November 28, 2021 5 min read

Australian Christmas

Christmas is a time for family, connection, and celebrating traditions.

Whatever your family looks like, and whatever celebrations mean most to you, chances are there are small rituals and traditions built upon over time that mean so much more than their constituent parts.

Whether your family’s traditions evolved on their own or you consciously decided to start something new, these rituals are what we look forward to most, and what we remember most clearly from childhood.

What do Australian Christmas traditions look like?

TV marketing would have us believe we all have a seafood BBQ and a roast Turkey followed by back yard cricket and pavlova, however Christmas traditions are as diverse as Australians; and of course not all Australians celebrate Christmas.

Traditions from Europe don’t really fit our hot summer Christmases, with sandcastles much more likely than snowmen and only the staunchest chefs willing to roast a huge turkey during a summer heat wave.

Aussie snowman

I asked a group of Australian small businesswomen about some of their Christmas traditions, and the responses were delightful! Here are some of the traditions they shared:

  • A ‘Christmas Eve’ box with special activities and Christmas PJs for the kids
  • Unique Advent calendars filled with fun activities for the children
  • Baking an old family recipe and taking turns to stir and make a wish, or baking with the kids to make treats for Santa and the elves
  • Using a favourite dish or glass that has been with the family for generations
  • Baking coins into the Christmas pudding – with Dad playing banker and offering exchange rates!
  • Light a candle and make a toast to absent friends and loved ones
  • Watching a special Christmas movie or show, such as The Nutcracker or Carols in the Domain
  • Decorating the tree with treasured family heirlooms, souvenirs from overseas travels and kindergarten crafts
  • Family gifting rules, such as a hand-made-for-adults rule, or Secret Santa traditions including lots of clues, or even ritualised stealing!
  • An Orphan Christmases, showing us that friends truly can be family
  • Leaving out beer and cheese for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer
  • Christmas lunch with special family foods – the cousin that always brings the delicious cheese cob-loaf, Nan’s secret recipe pavlova...
  • Cricket, monopoly or frisbee after lunch
  • Decorating a pot plant or backyard tree as a living Christmas tree
  • Elf of the shelf (an effective parenting tool but also a considerable source of stress!)

 

Aussie elf on the shelf

Christmas has evolved and adapted to an Australian summer, but its still interesting to know a bit about where these traditions came from, and helps us connect with friends and family with strong international Christmas traditions.

Below are eight of the most fun Christmas traditions we’ve come across:

Iceland

In Iceland, many families celebrate Christmas by gifting each other books, opened Christmas Eve and the night is spent reading.  Called Jolabokaflod, or the "Christmas Book Flood" this tradition is the cornerstone of the Icelandic publishing sector and indicative of Icelanders enduring love of books. Fun fact: Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world!

Gifting books is a tradition in Iceland at Christmas

Germany

In Germany the yin to Saint Nicholas’ yang is Krampus - a scary horned figure with hooves and large teeth who swats naughty children with a birch rod (or in some stories, carries them away in a sack!). Origionally a pagen figure based on Hel, the son of Nor in Norse mythology, we brought some balance to the cheerful St Nicholas who gave out lollies. This all happens on 4 December, the night before the feast of Saint Nicholas, and is no doubt even more effective than Elf of a Shelf at end-of-year behaviour management!

Germany also has a more recent tradition of a Christmas pickle. The sparkly pickle shaped ornament is hiden deep in the Christmas tree to be eagerly found on Christmas morning. The first to find it is allowed to open the first gift.

Japan

In Japan Christmas is associated with Kentucky Fried Chicken. I remember marvelling at the queues outside KFC when I lived in Tokyo, and explaining to disbelieving students that KFC was not a Christmas tradition where I grew up. This Japanese Christmas tradition seems to have its roots in a 1974 KFC Japanese marketing campaign Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii (Kentucky for Christmas) whereby friend chicken was offered as a pragmatic alternative to Christmas turkey, something much-missed by the resident gaijin population.

Sweden

 In Gävle, Sweden no Christmas is complete without Gävlebocken – a giant traditional yule goat figure made of straw and hung in Castle Square. The Gavle Goat has a huge social media following, has toured China and has a webcam trained 24/7 (to dissuade further kidnapping attempts)

Scandanavian Yule straw goat

Fun fact: Burning the goat is illegal, carrying a 3-month prison sentence, however this has not stopped the Gävle goat being burned to the ground almost every year. There is a fascinating table on Wikipedia showing how the Gävle goat met its demise each year since 1966.

 Philippines

On the Saturday preceding Christmas Eve, the Filipino city of San Fernando in Pampanga hosts the Giant Lantern Festival, which true to its name offers a dazzling array of super-sized lanterns - often 4.5 metres across - with jaw-dropping lighting designs. Known locally as ‘Ligligan Parul’, the inaugural festival has become a symbol of hope at the end of the year, earning San Fernando the mantle of ‘The Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”

 Norway

Norway also has a tradition of a Christmas Goat (see Sweden, above) which some say has its roots in stories about Thor, who rode a chariot pulled by goats. Additionally, Christmas Eve is associated with the arrival of witches and wicked spirits, therefore you must hide all your brooms, least they be stolen. Supposedly the naughty witches like to steal brooms to joy ride through the night sky before returning to cause havoc and chaos in your home on Christmas morning.

Norwegians hide thier brooms on Christmas eve

 Venezuela

Early in the morning on Christmas Eve, the church-going population of Caracas head off to morning mass on roller skates.  This mass skating event is so large that roads are closed to cars to ensure skaters’ safety.

 Poland

In Poland Christmas Eve, know as Wigilia, is a serious culinary event, where families share 12 traditional dishes, always setting a spare seat at the table to remember loved ones or for a strange in need. The meal starts when the first stars appear in the sky, and is followed by an exchange of gifts.

Christmas cake is loved all over the world

This is just a very small sample of the huge and rich variety of Christmas and end of year traditions cherished by families around the world.

I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the Christmas traditions from both Australia and around the world. We'd love to hear about any other Christmas traditions you’ve started.


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