A few people have asked me what Christmas in Australia is like as it’s difficult to imagine a hot Christmas unless you’ve experienced it. So I put the call out on Facebook a couple of years ago to ask people: ‘how do you spend Christmas in Australia?’ so I could collate a post for you to give you a flavour of what to expect and I update it every year with some new content.
This year will be our fifth Christmas since we moved to Queensland and our sixth Christmas in the country as we spent a Christmas in Perth when we were travelling. I’m not saying I’m an Australia Christmas expert, but I can share my experience of Christmas in Australia over the last few years.
The only thing you really need to know about spending Christmas in Australia is this: It gets hot! You’re more likely to be looking at the sight above than the one below! But that doesn’t mean it’s not as fun. (And anyway, how many times has it really been a white Christmas in the UK anyway? It’s way more likely to be cold and grey instead.)
By the way, the picture of the sandman at the top of the post was taken by Debbie (who is quoted below) and she kindly let me include it in the post. Excuse me while I grab my kids and head to the beach to build one of those beauties – how cool is her sandman?! #loveit
What to expect from Christmas in Australia
Summer in Australia is in full swing at Christmas The heat is crazy, the skies are mostly pure blue without a single cloud, the storms that come and go quickly are fierce and the pool is a lifesaver. The kids are off for six – eight weeks for their long summer holidays (depending on the school – ours finishes in late Nov and doesn’t go back until late January). Christmas is a time for air conditioning, ceiling fans, ocean dips, cool slices of watermelon, beach days, icy poles, lashings of sunscreen, rose wine, mozzie repellent, warm evening carol concerts by candlelight, firework displays, beach bbqs and pavlova (yum!).
What’s not to love? Santa wears board shorts here, he has bare feet and he often carries a surf board (or rides a scooter or quad bike, apparently too).
If you still aren’t too sure, check out Ronan’s view of our perfect summer wonderland…
How do we spend Christmas Day in Australia?
We’ve spent Christmas Day in Australia at the beach, but have realised that we LOVE spending Christmas at home together as a little family. We cook a big breakfast, open presents and then spend the day jumping in and out of the pool.
My husband Matt usually works a lot over the holidays, so we adapt our plans depending on his shifts. As for Christmas food in Australia, we always cook a turkey on one of the days and tend to cook barbeques the rest of the time. We’ve embraced the Aussie tradition of the Christmas ‘pav’ (pavlova), although we also have Christmas pudding too.
We video chat our families and it can feel bittersweet to know they are all together on the opposite side of the world, but seeing them on video always helps.
Surviving Christmas in Australia
Here’s a few things to help you survive your first Christmas in Australia:
You will need to remember that Christmas crackers are called bon bons in Australia.
You will need to get used to the lack of commercialism here. I walked all around Kmart last week looking for Christmas wrapping paper. Eventually, I asked someone who told me they must have sold out and only had a couple of rolls left by the tills. Seriously – two weeks before Christmas and the main place you go to buy kids’ Christmas pressies had hardly any wrapping paper left and they didn’t seem that bothered about it! It’s weirdly low-key here compared to the big deal it has become in the UK. And here they focus a lot more on the true meaning of Christmas with things like religious puppet shows making it onto the entertainment programme of the carol services. So don’t come here expecting a massive commercial splash on the run-up to the big day.
You wear Christmas t-shirts or rash vests instead of Christmas jumpers. I don’t bother buying my kids festive pyjamas now because they tend to wear the bare minimum of clothes to bed at this time of year.
Christmas ham joints are all pre-cooked and they are ALL smoked. You can’t get unsmoked, and you also can’t buy gammon joints to cook yourself like you can in the UK (oh how I miss my mum’s Christmas gammon that she always cooked on Christmas Eve!)
The beaches and parks get busy on Christmas Day with families taking gazebos and big tables full of goodies so they can spend the whole day there. By ‘busy’ I mean busy by Aus standards, not by UK standards. There is still usually places to park and you can always find a good spot.
Local suburbs hold a Christmas carol service with rides, entertainment and food stalls, and they finish with a big firework display. My kids love the jumping castles (bouncy castles) and fairy floss (candy floss) the best.
Shopping malls get a bit busier but it’s nothing like as busy as in the UK. Even supermarkets are bearable on Christmas Eve over here.
If you have kids, you will be overrun with candy canes and sweet treats. So many people put a little candy cane in with their Christmas cards which means by the time school finishes, you have a house full of candy canes as the kids can’t keep up with eating them all! Lots of families at our school don’t give out cards at all and instead wrap up a little sweet treat (like cellophane-wrapped sweets, or something home-baked with a Merry Christmas label attached), so your kids will be full of sugar before they finish for the holidays!
