For weeks now, everyone we know has been talking about the snow, decorating their trees and shopping for presents. Me? I can’t even tell you what day of the week it is! Christmas feels different when you’re away from family or home, but even more so when backpacking.
Ally’s Christmas in Canada
I grew up celebrating a traditional “White Christmas”. There was always snow on the ground (sometimes too much to leave the house), stockings hanging over the fireplace and hot chocolate. My family decorated the tree with a mixture of handmade and store bought decorations, candy canes and sometimes even popcorn. My brother and I always left milk and cookies for Santa by the tree, and a few carrots for his reindeer. Paper snowflakes hung on the windows and we spent the days leading up to Christmas making snow angels outside. Our wishlists were sent to:
The North Pole
….because that’s his real address. He lives in Canada. Obviously.
I’m not the biggest fan of festive music, but my family would watch lots of holiday films leading up to Christmas. My favourites are National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Serendipity (although that one may not exactly be a Christmas film) and The Santa Clause.
My dad would decorate the front of our house with Christmas lights, and my mum would take my brother and I walking around town to see everyone else’s decorations.
As a child, I thought everyone in the world celebrated this way! Now, as I travel the world and meet new people, I have learned a “White Christmas” isn’t as common as I once believed, and many countries adapt their traditions to suit their December weather.
Christmas differs depending where in the world you happen to be. For example, Santa can look very different. He often has a different name, numerous tales and fables, and enjoys things other than milk and cookies.
Matt’s Christmas in Bournemouth
No one does Christmas quite like the UK. Decorations start going up as early as November (London), and cities all over the country make a big deal of ‘turning on the lights’, with a ceremonious countdown, and celebration after.
Shops and TV adverts basically start promoting Christmas deals in September, which is always frustrating, and takes away from the magic. Christmas music plays on the radio pretty much non-stop, and Christmas films are on TV every night of the week. You end up living and breathing Christmas through all of December, until you reach saturation point on the 25th. It’s mainly about children, but adults also enjoy using Christmas as an excuse to have a good ol’ piss up.
On Christmas Day, over 6 million Brits with bellies full to the brim, will sit around the TV at 3pm sharp, and watch the Queen’s Speech. It lasts about 10 minutes, and recaps the positive and negative things that have happened over the last 365 days. After that, it’s time to get the drinks in (some people start way before this), play some more silly games, and eat your body weight in Quality Street/Heroes/Celebrations (leaving the coconut and toffee ones, obviously).
I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but my home town of Bournemouth does Christmas properly! They say in London you’re always within 6ft of a rat – well in Bournemouth, you’re always within 6ft from a bar. Although that’s complete garbage, and in fact I just made it up, Bournemouth really does have a lot of bars, pubs and clubs, all of which are packed over this festive period. This year marks the first time in 5 years, that the world renown German bar has not made and appearance in the town centre (as seen in our family photo below), and has been replaced by the new Alpine Bar.
Christmas morning is when the kids wake up super early and open their presents (I was always too excited, so my parents would let me open 1 present Christmas eve). The whole family would always go to my parents house for dinner, which my hero of a Mum would cook single-handedly.
We’d open crackers, play charades and laugh at the terrible cracker jokes. Most of us couldn’t cram in any more food if we tried, but we somehow always have room for dessert. My Granny would always make Snowball pudding (it’s a secret recipe, before you ask) and we’d pass the bowls around the table, taking a spoonful each before passing it on to the next person, so the person on the end had an empty plate. It’s silly, but it’s our tradition. Sadly my Granny is no longer with us, so my Mum has taken over Snowball pudding making duty. She says it’s not the same, but I think they are equally outstanding.
I could go on about Bournemouth all day, but the rest of the UK seems to do things pretty similarly. Eat a lot, drink a lot, eat some more and repeat again on boxing day.
Christmas Traditions in Australia:
In schools, children are taught that Santa gives his reindeer a rest when they reach Australia, and he uses kangaroos (or ‘six white boomers’, a popular Australian Christmas song) instead. He also changes out of his winter and into something less hot for the summer heat. If he has time, Santa even tries to catch a wave!
As Christmas falls in Australian summer, the first thing I think of is Olaf in that summer scene from Frozen, where the poor snowman melts on the beach. But, alas, there is no snow here, and many Australians are found celebrating the holidays on local beaches in the heat. Traditional hot food is swapped for cold meats and seafood, and as of 2017, alcohol is strictly prohibited outdoors, due to the pollution and mess left from Christmas 2016.
It is well known amongst backpackers and travellers spending the holidays in Australia, that Bondi Beach is the place to celebrate, and upwards of 40,000 people can be found there on Christmas Day!
Furthermore, on Boxing Day, one of the world’s most prestigious ocean races starts from Sydney Harbour: the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race!
Our Christmas Experience… So Far
Last night, YHA Railway Square hosted an Italian three-course Christmas dinner, where we celebrated with fellow travellers. The tables were pushed together so we could all sit as a group, and decorated with Christmas crackers!
Everyone was feeling festive and got dressed up. We shared drinks, took turns in the photo booth and exchanged Christmas stories from home. At the end of the night, the hostel had presents to give, which we were responsible for handing out!
Around 11:30pm, people were getting very excited for Christmas to arrive. Someone had the idea to go to Bondi Beach, and shortly after midnight, off we went to catch the bus! Roughly 40 of us left the hostel, but only 30 made it to the beach. It was quiet, and no one else was around! The winds were blowing but the water was warm, and some even went swimming!
We headed back around 3am, returning to the hostel rather late. The weather isn’t looking great this afternoon, but we may still head back to the beach again and join in all the festivities. Tomorrow, we’ll go to Sydney Harbour to catch the start of the boat race.
Happy Holidays everyone!
–Matt and Ally