Like many other ex-Brits, I have experienced both the English Christmas and the Australian variety. Not only that, but at least five of my English festive seasons were ‘enjoyed’ if that is the right word, during World War Two! So it would be pretty difficult to imaging two events, centred round the one festival, which could be more different from each other.
Wartime Christmas in England was pretty austere to say the least, everything was rationed and a lot of items weren’t even obtainable at all, I never tasted a banana or orange from 1939 until 1946. Christmas dinner was a chicken (a rare delight in those days), and turkey was unheard of, as was ham and many of the other delights we take for granted at this time of the year. Mum used to save as many ration coupons as she could in the months leading up to Christmas, and she always managed to put on a good spread, though looking back now I wonder just how she managed to do it!
Of course, in England Christmas is in the middle of winter, often with snow on the ground and always cold. Very few houses had central heating then and warmth around the home was obtained from a small coal fire in the living room and a couple of Valor paraffin heaters dotted about the house, all backed up by stoneware hot water bottles in all the beds. Hot water for tea, etc., (and for filling the hot water bottles), was from a kettle on the gas stove – hot water systems hadn’t arrived in our part of the world yet, and if you wanted to take a bath, the law of the time stated that the water in it should be no more than four inches deep, though I imagine that would have been a fairly hard law to police, given that most bathing was done in private!
Even chocolate and sweets were on ration, as were biscuits and nuts, and I won’t even go into the amounts of butter, sugar, meat and other essentials we were allowed, yet funnily enough the amounts must have been worked out pretty carefully because virtually everyone was fit and no one was grossly fat. People survived pretty well, considering the conditions!
Come to Australia nowadays and see shops packed with Christmas fare from late October onwards. Feel the temperatures rising as each day passes. Everything anyone could possibly want to make the holiday more enjoyable is available wherever you look; turkeys, monster hams, prawns, crayfish, all sorts of exotic and local fruits, booze by the ton, presents from ten dollars to ten thousand dollars. If you can afford it, it’s there for the picking.
Temperatures are often up into the forties, but some families still stick to the traditional Christmas lunch of roast turkey with all the trimmings, followed by hot Christmas pudding and hot mincemeat tarts! They usually drink red wine with this fare and enjoy a port or a brandy when they’ve finished. I’ve never heard of anyone actually dying from this punishment, but a lot of folks must come pretty close sometimes, with double heatstroke, external and internal!
The more sensible go to the beach for the day or the local park and enjoy a barbeque of prawns and ham with salad all washed down with ice-cold Aussie beer and followed by a monster fresh fruit salad and a dip in the ocean! Australians really know how to relax and have a good time.
All in all I’ll go for the Aussie Christmas any time, it’s a period when everyone can really enjoy themselves, especially as the year’s major holiday happens now, the end of December and all of January being the equivalent of August school holidays in England.
And it’s so wonderful to see that brilliant sun above you, day after glorious day, usually over the whole Christmas period and beyond!
Have you had multi-national Christmas experiences? Where has your favourite Christmas ever been?