This year Eric and I will celebrate our third Solstice and Chrissy (Christmas) in Australia. However, as you may recall, in the Southern Hemisphere the seasons are reversed. Winter north of the Equator is summer here, and 21 December is not the shortest but the longest day of the year. School is out from mid-December until the end of January, and families take extended vacations. While the southernmost regions of Australia do get snowfall, that happens in winter—July, August and September. Here in Darwin, a mere 12 degrees below the Equator, it’s just plain hot pretty much year-round. When it rains, as is happening more frequently with monsoon season on our doorstep, the rain itself is warm.
How, then, do Australians celebrate their upside-down Christmas? For a start, to beat the heat, they dress down. On reaching Oz, even Santa sheds his snuggly red suit for board shorts and thongs. Being a sun-smart old elf, he applies sunscreen to his cheeks, spreads zinc on his nose, and arms himself with mosquito repellent. Since the hot weather is hard on his cold-climate reindeer, he unhitches them from his sleigh and calls up his Aussie reserves—eight bouncy kangaroos. Then again, if there’s no snow, who needs a sleigh? Instead, Santa switches to an Aussie’s favorite mode of transportation, a trusty ute (utility truck), a far better choice for the Australian terrain. Now he’s ready to go.
Santa does not bring presents. He brings prezzies and leaves them under the tree. He knows what you want because in the days leading up to Christmas, he appears—this time in his full red regalia—at the malls. This usually occurs on a special family day that may include live music and treats, and it’s fun for the littleys (little kids). I’m sorry to say, however, that while Christmas in Oz still feels less commercial and frenetic than in the USA, that is changing. Holiday decorations appeared in some stores early in November, along with those atrocious, canned Christmas carols. Worse yet, although Thanksgiving isn’t an Australian holiday, some Aussie retailers urged customers to “celebrate” Black Friday and Cyber Monday by rushing into stores, clicking online, and buying stuff galore. When did these orgies of consumerism rise to the level of national holidays? No! No! Stop it now!
But back to what Christmas in Oz is really about, gathering family and friends to drink beer—or any other alcoholic bevvie (beverage, you’re getting the hang of this, right?). Now swap stories, news and jokes while scarfing oysters as appetizers and grilling prawns on the barby. Sizzling lamb skewers, chicken thighs and snags (sausages, this one’s not obvious) will also do nicely. Ham is another fav, served hot or cold. The one required side appears to be potatoes, preferably in combination with cheese, cream, butter and breadcrumbs.
Dessert choices range from traditional Christmas pudding, mince pies and gingerbread cookies to heavenly trifles and pavlovas. An easy out for those who can’t cook or bake is to bring a fresh fruit plate, especially with the delicious mangos and cherries now in season. Don’t forget the Christmas crackers, an English tradition that dates back to Victorian times. Pop them open with a partner and collect your prizes: small gifts, a colored tissue paper crown, and a card with a joke. The crowns make everyone look silly and the jokes are deliberately corny, but who cares when you’re holding an ice-cold beer?
Before Santa departs—having turned in his ute and ‘roos and reclaimed his sleigh and reindeer—gather everyone to sing some uniquely Australian Christmas carols. Below are three you might enjoy.
Aussie Aussie Christmas by Amber Lawrence. Safe and wholesome for all ages. Oi means “hey” or “hi” and is used to catch someone’s attention. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwmreF1VHI8
Carol of the Birds sung by Bucko & Champs. For my birder friends. “Orana” is an Aboriginal word for “hail” or “welcome.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1PuZk6VBr4
Aussie Christmas by Sammy J & Randy. If you love twisted humor, this one’s for you. Even if you don’t quite get the references, the zest with which Australians poke fun at themselves is priceless. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amL8QRiDH2E
Finally, courtesy of our Aussie Friends,
“The Night Before Christmas in Aussie Land”
‘Twas the night before Christmas; there wasn’t a sound.
Not a possum was stirring; no-one was around.
We’d left on the table some tucker and beer,
Hoping that Santa Claus soon would be here;
We children were snuggled up safe in our beds,
While dreams of pavlova danced ’round in our heads;
And Mum in her nightie, and Dad in his shorts,
Had just settled down to watch TV sports.
When outside the house a mad ruckus arose;
Loud squeaking and banging woke us from our doze.
We ran to the screen door, peeked cautiously out,
Snuck onto the deck, then let out a shout.
Guess what had woken us up from our snooze,
But a rusty old Ute pulled by eight mighty ‘roos.
The cheerful man driving was giggling with glee,
And we both knew at once who this plump bloke must be.
Now, I’m telling the truth it’s all dinki-di,
Those eight kangaroos fairly soared through the sky.
Santa leaned out the window to pull at the reins,
And encouraged the ‘roos, by calling their names.
‘Now, Kylie! Now, Kirsty! Now, Shazza and Shane!
On Kipper! On, Skipper! On, Bazza and Wayne!
Park up on that water tank. Grab a quick drink.
I’ll scoot down the gum tree. Be back in a wink!’
So up to the tank those eight kangaroos flew,
With the Ute full of toys, and Santa Claus too.
He slid down the gum tree and jumped to the ground,
Then in through the window he sprang with a bound.
He had bright sunburned cheeks and a milky white beard.
A jolly old joker was how he appeared.
He wore red stubby shorts and old thongs on his feet,
And a hat of deep crimson as shade from the heat.
His eyes – bright as opals – Oh! How they twinkled!
And, like a goanna, his skin was quite wrinkled!
His shirt was stretched over a round bulging belly
Which shook when he moved, like a plate full of jelly.
A fat stack of prezzies he flung from his back,
And he looked like a swaggie unfastening his pack.
He spoke not a word, but bent down on one knee,
To position our goodies beneath the yule tree.
Surfboard and footy-ball shapes for us two.
And for Dad, tongs to use on the new barbeque.
A mysterious package he left for our Mum,
Then he turned and he winked and he held up his thumb;
He strolled out on deck and his ‘roos came on cue;
Flung his sack in the back and prepared to shoot through.
He bellowed out loud as they swooped past the gates-
MERRY CHRISTMAS to all, and goodonya, MATES!’