Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas in Australia

A Pre-Christmas Ramble

Christmas in Australia is, well, unique.
For a start, we pretend it's cold, when it very obviously is not.

Each year we all sweat our way through every kind of roast meat you can think of, with roast potatoes, pumpkin, hot corn, peas, carrots, cheesy cauliflower and broccoli, piping hot gravy then finish up with a steaming hot bowl of Christmas pudding with heart warming custard.
Yep, it's hot outside and we're pretending not to notice.

But what makes Australia unique when it comes to Christmas traditions is not the actual day of December 25, but what comes the following day; Boxing Day, or more importantly, The Boxing Day Test Match.

The Boxing Day Test is not a competition between you and your spouse/significant other to see who can put empty boxes on both their hands and get all that built-up pre-Christmas angst out of your system by punching each other until someone loses consciousness, the Boxing Day Test is a Cricket Match.

"Cricke-wa?" I hear you say.

I could explain what Cricket is for hours and it still won't make sense, so let's just go with some of the basics.

Cricket is made up of two teams of 11, with some poor sod being called the 12th Man who only gets to play if someone gets injured, but he still has to dress up for the occasion. His job is to hand out the drinks to the other 11 players when not looking incredibly bored in the stands.

One team bats - you have two guys at each end of the pitch who run up and down it until they go out by either:
1. Having the ball hit their wickets directly (the three sticks at each end of the pitch with bails on top) while being bowled at with a very red, very hard ball,
2. They don't make it back behind the line (called a crease) before the opposition knocks off the bail of their wickets,
3. You put your body in front of the wickets to stop the ball from hitting them (sometimes intentionally, other times not),
4. Or you hit a ball and the opposition catches it.

Once 10 of the 11 of your team go out (because you can't play with one person unless it's Backyard Cricket) you swap over and you now go out and chase around the red ball while the opposition tries not to go out.

Did that make ANY sense at all?

Generally come cricket time in Australia it's the hottest time of the year. A perfect time to have 11 guys standing out in the pelting sun with no shade wearing long pants, collared shirt and oft a neat little woollen knit vest, all in the shade of cream. Perfect colour for sliding along grass and rubbing a red ball on your pants.
Here's one of our Aussie Cricketers and also body double for Jason Momoa, Andrew Symonds.
Google him, he must have been pipped at the post for the part of Ronon Dex.

So not only do you have long pants, socks, shoes and shirt, you also have a helmet, leg pads, gloves and other such protection in sweaty regions to go with your 40 degree day with no shade.

Did I mention this game goes for 5 days?
Not just a few hours a day for 5 days, but from around 11am to somewhere around 7pm, for 5 days. There's no stop watches to decide when to finish the day. All comes down to how many overs have been bowled (I'm not going to explain how that works) and the amount of light left. Very vague in this "every second counts" society we now live in, but hey, it's cricket.

To give you the complete picture, imagine the beating down sun with no shade, standing in attire suitable for Winter in England, chasing a red ball around a field for 8 hours a day until someone either wins or you just run out of time. Yes, after 5 days there can still be no result.

Right now, the cricketers are puffing their chests out with pride as to the extreme conditions in which they play this game, but guys, I'd like to point one thing out, you run like a bunch of girls at the first sign of rain!

Oppressive heat; no worries.
Excessive clothing in oppressive heat; bring it on.
Excessive clothing in oppressive heat while having someone run at you and bowl a hard red ball at you as fast as possible with only a piece of wood to defend yourself; yep, it's a manly game...
Precipitation; are you kidding man?!

The Boxing Day Test is played at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) in Melbourne - hence the imaginative name.But as an Australian living in Melbourne, what does the Boxing Day Test mean?

It means that your Boxing Day will be spent doing one, two or even all three of the following:
1. Invite everyone over to your place for a BBQ to watch the game which no one really watches except when you hear "Got him!"

