Christmas in Australia

Overview of the role of Christmas in Australia

Christmas tree in Sydney's Martin Place, December 2021

Christmas traditions in Australia, like Christmas in New Zealand, have many similarities to British, Irish, American and Canadian traditions, including traditional Christmas symbols featuring winter iconography. This means a red fur-coated Father Christmas or Santa Claus riding a sleigh, songs such as "Jingle Bells", and various Christmas scenes on Christmas cards and decorations. However, the timing of Christmas occurring during the Southern Hemisphere's summer season has resulted in the development of some local traditions as a result of the warmer weather.[1]


The first Christmas celebrations in Australia have their roots in late 1788 and were introduced by convicts of the First Fleet, who arrived in Sydney Harbour early the same year. From the 19th century onwards, the tradition of erecting Christmas trees, the sending of Christmas cards and the display of decorations spread throughout Australia.

Since that time, Christmas in Australia has remained an officially observed holiday and is celebrated as a traditional summer-time occasion.

Traditions in common with New Zealand

An Australian Christmas dessert pavlova garnished with strawberries

The traditional Christmas tree is central to Christmas decorations, and strings of lights and tinsel are standard. Decorations appear in stores and on streets starting in November and are commonplace by early December. Many homeowners decorate the exterior of their houses. Displays range from modest to elaborate, sometimes with hundreds of lights and decorations depicting seasonal motifs such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, or nativity scenes. Particular regions have a tradition for elaborate displays, and attract a great amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic during the Christmas season. This is despite the longer days, resulting in sunset occurring after 8 p.m. in areas with daylight saving.[2]

Most workplaces conduct a "Christmas Party" sometime during December, but rarely on Christmas Eve itself. As many people take their holidays between Christmas and New Year's Day, and many workplaces completely close for that period, these parties are effectively an end of the year or break-up party and frequently feature little or no reference to Christmas itself. Likewise, schools, TAFE (vocational training), and universities break for summer holidays. Schools typically end in the week before Christmas, to recommence in late January or early February. Following Christmas, many churches will change their evening meetings to a less formal format, while many hobby clubs also suspend or alter their meetings in this period.[citation needed]

In the lead up to Christmas, many businesses and residential houses will be decorated with Christmas lights and arrangements. It is common to drive around of an evening to look at lights from the car, or for families to walk the residential streets to see front yard displays. Some local councils will hold street light competitions, and maps are regularly posted highlighting the best street light displays.[3][4]

On Christmas Eve, the children are told, Santa Claus[5] visits houses placing presents for children under the Christmas tree or in stockings or sacks which are usually hung by a fireplace. In recent decades many new apartments and homes have been built without traditional combustion fireplaces, however with some innovation the tradition persists. Snacks and beverages may be left out for Santa to consume during his visit, often milk and cookies, or a beer. Carrots are also commonly left for Santa's reindeer. The gifts are opened the next morning, on Christmas Day.[citation needed]

Families traditionally gather for a Christmas Day lunch. Traditions include prawns, oysters, decorated hams, roast turkey, roast chicken, salads and roast vegetables. Christmas crackers are pulled before eating. More recently, as appropriate to the often hotter weather of the day, it has become popular to serve local seasonal produce such as cold meats, seafood and salad.[1] Similarly, dessert also includes a mix of traditional winter Christmas food (such as plum pudding with brandy butter, fruit mince pies, and trifle) alongside local traditions such as pavlova,[6] and fresh fruit such as berries and kiwifruit.[1] Candy canes are a popular confectionery for the children's table during the Christmas period.[citation needed]

Christmas by Michael Bublé re-enters the album charts every year at Christmas time until the new year, generally reaching number 1 or the top 5.[7] Similarly, "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey re-enters the singles charts each year until the new year.[citation needed]

As Christmas falls in summer, televised Christmas specials are not a large part of Australian Christmas traditions, unlike in the United Kingdom, in which it is one of the most important days for television ratings. Television ratings in Australia are not taken during the summer and schedules are mostly filled with repeats of old programs or previously cancelled shows. Some locally produced programs have a Christmas special, though often it will be shown early December and not on Christmas Day itself. Many television stations rerun Christmas-themed films in the weeks leading up to and including Christmas Day, such as It's A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, The Polar Express, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas and various film versions of A Christmas Carol.[citation needed] Outdoor activities such as street cricket or swimming are popular ways to spend Christmas Day.

Traditions specific to Australia

"The average Australian Christmas" cartoon by Livingston Hopkins (c. 1900) – click to enlarge.

