Expat Diaries

Expat Diaries: The Weirdness Of A Warm Christmas

This year will be my fourth Christmas spent down under and to be entirely honest it hasn’t gotten any less weirder.

My first hot Christmas was in Sydney in 2008. I had an great time, soaking up the novelty of being in the sun and getting quite crunk with all my new backpacker friends. But I never quite got that Christmas feeling.

My first Aussie Christmas in Sydney with the girls in 2008

My first Aussie Christmas in Sydney with the girls in 2008

At first I thought all the Aussies were faking it. When friends, family and people on the TV spoke of feeling all Christmassy whilst shopping for summer holiday clothing and preparing for beach season I couldn’t see how that possibly equated to Christmas spirit. But very slowly it has dawned on my very British brain that this (of course) is Christmas for the Aussies.

Some things I’ve noticed about the Aussie Christmas:

  • Things ramp up early over here. I’ve seen people put their tree up in November and a lot of work Xmas parties took place in early December. I think this is largely because come Boxing Day everyone heads off on their summer holiday.
  • So you’ve got to buy your tree early. Last year we tried to get a tree around the 14th December and no less than 5 stores laughed in our faces. We eventually found a slightly sorry looking ‘fresh’ tree but…
  • I put it in a stupid position. Being unused to hosting Xmas trees in hot weather I chose the most convenient place to display our tree – right near the sliding glass doors of our balcony. 3 days later the whole thing was brown! The branches drooped so badly all our baubles would be on the floor by the end of the day. This year we’ve got a synthetic tree – and we picked it up for half price in the sales last Christmas Eve!
  • Christmas dinner is different for every Aussie family. I have some friends who do the whole turkey and trimmings roast dinner but many opt for a more weather appropriate cold meat buffet with salads. Justin’s Gran does a great spread of cold cuts followed by the most amazing homemade palova and cheesecake. Christmas Day involves a big feast but from what I’ve seen this is contained to just the one day in Oz as opposed to the two week period of over-eating I know I’ve indulged in previously in the UK. This is probably linked to the fact most people will be in swimwear by the end of the day.
Gram's mouth-watering pavlova

Gram’s mouth-watering pavlova

  • Unlike back home where we spend Christmas afternoon under a blanket, snoozing off the dinner and watching reruns of Only, Fools & Horses (not just me is it?), Christmas afternoon in Oz is pretty active. I know a lot of people who will go for an afternoon swim or walk, and this is much more appealing in the Aussie climate than it is back home.
  • Sorry Australia but your Christmas TV is terrible. I spent the holidays last year flicking through channels trying to find a Christmas Special of some sort – even just a movie like Elf or Sister Act would have cut it. But it seems that after Christmas Day the TV is mainly dominated by sport. Aussie shows (including the soaps and morning TV) take the holidays off so there’s no such thing as a Christmas Special (at least not over the Christmas period).
  • The work Christmas Party I went to was awesome but it lacked one thing – Christmas. There was no tree or Christmas tunes, no presents or Christmas crackers and not a single dodgy Christmas jumper. There was a lot of booze though and I hear this is standard.
  • Some very game people wear Santa hats on the beach. Overall I love how the Aussies embrace the Northern Hemisphere’s idea of Christmas with fairy lights, fake snow and blow up snowmen, who look a little out of place but sweet none the less.
Santa comes to Sydney on a surf board!

Santa comes to Sydney on a surf board!

So where does that leave me?

In case you didn’t know I’m marrying an Aussie next year. In an ideal world we would alternate between having Christmas with each of our families in each of our home countries but there are some years (like this one) when that’s not going to be financially viable. I’ve also realised that at some point I need to stop thinking of Aussie Xmas as ‘Justin’s Christmas’ and the UK one as mine and that together we need to find ‘our Christmas’. Something which melds the two different versions together and becomes traditional for our Aussie/Anglo family. This year will be our first trial run as we’re having Christmas at home in Sydney. The plan is for it to involve the following:

