Christmas is approaching quickly. Only a few days before unwrapping your presents and feasting on traditional Christmas dishes. From foie gras to salmon, oysters, Christmas turkey, and the famous Yule log with buttercream, we all know that after the meal some family members will nod off and end up on the sofa! But on the other side of the planet, in what fashion do the holidays unfold? Let’s take a closer look at Australia and its very “hot” Christmas.
The first thing you need to know is that in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. In Australia, we celebrate Christmas with the sunshine. So forget big sweaters, scarves, quilted boots and mulled wine; here it’s cocktail, beach and barbecue! Dress code: tank top, shorts, flip-flops, with your feet chilling in the water!
In France, Christmas dinner is sacred! Ignoring any of our traditional Christmas dish is out of the question. Oysters, snails, salmon, foie gras, turkey…, the meal is rich in calories and often lasts a very long time. As good “Frenchy” that we are, we like to savour our Christmas meal, take our time, exchange, debate between each others, complain a bit (we are French after all) and then, of course, we laugh, we unwrap presents, we eat again, we drink… in short, we are not in bed before late, sometimes very late.
Down Under, we keep it simple. Many Australians opt for dinner with friends or family in parks, gardens and especially at the beach. The programme is simple: barbecue (you won’t find anything better for a relaxed Christmas). The meal is lighter and the beaches are usually very lively during the holidays. Others prefer a more traditional meal. In this case, Australians like to enjoy large seafood platters as a starter. For the main course, they usually opt for a ham cooked with cloves, marinated lamb or turkey with the famous cranberry sauce, all accompanied by cold salads, potatoes, sweet potatoes or pumpkin. For dessert, they traditionally enjoy their famous chocolate pudding, which is nothing less than a fairly dense chocolate cake with dried fruit, with custard and/or Pavlova (a typical Australian cake made from meringue and covered with whipped cream and fruit); that’s a must. Finally, let’s not overlook the famous Gingerbread man or Gingerbread house (very renowned in Anglo-Saxon countries) and candy canes.
The Advent Calendar
The Advent Calendar in France is sacred and I can’t do without it. Every year, it’s my little December treat, an excellent excuse to eat chocolate as soon as I wake up, so why miss out! Initially, the tradition came of Germanic origin, intended to make children wait until Christmas. It echoes the waiting of Christians during Advent on Christmas Eve. I’m quite comfortable with the child in me…
In Australia, we also like chocolate, but to a lesser extent. One brand of chocolate biscuits has success all year and even more during the Christmas holidays, it’s the Tim Tam! Australians are crazy about it and practice the Tim Tam slam (the first thing you do to fit in the country when you’re an expat) and I haven’t escaped the rule with my Australian flatmate. You have to bite into the cake at one end and then at the opposite end, then dip half of the cake in your tea, coffee or hot chocolate, sucking hard so that the chocolate melts even more. Finally, turn the cake over and enjoy the melted chocolate part! It’s got my stamp of approval, it’s pretty good.
In France, as soon as the first snow arrives, we make our snowman. There are some nice ones and some less pretty, but the idea is there. In Australia, we instead make sandcastles at this period.
In France, our Santa Claus travels by reindeer-drawn sleigh, and he lives at the North Pole. In Australia, he is more athletic and skilful. He gets out his surfboard every year and surfs between the waves of the Australian waters. And as you may have seen, people go swim in the ocean as Santas. Every year, they meet on the beach and bathe dressed as Santa Claus. Nothing can stop the Australians!
In France, we love Christmas decorations. In Paris, department stores offer a magnificent show every year with carefully decorated shop windows and masterful trees. The streets become even more beautiful, Christmas carols warm the heart of passers-by, and everyone takes pleasure in decorating their house and garden. On the other side of the globe, the temperatures being so high, the atmosphere ends up being quite different and decorations are becoming rarer; the Christmas spirit is overall less present.
French people are big fans of those. In all towns in France, you will find a Christmas market with stalls offering items, toys and products related to the Christmas holidays. Of course, many stalls also offer typical sweets, traditional dishes (raclette, fondue, snails, hot sweet chestnuts…), as well as the famous mulled wine or Christmas beer. In Australia, you can find Christmas markets too, but they offer more diverse things. On the other hand, one of the prevalent traditions in Anglo-Saxon countries, particularly in Australia, is to send greeting cards to your loved ones for the festive season. You can find them in every Christmas market in Australia.
Another custom specific to Australia: Crackers. They come from Great Britain and are very popular in Australia during the holidays. They are cardboard wrappers that contain small gifts, a paper crown and a joke. The tradition is to stand in a circle. Our neighbour helps us to open the Christmas cracker by pulling each of us on a handle. The paper crown is worn throughout the meal!
FINAL WORD OF THE EPICURIOUS:
Doing Christmas in Australia, it is celebrating a Christmas far from our usual codes. To be honest, I miss my Christmas wrapped up under my plaid in front of the fireplace, the Christmas decorations in the streets and the snow, but discovering another way to celebrate it, with friends from all cultures, is also so enriching! And then, we sometimes come across beautiful surprises that we don’t expect.
During my trip to the east coast of Australia, I remember being surprised to find one evening, when I returned to my hostel, the hall and the main room dressed with a Christmas tree, decorations and a beautifully ornamented table. Christmas carols echoed throughout the hostel and the employees had dressed in their best “Christmas jumper.” I was watching, flabbergasted, a Christmas party in the middle of July. What was going on? Did I miss something? I ended up learning that it has become a custom in Australia to celebrate Christmas in July. It all started about 30 years ago in the Blue Mountains area near Sydney. A group of Europeans, nostalgic for Christmas in the snow, organised a traditional Christmas dinner in the middle of July (the winter period in Australia). Since then, this event called “Yulefest” has become a real tradition. I know where to go next July!