Christmas in Australia coincides with summer which means our traditions, although inspired by European customs, have been altered to suit the climate. Australia shares in traditional holiday practices such as decorating the Christmas tree, singing carols and exchanging gifts on December 25, but we also have a few unique traditions. Here’s our guide to Christmas celebrations down under.
Popularized in Melbourne in 1938 by radio announcer Norman Banks, the annual Australian tradition of Carols by Candlelight sees crowds gather in parks and outdoor venues to listen to carols sung by candlelight. The largest event takes place on Christmas Eve in Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl and features celebrity performances as well as an appearance from Santa, with profits supporting Vision Australia. The event attracts thousands of spectators and is broadcast throughout Australia. Sydney also hosts a similar event known as Carols in the Domain.
One city-specific tradition is the Myer Christmas Windows. Since 1956, Melbournians have queued up in Bourke Street Mall to see the magical Christmas window displays at department store Myer. The free exhibition brings to life a different story each year with previous displays, including The Twelve Days of Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Christmas Carol.
Each November since 1933 the Adelaide Christmas Pageant has been held in South Australia. The parade features floats, bands and a variety of entertainers as well as an appearance from Santa Claus. The Adelaide Christmas Pageant attracts 400,000 people and, according to the site, “is the second-largest parade of its kind in the world, following only Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
In the lead up to Christmas, Australian’s count the days using a chocolate advent calendar, which has a bite-sized choccy behind each date window. The calendars are often printed with popular cartoons to appeal to children, but adults also buy them.
Around the world, food plays a huge part in Christmas celebrations, and that’s no different in Australia. However, considering the holiday season falls smack bang in the middle of summer, the feast is somewhat sprightlier than in the northern hemisphere. Families typically gather for Christmas lunch which is enjoyed al fresco in the backyard, although Christmas dinner is also popular. In place of a hot roast, Australians will prepare a turkey or ham in advance to carve and serve cold, and, while each family has its own variation, typically the roast is glazed with honey, maple or apricot and sometimes even pineapple juice. Taking precedence at Christmas though is seafood, specifically prawn cocktails and barbequed Tiger Prawns. Australians consume 45,000 tonnes of prawns throughout the holidays. After the main meal, a fruit platter with golden mangoes and ruby cherries is handed around. Later on in the day, Australians indulge in Pavlova covered in fresh fruit, Christmas Pudding with a scoop of cold custard, mince pies and White Christmas, which is a no-bake slice beloved by children.
No Christmas table setting would be complete without Christmas Crackers, which generally hold miniature items including a joke, a fortune teller fish or plastic toy.
Elsewhere in the world, Christmas is blanketed by snow and people keep warm wearing festive jumpers and sitting by the fire, but in Australia thousands take to the surf at beaches such as Bondi to escape the heat wave and typical attire includes thongs and Santa hats.
Boxing Day in Australia is the equivalent of Black Friday in the United States. Retailers hold massive sales, and the day is celebrated with a public holiday. Black Friday is also commemorated with two major sporting events. In Melbourne, cricket fans gather at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the annual Boxing Day test match. The 26th of December also signals the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, which has been held every year since 1945.