Skip to the content | Change text size

Eras Journal - Donaldson, R.: "Revisiting a 'well-worn theme': the duality of the Australian Christmas Pudding 1850-1950"

Revisiting a 'well-worn theme': the Duality of the Australian Christmas Pudding 1850-1950[1]

Rhiannon Donaldson

(University of Sydney)

Abstract

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Christmas in England underwent a process of re-invention; in its new form, family-focused sentiment, charitable works, good cheer and feasting made Christmas an increasingly popular festival. Convincingly situated by anthropologists such as Daniel Miller within Ranger and Hobsbawm's idea of the 'invention of tradition', this celebration drew on older rites and refashioned them into the middle-class, sentimental Christmas perhaps most famously expressed in Dickens'A Christmas Carol.[2] Published in 1843, and generally supposed to have influenced the popularity of the Victorian Christmas in Britain and North America, this book valorised the domestic festival and its display through private rituals, including the Christmas dinner and its crowning glory, the Christmas pudding.[3] Departing from the earlier grand feasts and social inversion of Carnival, the new Dickensian Christmas ideal was "on a small, cozy, domestic scale …compelling to the Victorian family".[4] When colonists arrived in the antipodes, this revitalised and domesticated Christmas made the journey. As social historian K.S. Inglis notes, "wherever they went in the world, the English took their Christmas with them".[5]

It soon became clear that this transportation would not be without tensions. There were doubts expressed throughout the period before Federation about whether the transfer of the Christmas festival from the winter of the northern hemisphere to the summer of the southern could possibly produce a successful or 'real' celebration. In 1868, Marcus Clarke wrote with scorn of those people who felt constrained to keep up the traditions of England and stated "it may be rank heresy, but I deliberately affirm that Christmas in Australia is a gigantic mistake".[6] Twenty years later, a newspaper editorial acknowledged that "in this colony,'Christmas' has been often stigmatised as a complete failure by people who have shifted their sky, but not their line of thought".[7] Although the majority of the Australian population did not share Clarke's ideas, the continued celebrations existed within a public discourse which aired doubts well into the 1930s and 1940s. These doubts related to the ability of the English Christmas to survive in the Australian climate and environment. The subject on which doubts were most often expressed was the hot Christmas dinner, particularly the Christmas pudding. This article will examine the transportation and acclimatisation of the English Christmas to the Australian colonies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through the study of this one particular element of Christmas: the plum pudding.

The interactions between the trappings of Christmas and the new conditions created tension and unease, and many changes were made as a result. Native elements were incorporated to make the festival more achievable - bringing a 'real' Christmas within reach of the Australian population by providing an alternate vision of a 'real' Christmas. Efforts to create a new, acclimatised, celebration co-existed with determined efforts to keep up Christmas in the traditional way. Newspapers presented images of old and new, shoppers could buy Christmas cards with scenes of snow covered hills or bush landscapes, and stories of Santa in the bush competed with Santa in his North Pole stronghold. This duality existed right across the range of material and intangible elements, in private and public Christmases, from the greenery used to decorate homes to the media representations of Christmas. For although an editorial in 1903 could state that "[o]f all the picturesque revelling so long associated with to-day hardly anything except the goodwill and the jollity has borne transplanting into conditions that climate and time have with us done so much to change", many traditional trimmings of Christmas were still in evidence.[8] These included Christmas trees, carols, pantomimes, cards and the prominent Christmas pudding. While the former elements remained in use, they were just as suitable for an Australian summer as an English winter and so did not constantly remind celebrants of their origins elsewhere, unlike the pudding. Despite this, the pudding remained at the heart of both the imagery and the implementation of private and public Christmas celebrations between 1850 and 1950. The Christmas pudding is a rewarding subject for study precisely for this reason - because it was one of the few elements of an English Christmas, as constructed in the nineteenth century, to successfully resist, and indeed on occasion subvert, the acclimatisation process which made changes to so many other aspects of this festival. I will argue that the reason for this retention of the pudding was its role, not only as a representative of Christmas, but of England and British Empire.

