By Lynda Finn
The image of Santa Claus, snow and winter being part of Christmas is so strong, that it is hard to believe this season is hot and sunny for millions around the world. In fact, it's almost certain that it was rather warm for Jesus too. Shepherds were out at night with their flocks in the open fields, so we know Jesus wasn't born during Bethlehem's winter.
So how do we celebrate down here in the South Pacific -- where Christmas falls in summer? It really depends where you live in that vast area which is the South Pacific. Essentially, we commemorate it in much the same way as everyone else with just a few variations.
Many people now living in Australia and New Zealand originally came from Europe and some still like the traditional roast turkey and ham, with mince pies and plum pud to follow -- a work of determination in 100-degree heat!
Others compromise with lighter foods, an ice cream Christmas pudding perhaps, soak dried fruits in spirits, then press, with ice cream into a pudding basin and freeze overnight.
A favourite dessert is Pavlova, created for the famous Russian ballerina. A six-inch high cake of marshmallow-type meringue, it is usually bought ready made and decorated at home with fresh fruit and cream.
For those who simply can't adjust to a summer celebration, a new tradition has grown up, that of the Mid-Winter Christmas Party, celebrated wherever winter is available in July. With suitably chilly temperatures, out come the hot toddy, cake, and Santa suits. Even the offices will organize official dinners and celebrations.
You see, for some immigrants, Christmas still IS winter, and wrapping up well to sing carols on clear, starry nights: being greeted with mulled wine and mince pies hot from the oven is what it's all about. Christmas in summer is delightful, but if you've spent most of your life revelling in that wonderful anticipation which begins around November and writing cards on dark, chilly evenings before the fire then nothing else will do.
Both Australia and New Zealand (whose Maori name is, Aotearoa The Land of the Long White Cloud) are home to many from the scattered islands of the South Pacific, where the Christian heritage is still very strong and everyone goes to church. So for very many people, it is still, very much a religious observance.
Carols by Candlelight bring tens of thousands, from all backgrounds, to municipal parks where singing and sharing Christmas has become a much-loved tradition.
Every small town and suburb has its own Santa Parade, a procession of floats dressed by community and commercial organizations who collect money for charity and throw sweeties to the children in the cheering crowds.
Foods play an important part in the celebrations and for many in the islands of the South Pacific. The traditional after-church meal, shared on December 25th, is raw fish in coconut cream, taro, bananas, mangoes and a whole variety of delicious summer foods. Often eaten outdoors in temperatures that insist you remain in the shade, it is followed by sports or a nap, depending on age and inclination!
Both Australians and New Zealander love their barbecues and in Aotearoa, lunch can be anything from char-grilled steak or fish to sandwiches at the bach (beach house) where families gather for the whole summer holiday.
If we are very lucky, we may be invited to a hangi, a traditional Maori feast cooked in an earth oven. There is nothing to beat the tender, slightly smoky flavour of pork, lamb, chicken and vegetables cooked this way, the best of Christmas feasts, often followed by a sing-along.
For most of us, it is still family time, so north or south, we're very much alike.
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