With 1,277,474 UK born expats currently living down under, more and more Brits are experiencing a sunny Christmas in Australia Many of Australia’s Christmas traditions have been brought over by the waves of European migrants and will be very familiar to new arrivals. Australia’s native culture and climate has shaped and influenced Christmas customs over the years, although you may still see a stoic Santa sweating it out in red polyester and hear children singing about a White Christmas. So what is it really like to spend the festive period down under? We’ve got everything you need to know about Christmas in Australia.
Dreaming of a Hot Christmas
The most obvious difference between Christmas in the UK and in Australia is the weather. As the holidays fall during the Southern Hemisphere’s Summer, it probably won’t be a white Christmas, unless you count the white sandy beaches! With temperatures ranging from 20°C in Tasmania to 33°C in Darwin, you certainly won’t need your Christmas jumpers. Wherever you are, from Perth to Cairns, you are almost guaranteed a warm, sunny Christmas Day. As it is not freezing cold and dark by four o’clock, certain festive traditions are a little different down under, but you will still see artificial snow, snowmen and holly in many Christmas displays in spite of the heat.
School’s Out For…. Christmas!
To fit in with the seasonal differences, the Australian school year runs from January to December. As in the UK, the school year ends with a six week Summer Holiday. This happy arrangement means that school children down under enjoy Christmas during this long break. While, of course, many families stay at home over the holidays, this long break opens up the possibility of travelling and exploring over Christmas and New Year. This year, with the holidays running from 18th December until 1st Feb, there’s four whole weeks to relax, travel and enjoy some quality family time, the perfect way to avoid the January blues.
Deck the Halls
Australia’s unique climate and culture has had a huge influence on how Christmas looks in the Antipodes. Homes, offices and public spaces are all adorned with festive decorations, but there are a few subtle differences for Christmas in Australia. In the big cities, department stores such as Myers and David Jones will put on elaborate displays that draw large crowds throughout the busy period. While Santa, tinsel and nativity scenes can still be found all over the country, real Christmas trees and holly are not commonly used. Snow, real of fake, is also not a part of traditional Australian decoration, for obvious reasons. Instead, some Australians brighten their homes with seasonal orchids or bunches of ‘Christmas Bush’, a native tree whose flowers turn bright red throughout December.
Not So Silent Nights
Like many places, Christmas in Australia is a fun, busy and noisy time. There are parties and gatherings throughout December with plenty of festive music, singing and chatting. One of the most important events in the run up to Christmas in Australia is the traditional carols concert. Across the country, carols by candlelight services are held in parks and squares throughout the warm December evenings. These heartwarming, magical gatherings are well worth seeking out to experience a true Christmas in Australia. The pleasant, temperate evenings have also encouraged the equally loud tradition of holding large public firework displays throughout the holidays. New Year’s Eve is now very much associated with bright, breathtaking displays, the most extravagant of which is the famous Sydney Harbour display.
Santa in the Sun
Of course, as all over the world, Father Christmas visits Australian children on Christmas Eve delivering presents to all good girls and boys. Santa’s traditional red fur-lined suit and sleigh can prove problematic in the heat, but it seems he can adapt to Christmas in Australia and the local climate. Santa has been spotted wearing board shorts, sunglasses and even an akubra to keep the sun off his head. It is also said he may swap his sleigh for a Holden ‘ute’ or even a surf board to better navigate the Aussie terrain.
Boxing Day on the Beach
In the UK, the festive period is generally spent at home, with the occasional de-camp to the local pub. With the sun shining and the beach calling, most Australians spend a lot of time outdoors during the festive period. Picnics in the park and backyard barbeques are a regular occurrence throughout Christmas in Australia. A group trip to the beach on Boxing Day in particular has become an essential part of Australian Christmas. On 26th December, families and friends all over the country pack their cool boxes and sunshades and head to the beach. While spending an entire day eating turkey sandwiches in a reindeer onesie is, of course, wonderful – sitting on a beach, sipping sauvignon blanc can be equally enjoyable.
I Saw Three Ships
Another Boxing Day fixture is the world famous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race held on December 26th every year. Ships have raced from Sydney Harbour down Australia’s east coast and across the Bass Strait to Tasmania ever year since 1946. The fleet competing has grown from just nine boats in 1946 to 117 in 2014 and record times have dropped from six days to just under two. It is now regarded as one of the most challenging and prestigious races in the world and followed by millions both in Australia and abroad. The Boxing Day test match is another key Christmas sporting event. Held at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, the match pits Australia’s national team against an international rival and is one of the season’s most popular fixtures.
Eat, Drink and be Merry
Should you wish, you can find all the familiar Christmas foods in most Australian supermarkets from mince pies and Christmas cake to turkey and cranberry sauce. Many families in Australia have, however, abandoned the traditional Christmas dinner in favour of lighter, more appropriate fare. Barbequed meat and seafood, salads and pasta have replaced the heavy roast dinner in many households. Festive drinking is also a little different down under. Mulled wine, hot chocolate and eggnog are rarely seen, but you will find plenty of cocktails, wine and fizz.
Christmas in July
Although the sunshine, beaches and barbeques can seem idyllic, for some born in the Northern Hemisphere Christmas in Australia simply doesn’t feel like Christmas. It was Irish visitors missing the familiar Christmas weather who first hit upon the idea of celebrating Christmas in July way back in 1980. Many Australians have embraced this idea and host parties and dinners in the midst of Winter, complete with roast turkey and Christmas pudding. Although temperatures remain reasonably pleasant, snow often falls on the peaks of the Blue Mountains at this time of year completing the Christmas magic.
Expat Experiences of Christmas in Australia
Many expats blog and write about about their experiences and emotions of an Australian Christmas. Some interesting articles can be found here:
Christmas in Australia is an incredible, exciting and unusual experience, particularly for anyone born north of the equator. Seeing Santa sweltering in the Summer heat and singing jingle bells on the beach may seem a little confusing at first, yet Christmas loses none of it’s magic down under. While you may not enjoy a full turkey dinner or build a snowman, family, food and fun remain at the very heart of Christmas in Australia. Modern innovations and well-loved traditions are carefully balanced to make a perfect Aussie Christmas.
If you’d like to experience Christmas in Australia, check out our guide to shipping to Australia.