Although it was a religious festival, Christmas did not fall under any official jurisdiction, and was increasingly a secular festival, at least in public discourse.[9] The ultimate form of the holiday for any family was determined by their own preference, modified by their financial and geographical situation. Because individuals had considerable agency over their private Christmas celebrations, studying the way Christmas was celebrated and discussed reveals a great deal about cultural identity. Stephen Nissenbaum believes that Christmas rituals "reveal something of what we would like to be, what we once were, or what we are becoming despite ourselves".[10] Certainly we can see the reluctance of early white English colonists to relinquish certain aspects of the Christmas celebrations, despite the difficulties in achieving them or their unsuitability for the climate, as evidence of their attachment to and identification with their English and imperial heritage.[11] And while the examination of individual elements of the changes to Christmas may be illuminating for a study of the development of national cultural identity, we must not be, as Miller stresses, "misled by the capacity of Christmas to attract" these local forms into thinking that the Australian Christmas is somehow unique as a cultural celebration. The central aspects of the English Victorian Christmas - family sentiment and gatherings, good cheer, abundance - were still present. The only significant difference to the Australian Christmas appears to be its duality: the ability of Australians to participate in multiple forms of the festival, and the ability of an Australian Christmas to act as a vehicle of nostalgia for the English Christmas. My examination of the fate of the pudding in Australia will be situated within this framework of duality and connection to the British Empire.

Building Bridges of Sentiment

Many parts of the traditional Christmas celebration could not be brought into an Australian Christmas in any tangible way - the storybook Christmas of carolling in the snow, or decorating the home with holly, red with berries. These could only be part of the imagined Christmas, seen in the illustrated papers, Christmas Cards, annuals, and department store windows. Australians were aware that they could not achieve all the old customs, and that they "must perforce perform [Father Christmas'] ceremonies with maimed rites".[12] Therefore, those elements that could be reproduced tangibly and correctly in the new colonies were often forced to bear the whole weight of the colonists' attempt to provide the illusion of an English Christmas. Writing in 1855, William Howitt described this process of pretence undertaken by settlers, as they attempted to recreate a traditional Christmas "with the good old orthodox roast-beef and plum pudding. We…drank a Merry Christmas to all our friends in Old England, in a tumbler of brandy-and-water. We tried to believe it Christmas, spite of the thermometer at 120°, of diggers' tents in the distance, and the Bush around us".[13]Reproducing parts of the tradition enabled colonists to make 'bridges' of sentiment, between the nostalgic, distant 'perfection' of an English Christmas and the "maimed rites" of the Australian celebration.

When elements of Christmas were unable to be reproduced, an acclimatisation process was used, which involved finding and using native substitutes for traditional items. Bringing native elements into European forms can be seen in other activities such as cooking and craftwork - the usual technique was to search for a native equivalent for an unobtainable object. Traditional recipes were adapted by replacing one ingredient with a native substitute, such as kangaroo-tail soup instead of ox-tail soup, and paraqueet pie "prepared as pigeons would be".[14] Crafts incorporated native motifs and colours into otherwise English designs, or used gum leaves and other native items.[15] Similar changes were made to aspects of the imported Christmas festival, especially in the use of greenery. Christmas bush and Christmas bells were used in place of, as well as alongside, holly; native greenery and ferns replaced pine garlands; and a poem from the 1880s asked "Why should not wattle do for mistletoe?"[16] These incorporations of native elements were done with a great deal of discussion - their popularity and their potential for being emotional as well as material equivalents were debated. While the native flora did not completely replace the English originals, they were used extensively because they were more available. It was very difficult to reproduce the greenery of an English winter in an Australian summer.

The easiest part of the English Christmas to reproduce, and paradoxically the part that caused the most dissension, was the meal, and particularly the Christmas pudding. More has been written on the history of the Christmas meal than any other aspect. Inglis gives many examples of early colonists making special effort to provide the pudding, and labels it a time when "sentiment triumphed over environment".[17] The hot Christmas pudding, traditionally served doused in brandy and aflame, was obviously unsuitable for the heat of the Australian summer. Michael Symons describes this "continuation of a quite unseasonal feast" as "perhaps the most oft remarked Australian food oddity".[18] Certainly it was regularly discussed in editorials and cooking columns. "Where is the housewife", asked an 1888 editorial, "who would not think the day duly honoured were there not the supplies of poultry, meat and the pudding, all smoking hot, duly served on her table?" It went on to say, that while it would be nice to have "the dinner cold…the pudding replaced by cool dainties", it "would take a good deal of courage on the part of any social reformer to propose such an innovation".[19] In The Upside-down Pudding, Colin Bannerman notes that "the debate has been going on for more than a century and still gets a run in the media each year".[20] The recent popularity of celebrating 'Christmas in July' neatly avoids the question of how to cope with the heat, a solution that was not voiced in earlier years.

