Celebrating the festive season in the southern hemisphere is a sun-soaked departure from the winter-centric symbolism typically portrayed this time of year. Down under, our holiday season boasts its own distinctive and enchanting iconography. Yes, “Beach Santa,” and bbqs are recognizable mascots of summer Chrissie, but the real essence of warm weather holidays is much richer and broader. It’s a time for family gatherings, leisurely backyard feasts, blissful vacation escapes, and cherished traditions of embracing the outdoors, whether it’s swimming, playing, or simply unwinding.
Every detail, such as the native flora, quality of sunlight, culinary traditions and vivid textures of these regions, contribute to a recognizable aesthetic that defines year-end festivities in the Southern Hemisphere. Not limited to Christmas and New Year, these festivities also embrace a diverse tapestry of cultural and religious observances from around South America, Southern Asia, Oceania, Australasia and their diaspora, including Diwali, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, and Hanukkah. Each of these occasions adds its own vibrant brushstroke to the southern sunny holiday season.
Christmas celebrations can look different from family to family and culture to culture. Unlike in North America where the main event tends to be Christmas day, in many countries Christmas eve is the big night, which leads to a relaxed (ahem, maybe hungover) Christmas day. In Latin America this is known as “Noche Buena,” with its many regional traditions and meals. In Argentina, Andrea Fernandez’s family “always has a late dinner (around 10pm), which then spills over to midnight when we’d go to the roof to watch the neighbor’s fireworks! We chose to exchange gifts at this time over champagne cheers.” Some families may also go to mass at this time or take celebrations out onto the streets. “Someone (my uncle) will definitely bring the guitar out.”
Sunrise hits early on Christmas so the day starts bright and early for Australians. Christmas breakfast tends to be fresh, light and bright. Once the household is up, for Western Australian Reece McMillan, mornings begin with fresh fruits accompanied by ham and cheese croissants while sitting out back in pajamas. “Xmas presents are in a big pile, and it’s basically a couple of hours of eating, having a drink, talking shit with the family, and playing with the younger kids in the sun.”
The Very Long Lunch
Christmas lunch is often the main meal of the day with leftovers being picked at well into the evening. Unless you’re sweating out a roasted ham indoors, the family luncheon is usually held al fresco on verandahs or back yard.
“Usually I have a family lunch made up of a few kilos of fresh prawns and a selection of summer salads. My mum makes a great pavlova that everyone always eats too much of,” says Sydney’s Kara Riley. And if you’re prepping for the Christmas long lunch, be sure to offer lots of salad options. “Last year I made 8 different salads,” adds Adelaide’s Gillian Vann.
Roast lamb, turkey and chicken are also common Christmas lunch foods, as are good old stodgy commonwealth staples such as Christmas pudding and mince pies.
We have Christmas lunches that seriously make you question your sanity sometimes.
Hitting the Beach, Pool or any DIY Water Feature
For those lucky enough to be beach-side on Christmas Day, “the day will invariably include good wishes and greetings from other beachgoers, Santa hats or reindeer antler headbands, and the ubiquitous thwack of a cricket bat,” adds Perth’s Angela Lumsden.
If there’s no beach, hanging by the pool or running through sprinklers out back are mainstays for beating the Christmas heat. “I have strong memories of my dad rolling out long plastic sheets and making water slides for my cousins and us.” Port Lincoln’s Rob Lang recalls.
In Argentina, Christmas day will usually involve a late start and most definitely a barbeque. Probably a day in the pool cooling off from the heat. There’s usually games with the kids and lots of leftover cheese.
“After Christmas lunch we’d always head to the lake to walk off the champagne, ham and scorched almonds and try not to drown swimming afterward,” Genevieve Ross remembers from Christmas in New Zealand. “And really, just getting outside and enjoying the sun is a central characteristic of Kiwi summer holidays. When I think of Christmas, I don’t think of Christmas trees and presents, I think of the perfect day of eating, relaxing and having fun with my family.”
Most businesses schedule annual closures Christmas through early-mid January, so with kids out of school for the summer break and parents on vacation, it’s an extremely popular time to travel domestically and overseas. Campgrounds fill up, vacation rentals book out and people hit the road in search of sun, surf and sand. So with virtually whole nations on vacation, you don’t have a choice whether or not to be on vacation too.
“Christmas for South Africans is the roadtrip season, when we all head to the coastal towns to spend time with friends and family relishing in the hot sunny weather and long lazy days. We head to the beaches, hike in the mountains, enjoy sunset drinks and hang out around a braai (barbeque.)”
For more inspiration for those looking to reflect the way the festive season looks and feels around the Southern globe, explore our Sunny Seasonal Greetings collection.