In the land “Down Under,” the beginning of the holiday season entails a long, irritating ride to the beach. On the radio, wildfire updates are a welcome break from the horrendous lyrics of “Aussie Jingle Bells,” which describe Santa—referred to as “Swaggie”—dodging kangaroos as he drives to a barbecue, with a dog named “Kelpie” riding shotgun. In the back seat, my brother rehearses his two lines in the church’s nativity play, where he plays the crucial role of “Wombat #3,” while my sisters complain incessantly about the heat. When we finally arrive at the beach, my mom distributes bucket hats and desperately sprays us with an excessive amount of SPF 70 sunscreen, all in vain. Within the hour, the scorching sun will have burned us to a crisp.
December 25 in Australia is by no means a “white Christmas.” Along the endless stretches of beach, children build sandmen and dress them with seaweed scarves and sunglasses. Teens walk through the streets, chucking rugby balls and wearing nothing but swimsuits. Along Pacific Highway, thousands of high school seniors uphold the annual tradition of dressing as Santa Claus and weaving through traffic on scooters.
When my family moved to Sydney over sixteen years ago, we anticipated a culture shock. However, we did not account for how the way we celebrated holidays would change—largely as a result of the Australian seasons being opposite to those of the northern hemisphere. November no longer consisted of pumpkin picking, warm drinks, and autumn leaves, but rather spring flowers and stress regarding end-of-year exams. By the time December rolled around, tunes such as “Baby It’s Cold Outside” didn’t exactly complement the hundred-degree weather.
My family consistently confronted obstacles in our attempts to bring American holiday traditions overseas. Turkeys were hard to come by and could cost as much as $80. Cutting down Christmas trees was frowned upon, so my dad spent hours searching for a fake one that wasn’t bright pink or resembled a rainbow glitter explosion. Our tradition of making gingerbread houses quite literally collapsed from the humidity, and activities such as sledding, making hot chocolate, or sitting by the fireplace were rendered irrelevant amidst scorching heat waves.
Despite the challenges of celebrating holiday seasons, I found that adapting to the festivities in Australia actually enhanced my perception of what the holidays represented. The notes of materialism that pervade American holidays are largely absent in Australia, which features a notably less consumerist culture. My family’s celebration of Thanksgiving was unaccompanied by Black Friday sales, and therefore came to symbolize our love for American traditions, unabated by trips to the mall. Trends weren’t as foundational to social interactions in Australia as they were in the United States, depriving gift-buyers with easy go-to presents—such as rainbow loom or silly bands—and encouraging gifts that were relatively more sentimental or timeless. Furthermore, family members traveling across the world from America just to see us on Christmas Day reaffirmed the importance of spending time with loved ones during the holidays. With the holiday season came the opportunity for me to spend quality time with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family friends that I had only seen through Skype calls, which proved to be far more meaningful than time spent capitalizing on holiday sales.
Celebrating American holiday traditions in Australia became a means of retaining our culture while living abroad. I was able to embrace the most valued parts of the holidays: the absence of rampant consumerism and the focus on family made the holidays somehow more authentic than they’d ever been. The quality time I spent with family under that scorching sun underscored the true essence of the holiday season.