Christmas traditions in Australia: 12 things foreigners can't understand

It doesn't feel like Christmas. That's what you always hear from foreign visitors – particularly those from the northern hemisphere – when they find themselves in Australia in December.

Nothing feels quite right. There's no snow, or even the chance of it. The days are long and filled with sunshine. Christmas isn't so much a date you drag yourself to as just another celebration in a salty, sun-bleached holiday haze.

For those spending their first Christmas in Australia this year, it's going to feel weird…

It's hot

When all of your Christmas traditions, all of your Christmas myths and legends, and all of your Christmas memories are built around cold weather, I can imagine a hot Christmas would be pretty much unimaginable. And so it is that many visitors to Australia forget that the 25th of December is even happening.

But we have trees with snow

This has to be weird for first-time Australian Christmas goers. We have hot weather, but that doesn't stop us from indulging in all of the cultural touchstones of a cold-weather celebration – and that includes pine trees with fake show, and fake winter wonderlands in our shopping malls.

Our carols also mention snow

Oh yeah, and we also sing about snow. We're "walking in a winter wonderland", we're entreating, "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow", and we're even building Frosty the snowman. Weird. There have been attempts at Australian Christmas songs, the most successful of which was probably "Six White Boomers", though the fact it was written by a convicted paedophile, and its title now sounds like an explanation of why I can't get into the Sydney housing market, means that one isn't really sung much anymore.

We celebrate 'gravy day'

Foreign visitors must be absolutely baffled by the fact music-lovers around Australia pause every December 21 to listen with deep reverence to a song about a deadbeat dad who suddenly misses his family now that he finds himself in jail for assault, or petty theft, or possibly even genocide. His gravy recipe is also objectively terrible.

Everyone goes out and gets slaughtered on Christmas Eve

For many in continental Europe, the 24th of December is the big day, the main celebration, the time to get together with a large family group, exchange presents and share food. So it must be a bit surprising to find that youthful Australians mark this special day by going out to the pub and getting absolutely munted.

We eat prawns

It's Christmas Day! A time for roast turkey with all the trimmings. Except, that makes no sense in Australia, so in a rare departure from northern hemisphere tradition, a lot of us stick to cold seafood platters, including heroic amounts of prawns.

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Some people still make roasts

It might, however, be even more surprising to discover that some Australians do still go to all the trouble of making a full roast on a hot summer's day, thus raising the temperature in the kitchen to something close to the surface of the sun, and forcing everyone to have a huge hot lunch when they'd much rather just be hanging out in the pool.

We go to the beach

Or, of course, the beach. Traditional Christmas Day activities are supposed to be things like tobogganing at the local hill, or ice-skating, or building a snowman. And yet visitors will arrive here and find us all descending upon our favourite stretch of hot sand, ready to swim in the ocean, play games of cricket, and drink sneaky beers from the Esky/stumps.

We take classic catches in the pool

I used to think this was just my sports-mad family, but then I saw Bluey's dad take a screamer on the Bluey Christmas special this year, and I realised there are plenty of us out there on the 25th catching tennis balls while diving outlandishly into pools. You can just hear the chorus from overseas: "Huh?"

We talk about Santa coming down the chimney

He arrives in a sleigh, which is going to be a nightmare once he realises he has to drag that thing around on grass and bitumen. And then, apparently, Santa drops down your chimney, which again is going to be a problem when he discovers no one has one. For that reason, Australian Santa tends to sneak in via the veranda.

We leave beer for him

And when he does manage to find his way into your chimney-less house, he finds not eggnog, not cookies, not hot chocolate, but beer. I'm sure that seems a little tacky to our northern hemisphere friends, but I don't hear Santa complaining.

He wears boardies

Seasonally appropriate Australian Santa can sometimes be spotted in boardshorts and thongs, and occasionally even riding a surfboard. Sacrilege, no doubt, to those who are used to a fully dressed, serious Saint Nick.

People get excited about sailing

Christmas is over, and in a normal year, we now all follow tradition and get unreasonably excited about a sport we literally give not the slightest toss about on any other day of the year (but this year, it's another Aussie tradition that's fallen victim to COVID-19). And even then, it's really only the 10-minute journey out of Sydney Harbour than anyone pays any attention to. Who crosses the line first in Hobart? Who wins the handicap race? Honestly, who cares. Pass the prawns.

To all the readers out there, have a very merry Christmas, eat plenty of prawns, and please, stay safe and well.

What do you think would surprise visitors about an Australian Christmas? What are our quirkiest or strangest rites? How do you celebrate Christmas?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: Twenty things that shock first-time visitors to Australia

See also: Thirteen things foreigners can't handle about Australian summer

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