Aussie versus English Christmas dinner

Having grown up in England for the first 22 years of my life, before moving to the southern hemisphere, I’ve had my fair share of traditional English Christmas dinners. I’m coming up on eight years on this side of the world now (three in New Zealand, five in Australia) and one thing I do miss is an English Christmas.

As a kid, my Christmas Day would start in a flurry of blankets and wrapping paper. My three siblings and I would traipse down the stairs still wrapped in our quilts to be met with a mound of presents under the tree.

We’d spend the first few hours of the day playing with our toys while our parents worked their magic in the kitchen.

Come lunchtime there was always a table piled high with a whole turkey, stuffing, parsnips, carrots, Brussels sprouts, peas, gravy, roast potatoes, pigs in blankets and, my favourite, Yorkshire puddings.

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The hustle and bustle of getting everything to the table, pulling our Christmas crackers, putting on our hats and tucking in was all part of the fun.

For dessert, we’d have mince pies, homemade Christmas cake, cheese and crackers and a big tin of chocolates to pass around.

My dad actually made this exact dinner for my partner and I the last time we visited the UK. We weren’t there for Christmas Day, but I’d been raving about my dad’s Christmas dinner for the past three years, so it was only fair my partner got to try it.

Now, Christmas dinner focuses more on seafood, cold cuts and sides. We’ll whip up a few salads, make sure we have plenty of cheese and crackers on hand and cut up a whole load of fresh fruit.

It’s just too hot to cook up a whole roast dinner during the summer; lighter meals are the way to go on hot days.

I do make a Christmas cake during the second week of November and feed it with brandy until it’s ready to be iced in the run-up to Christmas. That’s my only Christmas food tradition, but thinking about it, I might have to whip up some pigs in blankets this year.

English traditions
Many English traditions have been bought over to Australia, but one thing I’ve found is that people are open to combining the old and new here. If someone wants a turkey, it can be cooked the day before and served cold. You can have a seafood meal indoors or enjoy a barbecue outdoors.

Food writer Juan-Carlo Tomas told The Guardian: “A generation or two ago, many Australians aped the European way of celebrating Christmas. Tradition turned our kitchens into saunas, as we ignored seasonal and climate appropriate foods, tucking into roast meats and hot puddings. But since the 1990s there’s been a shift in our kitchens and shopping trollies. We’ve learnt to embrace the weather, eating al fresco with fresh, local ingredients. Our concerns are now more about how to start the barbie than flame the pud …”

His advice? Skip the lamb and beef. Instead, make sure you have prawns, crayfish and oysters. He also believes that the fruits of the season – mangoes and cherries – make a fine addition to the Aussie Christmas lunch.

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The British plum pudding, mince pies, and trifle often make their appearance as dessert, but Australia has the beloved pavlova to claim its rightful place when it is time to end the meal. Fresh fruits, baked goods and a box of choccies are perfect for snacks and dessert.

I took to Facebook to find out what YourLifeChoices readers want to see on the table this year.

Carla has a great plan of “roast lamb, pork, ham, potatoes, pumpkin, peas, Brussels sprouts, turnips and lots of gravy”.

Shirley says: “Ham and prawns washed down with champagne.” Sounds pretty good to me.

Trish is traditional with the turkey but has an Aussie classic for dessert, “Roast turkey and there must be a pavlova and chocolate brownies for dessert and, of course, Christmas cake.”

Rikke stays quite traditional with “roast turkey, ham and chicken plus all the baked vegetables and, of course, stuffing and gravy made from the roast juices”.

Judy says: “I do the basics. A Woolies cooked chicken, ham and salad. Pavlova for dessert and a few munchie treats that are much appreciated by my grandkids.”

Sounds like Janna goes all out: “Chicken, ham, prawns, salad, coleslaw, potato salad, fruit platter, bread rolls, pavlova, trifle and pineapple fruitcake for dessert.”

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Connie says: “Prawns, ham, chicken, roast pork and salads.”

Chris highlights what really matters though: “It’s not about what’s on the table, it’s who’s sitting around it that’s important.”

What do you have planned for Christmas lunch this year? What’s your favourite part of the day? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Written by Ellie Baxter

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