If snowflakes and fir trees don’t seem quite right for a Southern Hemisphere Christmas, how can you spruce things up for your family? Visit local nurseries and see what kinds of native conifers might make a good traditionally shaped Christmas tree; branch out with native species that flower in December, such as New Zealand’s much-loved pohutukawa; or get busy in the shed and knock up a Chrissy tree out of recycled pallet timber (check Pinterest for inspiration). Next step: how are you going to decorate it?
For many of us, Christmas dinner is marinated in tradition; you’ll provoke a riot if you skip the family’s favourite dishes. But since you’re making a special effort, why not incorporate some native foods into the menu? Imagine the zest finger limes or bush tomatoes would add to an Aussie feast. Or in New Zealand, there’s native watercress, spinach and other delicious peppery greens.
The great thing about Christmas in our part of the world is that the weather’s usually fantastic! Plenty of families are out there camping near a beach or river, or in the bush. Southern or alpine parts of the country are a lot warmer—it’s the perfect time of year for picnics, hiking, mountain bike rides or canoeing. And if you really need to escape the heat, there’s always caving. Whatever the activity, remember to bring enough water and to tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
Hit the beach
Nothing says Christmas holidays more than a game of beach cricket with all the aunties and uncles and cousins. Or maybe for your family it’s beach volleyball or just frolicking in the waves. Swim between the flags, “slip slop slap” and bring enough drinking water. If it’s blazing hot, organise your beach outing for early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when it’s cooler.
If you really have a hankering for those northern winter habits, visit an ice-skating rink! But the southern alternative is sand dune sledding. All you need is dunes of sufficient height and steepness and something to sit on while you slide down. Your sled or board will need an upturned nose and a slick underside. A boogie board or sheet of cardboard might even do the trick. There are a number of commercial operations around Australia and New Zealand nearby suitable dunes that offer board/toboggan hire.
Fruits of your labour
Cherries and stonefruits are surely the most Christmassy of fruits Down Under, not to mention sweet, juicy mangoes from North Queensland! Apples, berries, figs, lychees and rambutans are also in season this time of year. Do a little web-searching and see if you can find orchards in your area that offer “pick-your-own” services to the public. It’s a surprisingly fun family outing and a good opportunity to teach kids where their food comes from—not to mention that they’re more likely to eat food that they picked and prepared themselves.
Carols by candlelight
The story goes that Norman Banks, a sports commentator from Melbourne’s 3KZ, was walking home late on Christmas Eve, 1937, when he spotted an old lady through her window, sitting up in bed and singing along with Away in a Manger on the radio. That glimpse sparked an idea and the next Christmas Banks hosted what was probably the world’s first outdoor Carols by Candlelight event. Every year, all over Australia and New Zealand, the public is invited to similar celebrations held in cities and small country towns. It’s a fun night out for all ages, a community bonding event and an all-too-rare opportunity for Aussies and Kiwis to be reminded of the miracle of the Baby born in a farm shed.