Christmas “Down Under”
Reindeer in a snowy landscape, golden light glows through the windows of a cozy, snow-covered cottage as smoke curls up from the chimney. Wintry scenes such as this greet me as I peruse the Christmas cards in the shops in the inner suburb of Sydney where I live.
Winter and Christmas are inextricably linked in Western culture, even in Australia, where temperatures on the 25th of December are appropriate for the height of our hot summers.
In some respects the Christmas season does not differ greatly from cities in the northern hemisphere: huge crowds in the stores scooping up goods marked “Xmas Sale!” Supermarket aisles crowded with overloaded trolleys. So much food – is Armageddon imminent? No, just Christmas lunch tomorrow.
The Sydney Fish Market is open 24 hours before Christmas Day and queues are long as customers stock up on smoked salmon for the salads and prawns (shrimp), to put on the barbie (barbecue).
On the day, families gather at one member’s house, where tables are set up on the lawn under a shadecloth. The men stand around in the backyard clutching cans of beer and offering advice as the man of the house attempts to char the shrimp, steaks and sausages on his brand new, enormous barbie while wiping the sweat from his forehead with the dishcloth to prevent it dripping on the steaks.
The ladies organize everything else… covering the tables with platters of food until the trestle table top begins to bend under the load.
Children run around the yard, excited by seeing all their cousins again. Little toddlers are knocked to the ground as they waddle about. Mums soothe the injured, with offering of sweets.
A cricket set which arrived from Santa that morning gets the boys focused. Occasionally, one of the team manages to actually hit a ball, which whizzes past the ear of the dad who is trying to figure out how to operate his fancy barbie, and crashes through the garage window.
Everyone wears shorts and thongs (I think you call them flip flops), and all get sunburned noses and arms.
Many children finish the day overtired, howling and wailing as they are carried to the car for the long trip home. The car has sat in the sun all day and is like an oven, adding extra discomfort for the weary, red faced passengers.
Mums and dads, sweaty and irritated, pack up the Esky (portable food cooler) and wearily drive the disgruntled family home.
Christmas in Australia is not at all like the crisp, chilly wintry scenes on those Christmas cards!
Judy Calman was born in Hungary, but emigrated to Australia with her parents, after a few years’ stay in Germany after World War II. She is a retired teacher and writes from Sydney. She is a cousin of our Associate Webmaster Zsuzsa Lengyel.