Not all celebrations end on Dec. 25

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Today many Americans have put their tree out on the curb with the trash, officially kissing Christmas goodbye.

But in Australia, the celebrating continues with Boxing Day. This is the British tradition based on days gone by when maids and servants, who worked Christmas Day, would take the day after off and receive gifts from their masters.

Australia is part of the Commonwealth of Nations, one of 53 independent sovereign states that formerly were colonies of the United Kingdom and still recognize the Queen of England as their monarch. Other sovereign states include Canada and the Bahamas.


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Not only is it Boxing Day, but many people in Australia are jetting off for their summer vacations. The school year runs from March to December, so it is summertime in the Land Down Under and children and adults alike have that breezy, relaxed attitude of those who know they have three glorious months of sun and fun ahead of them.

That demeanor, said Shane Foster, headmaster of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, is perhaps the biggest difference between Christmases here and there. People are more at ease because they realize they have plenty of time to spend with friends and family. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, it stays light until 9-9:30 p.m., and in a country that has a minimum of four weeks of vacation a year for employees, they really do have all the time in the world, he said.

Foster said while he was growing up, people had few Christmas lights as decorations because they were expensive and not easy to come by. Also, because it was summertime, the trees were fairly dry and adding warm lights would be a fire hazard. Instead, they used lots of ornaments, colored crepe paper and tinsel to trim the tree. Speaking of trees, no wiry, fake plastic creations for the Aussies.

&uot;We’d go out in the Bush and cut (our) own little Christmas tree down,&uot; he said.

Instead of a newfangled tree stand, they simply stuck the tree in a garbage can filled with dirt and water.

Some 20 percent of Australians are Catholic and another 20 percent or so are Anglican, so many people attend midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Because it is summer vacation, lots of people are visiting the beach and churches near the coastal areas can be filled with the visitors.

That is a fond memory for Foster, as is when they would throw open the church windows, letting the salt air and smell of summer waft in during the service.

Foster’s family traditionally rose at 4:30 a.m. Christmas Day, but the children were not permitted to open gifts until after everyone had a cup of tea. Then, his mother would hand out presents, one by one, to each of the five children in his family. The process could take nearly two hours, he said.

Then they would have toasted ham sandwiches, play with their toys and get ready for church. The noonday meal would be the main meal of the day, and would be a two or three-hour feast featuring hot turkey and cold ham. Also, because they were near the ocean, it included lots of seafood, such as oysters and shrimp.

As it was a special time of year, his mother would splurge on gourmet cheeses – camembert and brie – as well as glazed fruits, peanuts and cashews. Australians, too, indulge in the traditional English-style Christmas pudding with money hidden inside. Foster said they also enjoy pavlova, which is a type of meringue with fruit and creme.

Thanks to the warm weather, &uot;A lot of people eat outside as much as they can,&uot; he said. And after the meal, everyone would take a nap.

Even after the tea, the presents, playtime, mealtime and a nap, Australians still have some four hours or so left of daylight, so many of them go to the beach on Christmas Day. As kids, Foster and his siblings could not understand the American TV shows they watched. Children would get bats and bikes for Christmas, but they couldn’t use them because it was cold outside. Aussie youngsters, on the other hand, would get new flippers, surf boards and the like, which they could promptly take out to the ocean and use.

&uot;Recreation in Australia is very, very important,&uot; Foster said.

These days, even if he can’t play in the ocean Christmas day, Foster tries to keep some of his childhood traditions going. He, his wife, Polly, and daughters Minka, 17, and Chloe, 13, get up early, have tea and toasted sandwiches. The noonday meal is actually a little closer to 2 p.m., and he is the only one who eats seafood.

Though he prefers the milder climate of Virginia because it reminds him of home, Foster and his family spent this Christmas in Wisconsin, where his wife was born and raised.