December 23, 2010
I’m leaving for my first visit to Australia on the day after Christmas. Even though I grew up in Southern California—where Christmas decorations are palm tree trunks wrapped in lights and the annual New Year’s Day Rose Parade is a televised gloat-fest over the relatively mild weather—it will be strange to suddenly cross from winter into summer. Snow-free or not, even Californians have shorter, cooler days in December. In the Southern Hemisphere, though, the holidays fall when the days are longest and warmest.
So many American and European Christmas traditions revolve around the winter season—hot drinks, roasts, sides of root vegetables and other cold-weather fare—so I wondered how they do it below the equator. I hope Santa at least gets to change into shorts.
Here’s what I found:
Australia and New Zealand:
The British cultural legacy is still strong in these former colonies, and many people stick to traditional English Christmas foods, including roasted meats and puddings (in the British-English sense of the word) with brandy. Sometimes, in a concession to the weather, the meats are served cold. According to the Australian friend I will be visiting, others embrace the season and serve an outdoor seafood feast that might include prawns and oysters. The most distinctly Australian/New Zealand Christmas dish is a dessert called pavlova, which has a crisp meringue crust and a topping of whipped cream and summer fruits like strawberries, kiwi or passionfruit.
Turkey is the traditional main course in South America’s largest country, Brazil, but with a preparation completely unlike what graces the average American holiday table. It can be marinated in cachaça (an indigenous liquor made from sugar cane) or champagne and is often stuffed with farofa (toasted manioc/cassava flour) and fruit.
The signature Christmas treat of Colombia (which straddles the equator) is natilla, a creamy sweet, similar to dulce de leche but made with panela, a molasses-like byproduct of sugar cane processing. It is often served with bunuelos, sweet or savory fritters popular throughout Latin America.
Chileans drink cola de mono, a warm-weather alternative to eggnog with milk, coffee, spices and rum or pisco.
The southern half of Africa, unlike the northern, is majority Christian. And, as Amanda discovered during her July (winter) visit to Cape Town, South Africans love a good braai (barbecue) any time of year. Christmas is no exception, whether it’s a twist on the traditional holiday ham or the sausage called boerewors.
Tanzanians who can afford it might roast a whole goat for the holiday meal. Others go with chicken, either roasted and stuffed with coconut-flavored rice or in a stew.
Have you celebrated Christmas below the equator (or anywhere with hot Decembers)?
I wish everyone in both hemispheres a joyful holiday season. I’ll report back with lots more on Australian cuisine when I return.
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