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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Celebrating an Aussie Christmas...

Posted 12/23/14 (Tue)

Every nation in the western world has its own Christmas traditions, some of them universal and others unique to each country.

Just like in the United States, Christmas in Australia is a big holiday, not just a day, but a season, culminating in three days of celebration; Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Dec. 1 is when people start getting into the Christmas spirit. That’s when most people set up their Christmas tree and turn on their holiday lights.

And just like in the United States, some homeowners go “over the top” and have lights everywhere.

Some private homes set up donation tins to accept money for children’s charities such as the Royal Children’s Hospital and others across the country.

There’s always a peaceful, laid-back atmosphere when families walk around the neighborhood to look at the lights. Some city councils even arrange bus tours of specially lit neighborhoods.

Midnight Mass is a tradition for a lot of families. More than 25 percent of the Australian population is Catholic and  many of them attend Mass. Children are encouraged to go to bed early and are awakened to attend the service.

For some of the children, it is believed they will see Santa Claus when they get back home but it’s all for naught as he waits until the children are back asleep.

For others, the midnight Christmas Mass is the only time they will set foot in the church all year.

Carols by Candlelight has become one of the most popular Australian Christmas traditions. This is held in every major city across the country and hundreds of thousands of people attend.

Carols by Candlelight is televised live on all the major TV channels. Well-known TV personalities and singers give their time to sing and entertain the crowds while raising money for charities.

Since Australia is about the same geographic size as the lower 48 United States, Australians travel a great deal, “getting to Grandma’s house” for Christmas.  Lots of people find themselves shuffling through airports and train depots to catch the next connection in time to join family members at home for Christmas.

Since Christmas hasn’t become as commercialized as it has in the U.S., many people anticipate the excitement and do that last-minute shopping. Stores are normally open until 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve and there isn’t a merchant from Perth to Adelaide who doesn’t do a brisk business on Christmas Eve.

Just about everyone has a Christmas lunch with a large variety of food including turkey, ham, shrimp and lobster.

Fish markets have become extremely busy around Christmas time as many people are going away from the traditional “hot” food. Barbecues are also popular on Christmas Day and a family pick-up game of cricket is often played in back yards.

People who live in the vast expanses of the Outback, often use their necessary two-way radios to send “live” Christmas greetings rather than sending cards.

Much unlike the United States, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is also big in Australia.

It is said that Boxing Day got its name in England when servants were given the day off and employers presented a Christmas “box” to them.

Today it has become a big shopping day, much like Black Friday in the United States, but there is much more going on in Australia on Dec. 26.

For instance the Melbourne Cricket Ground has hosted a match between Australia and England since 1950.

A well-known yacht race also takes place on Boxing Day. The Sydney to Hobart race has been going on for years and has yachts entered from all over the world. Sydney Harbor is lined with people watching the yachts set sail south for Tasmania.

Because Christmas is four days after the summer solstice in Australia, it is usually very hot and people cope with the heat in various ways.

It is said that when Santa Claus reaches Australia, he gives his reindeer a rest and uses a team of kangaroos to criss cross the nation. After he’s got the kangaroos hitched up, he changes into climate appropriate clothing.

After Santa Claus has come and gone, there is of course, a tradition most of us around the world share, and that is to open gifts on Christmas morning with family members.