Christmas Traditions in Australia

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.

Christmas plants
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.

Food
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.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Coles company are engaged in a project to cultivate native foods. They are working with Mandawuy Yunupingu (of the band Yothu Yindi) and Aboriginal communities to grow sufficient quantities for sale in supermarkets across Australia. The aim is to offer all Australians a Bush Tucker Christmas.

Film and television
The films Bush Christmas (1947) starring Chips Rafferty and the remake Prince and the Great Race in 1983 (with Nicole Kidman), and Miracle Down Under starring John Waters (telecast as Bushfire Moon) are insights into the early Australian Christmas culture. Many television series have used Christmas episodes to explore the changing culture of Christmas in Australia.

Children’s stories
Australian children grow up enjoying traditional Christmas stories such as Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but children’s authors and illustrators are beginning to create truly Australian children’s Christmas literature. One favourite is Wombat Divine by Mem Fox, while a more recent addition is Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison.

Major sporting events
The Christmas break is an opportunity for sports fans to enjoy two major sporting events. 26 December is the opening day of the ‘Boxing Day Test’ between the Australian Cricket Team and an international touring side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. This has been well attended since the first match in 1950, and watched by many others on television. In Sydney one of the world’s most prestigious ocean races, the Sydney-to-Hobart Yacht Race, starts on Boxing Day from Sydney Harbour.

Indigenous Australians
Indigenous Dreamtime stories obviously do not include Christmas. However, this date in the calendar coincides with other seasonal changes. In Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Yolngu Aboriginal people will observe the last season of their six-season cycle. Gudjewg, the wet season, begins in late December.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities include Christian groups within them which celebrate Christmas. The Ntaria Choir at Hermannsburg, via Alice Springs, Northern Territory, has a unique musical language from mixing the traditional vocals of the Ntaria women with Lutheran chorales – the hymn tunes that were the basis of much of J.S. Bach’s music.

Baba Waiyar, a popular traditional Torres Strait Islander hymn, is featured on Lexine Solomon’s debut album This is Woman (2003) – showing the influence of gospel music mixed with traditionally strong Torres Strait Islander vocals and country music. Significantly, Torres Strait Islanders celebrate the ‘Coming of the Light’ on 1 July, the day the London Missionary Society landed at Erub Island in 1871.

Modern Indigenous Christmas celebrations are beginning to take on elements of traditional Indigenous culture. The Department of Conservation and Land Management in Western Australia offers a Christmas celebration by organising activities which encourages people to join in Christmas bush activities with Nyoongar guides.

Source > http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/christmas/

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