How Christmas in Australia has changed over the years

Written by Aimee Sics for Australian Seniors.

For many people who grew up in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, Christmas was a simple affair. The tree would be decorated with ornaments (the same ones every year) and strings of bright tinsel. On the big day, a morning church service or mass was on the cards, followed by the opening of presents (often stuffed in an old pillowcase) and a big, hot lunch.

Now, much of the beauty of an Australian Christmas is in the varied ways we celebrate, with a shift from British and Irish traditions to today’s celebrations that reflect our changing demographics. Through it all runs a uniquely Australian narrative – sun, surf, prawns, and trying to stay cool in the sweltering heat.

The lead-up

Festivities tend to kick off earlier these days, with parties to attend, last-minute panic present buying if the online delivery has not arrived, and a frantic trip to the fish market on Christmas Eve to obtain the all-important seafood. Also on the shopping list: citronella (perhaps the true scent of an Australian Christmas), ice for the esky, some fresh cherries, and a box of Cadbury Favourites.

We still set up a tree but decorations change each year and, perhaps sadly, today there is barely a Christmas card in sight (you cannot put an email on the mantelpiece). Although we still get in the mood with traditional carols, they are more likely to be performed by Bublé than Bing. Let the younger ones take charge of the playlist and you will also hear Paul Kelly’s How to Make Gravy, one of the greatest Christmas songs of modern times.

On the menu

Forget stuffy hot lunches and plum puddings – we have become more seasonally appropriate and culturally inspired. The focus is on seafood, but there is also a triple-smoked honey-glazed free-range ham on the table, and a barbecue on the go. On the side, are show-stopping Asian-style salads, quinoa creations, and impressive desserts such as brown sugar pavlova or berry roulade.

Fun in the sun

There has been a shift from snowy scenes to surf – or river or pool, depending on where you live – in our collective consciousness. From backyard cricket using wheelie bins as stumps to surfing Santa in boardshorts, we are pretty much walking around barefoot and in our bathers all day. Then we fall asleep at 3pm exhausted from the heat.

The aftermath

Remember those childhood trips to the coast in the old Holden? Boxing Day still sees a mass exodus of cars hitting the highway, but now it is in a jam-packed SUV, with bikes on the tow bar, and screens in the back seats to keep the kids quiet. 

For those staying put, there is ham sandwiches, air-con, and the Boxing Day Test in 75-inch high definition. A quiet peace descends – until a week later when we do it all again to ring in the New Year.

Hitting the road for a holiday around Christmas? Cover your vehicle with Seniors Car Insurance