The debate about the Christmas feast centred on the pudding. The dual nature of the Australian Christmas here showed itself in the simultaneous existence of two distinct suggested forms: cookery columns often presented recipes for old-fashioned puddings in the same column as alternatives made with ice-cream or gelatine.[21] The hot, brandy-doused pudding was presented as the standard to deviate from in 1916, with blancmange or trifle presented as an alternative to those who are not part of a "conservative caste" and are brave enough to "boldly say: 'We shall not have Christmas pudding this year'".[22] Making a traditional pudding enabled one to choose how to serve it, either hot, or cold, with ice cream or "a bank of stiffly whipped cream".[23] One recipe column recommended making a pudding "in which Brazil nuts are used instead of suet. This does not make the pudding less rich, but it is more palatable when served cold".[24] Recipe books included variations such as "Fruit and Nut Jelly, otherwise 'the 101 degrees in the shade' Christmas pudding". Readers were told to make it "so that it may be used as a substitute should the weather prove so hot as to incline one to taste the merest mouthful of the orthodox one", for which it also provided recipes.[25] An article in the 1950s advised readers that they need not "follow tradition … blindly and expensively" but could "sever [their] ties with the 'good old days' and serve a cold collation".[26] However, the article still included advice on the traditional pudding.

The Pudding as Christmas and England

As mentioned earlier, the pudding was not the only traditional part of the Christmas celebration to continue in use in the colonies or be subject to this odd dual view; Christmas cards, carols and poetry, pantomimes, even department store window displays all showed this duality to some degree. But the pudding is especially significant, and discussed here because it is the only aspect which inspired such strongly-worded discussion. The reason that there was so much tension expressed over the choice of dessert, and so much emotional language used at the thought of parting with the pudding, was that the pudding was seen both as central to Christmas and as a truly English element. The pudding was an integral part of 'keeping up Christmas', which involved not only the celebration itself, but the opportunity to indulge in nostalgia and to connect to Empire. The pudding was seen as a central and historic part of Christmas - an "ancient and venerated institution" - that soon became a tradition as much of the new land as the old.[27] A 1920s cookery column stated "despite the fact that our climate may not be quite in keeping with hot steaming dishes for the table, it is a custom that has survived through generations and will survive though the generations to come".[28]

When advertisers or illustrators wanted to quickly evoke Christmas, they used the distinctive shape of the pudding, and it was often used as a reference to Christmas. In writing about 'Christmas on the Line', the constrained Christmas dinner on the train is not described in detail; rather the argument is made that "the pudding without the table is more satisfying than the table without the pudding".[29] When Marcus Clarke was attacking the Australian Christmas, he wrote that "one swallow does not make a summer, nor do a waggon [sic] load of green boughs and a few lumps of suet studded with plums, make a Christmas".[30]Once again, the pudding, albeit described in a rather derogatory way, was acting as the signifier of Christmas, although here its significance is being denied rather than affirmed.

The pudding also had its role as a signifier of England. Many of the advertisements for commercially-made puddings focus on this heritage and deliberately stress the continued connection. Puddings are said to be made in the old English style or to an English recipe. One rather pretentious example says the pudding is mixed to "a treasured 'Olde Englyshe' recipe".[31] An inter-war recipe book advised readers to make the traditional plum pudding "just because it is part of our empire [sic] heritage".[32] In the nineteenth century especially, the connection to England was very strong, and the pudding's role was as a representative of that culture. Writing in 1929, M. Barnard Eldershaw exaggerated the early immigrants' attachment to the Christmas foods by having one of her characters announce "'I don't know how we are going to eat all that stuff. It is enough to kill us in this heat. I am sure a cold collation would be better suited to this climate'". The response is immediate. "'What!' they all cried. 'Not keep up Christmas? What are you thinking of?' And they looked at William as if he had blasphemed his God, repudiated his country, and questioned the honour of his mother".[33] Although a fictional example, here Christmas is directly equated with the food, particularly the pudding, which would be eaten on the day and given a huge emotional importance. Symons relates a Victorian children's story titled The Pudding that Took a Thousand People to Make which traced the passage of ingredients for the plum pudding from all parts of the empire, and looked at the people responsible for their growing, harvesting, shipping and finally combining in the Christmas pudding.[34] A highlight of a 1928 Cookery Exhibition was a "seven foot high King's Empire Christmas pudding…made entirely from Empire ingredients".[35] Here the pudding is seen as the product of the empire; the keeping up of Christmas with the pudding could also be seen as a factor in the creation of the British Empire, for "even on the outskirts of Empire", 1920s housewives were told, "someone prepares the dinner for the day which links together the Christian world".[36] That dinner would undoubtedly conclude with a plum pudding.

