Anyone who grew up watching Neighbours or Home and Away will already know that they do Christmas a little differently in Australia. It’s hot for starters, and most children are on their summer holidays. The days are long and filled with sunshine, not snow, too. And yet, most of the Christmas decorations across Australia are adorned with white frost. Interested in finding out more about ‘Crissie Day’ in Oz? Here are a few Christmas traditions in Australia you might not know about.
Australian Christmas Traditions
1. Crimbo prawns
Christmas dinner in Australia isn’t completely different to that in the UK, given the number of Brits in Australia. You’ll probably still find a turkey or a glazed ham on the Christmas table for tradition’s sake, but it will usually sit alongside a lovely platter of shellfish. It’s hot in Australia, so a lot of the Christmas food is cold – think crayfish, prawn salads and crispy salads. Barbecues are popular on Christmas day too. Prawns are a popular addition, started in 1984 when Paul Hogan famously suggested throwing ‘an extra shrimp on the barbie’ for a tourism campaign.
2. The ‘Boxing Day Barbeque’
Boxing Day is a public holiday in Australia and another great opportunity to get together and celebrate. Unlike Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere, Boxing Day in Australia isn’t for vegetating in front of the telly with a turkey sandwich, it all takes place in the great outdoors. Generally, most people will head to a pal’s house on boxing day to watch the Boxing Day Test Match and tuck into a barbecue.
Boxing Day also marks the start of the Christmas sales, so if cricket isn’t your thing you might head to a shopping mall instead.
3. Carols by candlelight
Most cities across Australia now host their own ‘Carols by Candlelight’, which sees hundreds of locals head out to the city’s main park to sing carols by candlelight. They’ll usually be accompanied by a symphony orchestra, with appearances from local celebrities who take it in turns to belt out a Christmas classic in their own style. All proceeds go to charity.
The tradition originated in southeastern Australia in the 19th century and was popularised in Melbourne in 1938. Radio DJ Norman Banks was walking home after a night-time radio shift on Christmas Eve and saw an elderly woman singing along to Away in a Manger on the radio, all alone. Wondering how many other people must have been doing the same thing all alone, he decided to bring together a huge group of people to sing Christmas carols together by candlelight. The first-ever event was held in Alexandra Gardens the following Christmas in 1938 and was attended by around 10,000 people. The rest is history.
4. It’s a big beach day
We’ve mentioned it a few times now but just to hammer home this point – Christmas is HOT in Australia. How best to fill your time on a hot day? Hit the beach, of course. Traditional Christmas Day activities in Australia usually involve a stroll along your favourite stretch of sand, a dip in the sea, endless rounds of cricket and a couple of beers from the Esky too.
5. Santa doesn’t sneak down the chimney…
… It’s unusual for houses in Australia to have chimneys, so Santa Claus usually slips in via the veranda. Once he finds his way in, he’s unlikely to find a glass of whiskey or eggnog. In Australia, most people leave out a bottle of beer. And since there’s little reason for him to get layered up, some say that the Aussie Santa sports boardshorts and thonged flip flops, occasionally leaving Rudolph behind in favour of a surfboard.
6. There’s something called ‘Gravy Day’
OK, so it’s not exactly a public holiday but it’s well on the way to becoming one. Gravy Day began with the 1996 song ‘How To Make Gravy’ by singer Paul Kelly. It tells the story of a jailed man who pens a letter to his family on 21 December about longing to be with them for Christmas. He warbles, “Who’s gonna make the gravy now?” before providing instructions on how to make the perfect gravy.
The song is now treasured by Australians, who will tweet and post about their favourite gravy-inspired song on 21 December every year. Social media is flooded with #GravyDay and local radio presenters are bombarded with requests for the song.
7. Christmas pageants
Adelaide Christmas Pageant is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting over 400,000 people every year. John Martins, a popular department store, started the tradition in 1933. It’s celebrated in November every year to mark the start of the Christmas season. Today, it features floats, clowns, walking performers, big bands and dancing troupes, culminating in the arrival of Santa Claus.
Other regions hold their own smaller-scale winter pageants too. Perth boasts one of the largest Christmas pageants outside of Adelaide.