I recently was Face booked a picture of Santa giving presents in shorts. Very funny and very Australian. “Santa wears shorts” and “Six white Boomers” songs are very popular with our kids. Also very popular is spotting some reindeer that turn up only at Christmas time down the road from us. Granted that we only seem to look for them at Christmas time as it fires up the imagination, but I feel sure that they have come from the North Pole for a break before the big day. Christmas in Australia is nothing like snowflakes and big turkeys but it seems we can stop making it part of our Christmas tradition.
It’s funny to read that when settlers came to Australia, many felt that celebrating Christmas was a ‘gigantic mistake’. Many wrote about not being able to celebrate Christmas like back home. A newspaper editorial in 1888 summed it up that “in this colony, ‘Christmas’ has been often stigmatized as a complete failure by people who have shifted their sky, but not their line of thought”. Such things as a traditional hot roast dinner with a Christmas pudding that would be served alight became hard for the settlers to stomach on a hot Christmas Day. It seems that although we have relaxed into our Australian style of Christmas we are surrounded by a standard “English Style Christmas”.
My last blog talked about Christmas cards and I was interested to find out about Australian Christmas cards. The earliest known attempt at Christmas cards with an Australian theme was by John Sands in 1881. They commissioned artists to draw uniquely Australian designs that included rural scenes, native flora and fauna and pictures of Sydney Harbour. Although they had a collection of 38 different cards and sold for around a shilling John Sands didn’t commission any more cards in the following years as they couldn’t compete against the price of imported cards. Now with commercialized printers based in Australia, you would think that Australian themed cards may have gained some popularity, but apparently not with a quick look over Christmas cards for sale in the stores. It seems our visions of snowflakes, Santa and holly are very entrenched in our ”English Christmas”.
I was happy to discover that Carols by Candlelight was a traditional part of an Australian Christmas. A radio announcer Norman Banks was walking home on Christmas Eve in 1937. He saw through a window an old lady sitting alone and listening to her radio while singing “Away in a Manager” by candlelight. Norman Banks thought about the many people that were alone on Christmas Eve and bringing people together to sing by candlelight on Christmas Eve would be a great idea. At the time a polio epidemic was sweeping through Australia and the radio station that Norman worked for was trying to raise funds for the local hospital. At the Austin hospital many children were having to be housed on the verandas and they desperately needed a children’s wing. So in 1938, the first carols by candlelight was held in Alexandra Gardens in Melbourne and 10,000 people attended at midnight. After the fundraising for the children’s wing, attention was turned to the blind babies being born. However I did read a letter supposedly from Norman’s grand daughter that remembers Norman being blind for a large portion of her life. So it seems that the beneficiary shifting to Vision Australia in 1965 may also in some part due to Norman’s influence. In 1970, the carols were broadcast for the first time and it has spread through out the world. So it’s nice to know that a little of our Australian tradition may rub off on the rest of the world.
It seems that although we pine for a roast dinner and a snowy night outside we have succumbed to enjoying our balmy weather by enjoying the outdoors on Christmas day. Bondi Beach gets 40,000 visitors on Christmas Day and I’m sure many beaches are packed with a traditional beach swim on the day. I also have really enjoyed seeing the recent ads where they try to export an “Australian Christmas” to Europe. Many people hold onto their traditional hot roast dinner for Christmas day just like the original settlers but most Aussie’s today have made the shift from the old country and prefer the cold hams and salads with seafood aplenty and a champers instead of eggnog. However you celebrate Christmas, enjoy. What’s a Christmas tradition that you do every year?