The Jacaranda trees are burgeoning with buds and starting to erupt into magnificent panicles of soft blue blossom, heralding the coming of Christmas to Australians all around our huge island home. We don’t have the snow, yule logs, red-berried holly, and roaring log fires that are associated with a northern hemisphere Christmas. The heavy reds and greens of traditional decorations seem out of place in our clear bright daytime light, as do cards decorated with deer, sleighs, or trees laden with burning candles.
Christmas and New Year are both more relaxed and casual in this country, with Santa often dressed in beach shorts and sandals as he hops around to visit children on his kangaroo. Meals are also more relaxed and often served outside in the garden under a shady tree, in a large public park or on the beach. Prawns, crayfish (lobster), calamari, and oysters have overtaken the usual poultry as the dish of choice and are served with a vast array of salads which is much kinder to the family chief cook and bottle-washer!
Rather than drinking heavy calorific mixes like eggnog or cocktails, we tend to sip crisp white wines and champagne that complement our casual dining styles. Pavlova, filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit, has become the traditional substitute for Christmas pudding, and I have travelled many miles balancing a decorated pavlova on my lap as we drove to a relative’s home to share Christmas dinner.
At family gatherings around the country, kids set up games of cricket or tennis on any nearby beach or lawn, amusing themselves with outdoor fun in the sunshine. Poolside parties and BBQs are the order of the day as the day slowly cools down and exhausted children are tucked under a sheet or a mozzie net for the night.
Neighbours and friends sit out on the lawn or deck, relaxing over a beer or a cup of tea, whiling the evening away with jokes and convivial conversation. The Jacaranda trees drop their beautiful flowers, forming a mauve carpet on the grass below and fill the evening with their delicate perfume—mmhhh! Summer in Australia is a great time of the year to have holidays.
I don’t believe that our Australian traditions are better than those of the northern climes, just very different. Somehow, decorating our home with gold and white decorations suits the intensely bright midsummer days we experience and that I associate with Christmas. As a child growing up in Brisbane, Queensland, I often spent Christmas day just dressed in a pair of bathers (a swim suit!) and even now try to dress in my coolest, airiest outfit and a pair of snappy sandals for the big day. Fly repellent and high-factor sun protection are more important than the latest designer perfume.
As the holiday season draws closer, spare a thought every now and then for our family’s Aussie Christmas traditions—relaxed, casual and laid back is the order of the day, nationwide. And that’s the way I prefer my Christmas!