Indians celebrating an Aussie Christmas

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Celebrating an Aussie Christmas, as an Indian, can be challenging especially if you’re juggling family tradition and celebrating with friends. However, spreading love, happiness and joy aren’t compromised or forgotten when you’re spending festive celebrations with people you love and care about.

Typically, an Australian Christmas is synonymous with outdoor gatherings, cricket, prawns on the barbie, pavlova, cold drinks, sweltering weather and flies. If you think that sounds like fun, add to it the ego of not burning anything on the BBQ and the fierce competition of how many people can fit into a kiddie-sized inflatable pool to cool off.

However, not all Christmas celebrations are like the one described above. Australia, being home to a multicultural society, has many variations ranging from delectable cuisine to which language the carols will be sung. In addition, those back home in India who celebrate Christmas usually would do so as a mixture of things relevant to their upbringing, location and what they’ve adopted from Western customs. The most common tradition is the lighting of a lamp and placing it on the roof of their house. This signifies their respect for Jesus and symbolises that he is the light of the world. Other popular undertakings are singing Christmas carols and revisiting the Christmas story.

The Hindu and Sikh Christmas equivalent is Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas. The similarities between the two festivals are astounding. Both are the biggest annual celebration to honour gods and God, with lots of symbolism of lights and colourful decorations to showcase new beginnings and bright pathways. Parties are organised with specific foods to salute and recognise the specific religious derivations and rituals. There’s singing and storytelling to illustrate the meaning behind the traditional observances and modern ones to readily connect with current community mindfulness.

It’s no secret that it’s a time of giving, and part of that generosity is the act of giving presents. Lots of gifts are exchanged all over the world, some for reasons of love and others because the marketing campaigns are so good that people can’t help but spend money. This brings the topic around to Santa Claus, the big guy dressed in a red winter suit, whose strong desire is to make sure every child has a gift that instils happiness and joy. Christmas Baba in Hindi and Christmas Thaathaa in Tamil, also recognise the jolly fella’s gift of spreading peace and goodwill.

Indians, here in Australia that observe the annual holiday celebration do so in a variety of ways. One year, I was lucky enough to experience, firsthand, how an Indian family celebrated an Aussie Christmas with their community of friends. I arrived at the designated time of 2 pm on Christmas Eve afternoon, only to find the entire property already full of family and friends. Immediately, I tried to process how one family can know so many people, but it was beyond my comprehension. Then I realised that the house was completely devoid of their furniture except for umpteen tables and chairs up against all the walls and around the boundary fence line outside. I found out later that they moved all their furniture into the spare room.

There were people coming and going for the next 12 hours. The tables were replenished with delicious Indian cuisine for the same length of time. I never talked to the same person twice, everyone was very friendly and genuine in joining the family in celebration. Hats off to respect and love thy neighbour.

I should add that I was the only non-Indian present and most of the food was traditional Indian food. The indoor tables were for the meat lovers, the outdoor tables were laden with vegan and vegetarian cuisine and one table, tacked onto the end under the clothesline, was literally labelled Aussie Food. My host reminded me that their food is quite spicy and the textures were different to what I’m used to, so she made Aussie looking Indian inspired sausage rolls, party pies and fried rice. Steeled with the notion that the food will be bland, the cook’s description, I took a rather large bite of a sausage roll dipped in tomato sauce. For one thing, the sauce was not your typical sweet, raw tasting sauce, it was prepared for hours with about 15 bland spices. The sausage roll was homemade and crammed with about 10 bland spices. So, the combination for me was enlightening to say the least, and appreciated the ongoing flavour sensation hours after I drank all the cold water in the house.

At midnight sharp, an hour’s worth of carols was sung and then prayers. It was an experience I’ll never forget because there were all ages and dialects, friends, family and newbies all coming together to celebrate the tradition and spirit of Christmas.

By this stage it’s 2 am and the host ushered us towards their garage before we were allowed to leave. There she handed out a bucket of food to each family, a take home token of the festivities for our stomachs to match the blessed nutrition we accumulated for our hearts, by simply being together for Christmas. In my opinion, this Indian family had no issues juggling traditional customs during their Aussie Christmas.

Like non-Christian and non-Hindu communities alike, both festivals are celebrated and enjoyed by the other. Most people appreciate the notion of no two Christmases being alike, no matter if you’re single, a couple or family dynamic. This is usually achieved by taking it in turns to have the Christmas gatherings and or planning to celebrate with family and friends intrastate, interstate or overseas (Covid-19 permitting). This in itself keeps the spirit of the celebration alive and kicking, reinforcing the various reasons of honouring Christmas. 

With Covid-19 pandemic remaining a constant threat to travel, health, mental wellbeing, work obligations and general living, things will be a little different this year. Main aspect to remember is that having kept apart, has kept us together. It’s never been easier to keep in touch, with technology’s far-reaching abilities, and with Australia’s easing of restrictions will see many pop up Christmas parties. Christmas did seem to have lost its sheer cheer lustre this year, but that was only temporary. With last minute arrangements being finalised and invitations being sent out, there’s renewed motivation and determination to not lose sight of what’s important, albeit the type of Christmas celebration. So, it’s a chance to spend time together and make lasting, unforgettable memories.

If you’re Indian celebrating an Aussie Christmas this year, don’t forget to bring the sunscreen and a big vessel of your mum’s homemade sweet and savoury dumplings.

By Agata Zema