For most of my life I grew up thinking that Christmas in Australia was completely normal. I mean why wouldn’t I? I knew no different. Last year, I celebrated Christmas for the first time in the Northern Hemisphere. I spent the lead-up to Christmas in Bavaria – the home of the Christmas market – and Christmas Day itself in Norway – the home of Santa’s Workshop (well, I think it is technically in Finland, but I was close ;)).
All of a sudden, Christmas made sense. The lights, the warm food, the mulled wine, the reindeer, the red fur coat that Santa wears – of course… it’s WINTER!! In Australia, it is not winter (it is summer), and in hindsight some of our traditions are a bit odd in this context.
The longest day of the year is December 22 and yet we drape our houses in Christmas lights. Temperatures in December average about 25 degrees in Melbourne (it’s even warmer in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth) and yet we decorate the store windows with snow (fake, of course) and feast on roast meats and pudding. Even Santa insists on wearing his warm coat and boots in Australia, and travels in a reindeer-drawn sleigh.
On the occasion of this festive period, I thought my Northern hemisphere readers might be interested in the answers to some frequently asked questions about Christmas in Australia. (And perhaps my Southern hemisphere readers might like to consider just how weird Christmas “Down Under” really is.)
Does it ever snow on Christmas in Australia?
The better question would be “does it ever snow in Australia at all?”. Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Australia does have a snow season, but it starts in June, and it is mainly limited to the alpine region of Victoria and New South Wales.
The hottest month of the year in Australia is January, but it’s not unheard of to have a day or so of 40 degrees plus temperatures in December. Summer is bushfire season in Victoria and on days of high temperatures and high wind, a state-wide “total fire ban” is declared. No bonfires, no barbeques, and the fire brigade is on alert.
In Munich I recently partook in a Christmas tradition of walking around the city with a group of people holding meter-high flaming torches. When the torches started to burn down we put them out by throwing them on the ground and stamping on them. This would not be an appropriate Christmas tradition in Australia.
Do you celebrate Christmas on the beach?
Sadly, no. I wish I had time to go the beach on Christmas, but in fact I spend most of the day travelling long distances in the car in order to visit relatives living on opposite sides of the state.
However there are benefits to having Christmas in summer. We may indulge in seasonally-inappropriate food items, but we sure as hell can eat them outdoors! This year Christmas wasn’t terribly hot. It was a mild 23 degrees (personally I’m not complaining – my first day back was 32 degrees and after a year of European weather I was struggling...) but that was still warm enough to eat Christmas dinner on the patio in the my Aunty Tracy’s backyard.
Do you have a barbeque for Christmas?
Like I said before (when it comes to my family at least) there is no barbeque for Christmas. Christmas lunch consists of roast pork, roast turkey and ham and roast vegetables (this year my Dad made a delicious stuffed pumpkin to “beef” things up a bit for me). Dessert is my Dad’s famous Christmas pudding, which is doused in brandy and then set on fire, before being served in lashings of custard and ice-cream.
Then Christmas dinner is roast pork, roast turkey, roast chicken and ham, with salads. Then dessert is an even grander affair: more Christmas pudding (yes, we set it on fire again) as well as Pavlova (a traditional Australian meringue cake) and trifle. And as if that isn’t enough to give you a food coma just thinking about it, on Boxing Day we get together again to eat all the leftovers for lunch.
Does Santa visit Australia?
Yes! In fact Australia is one of the first countries Santa visits. Only Samoa, New Zealand, and Norfolk Island come first time-zone wise. Although given that Australians open up their presents on the morning of the 25th, and most Europeans open theirs on the 24th, maybe Santa's route planning isn’t solely based on meridian.
Which is better – Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere or Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere?
OK, so we have clearly established that Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere makes a lot of sense, and Christmas in Australia makes basically no sense. Yet there is one thing that Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t have, and that’s these crazy guys. And until that fact ever changes, you can take your snow, your Christmas Markets, and all your other quite logical festive paraphernalia and stick it. Christmas at home beats Christmas anywhere else in the world :)
Side note: There is one last thing I must add to this Christmas-related blog, and that is the fact that my awesome cousin Kyle (who is the talented photographer behind all of the good photos in this week’s blog – you can see his other work on his website) bought me a particularly special present for Christmas this year… www.myseasonedtravels.com. That’s right, he bought the domain name for me!! Not only did this incredibly thoughtful gesture make me break down in tears under the Christmas tree, it also means it will be much easier for you to find and search for my blog now. No added “squarespace” necessary. Thanks Kyle, you are the best!
How did you celebrate Christmas? I’m sure my friends in different countries celebrate completely differently. I’m even sure that friends in Australia celebrate completely differently to my crazy family. I would love to hear your stories…