Christmas in the southern hemisphere
The heat of early summer in Australia has an impact on the way that Australians celebrate Christmas and on which northern hemisphere Christmas traditions are followed.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas houses are decorated; greetings cards sent out; carols sung; Christmas trees installed in homes, schools and public places; and children delight in anticipating a visit from Santa Claus. On Christmas Day family and friends gather to exchange gifts and enjoy special Christmas food.
Many Australians spend Christmas out of doors, going to the beach for the day, or heading to camping grounds for a longer break over the Christmas holiday period. It has become traditional for international visitors who are in Sydney at Christmas time to go to Bondi Beach where up to 40,000 people visit on Christmas Day.
The tradition of an Australian Christmas Eve carol service lit by candles was started in 1937 by radio announcer Norman Banks. This outdoor service has now been held in Melbourne every year since then.
Carols by Candlelight events today range from huge gatherings, which are televised live throughout the country, to smaller local community and church events. Sydney’s Carols in the Domain has become a popular platform for the stars of stage and music.
Some uniquely Australian Christmas carols have become popular and are included alongside the more traditional carols sung at carol services and at Christmas church services: John Wheeler’s The Three Drovers is perhaps the best known of these.
Many light-hearted Australian Christmas songs have become an essential part of the Australian Christmas experience. These include Rolf Harris’s Six White Boomers, Colin Buchanan’s Aussie Jingle Bells and the Australian Twelve Days of Christmas.
There are many native Australian plants in flower over the Christmas season. A number of these have become known as ‘Christmas plants’ in various parts of the country, including Christmas bells, Christmas bush and the Christmas orchid.
When Europeans first arrived in Australia they were delighted that they could pick wildflowers resembling bells and bright green foliage covered in red or white flowers to use as Christmas decorations. This was a huge contrast to the bare trees and dormant gardens they had left behind in Europe.
Christmas in Australia comes at the beginning of summer and many people no longer serve a traditional hot roast dinner. Cold turkey and ham, seafood and salads are often served instead. It has even become acceptable to serve the traditional Christmas plum pudding with cold custard, ice cream or cream. Pavlova, a meringue base topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit, and various versions of the festive ice-cream pudding have also become popular Christmas desserts.