Australian food writer Ripe, in a passage on Christmas, presents Christmas in Australia as growing less Australian over the period covered by this article; the picnic - an 'indigenous Christmas celebration' - was popular in the nineteenth century and later the dinner moved indoors with an increased "worship of everything British".[37] But this argument ignores the fact that the idea of the picnic as a suitable site for a Christmas celebration was still part of the public Christmas after Federation. An advertisement for Arnott's Christmas cakes and puddings shows a family seated at picnic benches.[38] Another states that a tinned Christmas pudding is "convenient and ideal too for the picnic hamper".[39] A cartoon in 1923 shows a 'Plein Air' method of celebrating Christmas; a number of people are grouped around a large raft serving as a table, with benches attached. Some are sitting, some swimming nearby, humorously combining the picnic idea with that of Australian beach culture.[40] We can also see that the plum pudding was present at the pre-Federation picnics - the illustration shown here of 'A Jolly Australian Christmas' shows a picnic in an outdoor setting, and the pudding occupies a prominent place on the picnic cloth.[41] Figure 1 Indeed, the presence of the pudding legitimised these outdoor feasts and brought them within the idea of a 'real' Christmas. The novel forms could become comparable to traditional feasts due to the common link of the pudding. While we can view the firm incorporation of the picnic into Christmas in terms of developing Australian identity, it is important to note acclimatisation is almost entirely occurring to these material forms of the celebration, not the underlying sentiment.[42] Much anthropological work on contemporary Christmases has demonstrated the "ability of Christmas to appropriate", "to secure its identity almost irrespective of the content of the rites which take place in its name".[43] The particular forms could not change the meaning of Christmas. But the fears of many colonists about their inability to recreate customs and their fall-back on 'maimed rites' suggests that they took the content of the rites very seriously. Mixing the Christmas pudding was said to be "the most serious" transaction of housekeepers at this time of year.[44]

Building Home and Nation

Ken Inglis, while observing that some people suggested the replacement of the Christmas pudding with a lighter alternative, adds that "it would long be an Australian tradition to enjoy both the heavy Christmas dinner and the absurdity of it".[45] But any absurdity does not appear to feature outside of editorials and social commentary; there is little evidence of it in private sources. Symons comments on Inglis' words: "more than joke", he argues, "it was clear evidence that we had not made a home here".[46] I argue that attempts to keep up the traditional Christmas dinner were, in fact, one of the ways that the colonists were constructing a home here. Ghassan Hage has established the significance of food to migrants' abilities for home-building in private and public spheres, and the important role of positive nostalgia.[47] These "culinary practices of home-building" enable migrants to create "a better base for confronting life in Australia".[48] Using these ideas, we can see the early colonists' attempts to re-create an English Christmas not only as a passive yearning for their distant home but also as an active way of familiarising the new land though the participation in this civilising domestic ritual and creating new memories of the traditional celebration in the new colony.

Hage also says that, before the days of articulated multiculturalism, such culinary practices were often conducted in secret, outside of the gaze of the dominant culture, and that such experiences can be "structured by an implicit fear of the Anglo gaze and its imagined rejection of the migrants' food".[49] While the early English settlers were the dominant culture within Australia, we can draw parallels between the 'Anglo gaze' focused on the migrants in Hage's work and the "constantly imagined gaze of the metropole" within which colonial identity was constructed.[50]Penny Russell states that in Australia "insecurity was manifest in constant, anxious reference to the standards of the metropolis".[51] For Christmas, these standards were presented to an Australian audience not only through works such as A Christmas Carol, but through the many stories and illustrations that formed a large part of the Christmas material in journals and papers.[52] These Christmases - and the England in which they occurred - were idealised and made objects of nostalgia. Just as the English standards of manners that colonial gentry referred to were re-invented in Australia, the English Christmas to which Australian settlers looked was not present, in that ideal form, in England either.[53]

The comparisons between the two styles of celebration were also the subject of media discourse - the presentation of 'Christmas in the Old Country' side by side with 'Christmas in the New' was common in newspapers and journals. A typical example, shown here, contrasts the holly-wreathed, winter's landscape of 'The Old Country' at the top of the page with 'The New' underneath, showing a woman seated amongst lush greenery watching boats in a small cove.[54] Figure 2 The dual image became a recognised cliché - an 1898 editorial said "once more the Australian artist will draw his well-worn theme of Christmas in Australia and Christmas in England, and represent a sweltering picnic on the one side and a skating party on the other".[55]This is a neat summation of the type of image being produced. These dual images naturally simplified the realities of Christmas in both countries and resulted in an accurate portrayal of neither festival. The duality of Christmas echoed the wider duality of identity within Australia - the growing national identity and the continued identification with a British heritage. Andrew Hassam describes British-Australian visitors to England as belonging to "the imagined communities of both Australia and Britain".[56] This idea of imagined communities facilitates the duality of Christmas celebrations. Because they are images of imagined communities, the dual festivals can co-exist in the media as well as in memory and thought in a way that they could not easily exist in any tangible form. The media images played their role in maintaining this dual cultural heritage, by allowing the British-born to validate and reinforce their memories and presenting the British heritage to the Australian-born as an ideal to which to aspire. The media also presented the images of the distinctly Australian forms of the festival, such as picnics; the co-existence of the dual images in public discourse was important in allowing both to be 'valid' in private celebrations.

