A Truly Multicultural Christmas

Curious, isn’t it, the way we continue to celebrate Christmas in Australia.
Come December, and the official start of summer, shop interiors and department stores are filled with white-bearded Santas and reindeer; cards and Advent calendars depict scenes of snow.  Holly, ivy and misletoe still deck the halls and snowmen are sold as decorations for fir trees.
Meanwhile the temperature outside has often soared to 35degC -40degC in the shade.

 “The Aussie beach doesn’t care who you are or what you wear. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race or religion.” – Brigid Delaney

Even more curious is what many of us continue to eat on the day – roast turkey or goose or chicken, hot from the oven, complete with roast vegetables and gravy followed by steamed hot plum pudding with custard and cream; mince tarts and heavy fruit cake.
Why is it that we still haven’t forged any real traditions of our own and continue to slave over a hot stove murdering the food?
Our on-going links with Britain and all the traditions of the “mother country” are revealed quite starkly at this annual festival.
A social anthropologist could have a lot of fun analysing such customs.

 Back in the day:a traditional Anglo-style Roast Christmas Turkey with all the trimmings (from my “Entertaining At Home” book)

Let’s start with the food. Shouldn’t it reflect our multi-cultural society and range across a wide range of ethnic influences?
These may include Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and North African re-interpreted for a 21st Australian lifestyle? Not to mention our very own native foods, still overlooked by most of us.
Curiously, I wrote the above words 23 years ago for one of the Sunday newspapers, not long after the opening of the Sydney Olympic Games, and was prompted to revisit it after coming across a series of tweets by Dr Kate Miller, a Melbourne-based Geriatrician who commented:
“I watched Donna Hay Christmas on Disney + today with a sick school kiddo and I have had some thoughts on the state of TV I wish to share. ..The age of the picture perfect home and entertaining is over.
“In this series, we are in a multimillion dollar mansion at the top of a cliff… Everything inside the house is verying [sic] shades of white and beige, the appliances expensive the interior design curated to within an inch of its life.

The setting for a “perfect” Christmas

“The guests are good looking. They are all dressed in white, they are all, bar one, white and mostly blonde. The food is expensive or hard to find.  Lobster. Juniper berries…
“Lots and lots of explaining to the school kiddo that most people are never in their lifetimes, going to put together a Christmas in a house like that, with appliances like that, ingredients, people. To say nothing of eating a full Christmas lunch dressed in white. And while I learned a couple of new techniques, my school kiddo was left saying they were bored and that most people arent’s like this.
“I want a TV show called Festive. I want cooking for all the festivals. Eid. Diwali. Christmas. Chuseok. Orthodox Christmas. Chinese New Year. The Mooncake Festival. Our society is multicultural – let’s learn new food together.”

Donna Hay’s Perfect Christmas


My daughter was with me as I flicked through the thread.
“And how can you have a Donna Hay Christmas when you have nowhere to live?” she asked.
 I remembered another story I’d written about homeless people living in tents in Sydney’s Martin Place and recalled how impressed I’d been by the free hot food available from the Guru Nanak Free Kitchenette food truck.
Lucky and her husband Balbir Singh have been running the Free Kitchenette since 2012 serving a variety of hot meals, tea, coffee, drinks and fresh seasonal fruit to the homeless and needy. They were back at Martin Place last Saturday in sweltering 42C heat with their popular homemade samosas, butter paneer, potato curry, dhal, chickpeas, rice, red beans and roti.

Balbir, Shaizy and Lucky Singh

The Singhs migrated to Australia from Delhi, India, 20 years ago with just five suitcases.
“When I first arrived, I was shocked to discover homeless people around Town Hall, many asking for money.  I never realised there was homelessness here,” Lucky told me.
“I decided there and then to do something for them.  We opened our charity organisation on the birth of the anniversary of Guru Nanak who taught us to put aside a small percentage of our salary each week for the vulnerable in society.  Our relgion is Sikh, and wherever Sikhs are, they do this.”
At first Lucky and Balbir would take their cars, loaded with food and drinks, but found it difficult to park in the city.
“We asked our 16,000 followers to donate $2 each so we could buy a van. Within a month, we were able to buy one.  It didn’t take long before we needed a much bigger van which we bought with the help of our volunteers.”

Guru Nanak’s Food Truck, Martin Place Sydney

The 150-200  volunteers connect via WhatsApp with Lucky about forthcoming food drives and include people from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, South Africa and native born Aussies.
“Each food drive costs between $1100-$1500,” she explained.
“We always take six boxes of fruit plus fizzy drinks and poppers and also offer rice pudding for dessert.
“I cried when they took the 24/7 Kitchen and tents in Martin Place away and moved the homeless people elsewhere. I continue because it’s my passion. I want to feed my soul. And my Guru’s teaching is as relevant today as when he first preached it.”

This year I made Christmas cakes and shortbread for Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchenette. “Every time a hand reaches out to help others, that is CHRISTMAS for us,” says Lucky Singh

The Singhs’ son Kabir recently set up his own Pocket Rocketz food truck selling jaffles and will appear in a new SBS food series next year called Appetite.
Come Christmas day the Singhs go to the beach and take a picnic, something they share with thousands of other dinky-di Aussies.
So how will you celebrate Christmas this year? and what sort of food will you cook, bake, roast, barbecue to celebrate for the day? This Thai-me-kangaroo-down salad is a zingy mix of indigenous and Thai food and technique.
If it’s turkey you still hanker after, why not a roasted or smoked turkey buffe? Buy it pre-sliced and serve with pickled oranges or candied clementines. For dessert a glorious crimson summer pud using fresh berries served with thick cream and ice cream.

Warndu’s Strawberry Gum Pavlova

And if summer pudding doesn’t suit, how about this stunning  Strawberry Gum Pavlova?
And don’t forget the bonbons, sunscreen and party hats 🙂