The Australian Traditions at Christmas & Faith Observances at Christmas

Interfaith Christmas Tree

Many faiths have observances around the time of Christmas – this often being the function of the lunar calendar, or fixed observances. As most of these observances began in the northern hemisphere, there is the aura of winter cold, snow, and decorations resembling the cold northern half of the world at this time. Australia, on the other hand, lies under the Southern Cross and frequently has rather warm and hot holidays at this time.


16 December Posadas Navidenas begins (Hispanic Christian)

the annual Posadas Navideñas

 

December 16th marks the beginning of the annual Posadas Navideñas in Mexico. Posada is a Spanish word for “inn,” and the Posadas Navideñas, which recall events leading up to the nativity of Jesus, are a focal point of Christmas traditions in Mexico.

Re-enacting the search for an inn
A local Posada begins with a ritual that re-enacts Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn on their way to Bethlehem.

Traditionally, this manifests as a local street procession, and other times the ritual will take place outside of the house (or event centre) where the party is to be held; with some guests waiting outside playing the role of the pilgrims asking for accommodation, and other guests inside, playing the role of the hosts.

On street processions, participants carry lighted candles along a prescribed route around a local neighbourhood asking, through means of a special posada song, for ‘room at the inn’—knocking on doors along the way, or knocking on the door where the party is arranged. The protagonists of the nativity story are most often portrayed in costume by local children.

Neighbours along the route may open their doors and purposefully refuse Mary and Joseph (in song) until, at the end of the route, a designated house (or sometimes a local church or village hall) allows Mary and Joseph to pass, and a Christmas Posada party ensues there.

Hanukkah – Jewish Festival from 18 December – 26 December 2022

 

 

Hanukkah, one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays, is a festive eight-day celebration that for many people falls during the darkest, coldest season of the year. Also called the Festival of Lights, the holiday brings light, joy, and warmth to our homes and communities as we celebrate with candles, food, family, and friends. Light comes literally, with the lighting of an additional candle each day, and metaphorically, through a newer emphasis on charitable donations and a commitment to the work of repairing the world (tikkun olam) during the holiday.

In History, Hanukkah (alternately spelled Chanukah), meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, commemorates the victory of a small group of Jewish rebels (led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, collectively known as “the Maccabees”) over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and “rededication” of the Temple in Jerusalem. Modern celebrations of Hanukkah focus on family and friends and include the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah (also called a hanukkiyah); singing and playing special songs and games (dreidel); and eating foods prepared in oil including latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), bimuelos (fried dough puffs) and keftes de prasas (leek patties). You can read Hanukkah Prayers and Blessings here.

Yule/Winter Solstice – December 21

Sunrise at the winter solstice, Stonehenge

Our ancestors depended on the passage of times and seasons. And the best way to measure the seasons was by observing the Sun and the Earth’s orbit around it. The winter solstice is the time of the year when the Sun is reborn, announcing a new season.

On December 21, the day is shorter as the Sun seems to stand still on a lower elevation, making the night longer. But, it is a transition period that ushers in a new season of more sunlight. Yule celebrations used to be tied with different pagan traditions, bordering on mythology and culture. Popular notions include the myth of the goddess giving birth to the Sun god. There is also the celebration of the surrender of power from the Holly King unto the Oak King. Plus, the ancient festival of the Germanic people about the Wild Hunt and the god Odin is also around the same time.

All the above form the crust of the Yule celebration. But, as stated earlier, it is even more symbolic in that it helped our ancestors to determine times and seasons. Understanding times and seasons was usually the difference between life and death, food availability and famine, victory and defeat, and many other things. With the introduction of Christianity, the Yule celebration has been linked with Christmas traditions too. It’s thought that December 25 was chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ because it is the renewal period. Yule and Christmas both share certain similarities, and they often overlap as well.

Birth of Jesus
25 December 2022

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Paris OrlandoOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

The Birth of Jesus, sometimes called the Nativity of Jesus – and more often Christmas, is observed by western Christianity on 25 December. Orthodox Christianity celebrates the birth of Jesus on the feast of Epiphany, the 6th of January.

Jesus was born to a woman called Mary who was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter, in the town of Bethlehem. Before Jesus was born, Mary was visited by an angel who told her that she would give birth to a baby and that the baby would be called Jesus, also sometimes known as Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us‘.

In the 13th Century, Saint Francis of Assisi began showing the birth of Jesus surrounded by cattle and shepherds and the star of Bethlehem and this was important in portraying a human image of Jesus that all families could relate to. This was an important development in Christian spirituality.

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa starts on Monday, 26 December and ends on Sunday, 1 January 2023


Kwanzaa is a holiday tradition that is based on the “first harvest” celebrations in Africa. In recorded history, these first harvest celebrations can be traced all the way back to Nubia and Egypt and can be found in cultures all over Africa. While many of these first-fruit celebrations may differ from one society to another, they all had a few principles in common. These principles include people gathering together to celebrate, acknowledging the creator and thanking him for his blessings. a commemoration of the past, a re-commitment to African cultural thought and a time to celebrate community.

