As the weather begins to warm in Australia, we’re all ready for a break.
This is the antipodean silly season: a time of tuning out from the work-a-day grind to indulge in summer barbeques and end-of-year work parties. It’s a chance to gather together with family and friends, consume copious food and drink, and exchange gifts and good cheer.
For many in Australia, it’s a time of year that is synonymous with Christmas. This is despite recent census data that points to our declining affiliation with denominational Christianity and increased secularity.
In 2021, almost as many Australians identified as having no religious affiliation (38.9 per cent), as identifying as Christian (43.9 per cent). This is alongside a rise in the practice of other faiths and a growing number of first and second-generation migrants in the country.
Altogether this tells us that Australia is becoming more religiously and culturally diverse than ever.
With this multicultural and interfaith reality of modern Australia in mind, here are some of the diverse ways we can celebrate this summer.
Bodhi Day – 8 December and 30 December 2022
Held on the eighth day of the twelfth month – with a variation on the exact day depending on whether lunar or westernised calendars are used – the occasion celebrates the day that Siddhārtha Gautama (Gautam Buddha) achieved enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi tree.
The day is marked by meditation, chanting of sutras (Buddhist texts), reflection on the Buddha’s teaching, and doing good works.
Hanukkah – 18 to 26 December 2022
The annual festival of light celebrates Jewish resilience and identity.
Beginning on the 25th day of Kislev in the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah (Chanukah) marks the eight days that the oil burned in the Temple restored by the Maccabees after the Jews’ defeated the Greek-Syrians around 165 BCE.
The festival is celebrated by the ceremonial lighting of the eight-candled menorah and eating oily foods including latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts). Although a minor festival in the Jewish calendar, this traditionally wintery festival takes on a summer twist in Australia with a range of outdoor carnivals and light displays that bring together and celebrate the Jewish community.
Noche Buena – 24 December 2022
Christmas in the Philippines is said to be the longest celebration of the season in the world.
Beginning with Advent – four Sundays before Christmas Day – the celebrations continue through to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.
The highlight of this extended celebration is the Christmas Eve dinner known as Noche Buena, Spanish for “good night”. Following Misa de Gallo – midnight mass – Filipino families gather to welcome Christmas Day with full stomachs, eating a feast of dishes like Christmas hamonado through the night.
An Aussie Christmas – 25 December 2022
The Australian variation on Christmas sits within a long-standing practice of reinventing Christmas traditions to local cultural contexts.
The Christmas we know today has adapted traditions from ancient Roman Saturnalia as well as more Germanic and Norse Yule celebrations, among other sources. Some traditions hang around, while others disappear over time – one TikTok producer laments the absence of horse skeletons from today’s celebrations.
For Australians, some of the largest differences come thanks to our warmer climate and increasingly secular approach to the celebration.
At the top of what makes this celebration unique is our food – summery seafood and pavlovas feature alongside the more wintery staples of baked hams and Christmas pudding to give our celebrations an Aussie flavour.
Orthodox Christmas - 7 January 2023
For many Orthodox Christians, Christmas comes in January.
This delay is down to a difference in dates between the older Julian and younger Gregorian calendars (the latter being introduced in 1582). In the conversion from Julian to Gregorian dates, December 25th falls on the 7th of January, meaning that some denominations – including the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Russian Orthodox Churches – have an extra wait to celebrate Christmas.
As well as a later date, Orthodox Christmas is often accompanied by a period of fasting in the lead-up to the Feast of the Nativity, which marks Christmas Day. The fast, which begins on November 15th or 28th, depending on which calendar is used, lasts for 40 days.
Through this time, those fasting refrain from eating meat, dairy, egg products, and eventually anything solid on Christmas Eve until the appearance of the first evening star.
Thai Pongal - 1 to-18 January 2023
This Tamil Hindu harvest festival – also known as the Festival of Thanksgiving to Nature – begins on the first day of Thai, the first month in the solar Tamil calendar.
The four-day celebration marks the start of a new year in which the old is discarded – on day one, Bhogi, unwanted items are burned – and welcoming the new. The festival is celebrated around the world, with a highlight being the preparation of Pongal (traditional rice pudding).
Midsumma – 21 January to 12 February & World Pride 15 February to 5 March 2023
2023 ushers in a summer of love for the LGBTQI+ community in Australia.
Celebrations kick off with Midsumma in late January, which has become a fixture of Melbourne’s cultural summer landscape. Now in its 36th year, the Midsumma festival runs for 22 days, bringing together queer artists and communities for a mixture of free and ticketed events that celebrate queer culture.
The Sydney World Pride seeks to centre serious issues around human rights and first nations queer identities in its program, but there will also be plenty of parties to celebrate all facets of queer identity.
Lunar New Year – 22 January to 5 February 2023
Lunar New Year or Spring Festival marks the end of winter and the start of a new year in the Chinese lunisolar calendar.
During this time ancestors are honoured and family and friends gather to feast and exchange gifts. The festivities also include colourful decorations and fireworks, as well as lion and dragon dances. The celebrations conclude on the Full Moon with the Lantern Festival.
Invasion/Survival Day – 26 January 2023
Since 1935, January 26 has officially marked Australia Day, commemorating the colonisation of this country.
The fraught history of this act and the day that celebrates it has more recently seen the date become a contested space, with many now marking January 26 as a time for mourning and showing solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
With talks well underway for an Indigenous voice to parliament at the Federal level and the Treaty in Victoria, 2023 will see the conversation about changing the date once more at the fore as we reflect on the nation’s past and what future we hope to build for Australia.
Ramadan – 22 March to 20 April 2023
Keeping our fingers crossed for a long summer, we edge into autumn with the Islamic celebration of Ramadan beginning on 22 March 2023.
The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan is a 30-day period of fasting that is followed by the three-day celebration of Eid-al-Fitr – the “Feast of the Fast-breaking”.
The month of Ramadan marks the start of the prophetic mission of the Prophet Muhammad and the revelation of the Qur’an. During the fasting of this month, practising Muslims past the age of puberty reframe from eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse between sunrise and sunset.
This period marks a period of restraint and thanksgiving before the celebrations of Eid, which include gift-giving, feasting, and charitable works.
Summer in Australia gives us a chance to explore and celebrate the diversity of our country – while enjoying some of the amazing food that many of these festivities have to offer. But it’s also a great opportunity to get to know some of Australia’s rich cultures and communities.
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