Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh, begins the famous Christmas song that is sung all over the world throughout December. But, wait a minute, snow? Sleigh? Horses? There’s nothing even remotely relatable in this song for modern Aussies. It’s actually remarkable how long Northern-hemisphere Christmas traditions have remained unchallenged in Australia. It makes far more sense that we inject some warm, regional spirit into the season and celebrate a fresh, Asian-inspired Christmas instead.
Think about it, no more hours will we spend wilting beside a hot oven baking ourselves along with the turkey or ham. No longer will we have to force down eggnog by the hot, open door to the sweltering summer outside. Santa's across Australia will thank us annually for freeing them from their sweaty full-length flannel suits. An Asian Christmas theme will basically free us all from the burden of pretending it’s winter when it’s actually 40 degrees celsius in the shade. Even better, adopting more of an Asian Christmas means we get to ditch the fusty turkey dinner with brussel sprouts and cloying bread sauce. Instead we can eat amazing dishes like king prawns with nam jim dressingor claypot chicken or chilli crab or crispy roast pork belly. No more gingerbread houses with snow-peaked roofs or rich, heavy fruit puddings. Instead, we’ll make the most of Australia’s fresh summer fruits and feast on the delightfully festive banana sago in coconut milk or mango and sticky rice.
The incredible food alone is worth embracing Asia for our festivities, but tapping into the Christmas traditions from some of our South East Asian neighbours really ups the fun factor. For instance, in Cambodia, the small Christian population performs nativity scenes with the steps and costumes of a traditional Cambodian yike dance. Let’s face it, a colourful, musical performance would certainly add some pizazz to the standard Australian nativity offering.
Similarly, in mainly Buddhist Thailand, Christmas is celebrated by only a small portion of the population. However, the Thai celebration of Songkran (new year) in April has some fabulously fun traditions we would love to borrow for our Christmas. We’ll begin with merit-making in the morning to refresh and renew our relationships, then spend time with all of our loved ones who have returned home for the season. In the afternoon we’ll embrace the famous new year ‘water fights’ that are unleashed across Thailand to celebrate purification and cleansing. How good would a water fight feel on a hot Aussie Christmas day?
Moving on to Vietnam, where Christmas is one of the four most important festivals. While Christmas day is not a public holiday in Vietnam, Christians celebrate Christmas Eve in much the same way as they do in Australia. They attend midnight mass to watch a native scene, arriving home to a steaming bowl of chicken phở. Hang on a minute, a bowl of fragrant phở after midnight sounds like a tradition we need to bring on board immediately.
We should also take a leaf out of Singapore’sbook. While Singaporeans are as caught up in holding onto Northern Christmas traditions as we are here in Australia, they do it in a far more sensible manner. For example, they start their Christmas shopping as early as June and are not opposed to buying a few gifts for themselves while they are at it (such a good idea). Inspired by the food and décor of our Asian neighbours, here are four ways to pull together a unique Asian Christmas theme that will inspire all of the senses.
Black and silver is an understated, yet luxurious theme that adds formality and elegance to your Christmas celebrations. This is a neutral, monochrome scheme with a touch of bling that you can add to year after year. Start with a luxe black tablecloth, add a silver table runner and place mats, then bring extra bling with a gorgeous tealight candle at each end of the table. Add a personalised place card for each guest and finish off with a scattering of star anise on the table for an intoxicating festive fragrance.
The complex, perfectly presented food of Vietnam suits a formal black and silver theme. Start with the sweet and sour flavour of sugarcane prawns; follow with grilled lemongrass chicken with chilli salt and cumquat and sticky fried rice cakes; and end with delicately-flavoured soy milk jellies and strong coffee.
This lovely look is reminiscent of a more traditional Christmas look, so it’s a good one to choose if you’re not keen to start from scratch. Mix your existing red or white Christmas decorations with a strong Asian influence, thanks to elements like the black and white table runnercentrepiece. The pretty cherry blossom motif on the lanterns is every bit as festive as a sprig of European holly. A decorative Asian-inspired Christmas cracker for each guest is essential. You could even make your own crackers, adding a personal note inside for each guest.
The fresh flavours of Thai cooking suit this elegant scheme. Smoked fish in betel leafto begin; make your main a gorgeous whole-fish with a green mango salad; and end with a luscious palm sugar pudding or exotic pandan custard.
This fun look is perfect for family gatherings, adding just the right amount of casual flair. Make a garland using tin stars, and gift one to each guest as they leave. Little guests will adore being chosen to hand out Christmas crackers from a basket. Follow Christmas lunch with your brand new Thai-inspired Christmas water fight tradition, then surprise the kids with a lantern-lit present hunt after dark. Cambodian flavours suit guests old and young, just hold back on the chilli if you’re entertaining extra-smalls. Steamed curry fish in banana leaves is a festive way to start; tamarind crab makes the perfect special occasion main; and the crowd-pleasing sugar palm with coconut milk pudding is light and satisfying way to finish.
Metallics simply scream ‘festive’ and mixing them up brings a very Asian feel to your decorating scheme. The more the merrier with this look: add lots of twinkling fairy lights to really make your décor sparkle. Combine copper and silver decorations to hang with bronze and gold bowls filled with nuts and treats for the table.
This stylish, but eclectic theme inspires a Lao Christmas menu. Begin with a steamed fish in banana leaf; dine on beef larb and green papaya salad; then add the final flourish of steamed sticky rice parcels and sweet coconut cakes.
After all the flavours and fun of Christmas, it bears remembering something else our Asian cousins do remarkably well. Getting involved in community events, practising gratitude and making the most of everything life has to offer. Finding gratitude for those we hold most dear and remembering those less fortunate than ourselves is how we should spend the festive season. That’s the soulful spirit of a true Asian Christmas.
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