One particular media presentation of the Australian environment alongside English Christmas customs, seen in several stories from journals and magazines around the time of Federation, portrayed Christmas faring badly in isolated areas of Australia such as the bush or the diggings. Stories of Christmas in the bush or on the gold-fields appeared throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as many of the 'myths and legends' of the Australian bush experience were joined to Christmas settings to provide entertainment for readers.[57] While many were happy tales on the lines of how Father returned from the goldfields at Christmas, in one sub-genre, Christmas, in the form of its celebratory rituals, was actually threatened or ruined. Various examples depict: bushrangers attacking a station at Christmas; a young child getting lost in the bush and her family not celebrating Christmas until she was found two days later; and a bank manager and his family being terrorised by the Kelly Gang.[58] These stories are notable for the unsuccessful nature of the cultural fusion, as they invert the 'normal' pattern of a successful transportation of a British custom into the new environment. The many doubts expressed over the years found another outlet here; in one particular strand of stories, the tension is shown as interactions between two icons. Firstly, the pudding which as we have seen, represents not only Christmas, but by extension also English traditions and England itself, and, secondly, the bush, standing for Australia.[59]

The first story is a short recollection, accompanying a full page illustration, in the Australian Town and Country Journal.[60] A family farming a selection on the New England tablelands were for many years unable to "even think of keeping up Christmas in something after Old Country fashion" as they were too busy wresting a living from the heavily-timbered land. But in their fifth year, with "some breathing space", a "bounteous harvest" and a record price for last year's corn, they decide "to keep Christmas as much as possible in the new land after the fashion in the old one". The attitude throughout is one of demonstrating the superiority of the English Christmas. The neighbours invited to this feast are all native-born, and the hosts are "determined to show them how even small farmers in the Old Country did their best to celebrate" Christmas. The mother of the family, "gazing" at the pudding "with [an] anxious, calculating, eye" remarks that it "will open the eyes" of the guests "as to what a real English Christmas pudding is like".[61] Here again we can see the appeal to the idealised English Christmas as the standard by which all other Christmases are measured. But tragedy strikes. Before dawn, they are woken by noises in the kitchen, noises that turn out to be "two big buck possums" who have reduced the pudding "to a hollow shell".

In another story, the pudding, made in the bush, was boiled for two days tied up in "a bit of kangaroo skin". It was then left on the bunkhouse roof for a while. When wanted, the hide had to be peeled off with a chisel. The pudding, completely inedible, remained a camp fixture for years, and was affectionately referred to as "old Ironsides".[62] Another example portrays a group of four gold prospectors who, after their Christmas meal, eat heartily of a plum pudding - only to find that there is every chance the cook accidentally used arsenic, bought to poison a dingo, instead of baking soda.[63] Henry Lawson tells a tale of another group of prospectors, who received a case of plum pudding in cans instead of a case of mixed provisions and were too isolated to exchange them for anything else. They ate plum pudding until they were sick of it.[64] This theme was not only confined to prose - another prospectors' pudding was ruined by falling into a fire, in the 1897 picture shown here - but the greatest number appear as fiction.[65] Figure 3

These stories can be read simply as amusing tales, written to entertain readers at Christmas time. Many of the readers of these journals were living in cities far from the primitive conditions of the bush, and these tales are just as much 'escapism' as the tales of wealthy gentry spending Christmas in snow-covered manor houses. But they can also be seen as the articulations of the tensions that existed about the introduction of traditional elements of the Christmas celebration to the antipodes, and the ability to maintain them. Here the 'orthodox' plum pudding is taking on its larger role, as a signifier of British tradition. This can sometimes be seen explicitly, when the pudding is stated to be part of the English Christmas and life in the 'old country'; at other times, this signification draws on the wider vocabulary that existed around the plum pudding: the accumulated meanings assigned to it through illustrations, other fiction, editorials, and advertising copy. In these stories, the 'normal', successful progress of acclimatisation is subverted, and the bush, here acting as a signifier of colonial and Australian identity, is resistant to the introduction of the European tradition. An English custom came up against the 'realities' of life in the bush - the 'crude' cooking, the native animals, the isolation - and lost. Elspeth Probyn argues for the importance of food in the relationships between indigenous and white culture, and discusses the cultural importance both of white settlers eating - or often overlooking - native foods and the imposition of European foods and eating habits on to Indigenous Australians.[66] But what significance can we read into the eating of Empire by a possum?

