A Southern Hemisphere Christmas by Greg Lawrence
I was born and raised in New Zealand and after travelling now live in Australia. Due to the common history of Australia and New Zealand their Christmas traditions are similar to each other and both share a common bond with the United Kingdom and Ireland from whence the majority of the original settlers came.
Growing up my Christmases shared much in common with England and Scotland where my closest ancestors originated. The biggest difference anyone visiting from the northern hemisphere has to get used to, very quickly, is it is full summer here. And with summer comes summer holidays! Dependent on the day that Christmas falls, and with Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and the day after New Year’s Day being public holidays, much of the populace takes the intervening work days as annual leave and thereby ensures a long break between Christmas and New Year. Not much work gets done at all and this sets the tone for the major holiday.
From an early age Christmas morning was a magical time. On Christmas Eve our family would gather initially by the radio, TV didn’t arrive in my home until I was 11 years old, and then sang carols in accompaniment to whatever choir was singing that year whilst my parents shared a Christmas drink and I a soft drink usually washing down a Christmas Mince Pie.
The first order of business on Christmas morning was to fetch my Grandma from her home that was quite nearby. After the obligatory cup of tea my father, mother and grandmother and I would all gather in our lounge room (yes I am an only child). Presents would then be distributed from under the Christmas tree, most often a real one that had been decorated a week or so previously with glass baubles and other ornaments. Presents were opened in rotation around the room, Grandma insisted that the paper was not ripped but folded so it could be recycled and this was accepted way of doing things by me for many years, my family having seen hardship during the 1930’s depression. As soon as present giving was over it was a distinctly military like operation until lunch.
Grandma and Mum would be in the kitchen whilst my father and I set up two long tables in the lounge and set them with red and green cloths, silverware and the china that, apart from this day, was never was used. Small dishes were filled with nuts and chocolates and crystallised ginger before my father and I were ushered outside to the garden.
My family always had an excellent garden and there were new potatoes to be dug and beans and peas to be picked. We men folk then had to prepare what we had picked. Meanwhile the oven was on and it was oh so hot but the smells were delightful. We always had fresh spring lamb, roast chickens or sometimes a game bird such as pheasant and always ham, baked in the oven. My mother disliked turkey so whilst other families indulged it wasn’t a feature of my Christmas experience. Roast potatoes and roast kumara, a type of sweet potato, were always included.
At precisely 11:45 am two pots of water were set to boil on the stove top and by 11:55am, when the water was boiling, in would go the new potatoes and at 12:00 noon my Great Aunt and Uncle and his two sisters my Great Maiden Aunts would arrive and in would go the beans and peas. A large jar of fresh cream from Uncle’s own cows was always brought. This was the very thick creamy stuff, almost as thick as clotted cream and always adorned the Christmas pudding. My Grandma always made the pudding and hung it in its cloth bag in the laundry for weeks prior to the big occasion. Of course it always had thruppences in it, carefully wrapped in grease proof paper as a preventative measure for someone swallowing a thruppence, stories were told about Mrs so and so’s son/daughter/husband, whatever, who had choked on a thruppence and that was not going to happen in our house.
Extended family having arrived, by 12:15 pm we were sat down for Christmas lunch, all the doors open and fans on to try an relieve us of the incessant heat caused by hot ovens and summer heat. Let the feasting begin!
Of course those days are now long past. My Grandmother and Great Aunts and Uncle are no longer alive and I guess with their passing our links to the “old country” traditions have thinned.
My new tradition in Australia sees lots of seafood which includes a really large fish such as a Red Emperor or Snapper cooked on the BBQ, oysters and lots of lovely King Prawns, with appropriate condiments and dipping sauces. I still bake a ham and dress it with traditional pineapple rings and red cherries together with a brown sugar basting sauce but that’s the limit of the hot things.
With Christmas Day temperatures in the high 30 degrees Celsius you don’t want added kitchen heat. We now prepare cold desserts such as Pavlova with strawberries and cream. My daughter and husband and the grandkids gather at my home where we have a large sail cloth over an outside table and we tend to have a much more leisurely feasting interspersed with time in the swimming pool.
Traditions yes, just less ridged. Are they better or worse? Neither really, just different. Our biggest tradition is always to share time with family and friends and indulge in favourite foods and share gifts with each other. For one day we share it together, sometimes with the large extended family and sometimes not. The beach is calling and summer is here.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Greg Lawrence Greg is an Oral Historian based on the Central Coast of New South Wales Australia. He helps families record their life stories to preserve for future generations. Web site www.lifetimememoriesandstories.com
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