Though often inspired by English food and customs, the Christmas traditions of the Commonwealth Nations reflect the diverse climates and cultures of the countries themselves. Today we're looking at two Anglophonic nations that are poles apart in their climate, to discover what Christmas traditions take place in cold Canada and sunny Australia.
The often-snowy land of Canada is similar to the UK in many ways - from a shared language in many parts of the country, to the use of a decorated fir tree at Christmas time - but this beautiful Commonwealth also has its own set of traditions.
The Boston Christmas Tree
Owing largely to its cold climate, Canada has the perfect conditions for growing fir trees, and does so in abundance. Whilst many families have a real tree to celebrate the festive season, one Canadian fir in particular is very special. Every year since 1971, the city of Nova Scotia has sent a large fir tree to Boston, Massachusetts, in thanks for their aid during the Halifax Explosion of 1917. The tragic incident took place on December 6th of 1917, and destroyed much of Nova Scotia. After hearing about the explosion via telegraph, the authorities of Boston sent urgent supplies and staff, and were crucial in aiding survivors and restoring the city. Out of gratitude, Nova Scotia sent a Christmas tree to Boston in 1918, a practice that was revived in 1971, and continues to this day.
Toronto's Santa Claus Parade
One of Canada's less serious Christmas traditions is Toronto's annual Santa Claus Parade. Started in 1913, this fabulous festival of floats is now one of the oldest annual parades in the world. With 25 floats, almost 2,000 participants and half a million spectators in the streets, this festive tradition is an incredibly popular way to kick-start the Christmas season.
Finally, like many nations worldwide, Canada has its very own collection of festive sweets and treats to enjoy. A Victorian recipe reportedly developed as it passed from the French to the English and back again, barley candy is one of the most popular sweet treats in modern Canada at Christmas. An amber-coloured boiled sweet made from sugar and barley water, Canadian barley candy is moulded into festive shapes, such as Santa, reindeer and Christmas trees, often with incredible detail for a piece of confectionery.
Equally ubiquitous at this time of year are the gorily-named 'Chicken Bones': pink, cinnamon-flavoured sugar tubes filled with dark chocolate. First invented in 1885, these delicious sweets are still hand-made by the same family-run company.
Christmas in this sunny commonwealth may have started with British settlers, but the differences between England and Australia are numerous when it comes to festive fun. Often a twist on typical British celebrations, Christmas 'Down Under' reflects the myriad of cultures, the warm climate, and the national obsessions that distinguish Australia.
In Australia, December 25th arrives at the height of summer, so Christmas is less white snow, and more white sands. The first Christmas here was celebrated at Sydney Cove in 1788, which included a church service and a traditional meal for the officers. Meanwhile, the convicts of the island were left to their rations of bread - hardly a festive feast. For decades following this, Christmas was celebrated in the typical British way, with a hot meal of meat and vegetables, though in recent years, many families have opted to enjoy a barbecue, cold meats, or other food more suited to the hot weather. Often Christmas dinner is now enjoyed outside, with many meals taking place on the beach.
Outdoor carol services
Thanks to the summer heat, many sermons and carol services take place outside. Often in local parks or gardens, the celebrations draw in large crowds, who come to sing in festive spirit. The most famous of these is Melbourne's 'Carols by Candlelight', which takes place at the Myer Music Bowl on Christmas Eve each year. Started in 1937, the carol service draws in thousands of people, each holding candles as they sing, and is broadcast on international television.
Boxing Day cricket
Australia is renowned for its cricketers and cricket-lovers, and Christmas Down Under is the perfect time of year for the sport. The Boxing Day Test match has been a long-standing tradition in Melbourne, having begun in 1950. Each match takes place against a touring national team, and every four years, the Boxing Day Test is played as part of the Ashes series against England.