Here's What Christmas Dinner Looks Like In Australia

When you picture Christmas dinner, you likely think of roasted meats on a candle-lit table with a muster of sides like cranberry sauce, mash, and greens to go with it. Mugs of mulled wine and eggnogs will follow to warm the chilly evening, right next to festive pies and spiced cakes. Perhaps even a cup of hot cocoa next to the fireplace as powdery flakes of snow gently fall outside. A Christmas dinner in Australia, however, couldn't be more different.

While white Christmases filled with blankets of thick snow are the norm in some parts of the world, December marks the peak of summer in the land Down Under, and Christmas dinners here are all about celebrating the glorious weather — think beachside picnics, backyard barbecues, and outdoor dinners under the open sky. Preferring to spend the festive season in the sunny outdoors rather than slaving away in a hot kitchen all day, Aussie Christmas dinners are all about minimal cooking, meals that can be prepped ahead of time, and avoiding the heat of an oven. 

The summer season also means different meat and produce: Where American Christmas dinners are heavy on green bean casserole, cranberries, and roasted meats, Christmas dinners in Australia feature seafood, fresh fruits, and a whole lot of cherries!

Turkey isn't the most popular main

A Christmas without turkey that is brined, plumped, and slowly roasted over hours may seem unfathomable, but the bird certainly does not enjoy the same sort of popularity in Australia. Due to the soaring temperatures that can go as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts, cranking up the oven all day and sitting through a big meal are irksome tasks. Instead, a traditional Christmas meal with a whole roasted turkey is sometimes left to the winter festivities, and cold meats are favored over Christmas in its place.

Glazed Christmas ham for one is a popular main for Christmas dinners, preferably cooked ahead of time and served cold on the day. In fact, a 2020 poll conducted by Nine found that a quarter of the 560 Aussies surveyed preferred ham as their show stopper for Christmas dinners, making it the most popular main, followed by turkey (again, cold), seafood, chicken, and beef.

A summer Christmas means lots of barbecues

Spending time outdoors, preferably under the sun and down by the sea, means a smoking barbecue to fuel the revelry. The concept of a barbecue was first introduced to Australia in the early 1900s, and by the 1950s, outdoor barbecues had become a quintessential part of the country. When it comes time for Christmas, lunches take precedence over dinners, shady spots next to waterbodies for quick dips are chosen, and barbecues (or barbies, as the Aussies say) are favored over formal sit-down dinners, with a game of cricket or soccer (aka football) to keep the party going.

Most barbecues feature skewers of lamb, chicken, burgers, steaks, sausages, and prawns along with grilled onions, fried eggs, bread rolls, melty cheese, tomatoes, and pineapples to complete the meal, as well as tomato and barbecue sauce for condiments. Meat aside, vegetables like zucchini are turned into fritters, and cauliflower is turned into plant-based steaks for vegetarian offerings.

Seafood steals the show over Christmas

For the longest time, Australian Christmas dinners followed the lead of Britishers, featuring meaty mains like beef, fowl, and lamb. Sometime in the 1980s, however, a change began to sweep through the country as Australia started to form its own culinary traditions that were better suited to the climate, temperature, and produce of the country. Thanks to its coastal borders, seafood became a popular main for Christmas dinners, and 1994 marked the first 36-hour seafood marathon of the Sydney Fish Market that takes place on Christmas Eve each year. In 2019, the market announced a record-breaking $1.4 million worth of fresh seafood sold for the holiday, with prawns and oysters being particular favorites amongst Aussies.

Christmas dinners without platters of prawns are a travesty in Australia, and most tables will feature prawn cocktails or platters of king, banana, and tiger prawns. Much like Paul Hogan who famously said, "I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for ya" in the 1983 Australia tourism advertisement, some Australians do indeed barbecue their prawns over Christmas. Others, however, are just as happy to eat cooled-down versions of pre-cooked prawns that only need to be peeled (via the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia). Prawns aside, oysters with a squeeze of lemon and simple sides made from baked salmon or crayfish are popular seafood dishes that grace the dinner table.

Potatoes and beer are the go-to sides and drinks

Mains may be the centerpieces of a Christmas dinner but let's be honest — it's the sides and the drinks that make or break the meal. Australian Christmas dinners usually feature fresh salads that are a mix of leafy greens and vegetables like avocados, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Salads aside, potatoes are a big Christmas favorite. A 2023 survey conducted by Aldi found that three of the top five side dishes (roast potatoes, potato bake, roasted vegetables, potato salad, and cauliflower or broccoli bake) featured potatoes. Half the respondents claimed that they would gladly leave out a main if they could serve roast potatoes and a potato bake instead. 42% went so far as to say that a Christmas meal without roast potatoes was a Christmas ruined.

As for the drinks, Australia's hot weather demands icy Christmas tipples rather than warm ones, and large gatherings over barbecues and picnics call for booze that can be easily served or shared. While wines, sherry, and cocktails like mango daiquiris are hugely popular — nothing beats a cold glass of beer at a Christmas dinner table in Australia. In fact, beer is so popular that Aussies swap the milk and cookies that are left out for Santa at night with beer and fruit cake — nothing like a chilled pint for Kris Kringle to enjoy on his travels across the world.

Desserts feature a lot of fresh fruit

Christmas dinners in Australia feature desserts that make the most of fresh summer fruits – like berries, mangoes, and passion fruit — that are in season and include the likes of trifle and pavlova. Pavlova, or pav, is a fiercely controversial dessert in that its origin is claimed by both Australia and New Zealand. But the baked meringue-based dessert, with its cream and fresh fruit-topped crisp crust, is the crowning glory of hot and summery Christmas dinners amongst Aussies.

Lamington is another popular dessert during the holidays, as is gingerbread and spiced Christmas pudding with custard or brandy sauce. Although Aussies do not enjoy a white Christmas, they certainly do savor an edible version of it embodied in a sweet dessert. Featuring candied fruit, desiccated coconut, and puffed rice — all bound together with coconut oil — the nutty white Christmas dessert is a holiday staple. Australians are big on cherries too — a fruit whose red hue is symbolic of Christmas in the country. While the fruit can be used as the filling for mince pies or to make a cocktail or two, even just a platter of raw cherries is enough to complete the festive dessert spread.