Imagine a holiday backdrop of sun and surf, where heavy hot meals of turkey with stuffing are replaced with cold snacks and freshly-caught seafood…that’s Christmas down-under in Australia!

People in northern hemispheres often forget that in Australia the Christmas holidays are celebrated in the middle of the Australian summer, so the natives traditionally enjoy their festivities with beach activities and warm-weather events.

In big cities throughout Australia there is a tradition of caroling by candlelight on Christmas Eve, which originated in Melbourne in 1937. People spontaneously gather in one of the city’s parks to sing and listen to Australian Christmas songs and other carols shared throughout the world. While the Australians may enjoy joining in to sing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” many have never seen snow in their entire life so the Australian version of Jingle Bells gets its rousing local flavor by beginning with “Dashing through the bush.”

Christmas feasting is normally a lunch enjoyed on the beach or in the yard…and over the years has evolved from the traditional British Christmas meal to a more weather-appropriate lighter fare featuring barbeques and salads. These Christmas picnic-style celebrations start early in the day and continue until the sun sets on another gloriously sunny and warm Australian summer day.

Of course some things are universal – Santa’s visit to deliver gifts to good little boys and girls, the exchange of presents with family and friends, and special Christmas church services celebrating the birth of Jesus. Twinkling holiday lights adorn homes and commercial buildings, and locally-inspired decorations featuring eucalyptus and other native plants festoon doorways. As the sun sets on Christmas Day the Australian skies are lit by fireworks displays that will be repeated as the country welcomes in a new year on New Year’s Eve.

Boxing Day on December 26th is a special holiday in Australia, often centered around watching – in person or on television – the Boxing Day Test Match, a favorite cricket event, or the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race which starts in Sydney Harbor on December 26th and concludes in the capital of Tasmania five days later.