We have been in Australia since September 2015. Until this point I had only experienced the festive period, albeit in its numerous guises, in Great Britain. December 2015 was my first taste of a Christmas abroad and it felt very different. This year, Christmas 2016, I am back in Blighty and the frantic Yuletide traditions are in full swing. Dashing up and down motorways to see everyone has given me just enough space to reflect on my favourite rituals from both sides of the globe.
Chrissie or Chrimbo?
My mother would say Christmas and only Christmas. No Xmas or other abbreviations will do, but I am rather fond of a British Chrimbo. In Oz they celebrate Chrissie, and Secret Santa gives way to Kris Kringle. Santa seems a bigger personality that Father Christmas, as the American influences seem a little stronger than those from Europe. What’s in a name though? Essentially it is the same festival and despite the best efforts of the corporate sugar giants, the nativity still holds its rightful place in both countries.
Hot or cold Christmas?
Without a doubt one of the most confusing contrasts between Christmas in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere are the seasons. In the UK, we are walking in a winter wonderland right?! Well, in the South it is more like a grey, damp bleakness, beautiful in its own way. The first time I stepped out into the cold winter’s morn this year I was struck by the beauty of those empty trees. In contrast the gum trees and banksias of Australia are green even in winter.
On the other side of the world, Summer has just getting into full swing in Australia. The suburbs are a wash with colour and the days are getting both longer and warmer. It was thirty eight degrees as we stepped onto the plane in Melbourne.
Meanwhile, in the cobbled high streets of southern England, the sun sets as people hurry to finish their Christmas shopping lit by hundreds of twirling fairy lights and the bright stalls of European markets. The decorations in Melbourne are mostly just brightly coloured as they are viewed in bright sunlight.
So what has this got to do with wine?
The company and surroundings that I find myself in have a large influence on my choice of wine. The most obvious difference is the allure of hot, sweet, spicy mulled wine on a cold night. The last thing you might think about when ‘baking’ in the sun. Booze is seen as a way to ‘warm your cockles.’ Hot toddy’s, coffee or chocolate laced with rum or brandy and of course warm eggnog, feature heavily.
Vast quantities of sparkling wine, mostly prosecco, are enjoyed in both countries. However, in the UK I find myself turning towards red wines to accompany the Christmas feast. In Australia, a crisp white wine or ice cold beer is seen as a refreshing way to cool down on a hot summer day.
The food is quite different too. No, those poor turkeys still get stuffed in both countries, but the methods by which they are cooked an be a tad more inventive out of England. I had never heard of brining before leaving the UK (soaking your bird in secret concoctions of sweet and salty water before cooking) and there were even stories of barbecuing or deep frying the poultry beast!
Like the UK, turkey is just one of many meats that gets served at Christmas, but barbecues feature most heavily in their preparation in Australia. A spit roast for the barbie and meat injectors to embalm the meat with its own gravy are essential accessories for the household. Seafood is also a main future of both countries, but the king prawn ring and smoked salmon found in the UK, is substituted for oysters, huge ocean crayfish and enormous crevettes in Melbourne.
Roasted vegetables and gravy and found on both sides of the planet but, in Aus more emphasis is placed on the meat, with the main green component coming from a host of summer salads. Of course all of these subtle differences have a bearing on the wines you serve with your dishes.
In the UK cold nights are warmed with dark or creamy drinks. The traditional Christmas feast will often start with bubbles, and why not? I love to drink bubbles as an aperitif and for my family, at home or abroad, Christmas is always a celebration. This year, my bubbles of choice were British. The wine industry in the southern part of England is becoming well known for producing sparkling wine of excellent quality.
The main event
The main event, is often accompanied by what ever wine you simply like the best. This year, with my new Antipodean experiences of wine, I would recommend a lighter red with the turkey. An Australian Pinot Noir or a French Burgundy, maybe? This wine should be fruit driven with a bit of spice to complement any fruit in the stuffing or a few salty pigs in blankets. A little later I would have a little tawny Port to go with the cheese and Christmas pudding.
In Melbourne, bubbles feature strongly too. As there are often large quantities of seafood to start, this is especially perfect. Again I would keep them local though, opting for Victorian brands from the Yarra and King Valleys.
The main event
Imagining that it is a hot day, my wine choice for the main event would probably remain white if the meat was predominantly white too. Maybe a chilled Yarra Valley Chardonnay from Yering Farm or A Punt Road Chenin. If there was a selection of meat, I may be tempted with a slightly fruitier but equally chilled rose. Squealing Pig rose or La Boheme. I’d stay light with a dessert wine for the cheese, like a Seppetlsfield Tokay or a muscat, ready for the pavlova.
Where is home?
There are clear merits of Christmas on opposite side of the Earth. However, the coolest thing of all is having the privilege of experiencing both. In conclusion, my home is where my heart is – and it is always with me. A family Christmas is a magical time. Whilst a nomads Christmas, being absorbed into the heart of another family, is heart-warming in its own right. I love Christmas and always will, wherever I pour my first glass.