How do they celebrate Christmas in Australia?

This is a guest post from Ian Middleton.

I live in Sydney, and have had the last 5 Xmases here.

Pre Xmas, there are all the usual festivities, although Cities tend not to put up lights, just massive artificial trees. We attend carols by candlelight, which attracts thousands at the big shows, and is outdoors in both Sydney and Melbourne. We attend in our suburb, and we take a picnic and wine, and sit down by the harbour and have a lovely evening.

On the day itself, we are usually up at 5:30, because the sun is beaming through the window. Then a coffee, and down to the beach for a Xmas day dip! Tradition! All the surfers do wear Santa outfits whilst surfing, or the bodies beautiful wear Santa swim shorts or bikinis!

Presents opening in the morning……

Lunch is a mixed bag! Turkey is still a tradition for many, and the supermarkets stock sprouts!! There is stuffing mix and cranberry sauce, brandy custard etc. although many do opt for seafood for at least part of lunch! They buy prawns by the box load, and Sydney fish market is a nightmare a couple of days before……..

Then it’s all about family, and there are many phone calls in the early evening to loved ones in Europe, as their day begins!!!

I have to say, it has rained every Xmas Day I have been here! About 4 the clouds roll in and it cools down a bit etc.

Boxing Day here is famous for 2 things: The Boxing Day Test in Melbourne (100,000 people watching cricket) and the Sydney- Hobart yacht race!!

Then everyone is on holiday until after new Year – massive here in Sydney with 1m plus people Harbourside and alcohol free for fireworks – which are spectacular!!!!

How do they celebrate Christmas in Canada?

Many thanks to Karen Percy for today’s guest post.

There are a lot of similar Christmas traditions between Canada and the UK. To get ready for the big event, we’ll put up the tree we just bought from a Christmas tree farm, or better yet, cut one down ourselves at the U-Cut. Almost every house on the block will be covered with lights from top to bottom and you may hear carollers in the street. Christmas Eve, some will attend a church service and, once home, the kids will be giddy and excited, with some being allowed to open just one gift before bedtime. They leave out cookies that mom baked for a cookie exchange or at a cookie-baking party and milk for Santa with a side of carrots for the reindeer.

Christmas morning, the kids are up early, typically opening stocking gifts first with presents to follow. After all has been opened, a breakfast or brunch of eggs, bacon (here called streaky bacon), waffles, and/or pancakes or, our favourite, Christmas Morning Wifesaver will be enjoyed.

Playtime and dinner preparation fill the rest of the day until it’s time for dinner. As in the UK, we all end up with a belly full of turkey smothered in cranberry sauce, mashed potato, and green beans. Christmas dinner will be eaten either on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Boxing Day, (or all three if you’ve got lots of family to visit). You’ll also find stuffing at our tables, but not the pork-sage-bread crumb ball kind. Instead, you’ll find Canadian turkeys traditionally stuffed with a cubed bread-celery-sage type stuffing. Loads of rich, thick gravy will be poured on top. For pre-dinner drinks, you’ll find adults sipping glasses full of rum and eggnog as they admire the gingerbread houses carefully decorated by the kids. And you won’t find mince pies, Christmas pudding or fruit cake for dessert on Canadian tables. Rather, we opt for plates showcasing a variety of goodies like nanaimo bars, sugar cookies, molasses cookies, and lemon bars, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find Cornflake Candy Cane Ice Cream, a concoction of candy cane ice cream covered with a mixture of Cornflakes, brown sugar, nuts, butter and coconut. While not traditional, it has been a family favourite in our house for years.

The rest of the time is spent with family and friends, with some holding an Open House where loved ones can just drop in throughout the day. In our neighbourhood, we would take the party from one house to the next, each house serving different food and tasty cocktails whilst the kids are at home enjoying their new toys, babysat by one of the local older kids who make a fortune for the happy party parents upon collection. Boxing Day is a different story. It’s similar to Black Friday in the States where products are heavily discounted. Some camp out and wait for hours for the stores to open so they can get the best deals.

You can find Karen at Kaper Creative

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How do they celebrate Christmas in South Africa?

This is a guest post from my lovely husband, Ian.

Christmas in South Africa is celebrated in different ways, as you would expect from a country with such cultural diversity.  The main differences are between white “European” and black “African” celebrations.  However, what they all have in common is the fact that Christmas is a holiday in the summer, as South Africa is in the Southern hemisphere.  It is one of the main holiday seasons for local people, and children have a month of school holiday.  This means that the only snow is on Christmas cards, with normal Christmas weather being hot and sunny.

santaWhite South Africans celebrate in ways that are familiar to us in Britain, reflecting the fact that the country was a British colony for many years.  People decorate their houses with fir trees, colourful lights and decorations.  They might even use cotton wool around their windows – this is as close as they can get to a “white Christmas”!  The most distinctive decorations are the beautiful South African flowers, which are in full bloom at this time of year and give a fantastic colourful look to the festive season.  Children hang their stockings up, hoping to get gifts from Father Christmas.

As in Britain, Christmas is a time for getting together with family and friends for meals and parties.  Christmas dinner is often roast turkey or beef, with mince pies and plum pudding to follow.  While the food is familiar, the difference is that most people eat Christmas dinner outside in the sunshine, and many even have a “braai”, or barbecue, a much-loved part of South African culture.  Many people make the most of the summer weather by heading into the countryside for picnics, swimming in lakes, family sports or visits to game reserves in some areas.  Some families even like to go camping over Christmas.

In rural African communities, celebrations are a mixture of Western and local traditions.  Church services and family celebrations are more important than the more commercial aspects of the festivities.  In small villages, the whole community gets together to celebrate, and the women join forces to brew beer and prepare food for everyone.  Traditionally, though, the men cook the meat to show that they have provided for their families.  Singing and dancing are a very important part of the festivities.  Boxing Day is when gifts are normally exchanged, and tend to be practical items rather than luxury goods – household products for adults, school books or clothes for children.

No matter what cultural tradition South Africans come from, Christmas is a special occasion, and an opportunity to spend enjoyable days with family and friends, making the most of the wonderful summer weather and beautiful countryside.

Ian works as a Blue Badge Tourist Guide and as a German to English translator. Even though I could be accused of being biased, I have to say that he is excellent at both! If you don’t believe me, book a place on his Tolkien coach tour in January and see for yourself!

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Who or What is La Befana?

According to Italian traditions, the three wise men knocked on the door of an old witch-lady and asked her for directions to Bethlehem. They told her about the birth of baby Jesus, and asked her to go with them. She told them that she was too busy.

Later, some shepherds knocked her door and asked for directions. They also invited her to go with them, and again she said she was too busy. Later still, she saw a beautiful light in the sky and regretted not going with the wise men or shepherds. She decided to go after them, and so she packed up some presents that had belonged to her own baby who had died, and she went to find this special baby.

However, she lost her way and never did make it to Bethlehem to see Jesus. Italians say that she is still looking for him. On the 11th night (5th January) she flies around on her broomstick searching for baby Jesus. Every time she passes a house with children, she slides down the chimney and leaves presents in their stockings, just in case he is in that house.

la befana - an Italian witch on her broomstick

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