. There is no more waiting until Halloween is over. They get it out before that. Many places even have Christmas music playing before Thanksgiving. It is getting a little ridiculous. Christmas in July is soon going to be a real thing. It is great that you get to have a surprise dinner each year. After having celebrated with many parties and tons of meals I know I need the New Year detox.

suzinoz said...

Yes, ibbabs97, I think detox will be the theme for January at our place. Thanks for stopping by!