Christmas in Camden

Dreaming of a white Christmas? This is Christmas in Camden! With a hot sun, pools, and amazing summer produce.

Christmas had a gradual start in the Australian colony. The first Christmas in 1788 was celebrated by Governor Arthur Phillip and his officers with a hearty meal, but for the convict population it was rations as usual (Back Then, 2013). This is not to say the occasion wasn’t noted, although commemorations could hardly be called festive. Michael Dennison, a convict who had stolen a pound of flour, was sentenced to 200 lashes. But in the spirit of the season Michael was given a reprieve, receiving only 150 lashes.

The seasonal celebrations took on greater significance in the 19th century. Two factors explain the development. The first was internal, the increase in immigration and the development of industry leading to greater levels of prosperity, allowing more people to indulge in the pleasures of the season (Back Then, 2013). The other was the development of more flamboyant Christmas celebrations of the Victorians.

Official turning on of lights on Christmas tree in Camden, decorating a flag pole. 1996

A decorated flag pole for the central Christmas tree in Camden, 1996. Copyright: Camden Historical Society.

Although making the most of the climate and enjoying picnics instead of surrounding a raging fire indoors, the early feasts had traditional European elements. This was particularly noticeable with food, with steaming hot plum pudding remaining a staple for a long time, despite its unsuitability with the hot Australian December climate.

More native and patriotic elements came into Christmas, most notably through decorations, it reaching its peak with an acclimatized Father Christmas. The Christmas tree, popularized in England by Prince Albert and spread throughout the colonies, was reproduced here, although the European fir tree was substituted by an array of native vegetation including Norfolk Island pines, she-oaks, gums, and wattles (Back Then, 2000). In Camden it has become a regular feature for the flag pole on the main street to be decorated in lights in the shape of a tree.

But the development of a more ‘Australian’ Christmas did have a set back towards the end of the 19th century. Stapleton and McDonald report how the tide turned, with notable European emblems such as holly replacing native vegetation which had started gaining popularity, with commercialisation adding to the homogenised character of Christmas in the late 19th and early 20th century.

A popular activity in Camden, sourcing fruit and veg for the Christmas spread.

A popular activity in Camden, sourcing local fruit and veg for the Christmas spread. Copyright: Camden Council Library Service.

But over the course of the 20th century, Australia again developed its own traditions and flavours. Common feast choices include prawns, ham, cheese, small goods, and pavlova instead of roast meats and plum puddings. In Camden it is very popular to get local fruit and veg from the farmer’s market to provide a rich Christmas feast for family and friends. As well as incorporating cheeses and small goods from the larder, it also stocks heirloom varieties of many vegetables, further creating a unique Christmas experience in Camden.

Christmas celebrations will no doubt continue to change as Camden continues to grow and develop, with new aspects integrating with traditional practices, continuing the festivities and ensuring the food will always be delicious.

References:

n.a. (15.12.200) Christmas decorations in the colonies. Back then. The District Reporter. 

n.a. (20.12.2013) New land saw break from traditional Christmas. Back then. The District Reporter.

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