The seven days and candles in Kwanzaa represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa (Nguzo Saba):

  • Umoja: Unity – Unity of the family, community, nation and race
  • Kujichagulia: Self-Determination – Being responsible for your own conduct and behaviour
  • Ujima: Collective work and responsibility – Working to Help each other and in the community
  • Ujamaa: Cooperative economics – Working to build shops and businesses
  • Nia: Purpose – Remembering and restoring African and African American cultures, customs and history
  • Kuumba: Creativity – Using creating and your imagination to make communities better
  • Imani: Faith – Believing in people, families, leaders, teachers and the righteousness of the African American struggle

Zarathosht Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathushtra)
26 December 2022 – Zoroastrianism


Zoroaster is famous throughout the world as the principal founder of Zoroastrianism. A pious, noble and compassionate person, Zoroaster was a great messenger of Ahura Mazda and eventually became the Prophet of Iran. The message of the Prophet was simple – lead a high moralistic life that would pave way for immortality and eternal bliss. He also asked people to follow the doctrine of the God of Righteousness, Ahura Mazda.

On the top of Mount Sabatam, Zoroaster experienced Samadhi or communion with Ahura Mazda, the Supreme Lord of the Universe. Thereafter, Zoroaster had prophetic divine visions. Upon conversations with Ahura Mazda, Zoroaster received wisdom in the form of the seven revelations, which turned him into the Prophet of God. He, thence, became the renowned messenger of Ahura Mazda. In his spiritual path, Zoroaster had direct conversations with archangels, who helped him immensely.

After being stunned by the visit of archangels, King Vishtaspwas convinced of the supernatural powers of the Prophet. He made Zoroaster, the Prophet of Iran. This marked the beginning of Zoroastrianism. Right from the king to the queen, chieftains, king’s brother and the father-in-law of Zoroaster, all became loyal and faithful followers of the new religion. With the royal patron at Zoroaster’s aid, Zoroastrianism spread far and wide. Both the masses and classes started believing in the new faith, making it the religion of the Iranian Kingdom.

The success of Zoroastrianism rubbed the King of Turan at the wrong end, resulting in two bitter religious wars between Iran and Turan. In the first war, both the king and his brother, Zarir defeated the enemies. However, in the process, Zarir, a gallant young man, was treacherously killed. In the second war, the King Aryaspof Turandestroyed the temples, killed the priests and burnt the Zend Avesta, but was finally defeated by Ispendiar, the son of King Vishtasp.

While Zoroaster was praying before the altar in the temple of Nush-Adar, with a rosary in his hand, he was attacked by Bratrok-resh, a Turanian. The latter killed the Prophet of Iran with his sword. At the time of his death, Zoroaster tossed his rosary at Bratrok-resh. A fire emerged and engulfed Bratrok-resh, finally destroying him. Zoroaster was seventy-seven at the time of his death.

Christmas Traditions in Australia

Shepparton Carols by Candlelight 2019
Shepparton Carols by Candlelight 2019

Australians live on the world’s largest island, which is also the world’s smallest continent. Most of Australia’s immigrants came from England and Ireland, bringing their Christmas customs with them.

Australia is the Land Down Under, where the seasons are opposite to those in North America. When Australians celebrate Christmas on December 25, it is during summer vacation.

The most popular event of the Christmas season is called Carols by Candlelight. People come together at night to light candles and sing Christmas carols outside. The stars shining above add to the sights and sounds of this wonderful outdoor concert.

Shepparton Carols by Candlelight 2019
Shepparton Carols by Candlelight 2019

Australian families love to do things outside. They love to swim, surf, sail and ride bicycles. They like to grill meals outdoors on the barbecue, which they call the “barbie.”

Families decorate their homes with ferns, palm leaves and evergreens, along with the colorful flowers that bloom in summer called Christmas bush and Christmas bellflower. Some families put up a Christmas tree. Outdoors, nasturtiums, wisteria and honeysuckle bloom.

Christmas festivities begin in late November, when schools and church groups present Nativity plays. They sing carols throughout the month of December.

On Christmas Eve, families may attend church together. Some children expect Father Christmas to leave gifts, and others wait for Santa Claus to visit and deliver gifts.

After opening presents on Christmas morning, the family sits down to a breakfast of ham and eggs. For many families attending a Christmas Day church service is traditional.

On Christmas Eve in families that observe Irish traditions, the father sets a large candle in a front window of the home to welcome Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. The youngest child in the family lights the candle. The family goes to midnight mass and attends church on Christmas Day, as well. Afterwards there are parties and festive visits.

Christmas Day is when families and close friends gather together from all over Australia. The highlight of the day is the holiday midday dinner. Some families enjoy a traditional British Christmas dinner of roast turkey or ham and rich plum pudding doused in brandy and set aflame before it is brought to the table. The person who gets the favor baked inside will enjoy good luck all year round.

Other families head for the backyard barbie to grill their Christmas dinner in the sunshine. Many families even go to the beach or to the countryside and enjoy a picnic of cold turkey or ham and a salad. Father Christmas has been known to show up in shorts to greet children at the beach on Christmas!

Aussie Christmas on the Beach
Aussie Christmas on the Beach

The day after Christmas, December 26, is Boxing Day. This is bigger than Black Friday or Cyber Monday. There are crowds, crush and bargains to be had in stores that open on Boxing Day. It’s always a SALE! Here’s Bourke Street Melbourne on Boxing Day:

 

Boxing Day, Bourke Street Melbourne

 

Interfaith Christmas Tree

 


 

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