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A Tropical Christmas in Port Douglas Australia

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Honestly, I’m confused, my head is a mess. I spent forty-two years experiencing Christmas in winter. December, in my mind, will always be cold, now, suddenly, our tropical Christmas is in summer, it’s too weird!

I find myself living in Port Douglas, Australia, in an alternate hemisphere, am I supposed to adjust to the idea of Christmas in the tropics?  It’s just not right.

This on one of the very first posts ever published on this site. What started as a personal blog about a great travel adventure became one of the biggest and most popular travel blogs in the world. This post is part of our story, so it remains. It is about adjusting to being an ex-pat in the tropics, in particular, tropical Christmases.

Christmas in Port Douglas

swimming at Mossman Gorge. A tropical Christmas.
We start to feel Christmasy when we’re spending 50% of the time submerged. The water at Mossman Gorge is always icy cold.

Christmas in the Tropics

I’ve had to abandon my old ways of celebrating Christmas and adopt a whole new festive routine. No more decking the halls with boughs of holly, no mistletoe, no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, no real tree.

But that’s not the only problem for us, I am what’s called a chef’s widow. I spend a lot of time alone, Christmas day included.

It’s also our geographical remoteness, my family and friends are far, far away in the UK. No family gatherings, no good friends to spend the holidays with, no parties, nothing. Just us, D, Boo and I.

It’s hard, I find it very stressful trying to create a memorable tropical Christmas for the children. With no others around, it’s all me, I’m on duty full-time, trying to jolly everyone along.

But you know what? The children always have the best time,  my traditions aren’t their traditions. They haven’t grown up with making Christmas pudding in October and baking mince pies for everyone that calls. They’re not used to having new scarves and gloves from Santa. They don’t expect to have the whole family around the table for lunch, settling down to watch the Queen’s speech and a cheesy movie afterwards.  We’ve had to find new ways to make this time of the year special.

Our  New Tropical Christmas Traditions

So this is what we do to start feeling festive Down-under.

It’s all about swimming at this time of year. Stinger season has started ,  it’s stinking hot, the beach is off-limits, but the pool is lovely, like a warm bath. We spend hours out there most days.

Santa always brings new swim goggles, rashies and pool toys.

At some time before Christmas we always try to visit the Great Barrier Reef, it’s a special treat and it’s good to go before the wet season really gets underway.

Our family favorite at this time of year is to go for a swim in a rain forest stream. It’s something we only do around Christmas, once the wet season really takes hold it becomes dangerous, water pours down the mountains into the Mossman Gorge, rapidly raising levels. In winter it’s too cold, that water is icy all year round, unbelievably icy, which is good, it means there are no crocodiles.

No extended family dinner for us, it’s lunch for 3, me and my boys. People tend to feel sorry for us, dining alone on Christmas day, which is OK, I can deal with that. It’s a great way to get even closer to my children and we’re a tight knit little threesome.

Dad is nearby, he’s busy working, but he’s there. We have fun, the boys pick whatever they would like from the buffet, gorge themselves on desserts and we pull crackers and wear silly hats just the same as everyone else.

Tropical Christmas lunch
Tropical Christmas lunch for three

Festive food is different too, you don’t see a lot of turkeys in the shops, people here seem to go for jumbo sized hams. We’re not ham eaters, but we’re kept pretty happy with the Christmas buffet. 

There are plenty of locally caught prawns, salads, and tropical fruits. This is the best time of year for mangoes, passion fruit, and just about anything else you’d like to put on your pavlova. We abandoned Christmas pudding in favor of pavlova and trifle five years ago.

Mulled wine and glasses of coffee liqueur are replaced by chilled bubbly and mojitos, best taken sitting in the pool. I have absolutely no complaints about that adjustment.

In the UK, towns are decorated with festive street lights and the shops put on impressive window displays. That doesn’t happen here. I’m not sure why it doesn’t, it’s a bit odd. Some residents put on sizable displays at home, stringing lights between the palm trees. Every year it’s getting bigger and better.

We have made it our tradition to drive around after dark looking at the lights. We went last night and got doubly lucky, we saw an enormous python emerging from one of the storm drains.

Christmas in the tropics 1
Christmas in the tropics 3
Christmas in the tropics 2
I think domestic Christmas lights look so much better when strung between palm trees. Some of this year’s offerings around Port Douglas.

It’s still weird though, a tropical Christmas doesn’t feel right to me, but it’s not so bad, the children are happy, that’s what it’s all about. It gets easier and easier for me each year we spend here.

I expect all the Australian expats in the UK are feeling just as displaced in the depths of a British winter. We hope you all have a very happy, peaceful, Christmas, wherever you are in the world.

Simon, one of my favorite New Zealand bloggers has just posted something similar over at Man vs World. Is Christmas better hot or cold?

(By the way, if you want to see our Christmas tree, it’s here.)

Which do you prefer, a tropical Christmas or a traditional white Christmas just like the ones I used to know?

So that was our tropical Christmas reality before we became digital nomads. We left Australia to travel the world. Since then we have spent Christmas in Singapore, 2 Christmases in the UK, one in Wales, one in London, and 2 in the harsh withers of Romania. Lockdown brought us full circle, we came back to the tropics. Still, Christmas feels better to us cold, better yet with snow. It just comes down to what you’re used to, I think.

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Renee - RambleCrunch

Saturday 7th of December 2013

We don't have much extended family anywhere on the planet, so I really hear you about forging your own traditions. My daughter fantasizes about snow and activities and a lot of fuss, but honestly, she'd trade it in a heartbeat for your unlimited buffet at a posh restaurant. :-)

gabi (the nomadic family)

Wednesday 4th of December 2013

i love it how you continue to expand past all that you know of who you are to find new light and beauty. your unconventional new christmas is perefect love. by the way, i love how blue your eyes are in that pic where you are hugging your babies. your gorgeous my love. so proud of you, gabi


Wednesday 4th of December 2013

We have not yet experienced a tropical Christmas…but I would love to have one though! I guess that's part of the travel experience: breaking the habits. But what Heidi was saying: it's not the place, it's the experience.

Heidi Wagoner

Tuesday 3rd of December 2013

I think it is whatever you were raised with. I love all of the light and the crisp air outside, but not too cold. :-) I think of Christmas as an experience no matter where you are.


Tuesday 3rd of December 2013

When I lived in the UK I would have voted for a tropical Christmas. Now that I'm coming up for my 4th Christmas in Thailand, I'd like nothing better than a cold and snowy Christmas. Maybe I need to alternate each Christmas - the best of both worlds.


Tuesday 3rd of December 2013

I think you're right Manfred, once I got used to the tropical Xmas, it was OK, but I'm really, really looking forward to my first British Christmas for 6 or 7 years, this year. Plus James won't be working, yay! ( and dare I say it,when my husband was cooking in Oz on Xmas day, the food is much better in Britain)

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