To Australians, Christmas is the party that kicks off the summer. Common modes of celebration include eating to excess, drinking to excess and spending time with relatives to excess. Which, I suppose, doesn’t make it much different from Christmas in Canada.
Except it is different.
There’s pavlova instead of pumpkin pie or whatever it is Canadians eat for dessert if they’re not subjected to plum pudding. They’re not big on eggnog or mulled wine and their cranberries come from a jar.
The religious component of the holiday is almost entirely absent. Of all the Aussies I know, perhaps two or three will go to Christmas Eve service. Of all the Americans and Canadians I know, perhaps two or three will not. The public events – the parades and Sydney’s annual lighting of the tree in Martin Place – are about as secular as they could be and still relate to Christmas.
They’re also almost wholly geared towards kids. There are no counterparts to Buffalo’s ‘Lights in the Park’ or live Nativity, New York City’s window displays, the annual carol-singing in Kars, or the Christmas markets you find in New York and all over Europe. Even the Santa Claus parades carry a different tone than, say, the one in Toronto.
They decorate public areas, but rarely their homes. Only a couple houses in Marrickville have been decorated, as far as I’ve seen: one with a blow-up Santa and one with so many flashing lights that it’ll be a Christmas miracle if it doesn’t trigger seizures. Hardly anyone puts up a tree, and if they do, it’s almost always fake.
Yesterday was Christmas Day. I went to Maroubra Beach and saw more Australian families than the last time I was there on Christmas, probably owing to the perfect summer weather. On the bus ride over, I also saw grandmas and grandpas making their way up the street, clutching bags full of presents. Moms and Dads scooting small children into the car while balancing large bowls of salad. Groups of teenagers with Santa hats and surfboards, walking barefoot towards the beach.
I headed home in the late afternoon and passed countless parties. Lots of houses and flats with the doors flung open and families or friends sitting around picnic tables or crowded onto balconies. I was reminded of the time we were driving home from a trip to the Sault and arrived in Buffalo at dinnertime on Thanksgiving. House after house we passed and saw the family gathered around the dinner table through the front windows. Everywhere, people celebrating.
In Australia, they don’t do my Christmas, the one I know and love, the one that is sacred in tradition if not always in religion. There is no sitting around the fireplace with your family in the glow of the tree or trudging to the candlelit Christmas Eve service in snowboots, with your shoes in a bag, walking in the middle of the road because no one’s gotten around to shovelling their sidewalks yet. But there are celebrations nonetheless. And for a girl who’s away from home and just hoping that people will recognise the holiday she adores, then in the immortal words of what’s-his-face in Love Actually who declares his love to his best friend’s wife on Christmas via a series of posters, “that’s enough.”