Some Australian songwriters and authors have occasionally depicted Santa in "Australian"-style clothing including an Akubra hat, with warm-weather clothing and thongs, and riding in a ute pulled by kangaroos, (e.g. Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris). There are also a small number of popularly recognised original Australian Christmas songs, including Paul Kelly's How to Make Gravy, Colin Buchanan's Aussie Jingle Bells and Tim Minchin's White Wine in the Sun but these depictions have not replaced mainstream iconography.[8]

The tradition of sending Christmas cards is widely practised in Australia. The price of a Christmas postage stamp is lower than that for a standard letter; senders are required to mark the envelope "card only" when using the lower priced stamps.[9] In recent years the tradition of sending Christmas hampers has been increasing popular over the past 20 years, with many companies now gifting clients and staff.[10]

Christmas Day and New Years Day are public holidays in Australia, along with Boxing Day. (Technically, South Australia celebrates Proclamation Day rather than Boxing Day, but has the holiday on 26 December to provide uniformity with other states).[11][12]

Local traditions

A float in the 2008 Norwood Christmas pageant depicting Father Christmas' sleigh on top of Australian-style historic buildings

Australian Capital Territory

Canberra hosted a Christmas in July winter festival in 2023.[13] Some local markets also host Christmas-themed markets during December.[14]

New South Wales

Carols in the Domain took place in Sydney on the Saturday before Christmas Eve until 2015.[15][16] Since 2016 it has been held on the Sunday before Christmas Eve.[17][18]

Special events for international tourists away from their families are held on Bondi Beach in Sydney. These may involve a turkey barbecue and such humorous stunts as Santa surfing in to appear to the crowd.[citation needed]. seven

South Australia

A popular tradition celebrated in Adelaide is the Adelaide Christmas Pageant. This parade is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting crowds of over 400,000 people. Begun in 1933 by the department store John Martins, the pageant is staged in early November every year, usually on a Saturday morning, marking the start of the Christmas season. It comprises a procession of floats, bands, clowns, dancing groups, and walking performers, all culminating in the arrival of Father Christmas.[19] At the terminus of the pageant Father Christmas proceeded to the Magic Cave in the store (the event is no longer sponsored by a department store, and from 2019 the pageant finishes at the Adelaide Town Hall). Smaller scale pageants are also held in regional centres.

South Australia does not have a Boxing Day holiday. Rather, the weekday following Christmas Day being the Proclamation Day holiday. Christmas Eve, from 7:00 pm to midnight is now a Public Holiday.[20]


Hobart begins its festive season with the Myer Hobart Christmas Pageant in November, which features floats and music.[21] Launceston celebrates the lighting of the Christmas tree at Brisbane Street mall in late November.[22]


Carols by Candlelight is a tradition that started in Melbourne in 1938 and has since spread around Australia and the world. At the event people gather on Christmas Eve, usually outdoors, to sing carols by candlelight in a large-scale concert style event. The Vision Australia's Carols by Candlelight which takes place at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on Christmas Eve, is televised nationwide and it has become a tradition for many Australians to watch the performance.

Western Australia

The Perth Christmas Pageant has been run in the central business district since 1972. It is organised by Seven West Media.[23]

Between 1999 and 2016, the City of Perth ran an annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Since 2017, it has been replaced with the Christmas Lights Trail, in which various Christmas-themed light displays are put around the City of Perth. The event runs from late November to either late December or early January.[24][25]

Christmas music from Australia

Title Composer / Lyricist Year published Notes
First Hymn for Christmas Day James Johnson 1840s Composed for Saint James Church, Van Diemen's Land[26]
Christmas Present Polka John Howson 1852 Cover Art show pioneer lady with pudding [27]
All my heart this night rejoices Charles Edward Horsley 1862 [28]
Hymn for Christmas-Day James Johnson 1862 [26]
Our Australian Christmas Song Ernesto Spagnoletti 1863 [29]
Christmas In Australia George Tolhurst 1864 Lyrics celebrate southern hemisphere summer Christmas
Christmas Quadrille Richard Herz 1864 biography unknown - music printed in Melbourne [30]
Victorian Christmas Waltz Cesare Cutolo 1866 no lyrics[31]
Christmas Anthem Paolo Giorza 1870
Song Of The Angels Charles Sandys Packer 1883
Oh, lovely voices of the sky Alfred Pumpton 1890
Star of The East Augustus Juncker 1890 [32]
While all things were in quiet silence Henry John King 1899 Protestant school master - setting of Solomon 18:14 King James Bible
In The Cathedral George Savin De Chanéet 1900
Yuletide Gavotte John Albert Delany 1900
Nine Christmas Carols Arthur Rivers 1904 Sheet music sold eighteen thousand copies [33]
My Little Christmas Belle Joe Slater and Ward McAllister 1910 [34]
Australian Christmas Carol Joseph Summers 1908 Captures the sound of St Georges Perth Cathedral Bells
Star Of The East August Juncker 1910 [35]
Eleven Carols Arthur Massey 1910 unclear if these tunes are original or arrangements of existing songs [36]
The Christmas story in carols Arthur Rivers 1912 [37]
Bush Christmas Carol Jessie Penfold 1912 Western Australian
A Christmas Hymn Joseph Furphy (Tom Collins) & Arthur Chanter 1914 [38]
The Night Of Fear Is Over Fritz Hart 1929
Carol of the Birds William G. James / John Wheeler 1948
The North Wind (Christmas Day) William G. James / John Wheeler 1948 AHB #246 / Together in Song #322
The Three Drovers William G James / John Wheeler 1948
Hurrah For Father Christmas Christian Hellerman 1952
Six White Boomers Rolf Harris & John D. Brown 1960
Aussie Jingle Bells Colin Buchanan 1992
How to Make Gravy Paul Kelly 1996



