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To most Australians how a meringue-based dessert with crisp crust and soft, light inside, and a colourful topping of hulled and sliced strawberries, kiwifruit, and blueberries, referred to affectionately as a “Pavlova” became part of Australian national cuisine, a traditional celebratory, a favourite Chrissy (Christmas) and holiday dessert, is shrouded in mystery. Oblivious to the fact that the Pavlova was created in honour of the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, during or after one of her 1920s Australian ballet tours. Australia immortalised her visit “down under” with a simple yet exquisite-tasting dessert.
“You cannot have a real Aussie Christmas without a Pavlova,” said Denise Kraus, an Australian medical practitioner in Australia’s national capital, Canberra, and who is herself of Czech-Ukrainian ancestry.
Australia is a nation of immigrants, with many Australians coming from mixed cultural backgrounds.
“There are many immigrant communities who mix old and new traditions, observe the religious traditions, and go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve,” said Kraus.
“We retain the ubiquitous Christmas traditions of our European ancestors who immigrated to Australia, while at the same time also incorporating our own quintessential iconic Australian Christmas traditions.”
“We always have a formal dinner Christmas Eve, with prawns entree, baked fish, fruit salad, and on Christmas Day drive to my husband’s family farm outside Sydney to have our ‘hot’ roast turkey and ham with and baked pumpkin potato lunch, pavlova, and ‘hot’ plum pudding dessert.”
Prawns take centre stage in the Australian Christmas four-day holiday celebration. Australians spend 10 times more on these crustaceans in the Christmas week alone than normally purchased throughout the year. And though many Australians slave over the preparation of a hot turkey roast in 40-degree temperatures, a spread of cold meats and salad is a preferable lighter option.
Sweltering summer heat can make December in Australia scorching hot and humid. It is the middle of summer, and for many Australians the family Christmas lunch is typically held outdoors — centred around those iconic symbols of Australia, the institution of the BBQ, the many iconic sun-soaked beaches, but also favourite picnic spots, with the nation’s greatest Aussie Christmas indulgence, a “slab” (carton) or a “6-pack” of beer presented for afternoon festivities with friends and family, the sport of cricket.
Many Australians also hit the road during the Christmas period and drive the sort of long distances to be with family that Europeans wouldn’t drive in a lifetime.
80 per cent of Australians reside within a 50-kilometre vicinity of the sea and a beach.
“The beach is where Australians still collectively imagine ourselves and our culture, and becomes a place of refuge to escape the hot scorching days of the Christmas period,” said Kraus.
Nevertheless. Australians invoke winter maintaining the strong attachment to the traditions of celebrating Christmas in cold climes, particularly through the singing of Christmas carols in which we dream of a white Christmas, sleigh bells ringing, snow glistening, Frosty the snowman, and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and his very shiny nose.
Australians do enjoy singing carols with great gusto, and outdoor family events like “Carols in the Domain” in Sydney, and at the “Myer Music Bowl” in Melbourne are attended by thousands, and viewed by a large part of the population on Christmas Eve on national television, having become an important part of an Australian Christmas time-honoured tradition for families who sing along to Australia’s best-loved performers and favourite Christmas songs, including our very own Australian-composed Yuletide carols for a true blue Aussie Christmas.
“Christmas gifts are normally opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending how one’s traditional British or European heritage dictated it in our parent’s homelands,” said Kraus.
Australia’s national passion, the sport of cricket, is played everywhere during the holiday season. It is a Christmas ritual to get out cricket bats and ball, erect ad hoc cricket wickets, and for all join in a cricket match, whether on the beach, in one’s home backyard, on ovals, in parks, or outside on the street, usually dressed in Australian national summer garb of a singlet, shorts, and thongs (those Aussie staple summer footwear for the beach, to go down to the local shops, to a barbecue, or just about anywhere).
Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated on the day following Christmas Day in Australia, which for many is just as important as Christmas itself. The day developed when servants and tradesmen traditionally received gifts known as a “Christmas box” from their masters, employers, or customers.
“Boxing Day is more relaxed with barbecue and salad, watching cricket and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, going for a swim, and sleeping in,” said Kraus.