Christmas Traditions in Australia: A Summer Celebration

Updated August 26, 2019
Christmas tree in Melbourne city, Australia

The best thing about celebrating Christmas in Australia is that it is in the middle of summer and most of the time, you can enjoy the holiday on the beach. What may seem out-of-the-ordinary to anyone who's used to snowflakes and frosty noses is simply one of the many ways the Land of Oz distinguishes itself from other countries during the holidays.

Celebrating Christmas in Australia

Australia's motherland is Great Britain, and Christmas traditions in both countries have a lot in common. However, Australia's traditions have a bit of their own unique flavor as well.

  • It's a Christian holiday, so many Australian citizens attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
  • Many families put up Christmas trees. Decorating with native plants, such as Christmas bush or Christmas bells, is also a popular custom.
  • Many towns and cities have a traditional Christmas tree in a public area. One of the most beautiful public trees is in Sydney's Queen Victoria Building; it's decorated with over 144,000 Swarovski crystals and 60,000 sparkling lights.
  • December 26th is Boxing Day. While it's observed as a charitable occasion, it's also a major shopping day.
  • While some people watch the national cricket match on TV on Boxing Day, many people prefer to spend the day outside and play the sport in parks and on the beach.
  • Australians have days off for Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year's Day. Some other workers may have as much as two weeks off, returning to work after the New Year.
  • Children have the best deal of all: Christmas in Australia is the start of their summer break from school!
Christmas Stocking Hanging on a Bed Knob and a Child Sleeping in Bed

Santa Claus in Australia

The children in Australia believe in Santa Claus. However, since it is summer, it would not be unusual to see Santa dressed in a lighter, cooler version of his red and white suit. Shorts can even be seen! Santa does use reindeer to pull his sleigh when delivering gifts to children in Australia. In order to prepare for Santa's Christmas eve arrival, the children:

  • Hang stockings or socks on the bedpost or fireplace mantle.
  • Help decorate the Christmas tree.
  • Use an advent calendar that has a small choccy behind each window to help count down the days until Christmas.
  • Write letters to Santa Claus.
  • Leave out cookies and milk. However, in Australia it is actually customary to leave Santa a cold beer. Carrots are also left for the reindeer.

On Christmas morning, when the children awake, they are allowed to empty out their stockings to see what they received, which is typically candy, small toys, fruit or money. However, they must wait for their parents to wake up before they can open the gifts left under the tree.

Australian summer Santa Claus showing young boy how to surf

Carols by Candlelight

Since 1938, Carols by Candlelight is one of the most spectacular Christmas traditions in Australia. Founder Norman Banks walked home one Christmas Eve and passed by a window lit only by candlelight. Through the window, he saw a senior women sitting alone and singing along to "Away in a Manger" playing on the radio. He wondered how many others spent the holidays alone, so in 1938, he organized a public sing-a-long of Christmas carols at midnight with everyone holding a single candle.

Today, this multi-city event attracts tens of thousands of singing citizens to parks, music halls, and stadiums. Melbourne and Sydney stage huge performances with top entertainers, and these events are also broadcast across the country.

Australian Christmas Songs

A number of tunes have become part of the annual Christmas festivities in Australia. Some are more serious and others are more fun, silly songs.

  • The 12 Days of Christmas - This carol has a few variations, but try singing the song with these Australian animal lyrics.
  • Aussie Jingle Bells - Recorded by Bucko & Champs, this version of the classic celebrates Christmas by the barbecue and other activities that are uniquely Australian.
  • Christmas Lullaby - This song by Olivia Newton-John and Manheim Steamroller is a perennial favorite.
  • Six White Boomers - Originally sung by Rolf Harris in 1960, this is another popular holiday song for Australian children where kangaroos pull Santa's sleigh.

Holiday Meal Traditions in Australia

Due to Australia's British heritage, you'll find many familiar dishes piled high on holiday tables. Turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, tarts (both savory and sweet), rum balls, and mince pies are almost always on the menu. You'll also want to try the following recipes.

  • Pavlova cake - This is a meringue cake topped with fruit and served as dessert.
  • Plum pudding - Traditionally, a silver coin is inserted into the pudding for someone to find.
  • Christmas Damper - This is a kind of soda bread from colonial times that you can bake into the shape of a star or wreath and eat with honey or jam.

Many Australians have also developed a more modern tradition of having a huge barbeque in the backyard or at the beach. The menu typically includes plenty of grilled seafood, lamb, and other meats. Cold picnics in the park are also common.

Berry Pavlova Cake with Strawberries and Raspberries

Enjoy a Traditional Aussie Christmas

Australians have certainly managed to put their own stamp on the Christmas holiday. If singing carols by candlelight and barbecuing on the beach sound like a good way to celebrate the holiday, perhaps you ought to treat yourself to spending one future Christmas in the land down under.

Christmas Traditions in Australia: A Summer Celebration