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13 signs you're in Australia for Christmas

Santa surf
Santa checks out the surf at Burleigh Heads.

ABC Local: Damien Larkins

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The weather's warmer, Santa stops for a surf, and the Christmas feast looks a little different - all signs that your Christmas has a distinctly Australian flavour.

1. You spend a summer's night singing Christmas carols in early December

Carols by Candlelight
The classic Carols by Candlelight scene at Hobart's St David's Park.

Flickr CC: Anthony Tong Lee

'Carols by candlelight' events take place around the country in December, bringing communities together to sing Christmas songs outdoors, by candlelight.

It's a tradition that began in Australia and became popular in the 1930s. While the biggest carols by candlelight, Carols in the Domain, in Sydney, now draws over 100,000 people and some of the biggest names in Australian music, many smaller gatherings take place around the country - schools, churches, towns and local councils meet in parks to sing, often raising money for a good cause.

2. The weather's warmer than you might expect

Santa
Santa stops for a rest outside a property in Western Queensland.

ABC: Blythe Moore

If you're used to images of northern hemisphere Christmases, you might find Australian celebrations a little different - there's no snow for a start.

It's summer in the southern hemisphere and in Australia December temperatures are often above 30 degrees Celsius. Schools and universities are on their summer break and many workplaces close to mark the period. 

3. Even Santa needs to cope with the heat

Santa surf
Santa checks out the surf at Burleigh Heads.

ABC Local: Damien Larkins

A summer Christmas means heading to the pool or the beach in an effort to keep cool - yes, even for Santa. Many Australians head to the coast for summer holidays, staying in holiday houses, with friends or family, or perhaps staying at a caravan park. If you're not near the coast, inland rivers become popular spots between December and February, as people of all ages try and escape the heat.

In Burleigh Heads on Queensland's Gold Coast, the local surf club hosts a 'Santa Surf' to raise money for the homeless, and show that despite living in cooler conditions for most of the year, Father Christmas knows a thing or two about catching a wave.

4. Driving around looking at Christmas lights gets everyone feeling festive

Decorated home
Mackay, QLD, residents Kim Ellis and Mark Davis outside their brightly decorated home.

ABC: Sophie Kesteven

It seems everyone loves a good Christmas light display - the more over the top, the better. Most Australian cities have at least one street or suburb where residents go all out with light displays in their front yard, and it’s a common Christmas pastime for families to drive around town to take a look.

Even in the outback you can find homes decorated with extravagant lights, like the handmade display found on this farm outside Warnertown in South Australia's Mid North, or the 'Christmas Wonderland' found in the South Australian town of Cummins.

5. For many, Christmas is a time for religion

Marra Creek
The church in the tiny Marra Creek bush community in NSW, received a new bell last Christmas.

Audience submitted

Even though an increasing number of Australians identify as having no religion, church services are still a staple of the festive season. Many Australians attend church on Christmas morning, or midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

Clergy predict there will be standing room only at many Christmas services around Australia. The Catholic Parish of Bundaberg sees numbers swell from about 1,200 worshippers on a normal weekend to more than 3,000 attending Christmas services.

6. Seafood is a summer Christmas lunch staple

Christmas seafood blitz starts in Sydney
Sydney Seafood Markets organisers expect to move about 55 kilograms of prawns per minute in the Christmas rush.

AAP: Dan Himbrechts

Christmas Day is all about family and food. People get together to exchange presents and meals are often shared outdoors, and will usually include a barbeque (BBQ) also known as a 'barbie'. Seafood is often on the menu, and prawns are a Christmas specialty suited to the hot weather. 

Seafood markets in capital cities do a roaring trade, staying open for up to 36 hours straight in the lead-up to Christmas Day.

At the Sydney Fish Market alone this year shoppers are expected to buy more than 700 tonnes of seafood, including 200 tonnes of prawns.

7. There are a few other unique foods too

Wattleseed and desert lime pavlova by Emma Haskin.
Wattleseed and desert lime pavlova by Emma Haskin.

Nicole Lee: ABC Local

Summer fruits like cherries and watermelon will feature in many Aussie Christmas spreads, as will the traditional pavlova - or 'pav' - a cake made from egg white, topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

Despite the hot weather a few northern hemisphere traditions still remain, like Christmas pudding or a roast, but the Australian Christmas has become increasingly multicultural and might also include Thai salads, Chinese dumplings, Italian cakes and German biscuits.

And for city slickers who may wonder where their Christmas lunch comes from, ABC Rural has toured farms in New South Wales and Victoria to find the source of each dish and side serve.

8. The more crazy the Christmas hat, the better

Xmas hat
87-year-old Ros Bailey poses with her Christmas reindeer antlers at a lunch in Toowoomba.

ABC: Peter Gunders

While the weather might keep knitted Christmas sweaters in the cupboard in Australia, a Christmas meal is not complete without all manner of crazy hats.

The most common is the paper variety found in paper and cardboard Christmas crackers, but all varieties are welcome, including Santa hats and reindeer ears. The latter can also be found sticking out of car windows as they drive around in the lead-up to Christmas.

9. No Christmas is complete without a game of cricket

Backyard cricket on Christmas
Gaye Terzioglu's family enjoy a game of backyard cricket on Christmas Day.

Supplied: Gaye Terzioglu

The yearly game of backyard cricket is a tradition in many Australian families. Age, gender, skill and a stomach full of food are no barriers to participation. The equipment can be makeshift, the wickets might be a tree or a drawing on the wall, and rules are often negotiated to suit the venue - for example, over the fence is six and out, but if you hit Grandma's windows, you're out.

Once the festivities are over it's common to spend the day after Christmas (Boxing Day) watching the Boxing Day Test on TV, a cricket match in which the Australian cricket team takes on an international competitor.

10. At the end of the day, it's time for leftovers

Meat
The mark of a great Australian Christmas chef is finding many creative ways to serve leftover ham. 

Flickr CC: skdevitt

Did someone say more ham? After the traditional Christmas feast of meats and vegetables, you'd be forgiven for not wanting to eat for a little while, but for days after you can expect to be dining on 'leftovers', with clever Christmas cooks finding new ways to serve up large amounts of the remaining ham, chicken and pork.

11. The Queen sums up the year on Christmas night

Queen Elizabeth records her annual Christmas message
Queen Elizabeth encouraged people to reach out to the lonely at Christmas

Reuters: John Stillwell

Australia remains part of the Commonwealth, meaning each Christmas night is punctuated by the broadcast of Queen Elizabeth's Christmas Day message. The Christmas speech is one of the rare occasions when Queen Elizabeth, whose role is mainly symbolic, is able to voice her own views without consulting government ministers.

12. Boxing Day = Shopping Day

Shoppers on escalators in Brisbane Myer store.
Both escalators take shoppers up to the first floor at the Brisbane CBD Myer store.

ABC News: Giulio Saggin

The day after Christmas is referred to as 'Boxing Day'. And when you've recovered from all the food and presents, it's time to set your alarm early to join the stampede of shoppers looking to grab a bargain at Boxing Day sales.

It's a day when department stores across the country reduce prices to clear excess Christmas stock, and Australians are happy to 'bag a bargain' with keen shoppers spending more than AU$2 billion on Boxing Day in 2014.

13. The world's best sailors also set off on one of the toughest races

yacht
The Sydney to Hobart yacht race begins.

Flickr CC: Jason Armstrong

Boxing Day also marks the first day of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. This annual event attracts yachts from across the world, taking over 42 hours to complete the 1,170km race.

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