The ribbon was strung on the buildings and tied in neat, large bows. Faux paper bulbs swayed on strong cables between
downtown traffic lights. And the plastic and aluminum tree was decked with tinsel and large, round gold balls. Melbourne s ready to celebrate Christmas; while temps climbed well over 95F (38C for metric folks).
Welcome to Christmas in Oz. I’ve been living in Australia for almost 4 months now and the holiday season has arrived. In Australia, it is the beginning of summer by the time Christmas is upon Melbournians.
This was my first Christmas downunder. I have enjoyed a hot Christmas before back when I was living in Egypt, so I’m no stranger to the 100F (40 C) on Christmas day. But, as a northern hemisphere gal it still feels strange to experience a Christmas that is not cold and wintery.
The end of the year holidays in Oz are a bit different than in the States or Europe. Whether a cultural difference or a result of the summer heat, Australia has different traditions and trends at Christmas times.
Christmas in Australia is far less commercialized than in the States or Europe. There aren’t big pre- and post- Christmas sales at the stores. Store fronts aren’t decorated in snowflakes, lights and garlands. Advertisements do not push buying x, y or z for your loved one’s for the holiday.
Christmas in Oz is all about family, friends, holiday, beaches and BBQs. Santa rolls sans reindeer and sled, instead decked out in swim trunks and surf board. Decorations are minimalistic and Christmas festivals and activities are limited. The most common city decorations are the giant ribbons on a major city building and the occasional large paper bulb. Christmas lights are not common in the city or on private homes. Trees are also not common, most trees that are set up are artificial. Christmas trees as seen in North America and Europe are hard to grow in Australia and as a result very expensive. Most Auzzies would rather go on vacation or gather family and friends for a BBQ than spend time and energy on trees and decorations.
In Oz during December people focus on wrapping up work and heading on holiday for a few weeks. Many businesses close for 2-3 over the Christmas holiday. Locals will travel both within Australia and internationally.
As for traditional Christmas food, Australia cooks up feasts British-style. Christmas puddings, mince pies, roasts, cakes
and meringues are all staples around the Christmas season. As are the local IPA beers and excellent Australian wines. Mulled wine tends not too make many appearances – try drinking the potent English brew when temps are cracking thermometers and you’ll know why.
Christmas in Oz was a unique opportunity to see and experience many of the favorite Auzzie holiday traditions – which pretty much consisted of BBQs with sausages, burgers, roasts, Christmas puddings, mince pies, meringues and plenty of local beer. Santa still made an appearance – though in a lot more cotton and a lot less fur.
I did miss the ever-present chance of snow, all the lights, the Christmas music, the decked out fir trees, and the traditional Fall meals of Christmas in the north-western United States. The fact that Christmas arrives during the shortest, coldest days of the year for Northern Hemisphere folks has led to many special family traditions that even the promise of a warm and sunny Christmas could not trump. Not wanting to miss out on one of my favorite times of year in Seattle (I’m a sucker for the chance for a white Christmas, Christmas lights, ski days followed by plenty of local winter beer, pumpkin pie, and brightly lit Christmas trees), I hopped on a plane (more like 5 of them) and jetted home right before Christmas to get in a much needed dose of wintery Christmas cheer.
I enjoyed seeing how the Auzzie’s experience Christmas, but for me Christmas will always be family and friends sharing a big hearty meal filled with Fall foods while the snow softly covers the landscape in a fluffy white blanket, illuminated by the flickering glow of Christmas lights.