Imagine arriving on an immigrant ship at Melbourne or Portland in December. After enduring the arduous voyage for months, passengers would have set foot in their new country faced with an Australian summer and then reminded Christmas was just around the corner. My Mortimer family arrived in Melbourne from England on December 14, 1852, just 11 days before Christmas. Having known only a cold and maybe white Christmas and possibly having lost track of the months, they may have felt a little confused.
Judging by the newspapers of the 1850s, however, it seems that the new arrivals embraced the “new” Christmas of clear skies and sun and a chance to get outside and enjoy the day.
On Christmas Eve, 1859, Main Road Ballarat was abuzz with activity.
As well as shopping for ducks, geese and turkey for Christmas lunch, some last minute Christmas shopping could be done at Miss Kitchen’s Fancy Toy Warehouse or Rees and Benjamin Watchmakers and Jewellers.
In Portland, shoppers may have spent Christmas Eve with their fingers crossed for the draw of the Christmas cake lottery at Holmes Confectioners in Gawler Street.
Not everyone was enjoying the new style of Christmas. In 1859, the editor of The Argus lamented that Christmas was not the same in Australia without the snow and mistletoe. I like his prediction that in one hundred years, Australians will have forgotten the “old” Christmas and have given Christmas a new feel with eucalyptus and acacia decking the halls. If only he could see Christmas now as he would see that many of the English traditions of Christmas still exist and we still grapple with the idea of a hot lunch on a hot day, but we just do it anyway. The tradition continues.