The duality of Christmas in Australia is mainly seen through changes to material culture; Miller reminds us that although Christmas "accrete[s] to itself a wealth of local rites and customs", analysis of Christmas should view these only as "significant materials for understanding the articulation between key components of contemporary life".[67] From one point of view, the duality of an Australian Christmas can be seen as a window into ideas of national and cultural identity, and the wealth of specific customs give a view into life that is unequalled: Christmas is the subject of an abundance of personal and public discourse. From another, it is simply the Australian manifestation of Christmas as a simultaneously local and global festival, with the connection to a British heritage merely an aspect of Christmas' global reach. A few celebrants saw this themselves. An 1878 editorial recognised that "putting aside the alterations necessary through different climatic conditions, it is wonderful how little difference there is in the Christmas customs of the whole British race". But for many Australians the form of the festival was of vital importance. It would not be Christmas without the decoration, without the family gathering, without the pudding, and it was not only necessary for oneself but for wider civilisation to maintain these "customs" from the "remote past" which were "celebrated since very dim antiquity".[68]

The Christmas pudding was central to the imagined ideal traditional English Christmas and to Australians' attempts to create an authentic festival. Far from being an absurd relic of a distant culture, or a self-conscious attempt to ape British society,[69] the continued presence of the plum pudding was necessary to an Australian Christmas. Despite all the suggestions for its change, replacement, or abandonment, the pudding retained its central place. The Christmas pudding could act as an immediate signifier of Christmas itself, an icon of the festival. Moreover, it had a wider significance as an agent of civilisation and the British Empire. The ability to have a plum pudding, doused in brandy and merrily ablaze, at their Christmas table stood for several things to the Australian colonists. At a practical level, it indicated that they had arrived at a level of civilisation that enabled them to obtain the ingredients they needed (or the commercially-made equivalent). The pudding also played a role as a civilising force within the British empire, acting as a standard to which others were to aspire. These others could be the native born invited to share in a 'real' Christmas as in the story related above, or could be other cultural groups, as illustrated in an 1882 sketch of four Chinese men seated around a Christmas pudding. The caption - "'John's Clissimus Pudding all same as Englissman'" - captures the imperial superiority of the period and brings the pudding within this discourse of cultural domination.[70] The pudding connected the colonists to the history of the festival, to their English heritage, and to the rest of the empire. The Christmas season allowed colonists to reflect on the passage of time and the changes to their new land made in the past year; Christmas rituals allowed them to re-affirm their identity as part of the wider imperial world throughout which Christmas was being celebrated in similar ways. Christmas was becoming an increasingly global festival, and as Marling says, "Mrs Cratchit's anxiety over her little pudding" was a feature of A Christmas Carol "that appealed with equal force to rich and poor, Londoner and Bostonian".[71] For early settlers, who were often acutely aware of their isolation, participating in the ritual of the Christmas pudding enabled them to participate in the construction of ties to England and empire - both the real and imagined - and to create a sense of home and civilisation in the new land.

Figure 1

Back

Figure 2

Back

Figure 3

Back

Write a response to this paper

(the email you send to eras@arts.monash.edu.au will be read by the Eras editorial committee and published on the "Discussion" page)

Notes

[1] This article draws on research conducted for my honours thesis. For an earlier but more general discussion of the duality of the Australian Christmas 1850-1950, see Rhiannon Donaldson,'"Can this really be Christmas-time?": Christmas in Australia 1850-1950', unpublished BA(Hons) thesis, University of Sydney, 2000. My thanks must go to Penny Russell, who supervised that thesis, and to Kirsten McKenzie, who commented on earlier drafts of this article. Back

[2] Daniel Miller, 'A Theory of Christmas', in Daniel Miller (ed.), Unwrapping Christmas, Clarendon Press, Oxford , 1993, pp. 3-5. Back

[3] J.A.R. Pimlott, The Englishman's Christmas: A Social History, Harvester Press, London, 1978; Daniel Miller,'A Theory of Christmas', pp. 3-5; Karal Ann Marling, Merry Christmas! Celebrating America's Greatest Holiday, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. , 2000, pp. 121-140. Back

