Thinking about what Christmas traditions are to me, and to many other Australians – I imagine – can cause a bit of confusion. First off, everything to do with an Australian Christmas turns traditional notions of the proverbial Twelve Days on their head.
Many Europeans travelling through the country will do their part in reminding us of how un-Christmas-like Australia at this time of year tends to feel. All of that aside, there is a certain brand of “Australia” in our adaptation of Christmas. And for the most part, it’s pretty fun. Having a European mother, I have done both on the two separate continents – and see the good in each version of Christmas.
Food-wise, though, I think Australia wins. You can swap out dry Christmas turkey and sickening fruitcakes, Christmas puddings, trifles and mince pies, for some more interesting alternatives. Enter epic arrangements of seafood; oysters, prawns and smoked trout are signature dishes of an Australian Christmas.
The stresses of having too much family, all being far too drunk and forced into one place at a time exist here too of course; the same tired political debates will unfold. Those, perhaps, are more the universal hallmarks of Christmas.
I guess Christmas traditions to me, are pretty standard, as far as Australian standards. The day always starts too early, I never understand why it takes so long to prepare the hordes of food we somehow managed to pack into the fridge Tetris-style. And, somehow we always seem to be running late on Christmas lunch, eating later and later each year. People always get in some minor feud about not doing what they were supposed to or being the reason for someone else’s food failure.
We eat (or try to eat) in the early afternoon. The food is what defines my Christmas Day; an endless outdoor barbecue: roast turkey, oysters and prawns, freshly chopped salads and, of course, beers to keep cool in the summer sun. It’s funny, no one seems to think Aussie’s do a roast of any sort on Christmas Day, but we do. In fact, Christmas lunch wouldn’t be the same without it; saying that, Christmas dinner also wouldn’t be the same without seafood, so I guess we’re still quite different.
A post-lunch cricket match is pretty traditional, too. It’s always a bit of a mess; people are always too tired and full. The younger ones in the family always seem to have a bit more steam left in them, and we always say “ah we let them win”, but genuinely I think we’re all too full of barbecue to bother.
Christmas for my family is the only time of year my siblings all get back together – it’s compulsory to be in attendance or risk the wrath of Jan (the matriarch). It’s usually sweltering hot in Tamworth – at least 35 degrees. My brother and father have usually pilfered a poor droopy pine tree from a neighbouring farm property, which is adorned with our preschool created decorations.
The present ceremony commences at eleven-ish; dad gruffly accepts more wine and socks he doesn’t need, because nobody has any idea what to buy him. Following this we sit down to fresh seafood – I hope, our property is four hours from any large body of water – a traditional prawn cocktail with homemade sauce. Then come the roasts and lots of wine. We pull crackers, wear paper hats and read the silly jokes, trying to guess the puns and never succeeding.
When we’re all merry, fat and sleepy, everyone retires for a nap and gets back up when it’s cool for backyard cricket (instigated by my younger cousin) on the front lawn while the sun goes down. We all take shifts because we’re too sleepy and full to run at any kind of commendable speed. There is no scoring system to speak of, everyone is more just happy by any connection of ball to bat.