Christmas Day in Australia

Sunset in South Australia on a hot day
Sunset in South Australia on a hot day

Christmas Day has gone well for us this year.  The weather has been cool and the food all cooked perfectly.  The dishes are done, the fridge is full of leftovers to get us through the next few days, and we are all relaxing at home.

We live in a place with very hot summers, and of course Christmas comes in summer here.  We keep our presents in the fridge until we open them in case they have meltables.  We don’t schedule a barbecue because Christmas Day is often a day of total fire ban.  There’s no running under the sprinklers because of water restrictions.  We usually eat cold cuts for Christmas lunch with homemade potato salad and fresh fruit, having cooked it the evening before. This year was unseasonably cold and we actually cooked our roast just before we ate it.  It felt very traditional!

One of our children, however, reminisced about the salads of previous years.  To our children, a cold lunch on a burning hot day makes the tradition.  Today’s cool weather, in reality, was true to a tradition we have never known.

Decoration

Looking through old newspapers, I noticed a suggestion in 1837 to change Christmas Day to 25th June.  It seems reasonable.

“Instead of the old English fire-side, with skating outside and shooting partridges among the turnips, or tracking hares amid the snow, we have a torrid heat, rendered still more oppressive by the steam of extra dishes rising in our faces at meal-times, and causing the sickly appetite with which we sit down to our Christmas fare entirely to depart. At church, instead of feeling the comfort of the fire in the tremendous stove, eight feet high, in the middle of the church, and being habited in a large great coat and lamb’s wool stockings, we could scarcely sit for the heat, although clothed in slight cottons. In the evening we are gasping for breath, while the mosquitoes and sandflies worry us at all points—face and wrists, the fine dust from the garden striking to our  warm faces and suffusing the room at the same time, so that at length we throw ourselves on the mattress and try to forget the ‘merry ‘ Christmas of New South Wales, by getting beneath the mosquito-curtains. Such is Christmas Day in this Colony.”

… ” If this [decision re a change the date] be deferred until the Australian born be all grown up, and their children after them, a hot Christmas will be to them a natural Christmas; and they will not comprehend a frosty and cold Christmas, and will object to, as far as their feelings and sympathies may influence them, though their judgment must see the propriety of, the change now proposed by us”—Monitor.

“CHRISTMAS DAY.” The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal (WA : 1833 – 1847) 11 Nov 1837: 1005. Web. 25 Dec 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article639772&gt;.

It was an idea which met with some support, but not enough.  The writer was correct in his prediction.  A hot Christmas does indeed seem natural to us.  Why would a frosty Christmas be preferred by anyone?  As the years passed, it’s clear that Australians were settling in to enjoy the hot Christmas season. In 1865:

“Glenelg.—The number of visitors at Glenelg during Christmas Day was exceedingly large. The beach and the jetty were covered with promenaders…”

“Yankalilla—  Christmas Day was kept up by the good folks of this neighbourhood with great glee and spirit … the day was exceedingly fine, the sea calm, and a soft breeze serving just to cause a ripple on the surface of the water …”

“Strathalbyn—Christmas Day here was a lovely one, being throughout free from hot winds  or dust …”

“Mount Pleasant.—The greatest attraction in the shape of amusement was a picnic at Mount Crawford Swamp; and in spite of the day being very hot, various games were kept up with spirit.”

“CHRISTMAS.” Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) 30 Dec 1865: 3. Web. 25 Dec 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article159499945&gt;.

The Beach at Yankalilla as it is today
The Beach at Yankalilla, South Australia as it is today

Jumping another thirty years to the 1890s and everyone had settled in to the weather, though they might not have liked it.

“CHRISTMAS DAY.  Friday, December 25, was a real Australian Christmas Day. It was intensely hot, and the atmosphere in the evening was very close, but the majority of people usually remain at home for the greater part of Christmas Day, which is observed as a close holiday. Public engagements were few. Services were held in most of the Churches according to custom.”

“CHRISTMAS DAY.” Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) 2 Jan 1897: 19. Web. 25 Dec 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162367787&gt;.

“CHRISTMAS DAY was another burning hot day. The usual services were held at the various churches, but the congregations were not large. It was one of those very hot days when no opportunity is lost to find the coolest place outside the waterbag and stay there. Nightfall brought with it a feeling of relief. Although the temperature had not fallen much, it was comparatively cool out of doors.”

“CHRISTMAS DAY.” The Cobar Herald (NSW : 1899 – 1914) 30 Dec 1899: 6. Web. 25 Dec 2014 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103843124&gt;.

From there on, the climate is taken for granted and rarely remarked upon.  We expect hot, and it is hot.  It’s only worthy of mention if it is extra hot or unexpectedly cool like the current year.

The heat is just part of the Christmas experience, and a most welcome part at that.

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and hoping it went as well for all of you as it did for us.

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