Wikimedia Commons has media related to Christmas in Australia.
  1. ^ a b c "Spreading around the Christmas cheer". The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 December 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  2. ^ "Sydney, New South Wales, Australia — Sunrise, Sunset, and Daylength, December 1987". Retrieved 27 December 2019.
  3. ^ "Christmas Lights in Australia". Christmas Light Search. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  4. ^ "Christmas Lights in Australia". NSW Govt Tourism Visit NSW. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  5. ^ "Letters from Santa Claus your Kids will love! Santa Claus Letters". SantaMail. Archived from the original on 19 December 2011. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
  6. ^ "Christmas in Australia". Retrieved 22 December 2011.
  7. ^ "Michael Buble is top of Christmas pop again in Australia". 22 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Where is all the Australian Christmas music?". The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  9. ^ "Christmas Stamps". Australia Post. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  10. ^ Premium Christmas Hampers, First Class Hampers; Since 2002, Christmas Hampers Australia. "Christmas Hampers". First Class Hampers. Retrieved 16 September 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ "Australian Government – Public Holidays". Archived from the original on 4 January 2015. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Proclamation Day in South Australia in 2019". OfficeHolidays. Retrieved 27 December 2019.
  13. ^ "The Xmas in July Festival takes you to a French inspired Food, Wine & Winter Market". Xmas in July - Festival. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  14. ^ "Haig Park Village Christmas markets are open on Sunday". The Canberra Times. 20 December 2023. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  15. ^ "Carols by Candlelight defines the Aussie Christmas on the couch". The Conversation. 23 December 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  16. ^ "Carols in the Domain". Sydney A to Z. Archived from the original on 6 January 2014. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  17. ^ Knox, David (23 August 2016). "Carols in the Domain moving to Sunday". TV Tonight. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  18. ^ "Carols in the Domain". Carols in the Domain. 17 December 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  19. ^ "National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant". Retrieved 27 December 2019.
  20. ^ "Public Holidays: Public holiday dates". Government of South Australia. Archived from the original on 19 December 2015. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  21. ^ "Myer Hobart Christmas Pageant". City of Hobart. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  22. ^ "Lighting of the tree set to dazzle eventgoers". City of Launceston. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  23. ^ Elton, Charlotte (12 December 2020). "Festive spirit in full swing as Perth families celebrate 49th Alinta Energy Christmas pageant". The West Australian. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  24. ^ Emery, Kate (17 November 2017). "Perth lights trail signals brings Christmas cheer". Perth Now. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  25. ^ Caporn, Dylan; Baker, Emily (14 November 2017). "Perth's Christmas tree lighting ceremony scrapped over safety fears". The West Australian. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  26. ^ a b "20 'First hymn for Christmas Day'".
  27. ^ Howson, John, 1819?-1871 (1852), The Christmas present polka / composed by J. Howson, J. Howson{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  28. ^ Horsley, Charles Edward, 1822-1876, All my heart this night rejoices [music] : Christmas hymn / composed by Charles Edward Horsley, C.E. Horsley{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  29. ^ Spagnoletti, Ernesto (1863), Our Australian Christmas song, Alonzo Grocott, retrieved 17 September 2019
  30. ^ Herz, Richard (Richard F.) (1864), Christmas quadrille, Printed and published for the proprietors, by Robert Stewart at the Herald Office, retrieved 29 September 2019
  31. ^ Divall, Richard; Quaife, Merlyn; Wood, John Bolton; State Orchestra of Victoria (2009), Australia unite! : the road to federation, Naxos Digital Services/ABC Classics, retrieved 19 September 2019
  32. ^ Juncker, Aug. W. (August W.); Rogers, W. R. Russell (1890), Star of the East, A.W. Juncker?, retrieved 17 September 2019
  33. ^ Rivers, A. R. (Arthur Richard), 1857-1940 (1904), Nine Christmas carols / by Arthur R. Rivers, s.n., retrieved 20 September 2019{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  34. ^ "My little Christmas belle [music]".
  35. ^ "The Star of the East". National Advocate. Vol. 7, no. 73. New South Wales, Australia. 31 January 1896. p. 2. Retrieved 19 September 2019 – via National Library of Australia.
  36. ^ Massey, Arthur. (1910), Eleven Xmas carols, W. H. Paling & Co, retrieved 24 October 2019
  37. ^ Rivers, A. R. (Arthur Richard) (1912), The Christmas story in carols, H. J. Diddams & Co, retrieved 17 September 2019
  38. ^ "State Library Victoria - Viewer".
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