[4] Karal Ann Marling, Merry Christmas!, p. 140. Back

[5] Kenneth Stanley Inglis, The Australian Colonists: an exploration of social history, 1788-1870, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic, 1974, p. 105. Back

[6] Marcus Clarke,Australasian, 26 Dec 1868, reprinted in Marcus Clarke, A Colonial City, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld, 1972, p. 29.Back

[7] Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), 22 Dec 1888, p. 6. Back

[8] SMH, 24 Dec 1903, p. 6.Back

[9] This growing secularity is discussed in many scholarly works on Christmas, such as Daniel Miller, 'A Theory of Christmas'; Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle For Christmas, Vintage Books, New York, 1997; and William Waits, The Modern Christmas in America: A Cultural History of Gift-Giving, New York University Press, New York, 1993. While private Christmas celebrations kept religious significance, public forums steered clear - indeed one Sydney newspaper editor in 1929 is said to have rejected a religious poem with the advice that his readers "do not care for religious subjects at Christmas - they like something brighter".Home , 2 Dec 1929, p. 31. Back

[10] Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle For Christmas, p. xii. Back

[11] Different parts of the British Isles attached varying importance to Christmas, with the English being the greatest celebrants; although I have tried to avoid it, on occasion 'English' and 'British' are used interchangeably. While aware that this is a usage that has "historically indicated the limits of real British integration", its use here reflects the extent to which the equation of an English Christmas with a British Christmas occurred in media portrayals and popular culture in this period. Quote from Murray G. H. Pittock, Celtic Identity and the British Image, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1999, p. 104. Back

[12] SMH, 24 Dec 1904, p. 8.Back

[13] William Howitt, 1855, quoted in Frank Cusack, The Australian Christmas, Australian Collectors Treasury, Sydney, 1966, p. 46. Back

[14] Richard Daunton-Fear and Penelope Vigar, Australian Colonial Cookery, Rigby, Adelaide, 1977, pp. 26, 37.Back

[15] Peter Cuffley, Cottage Style in Australia, The Five Mile Press, Noble Park, 1996, pp. 167, 169-70.Back

[16] Ada Cambridge, Thirty Years in Australia, Methuen & Co, London, 1903, p. 84; Joan Kyffin Willington, Maisie: Her Life in her Letters from 1898 to 1902, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, SA, 1992, p. 281; David Adams, The Letters of Rachel Henning, Sirius Books, Sydney, 1963, p. 119; Australian Town and Country Journal (ATCJ), 22 Dec 1888, p. 1232. Back

[17] K.S. Inglis, The Australian Colonists, p. 109. Back

[18] Michael Symons, One Continuous Picnic: A history of eating in Australia , Duck Press, Adelaide, 1982, p. 26. Inglis discusses this issue in chapter 7 of his Australian Colonists; see also Colin Bannerman, The Upside-Down Pudding, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1999. Back

[19] ATCJ, 22 Dec 1888, p. 1231. Back

[20] Colin Bannerman, The Upside-Down Pudding, p. 46. Back

[21] See for example Stage and Society, 13 Dec 1923, p. 29 and 1 Dec 1924, p. 44. Back

[22] SMH, 13 Dec 1916, p. 5.Back

[23] Australian Country Life, Nov 1911, quoted in Kate Stackhouse (ed.), The Australian Women's Diary 1995, Doubleday, Sydney, 1994, p. 131. Back

[24] ATCJ, Dec 1 1915, p. 34.Back

[25] Recipe book, n.d., private collection of author. Back

[26] SMH, 21 Dec 1950, p. 2.Back

[27] SMH, 17 Dec 1904, p. 1.Back

[28] Stage and Society, 13 Dec 1923, p. 29. Back

[29] ATCJ , 19 Dec 1897, p. 18. Back

[30] Marcus Clarke, AColonial City, pp. 29-30. Back

[31] ATCJ, 1 Dec 1900, p. 42;SMH, Dec 4 1940, p. 9; SMH, Dec 1 1936, p. 22. Back

[32] Recipe book, n.d. (internal evidence suggests inter-war), private collection of author, my emphasis.Back

[33] M. Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built, Australasian Publishing Company, Sydney, 1929, p. 98. Back

[34] Michael Symons, The Pudding That Took A Thousand Cooks , Viking, Ringwood, Vic., 1998, p. 185. Back

[35] Judith Keene, 'At Home and Away with the Amery Family on Empire Day, 1932', History Australia, v. 1, no. 2, July 2004, p. 186. Back

[36] Stage and Society, 1 Dec 1924 , p. 44. Back

[37] Cherry Ripe, Goodbye Cultural Cringe, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1993, pp. 192-3. Back

