Traditional Australian celebrations: Why do they all involve alcohol?

All of our rituals seem to involve alcohol. All of them.

Think about it. In Australia your 18th birthday is a ritual – you can go to the pub now. And so you do. Your 21st is a ritual; time to get boozy. We celebrate Australia Day by going outside and getting drunk. We pay our respects on Anzac Day by going to the pub and playing two-up. Even Christmas is a time to get sloshed and tell everyone what you really think.

These are our rituals as Australians, the markers of our lives, the observances of culture and tradition that we tend to follow. I'm scratching my head to think of more of them but I'm coming up with nothing. What do we have that's distinctly ours? How do we celebrate to mark an occasion that isn't as much about the tinnies as the tradition?

I'm not sure we have anything. Indigenous Australians, of course, have plenty of rituals, plenty of markers of culture and history. But these aren't shared by the country as a whole.

Take those away and we have drunken silliness and that's about it – and that, to me, seems pretty sad. Yes, we're a young country as a multicultural entity called Australia, and yes, I do quite like drinking, but how have we not formed any other traditions? How have we missed the markers?

You don't realise this hole exists until you go somewhere else and see what the rituals it could be filled with. In Europe you're surrounded by cultural rites. In ancient Asian nations like Japan and China you can't miss the traditions.

It's Christmas time now, which means German and Swiss towns are alive each night with markets, with people strolling around buying arts and crafts and going ice-skating and eating bratwurst. In Austria they're welcoming Krampus, who tears through villages and frightens children. In Catalonia they're readying their figurines of Tio de Nadal, the Christmas log who poops nougat for kids who have been good (seriously).

See: The Christmas traditions you won't believe are real

These are just small examples. In much of Europe, Japan, India and I'm sure in so much of the world that I'm not as familiar with, cultural rites are played out day to day, they're things you see and feel and participate in on such a regular basis as to make them almost unnoticeable.


When I first spent time in the north of Spain I was amazed to see a marching band, dressed in traditional costume, playing in my street, walking through and celebrating for no discernible reason. Amazing, I thought. I should take pictures.

But then I realised this sort of thing happens all the time. There's always a celebration of some sort. There's always tradition being acted out on the streets, always some sort of ritual or rite taking place that people can feel free to participate in or simply observe.

Check out an events calendar in Japan. It's filled with festivals, some that are nationwide, others that take in just a village or two. Some are religious, some commemorate battles, some pay reverence to former leaders, some are just so completely insane you couldn't even begin to guess their history.

But they're not set up as an excuse to drink. They're historical and richly treasured, a reason for people to come together and celebrate who they are and who they used to be.

Surely we have something close in Australia. The Easter shows? Could we count those? Fairground rides and show bags, wood-chopping competitions and high-diving pigs? I guess that's something. They would seem quaint and interesting if they were held in another country, so we have to count them as such in our own.

The Deni Ute Muster? Summernats? Those are things. They're culture, much as you may not enjoy boasting about them to your friends from overseas. B&S balls? Also a very real tradition, though one built as much around Bundy and Coke as true love. We have food festivals and noodle markets too, but those are too new, too contrived, too lacking in soul to claim as any sort of ritual.

Maybe our rites are sporting events: the AFL Grand Final, the Boxing Day Test, the Bledisloe Cup. These are annual celebrations, the chance for us all to get together and enjoy what our country is, what makes us special.

They don't have the same feeling of rich tradition that you might find in a street parade in Spain or a Christmas market in Germany or a matsuri in Japan. They're not even embraced with the cynicism-free passion of Thanksgiving in the US.

But they're things we can call our own, and they're not completely about booze. That, when you think about it, is something to celebrate.

Do you think Australia lacks cultural rites and rituals? What are your favourite celebrations of culture in Australia? Do you think there's too much focus on drinking here?



See also: What Australians need to learn from Europe's drinking culture

See also: The 10 rules for drinking in foreign countries