A world of festive tastes unites on Christmas Day

South African-born Mariane Eloff is looking forward to Christmas.
South African-born Mariane Eloff is looking forward to Christmas. Warren Lynam

CHRISTMAS in Australia is all about sizzling barbecues by the beach and sweaty backyard cricket.

But our rich migrant population also has brought ancient customs and traditions to our doorstep.

While Christians from around the world may celebrate the season in different ways, one theme is universal: Christmas is all about family and community.

South African-born Mariane Eloff and her husband Christo said that while many of her compatriots had adopted Australian customs, her family still observed the traditions of their homeland at Christmas.

Mariane, 51, said their family's Christmas Eve was celebrated with a barbecue that would include Boerewors, (Afrikaans for "farmer's sausage"), steaks and chops.

A snack platter also would include biltong - a delicious type of beef jerky.

She said the adults opened their presents at midnight while the children ripped off their wrapping paper early Christmas morning.

"We normally go to church around 8am - this is a compulsory thing with us," she said.

"Lunch is normally cow tongue with a sour sauce.

"This is delicious."

Mariane said lunch, which also included turkey and lamb, would end with malva pudding (similar to sticky toffee pudding) and peppermint crisp tart.

"The tart is to die for," she said.

Multicultural Council of the Sunshine Coast president Mel Concepcion said the Philippines was a very family-orientated country, especially at Christmas.

Mel, 54, a Filipino by birth, said the onset of cool seasonal weather in the Philippines always signalled the festive season was near.

"It's all about the birth of Jesus, of course, and advent preparation," Mel, of Noosa Heads, said.

"It's in the middle of Filipino hearts. (But) you can feel the changes because of the climate - the energy is so different.

"Everyone is jolly. Everyone is happy. Everyone has a smile and is looking to share."

Mel said food was always at the centre of the celebrations.

"There is always roast pig on the spit to share with the family and friends, spring rolls, fried rice and Christmas cakes," she said.

"It's all about giving and sharing."

Mel said Filipino children would knock at neighbourhood doors, sing carols and receive small gifts.

"You open up your heart and embrace everybody that comes to the door," she said.

As a self-funded charity worker, Mel coordinates aid packages to the Philippines and her most recent efforts targeted the impact of Cyclone Bopha which hit the southern part of the nation earlier this month.

"We can't do great things in this life. We can only do little things with great love," she said, quoting Mother Theresa.

The Greek Association Sunshine Coast president Michael Alexander and treasurer Steve Doulgeris said Greeks in Australia had adapted their traditions and cultures to fit their more laid-back Aussie environment.

They believe they now have the best of both worlds.

Steve, 64, said he remembered Christmas Eve as a child on the Greek Islands when he heard pigs squealing as they were slaughtered in preparation for the Christmas Day feast.

"In Greece, Christmas is in winter and it's very cold and pork is an ideal meat for that time of the year," he said.

"But for us, pork in the middle of summer was a no-no."

Steve said a typical Greek Christmas dinner in Australia would consist of lamb stuffed with rice, lemon, shallots, mint and other herbs, then baked in the oven on a slow heat for six hours.

Athens boy Michael, 77, said he had grown up with stuffed turkey on the Christmas dinner table.

Church is still very much a part of the Greek community's Christmas.

Maroochydore Uniting Church provides Greek Orthodox Church services to the point where a very English Thomas Peacock recites his sermons in Greek - despite not being fluent in the language.

In Greece, presents are traditionally opened on New Year's Day but lucky Greek children in Australia have Christmas presents "delivered" by Santa Claus (Saint Vasilis) on Christmas Day.

Michael said that while Athens was suffering in the current economic climate, at least one Greek tradition had remained the same: children going from house to house singing carols similar to America's Halloween trick-or-treating.

"The wealthier you are, the more they sing," he said.

"Still, it is a religious holiday. Still, it is a happy holiday - never mind the horrible situation they are in."



Afrikaans: Geseënde Kersfees

Philippines: Maligayang Pasko

Greek: Kala Christouyenna


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Topics:  christmas community culture holidays lifestyle religion spirituality

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