Christmas in the middle of summer

Christmas tree baubles from multiple countries.

Christmas for migrants often means a mix of traditions from several places.

We’re coming up for our second Christmas in Australia and, just like last year, as native Europeans, it’s hard to reconcile the time of year with the weather outdoors. If this feels like familiar ground, then you’d be right – I wrote a post about this ‘Tis the season… except it’s not’, this time last year.

I’m revisiting the point though because of an old newspaper article I chanced across which, I have to say, makes my own uncertainty pale with its agonising over a mid-summer Christmas, and concludes that the only thing to do is to move Australia’s Christmas to 25 June. I kid you not.

The article in question is from the Sydney Monitor, dated 26 December 1836 and for any new migrant to these shores, it serves as a reminder of how alien Australia must have seemed to those early European settlers.

A page from the Sydney Monitor newspaper from Boxing Day 1836.

The Sydney Monitor of 1836 had much to say about Christmas in the middle of summer.

It begins: “Yesterday was Christmas-day, and this is St Stephen’s day. Instead of the old English fire-side, with skating outside and shooting partridges among the turnips, or tracking hares amid the snow, we have a torrid heat, rendered still more oppressive by the steam of extra dishes rising in our faces at meal-times and causing the sickly appetite with which we sit down to our Christmas fare, entirely to depart.”

And you’re there aren’t you? A stifling NSW summer’s day but nevertheless with traditions of roast goose or plum pudding that those early migrants found hard to let go of because they reminded them so much of home.

“In the evening, we are gasping for breath, where the mosquitoes and sand-flies worry us at all points – face and wrists, the fine dust from the garden striking to our warm faces and suffusing the room at the same time so that at length we throw ourselves on the mattress and try to forget the ‘merry’ Christmas of New South Wales by getting beneath the mosquito-curtains. Such is Christmas in this colony.”

I love the image that the mossies and flies worrying them at ‘all points’ basically meant at the face and wrists – it’s so revealing of the heavy Victorian clothes they would have been sweating in.

By the end, it has all become too much for the writer: “Let our present liberal-minded Governor, when the next council meets, propose a law constituting the 25th June next, and the same day every year in Australia thenceforth forever, Christmas Day… Then we shall be Englishmen, in this respect, once again; and merry, gladdening, heartsome, hospitable, recreable, delightful Christmas will return to console us for our long exile from the land of our fathers.”

The author foresees the future clearly: “If this law be deferred until the Australian-born be all grown up, and their children after them, a hot Christmas, will be to them, the natural Christmas ; and they will not comprehend a frosty and cold Christmas.”

It’s not clear how the governor responded, nor whether the editorial gained much of a groundswell of support. But it is interesting to note that ‘Christmas in July’ events are fairly widespread across Australia today and that the writer’s predictions about their descendants becoming used to a hot Christmas would come true, negating the need for a change of date.

It’s hard not to feel some sort of sympathy for this first generation Australian. After all, today we can just draw the curtains, turn up the air-conditioning and put on a snow-bound movie if we want a chilly celebration. Those early settlers had no such option, and they sound so desperately unhappy to be so far from home that it puts our own misgivings about a 35-degree Christmas into sharp perspective.

Traditions are what you grow up with, and for Mini- and Max-CBRbound, that will probably come to mean sweltering Christmases with day trips to the beach. For now though, we’ll still be roasting a turkey, Christmas Day prawns can wait a few years yet.

However you spend the day, whatever you celebrate, whatever the season where you are, the CBRbound family wishes you happiness and a sturdy mosquito net.

 

5 thoughts on “Christmas in the middle of summer

  1. Happy Christmas to the CBRbound family! I think it is going to be 31 degrees on the 25th too 😛

    But one year it did snow in Canberra at Christmas. In the 1980’s I think. (So probably don’t hold your breath for a white Christmas any time soon)

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    • I’m a bit late to this one so I’ll just wish you a happy New Year instead. I can’t imagine a white Christmas in Canberra. That really would confound the global warming consensus if it happened again. Mr Pup is suffering at the moment with this mid-30s heat. The other day he collapsed from heat exhaustion in the park so now I’m only walking him in the early morning and today I took him swimming up at Uriarra Crossing. He’d give anything for a bit of snow right now I’d say.

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  2. I love the “gasping for breath” part. My oh my … the writer wasn’t coping with the heat at all. Of course, it could have been a very hot and humid one so I shouldn’t judge.

    As for this fifth or is it sixth (I’ve lost count) generation Aussie, we still do the turkey and ham and plum pudding. Because of the heat, we do the turkey and ham in the barbecue (another reason why you should get one!) which means the oven is only on for about an hour for the roast veggies. We do serve a salad instead of hot greens. BUT to me, we can do prawns or salmon any time of the year BUT roast turkey and ham says tradition, it makes the day feel different, as does the plum pudding. It just wouldn’t be Christmas for me. But, I suspect that as my kids take over Christmas, they, another generation along, will change it. Time will tell!

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    • You know, I read that article and I just thought: ‘Twas ever thus’. First generation migrants are probably always going to have it the hardest. And yes, we did the roast turkey with all the trimmings this year again, but it was quite a mild day, so not too much of a struggle. I’m not sure I’d want the same again this week though.

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      • Yes, Christmas Day this year was just right really. I agree that doing the turkey thing today would not be as much fun. Fortunately we rarely have Christmas Days this hot though they do happen.

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