[38] SMH, 16 Dec 1931, p. 6.Back

[39] Home, 1 Dec 1933, p. 67.Back

[40] Home, 1 Dec 1923, p. 36.Back

[41] Detail of full page illustration,ISN, 11 Dec 1875, p. 5. Back

[42] For more aspects that were acclimatised, see Rhiannon Donaldson, '"Can this really be Christmas?"', Chapter 2. Back

[43] Daniel Miller, 'A Theory of Christmas', p. 24. Back

[44] ATCJ, Dec 6 1890, p. 42.Back

[45] K.S. Inglis, The Australian Colonists, p. 109. Back

[46] Michael Symons, One Continuous Picnic, p. 26. Back

[47] Ghassan Hage, 'At home in the entrails of the West: Multiculturalism, ethnic food and migrant home-building', in Helen Grace, Ghassan Hage, Lesley Johnson, Julie Langworth, Michael Symonds (eds.), Home/World: space, community and marginality in Sydney's west, Pluto Press, Sydney, 1997. Back

[48] Ghassan Hage, 'At home in the entrails of the West', pp. 112, 108. Back

[49] Ghassan Hage, 'At home in the entrails of the West', p. 112. Back

[50] Kirsten McKenzie, Scandal in the Colonies: Sydney and Cape Town, 1820-1850, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic, 2004, p.12. Back

[51] Penny Russell, 'Cultures of Distinction', in Richard White and Hsu-Ming Teo (eds.), Cultural History in Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2003, p. 167. Back

[52] Some examples include ATCJ , 7 Dec 1872, p. 822; ATCJ , 21 Dec 1872, p. 816;Illustrated Sydney News (ISN) , 11 Dec 1875, p. 5; ISN , 18 Dec 1880, p. 5; ATCJ , 25 Dec 1880, p. 1218; ISN, 24 Dec 1881, p. 17; ISN , 23 Dec 1882, p. 5; ISN , 22 Dec 1883, p. 5; ATCJ , 17 Dec 1892, p. 16. Back

[53] Penny Russell, 'Cultures of Distinction', p. 168; for the English Christmas, see J. R. Pimlott, The Englishman's Christmas. Back

[54] ISN, Dec 1887 Christmas supplement, p. 5. Back

[55] ATCJ , 17 Dec 1898, p. 18. Back

[56]Andrew Hassam, 'Through Australian Eyes: Identity and Place in the Letters and Diaries of Australian Visitors to Britain', in David Day (ed.),Australian Identities, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 1998, p. 47. For 'imagined communities' see Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London , 1983. Back

[57] This fictional style can also be seen in films such as Ralph Smart, Bush Christmas, 1947; this is an example of Christmas incorporating and being incorporated by different media, Daniel Miller, 'A Theory of Christmas', p. 4. Back

[58] Australian Women's Magazine and Domestic Journal, 1 Dec 1882 ; ATCJ , 17 Dec 1887, p. 1291;ATCJ , 15 Dec 1894, p. 30. Back

[59] These stories should be compared to the many private Christmases in the bush or on country properties where every effort was made to overcome the isolation and other problems and provide the plum pudding as the crown of this special day's feast. On Exmoor station, Rachel Henning's family and overseers had roast mutton and a 'very superior plum pudding': David Adams, ed., The Letters of Rachel Henning, pp. 117-9. The family at isolated Kaleno station managed a plum pudding in their second Christmas: Kaleno Station diary, Dec 1882, private collection. My thanks to Richard Emmerick for this source. Back

[60] ATCJ, Dec 17 1902, p. 30. Although the piece reads as non-fiction, it is never stated that it is.Back

[61] ATCJ, Dec 17 1902, p. 30, my emphasis. Back

[62] Australian Woman's Sphere, Jan 15 1904, pp. 398-9. Back

[63] Lone Hand, 1 Jan 1910 , pp. 322-3. Back

[64] Quoted in Frank Cusack, The Australian Christmas, pp. 94-5. Back

[65] ATCJ, 19 Dec 1897, p. 33. Back

[66] Elspeth Probyn, Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities, Routledge, London and New York, 2000, pp. 104-113. Back

[67] Daniel Miller, 'A Theory of Christmas', pp. 35, 23. Back

[68] SMH , 24 Dec 1904, p. 8.Back

[69] K. S. Inglis, The Australian Colonists, p. 109; Cherry Ripe, Goodbye Cultural Cringe, pp. 192-3. Back

[70] ISN , Dec 23 1882, p. 4 .Back

[71] Karal Ann Marling, Merry Christmas!, p. 140 . Back