  • A tree that doesn’t die (ha!). Our decorations are a very sentimental collection of trinkets and baubles that have been given to us by friends and family. We have homemade ones from Melbourne, sparkly ones from Wokingham and cuddly ones from Essex. I’ve also included ones I kept from my single days in London (a rather apt little black dress) and Justin and I have bought some together which represent our travels and new life in Sydney. Our awesome friends and family have already sent us gifts so they’re under the tree ready to be ripped open. I think we’ve got Christmas spirit all wrapped up in that one corner.
  • We’re going to attempt a roast turkey dinner – albeit on the barbie! Our apartment doesn’t actually have an oven big enough to fit the turkey so that will be roasted on the balcony, leaving the oven free for roast potatoes, stuffing balls and Yorkshire Pudding (yum!). I’m also going to make a trifle (Justin doesn’t like jelly or custard but he will eat it – won’t you babe?!) and tuck into some mince pies, which are sold in supermarkets here.
  • There will be board games. My game of choice would be Trivial Pursuit but having realised we can only buy the Aussie version out here I cunningly suggested we buy Scrabble and Monopoly instead – I need to give myself some chance of winning!
  • I’ve discovered you can also find Christmas Markets and carols in the park here in Sydney. It’s nice to be able to attend them and not have to keep stamping your feet in order to feel them. I do miss the excuse to drink mulled wine though.
  • We’ve signed up to Netflix to cover off the Xmas movies and have found a way to stream the Xmas Specials of Graham Norton and such like from the UK.
  • We’ll spend the afternoon at the pool, just because we can, and the evening Skyping friends and family from the around the world, joining in their celebrations virtually.

I’d love to know how other multi-country couples do it and if there are any other expats bringing a touch of UK tradition to Australia?

And wish a very Merry Christmas to you all!

11 Comments

  • Reply
    Christine
    December 9, 2015 at 8:45 am

    Even growing up here I’ve always found Aussie Christmases not quite right! I make a frozen berry upside down ice cream cake thing every year that is a hit with the family however, that would def not be suitable for a colder climate,

    • Reply
      Jayne Gorman
      December 10, 2015 at 5:06 am

      Oh I saw something like this on the Women’s Weekly Xmas Special and was intrigued! You’ll have to tell me about it!

  • Reply
    Tracey
    December 9, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Love this. I am the complete opposite I grew up in South Africa so for me a sunny Christmas is the norm but we have just moved to Canada so I am now beyond excited to have a ‘traditional’ Christmas – just like in the movies. I am just praying for snow as I want a white Christmas and every Canadian is hoping for a green Christmas this year!

    • Reply
      Jayne Gorman
      December 10, 2015 at 5:08 am

      It’s so funny think there are expats having these reverse experiences. I hope you get your snow – although not too much that you can’t leave the house!!

  • Reply
    Dannielle
    December 11, 2015 at 11:25 am

    It would be so weird having a beach christmas! Not going to lie though, after 20 plus years of snow and not knowing if you can leave your house in new york winters I’d welcome them. I actually love living in England because they are so christmassy, but also there is very rarely snow! We’ve always done some sort of physical activity on christmas day, in new york it was normally sledding, and in england just a walk to a local country house, but I’d love a beach trip!!

    • Reply
      Jayne Gorman
      December 14, 2015 at 11:28 pm

      I do love that excitement of seeing if it’s going to be a white Christmas in the UK – even if 9 times out of 10 we just get sleet! Sledding would be a great way to burn of the xmas dinner calories though!

  • Reply
    Janice Stringer
    December 15, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Hi Jayne,
    Weirdly when I visited Byron Bay in June 2007 – I experienced the feel of christmas. It was a wonderful moment and taught me ‘that christmas feeling’ can happen anywhere at anytime of year, the circumstances and environment just has to be right.
    Have a happy one!
    🙂

    • Reply
      Jayne Gorman
      December 16, 2015 at 12:21 am

      Aw thank you, same to you!

  • Reply
    Shandos
    December 15, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Despite growing up in Australia, as I’ve gotten older Christmas time hasn’t felt that Christmassy here. The way I see it there’s three elements to Christmas: the religious side, the wintery motifs and the gift-giving, and as an atheist anti-consumerist Australian nothing really applies! (Especially as I don’t have kids and am not planning to.)

    I went to Europe last year to experience a different type of Christmas, plus my first proper experience of snow, but not sure I could put up with the cold, the slippery sidewalks and the short days that are part of the European experience every year!

  • Reply
    Jayne Gorman
    December 16, 2015 at 12:22 am

    Aha yes the slippery pavements. I always forget that bit in my romantic reminisces of xmas in the UK!

  • Reply
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