Some shops and attractions stay open on Christmas Day. And your bins still get emptied on Christmas Day if it falls on your usual day (or at least ours did last year in Queensland!)
It’s not really worth eating tins of chocolates as you’ve got to keep them in the fridge to stop everything from melting into mush. We never have enough room for them alongside the turkey, and when they’re out of sight in the fridge we forget they’re there so it takes ages to eat them. Even your advent calendars need to stay in the fridge if you have any hope of popping the chocolates out of the little doors!
We still over-eat at Christmas a bit but we don’t end up feeling as bloated as we jump in the pool or go for a walk along the beach afterwards. And we don’t eat anywhere near as much as we did in the UK when we used to eat Roses and Quality Street for breakfast and eat non-stop until bedtime.
How to enjoy Christmas – Australia style!
I put the word out in a Poms Facebook group to find out how people spend their Christmas Down Under. This is what they said:
Leoni: I do hotel Christmases now. Hotel brekky, Swim-up bar, day bed, cocktails, seafood and hot buffets.
Rita: Like many other things, there’s lots going on at Christmas time in Oz for poms and everyone else (and at other times of the year too for that matter) if you just go out and find it rather than waiting for it to turn up on your doorstep. Yes, Christmas is different in Australia, of course it is, but we’ve made every effort to be part of what’s going on with carol singing outside Woolies, concerts in the park, joining in a community bbq with singalong etc, and it’s great. Friends of ours who moved to a different part of Australia sat at home waiting for someone to invite them out, it didn’t happen and they returned to the UK with miserable stories about how unfriendly everyone was. So acknowledge the difference and just go for it!!
Ruth: Been here 12 years now, lived in Perth, Cairns and now Gold Coast, first year a novelty BBQ by the beach, opening pressies on the beach and enjoying the sea, however, it did feel weird…however back home it would have been a big roast then falling asleep in front of the TV. Now with kids they just want to stay home and play with toys so no real difference apart from the weather…at least we have the option of the beach ????
Lucy: For me I have made a family here so have 2 young toddlers. The longer here the more the country seems to be building the spirit each year. I live in a small town very rural. They do carols in the park. I find Australia to be a lot more family accommodating this time of year, I keep everything traditional for Christmas Day, wake up early full of excitement and hubs hands out the presents 1 by 1 as we open them and then play with presents as we do Xmas dinner. I do English traditional Xmas dinner as ain’t no heat taking that away from me haha yes I almost die in the kitchen but it’s worth it. I think over here Xmas is what you make it whereas in the UK Xmas is made for you.
Nikki: We love the build up to Xmas. We take kids to carols by candlelight they enjoy the festivities followed by the fireworks display. Drive around our local neighbourhood looking at the displays and lights, we find a lot of houses by us go nuts with the Xmas lights and it’s a proper eye-opener. On Xmas eve a local decorated house has Santa for a gold coin donation kids get a small gift. Xmas day is a full roast cooked on BBQ followed by swim in the pool and normally end the day with a video call too family back in Wales. Xmas is what you make of it.
Paula: DO NOT hang chocolate baubles on the real Christmas tree.. when they melt and drip all over the dried out pine needles you are left with a serious mess ???? I learnt the hard way ????????????????
Caroline: Love all outdoor Christmas carols all over Gold Coast. Yes it’s different. Can’t sit outside in UK. Do miss the cold at this time of year but small price to pay for the rest of the year.
Tracey from Oz House Rentals in Perth: Yes it’s different! We’ve been here 10 years and still can’t get used to having Xmas in the summertime. We have however embraced it and made our own traditions. In the build-up to Xmas we take friends and family out on the boat to see the canal homes with their fantastic Xmas lights, if we’re lucky a dolphin ???? or two may join us. We still have traditional turkey dinner, but we have it at night on Christmas Eve when it feels a little bit more Christmassy and darker, oh and of course we cook it on the barbecue. We’ve then got enough leftovers for turkey butties on the beach on Christmas Day. Friends and family come and go on the beach all day, even the dogs join us and swim to cool down. Then home to shower and stick some seafood on the barbie to have with salads. All in all it’s a very chilled vibe, and that’s how we like it! We live in Mandurah, South of Perth.
Dave: Yes I/we always cook the meat on a rotisserie on the bbq on Xmas eve, it’s too hot to cook inside.
Tracey: It’s as festive as you make it. Of course it’s not like UK. It’s normally 30 degrees in QLD. I’m originally from Merseyside. Been here 12yrs now. Start the day with pressie opening, down to Surfers Paradise for a swim and breaki. Lunch with good friends we now call family. How many Brits would love a dip in ocean xmas morning. You can’t have everything. Make the most of it and be happy and healthy. ????????????
