The last Christmas I spent in Australia was in 2010. My first European Christmas occurred the following year, and was in fact my first time in Europe at all.
A friend from school was living in Germany at the time, working as a rocket scientist, and had extended an open invitation to anyone who wanted to visit her. I had planned to go to the UK after New Year’s anyway to have trial lessons and suss out schools before auditions the following year, and was easily persuaded (and in turn easily persuaded my parents) to extend the trip by a few weeks.
In that first week of questionable, alcohol-fueled life decisions in Germany, the Rocket Scientist introduced me to the BFGD, or Big Friendly Giant Dutchman. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone that tall at that point in my life. He arranged a brief sojourn in Amsterdam for us, including seeing a concert at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ.
In a nice bit of symmetry (which I always interpret as the universe telling me I’m doing the right thing with my life), I recently performed at that very same music hall as an intern with the Nederlands Kamerkoor. Right before boarding a flight to bring me back to my first Australian Christmas since that European holiday in 2011.
Since moving to the Netherlands, I’ve had many people ask me what Christmas is like in Australia. Some even question whether it happens at all! (Answer – yes, we have Christmas. We’re in the southern hemisphere, not on Uranus.) Basically, the essentials remain the same: family, food, presents, food, not working, food. But there are a few key differences, namely:
Seeing as we’re on the other side of the world, our Christmas occurs in the middle of summer. We still sing the traditional carols like Jingle Bells, they just make no sense. The Christmas holidays are part of the longer summer holidays, and so the family get togethers can be huge, as everyone is free to travel to whichever relative lives closest to the beach.
2. Salad and seafood
Many families still do the traditional roast ham, turkey and chicken as part of the Christmas lunch or dinner, though more often that not these are served cold rather than hot. But where we Australians really come into our own is with the salads – the more unusual the flavour combinations, the better. Seafood is also a pretty important element on many Christmases now – why eat turkey when you can have prawns?
3. Presents on the 25th
I’ve always found the European thing of opening presents on Christmas Eve really strange, not realising that this is the more “authentic” tradition. But for us (or at least my family), Christmas Eve is just a large feast and then filling stockings and putting remaining presents under the tree. Christmas morning is when you open the gifts.
Trifle is hands down the most important aspect of Christmas in my family. For those poor deprived souls who have never experienced trifle, it is a pudding made from layers of sponge cake soaked in jelly, fruit, custard and cream. My grandmother was always in charge of making the Christmas trifle, and it would appear that since her passing, the recipe has become a thing of legend. No fewer than four children and grandchildren claim to have been taught the secrets of the trifle at her knee, yet all disagree on crucial aspects of the recipe. I personally believe that I alone know how to make the real thing, as in fact my last Christmas in Australia was also my grandmother’s last Christmas, and I made not one, but two trifles under her supervision. I’ve tried to make two trifles in The Hague, neither successful. But I might head back this time armed with Aeroplane Jelly and some crushed peanuts…..third time lucky!
Merry belated to Christmas to anyone reading, and Happy New Year!