2. Go to someone else's house for a BBQ and watch the game without really watching it because you are catching up on the past year of people's lives that you haven't seen since last Boxing Day.

3. Head off to the MCG and be one of the 100,000 other people who have decided to sit in a hot plastic seat, without shade, quite often wearing a hollowed out watermelon as a hat and hoping that the last bit of wetness that fell on you during the Mexican Wave was water.

Which of the 3 options above you decide to do usually depends on the heat factor and which of your friends possesses an MCG membership, pool, spa or child's wading pool with a good view of the TV and/or bar fridge.

If you are a tourist to Australia at this time of year I can highly recommend any of the three options above. The crowd and atmosphere at the MCG on the first day of the test match is fantastic, but it's always great to catch up with a small group of friends as well.

Whatever you decide to do, it's always a great way to wind down from the chaos that Christmas has become and share some stories and drinks with those you only get to see on Boxing Day.

Cheers! Enjoy everyone!


Sparrow_hawk said...

Thanks for the pre-Christmas ramble. I enjoy learning about traditions around the world. Especially those based on customs which are very out of place in the country to which they have been transplanted! My ancestors on my mother's side are from Italy, so we have a big meatless meal on Christmas eve with stuffed calamari, fried smelt, fried bread, fried shrimp (you may be noticing a trend here) and of course, spaghetti with fried garlic and olive oil.

Cricket has always been one of those mysteries of the UK forever tied in my mind to Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey stories! I had no idea that it was popular in Australia as well. I love your explanation and it makes perfect sense to me even though I've never actually seen the game played (except on Monty Python's Flying Circus and I don't think that counts).

Your Boxing Day Test Match traditions sound a bit like our "Superbowl Sunday" parties here in the US. It's the final game of the football season and a good excuse for a party in January after the holiday hysteria has died down and the weather is miserable and people are going stir-crazy from being cooped up in their houses because of the cold and snow. For some, the game is everything while for others, it's a good time to catch up with friends. But my favorite part is watching the commercials (TV ads). Every year, advertising companies vie with one another to come up with the best, funniest, most entertaining and most creative commercial and air them during the Superbowl. My daughter and I take turns watching the game (sort of) and then call one another in when the commercials come on!

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and have a very healthy and Happy New Year!

Moyz/Shiningwit said...

Hi Narelle, Its me, Shiningwit er...Moyz. I just popped over to see what was new in your neck of the woods and had a really good laugh at your explanation of Cricket, I still don't understand the point but it does make more sense (?) ..*re-reads last line, shakes head* Anyway I see you're looking for woodlice as we call 'em over here. I got a zillion in my back garden want me to send you some?

Have an excellent something or other.


Narelle from Aus said...

Hey Sparrow_hawk!

Ooo, Italian heritage. Can there be any bad part in that? The food, the traditions, the family.

If we manage to rescue the final test of this series against South Africa we'll still have the world number 1 ranking for Cricket. One thing I love about this biiiiiig land, with itty bitty population is that we produce some skilled people. Particularly in sport and science.

I would have to say that Monty Python probably have it pretty close to true cricket. Monty Python have a way of doing that.

Superbowl ads are great. When I was in the US, a long time ago now, it was during the Superbowl and it was crazy. Especially the spa's at each of the hotels. Freezing cold outside but everyone is crammed into the outdoor spa with their superbowl hats on, drinking beer and talking footy.

All the best to you too for the coming year.

Narelle from Aus said...

Heya Moyz,

Happy Birthday by the way :)
So you have woodlice hey? Sounds like a scalp condition but I know you mean the creepy crawlies.

I had a baby lady bug land on me the other day! Couldn't help but let out an "Awwwww". But now all the bugs think this place is one big Woodstock! I've had mating daddy long legs, flies (ew) and dragon flies. I tell ya, let one act of procreation happen in your backyard and the word is out and now it's anarchy.

So the Ashes this year... are we allowed to still associate with each other?

Hope you're feeling better soon.