Christmas is the biggest holiday in Australian culture. We feel the festive spirit in the air with bright beautiful lights, Christmas trees, Santas and carol-singing.
But what do you do at this time of year if you’re from a cultural or religious background that doesn’t celebrate Christmas like most Australians do?
We asked five families from our RMCC community how they celebrate the festive season.
Husain remembers back to his childhood in Iraq.
“I was still young when we were living in Iraq, but I remember there’s one day at this time of year that is celebrated as a holiday. We don’t do all the Santa stuff. Instead our families and people from our community gathered in the mosque to pray together. Afterwards we’d have a huge dinner with our families, friends and neighbours. I remember a whole carpet laid with food and everyone sitting side by side, eating. It’s really fun. My favourite part was that we got to see a lot of our friends. My brother and I were really young, so we didn’t know what to do. We just played around with our friends.
When we first came to Australia nine years ago, I was amazed with how they put a whole tree in the middle of a shopping centre, and had a Santa hanging down from the roof, on a sleigh with reindeers around it.
I was like “wow it’s so cool!”, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!
We (my twin brother and I) used to actually believe that it was real, that that stuff would happen. And we looked at the roof of our house, we didn’t have a fireplace so we had to look over the heater and we thought ‘there’s no way anyone could fit in that!”
Thanh thinks the way her family celebrates Christmas in Vietnam is not necessarily typical.
“My family is Christian, and there are not a lot of Christians in Vietnam; most people are Buddhist. We go to church on Christmas Eve, then go home and have a nice late-night dinner, sometimes roasted chicken and soup, other times seafood. If we lived closer to our relatives, we would have a bigger, more proper Christmas party; but we don’t so we just eat something a little fancier than our usual evening meal.
In Vietnam there are “Christian neighbourhoods” that are decorated with lights, ornaments, Christmas caves and trees during this time of the year.
These neighbourhoods are always packed with non-Christian people who want to enjoy the festive atmosphere. The biggest difference is we don’t believe in Santa or exchange gifts. We do exchange Christmas cards with friends though!
Coming to Australia, it’s nice to see how Christmas, one of the most important festivals in my religion, is hugely celebrated here, probably because Australia has a lot more Christians. Back in Vietnam, I always felt somewhat “different” because of my religious background, and here – though I still feel “different” – it’s no longer for the same reason. I miss going to church and having Christmas dinner with my family, but love seeing Melbourne filled with decorations and feeling the holiday spirit wherever I go.”
Eva says moving from Iran to Australia changed what her family does in the holiday season.
“When my family and I moved here from Iran, we didn’t celebrate Christmas for the first few years because we’re not from a Christian background. But when my twin sister Amy and I started attending school in Australia, there were a lot of Christmas-related activities – Christmas is a big deal here! And we got really into it, so we went home and asked our parents if we could celebrate Christmas. And finally they were like “Okay let’s do it!” after seeing how much Amy and I wanted it. Since then, every year we get a Christmas tree and decorate it together and give each other little presents.
Another thing that we love doing is going to houses with Christmas decorations.
We just love all the lights so much and that’s something you can appreciate even if you’re not from a Christian background.
This season always makes me feel happy because we’re all on the same page about being off work and spending time with family and friends.”
Vivian explains that Christmas in Uganda involves a big feast!
“We go to church in the morning on Christmas Day, and have a big family lunch afterwards. When I say “big” I mean it’s a feast. We don’t even have Christmas breakfast because of how big lunch will be! We start prepping and cooking on the 24th, so by Christmas morning half the dishes are already made. We wake up early to cook the rest, and then we’re ready for the Christmas feast.
Our Christmas food includes traditional local food like matooke, which is a special kind of banana; or chapati – an African version of naan. We also have different types of chicken, beef, fish and barbeque, all types of coloured vegetables and salad, pumpkin, Irish potatoes – steamed, boiled, mashed and baked. We also have cakes and wine – because it’s Jesus’ birthday!
We always have a lot of guests, at least 20 people. I invite some of my Muslim friends to the party too – the more the merrier!
It’s not all about the traditions, it’s about family and having a fun time with the ones you love.”
Kano explains why his family’s biggest annual celebration is not Christmas.
“We do not celebrate Christmas because we’re Hindu and we never celebrated Christmas back home, but we do like the fact that everyone is on the holiday and everyone is in a happy mood. For us Christmas is not a religious set of things or the traditions that other people do. It’s more so “everyone will be home, let’s spend some time together, let’s go away for road trips or camping”. We see Christmas as a restful time, a time for us to enjoy our company and calm ourselves for the next year.
For Hindu religion, our equivalent to Christmas is Diwali. It’s the celebration of victory of the good over the evil, and the festival of lights.
It’s roughly in October but there’s not a fixed date. We celebrate it by putting a lot of lights around the house. We cook a lot of food, our family comes over and eats, and sometimes we do a puja, which is a prayer. The festival lasts for 4-5 days. There are different activities for each day, but the biggest thing is everyone dresses up, comes together and celebrates with fireworks, food, and by painting on the ground with colours as a sign of welcoming the good. For my mum and dad this is our big celebration, this is when they’re happy and they know the festival season’s here.”
Though we celebrate this time of year in different ways, our celebrations all involve coming together with people we love and sharing food together. On behalf of our entire team, we thank you for being part of our RMCC community and wish you a wonderful festive season, however you celebrate it.