Laura: It is different and it is important not to expect it to be the same. Being a stickler for a traditional Christmas nosh up, I barbeque the turkey, which is the best way to cook it, regardless of the weather, or where you are in the world.
Debbie: We built a sandman (instead of a snowman) and had turkey sandwiches on the beach on Boxing Day which has become our new tradition. We have Xmas decorations all around the pool & have been swimming in there while playing festive music. We still have a traditional turkey and all the trimmings for Xmas dinner but a Pavlova or ice cream for dessert instead of Xmas pud! 🙂 Still have mince pies, put the air con on and watch a movie then go out to the garden and in the pool when it’s cooler late afternoon. I do miss the atmosphere in the UK, the German Markets, the festive adverts and Xmas specials on TV, but really enjoying making new traditions! 🙂
(Check out Debbie’s sandman above and if you want to build something similar she told me it has a real carrot nose, seaweed hair, small lumps of rock for buttons and wooden beads for eyes & mouth!)
Larissa: We have a huge pavlova with fresh fruit as it’s easy to throw together. A barbie and dip in the pool. Might have brekky at a rellies and go down the beach before everyone is drunk down there. In the run up we wear Christmas t-shirts and the kids sing carols outside the shopping centre. They call Father Christmas Santa and most of us don’t have chimneys, so not sure how he gets inside. It’s just different and you learn to find new traditions.
Lisa: We go to our local Indian restaurant every Christmas Eve with friends and Christmas Day is spent relaxing in the pool and having a BBQ
Lynda: Christmas for the past 12 years has been Xmas eve is ‘drinks on the drive’ with neighbours, (often only time we see some of them ) it’s a bit of an open invite we extend to most of our friends to just drop by. Must have the smell of turkey cooking in the oven along with carols by candlelight blaring from the tv to add to the atmosphere. Xmas morning breakfast , then always a walk along the beach at Shellharbour, followed by traditional Xmas dinner in the evening, again usually with friends that have become our family. Few changes this year as we have moved suburb, but will be sharing with our family that are visiting so should be fun.
Lynda: Christmas is definitely different. Mainly because of the heat but also because you do not have the aunts, uncles, cousins popping in over Christmas like you do in UK. But saying that, adopted Australian families make sure you are not alone for Christmas. We get invites all the time. Our day is full and so is Boxing Day, there is always someone doing something and of course, we too take our turn. We start by going around to friends for a Christmas breakfast. There are usually about 5 families turn up. We leave just before lunchtime to spend dinner with our families or friends, what ever may be arranged. I do like to have my full traditional Chrissy dinner, so more often than not it’s my house for that. I have had anything from 5 of us to 18 of us. Boxing Day is a get-together, everyone brings their own eats and drinks and see’s to themselves. Games and fun with water balloons, maybe a pool or slip and slide. Everyone has a ball. We live in country Queensland, I do not know how it is in the city. Country Aussies are SO friendly actually most Aussies are but country is my experience.
Christmas in Australia
So there you have it. The over-riding theme is that Christmas here is what you make it. It IS very different. You won’t have all of your family and friends around. You will have new friends who have become like family to you. There will be no sitting in front of a log fire toasting marshmallows (unless you light a firepit in the garden at night!) Instead, you make your own new traditions in the sun. As we don’t have a chimney here, we leave Santa a magic key on the door so he can get in to leave his gifts. And we chase a barefoot Santa on the beach as he drives his quad bike scattering candy canes! We eat popcorn while sitting on a rug, swatting mosquitos while listing to carols on a warm summer’s night.
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We went to #oldpetrietown last night to get our annual Santa photos taken. I always have to have a soy iced coffee from this bus-cafe as I listen to the carols. It is such a lovely, festive place to go. The markets are on Friday nights and Sunday mornings at the moment. #christmas #festive #christmasmarket
Our kids have only known Christmas in Australia as they were so young when we moved. Instead of frozen canals, winter scarves and roasting chestnuts on the fire, to them Christmas memories are of icy poles, beach barbeques, body boarding and water fights. It’s two very different ways to celebrate, but to me they are both pretty special.
Christmas in Australia is very different to Christmas in the UK. But it’s possible to make it just as festive because Christmas is in your heart, not in a particular place. Throw yourself in, make it awesome and celebrate everything that is different about it and you’ll have a ball.
Wishing all of my readers the most wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2019 is the year you make your dreams come true.
PS If you’re looking to move to Australia next year, then you should check out my Ultimate Emigration Checklist. It breaks down everything you need to do, step-by-step, in full detail to make your move easier and less stressful.