November is when many people start thinking about their upcoming Christmas plans. 2020 is going to be a little different when it comes to Christmas in Australia. Here are some things to help you plan for the holiday season this year.
Image courtesy of Marco Verch Professional Photographer at Flickr
First of all, Christmas this year falls on a Friday with the New Year being the following Friday. So basically Christmas holidays and the Christmas rush will start on December 24, with many people returning from their holidays on Sunday, January 3.
COVID-19 rules, closures & borders
One the biggest variables is the current status of the global pandemic we are all experiencing. We know that international borders will be closed with the exception of New Zealand. We can also expect Australia's state borders to open up, with all states except Western Australia committing to opening borders by Christmas.
Remember that borders will only open if there are no new outbreaks, and remain open for the same reason. But politicians are committed to letting families reunite at Christmas, so we can expect this to remain in place.
At the same time, one of the biggest questions, especially in Victoria, is how many people can gather, what you can, and who you can do it with. Which means, keep an eye on the news and keep your plans tentative for now. More details are provided below on what is expected.
While it is important to worry about COVID-19 when you are travelling and gathering to celebrate the holiday season, I would hope people can still remember the importance of road safety. With many people rushing off out of cities on December 24, the traffic this year is probably going to be bad. Hopefully, it won't be the worst ever for road fatalities.
Remember, alcohol, fatigue and speed are all killers on the road. When you plan your travels, make sure you have plenty of time, are not going too far, and give yourself time to rest. Having a few drinks in the office on Christmas eve, packing the whinging family into the car, and joining the parking lot, I mean highway that leads out of the city, is not going to be pleasant or safe. Which can lead to frustration, distraction and fatigue.
Then of course with COVID-19, avoid gatherings if you have any symptoms of Coronavirus. With COVID-19, it is the gift that keeps on giving - it is one the one thing you don't want to give anyone.
With international travel off the cards for the rest of the year, more people than ever before are planning to have a local trip. Christmas is well known to be busy, and at the time of writing this, a lot of popular destinations are being reported as being booked out.
However, things are not as simple as that. Most accommodation in Australia, especially at peak times, require people to book multiple days when booking well in advance. So some places might be booked out, especially popular camping and caravanning sites, but you might find accommodation becoming free for shorter bookings closer to the dates you want.
While everyone might be dreaming of a beach holiday, you need to shop around to find a place that is not sold out
Also, if state borders don't open or open then close again, there will be plenty of cancellations. So keep an eye on the news as well and keep checking your must-visit destination.
In addition, maybe places like Noosa and Byron Bay are booked out, but that doesn't mean there are not lots of other less well-known destinations around Australia that are worth visiting. An example are camping spots. The ones with most facilities usually fill up quickly at Christmas time, but if you look around the area, you are likely to find additional places to stay. Then, of course, there are lots of less famous towns which are open to bookings that are within a reasonable driving distance of the place you really want to go.
One alternative that people often neglect are the city escapes. Christmas traditionally is when people escape the city, and business travellers stay home. I have found cheaper accommodation in even small cities at Christmas, including Wollongong and Newcastle. Consider also the major capital cities as well, which can be fun playgrounds during the holiday season.
If you clicked on this article to find out how many people can you have around for Christmas dinner, you may be a bit disappointed. At the time of writing this article, Victoria allows 2 visitors (and their dependents) to visit, NSW allows gatherings of up 20, 40 are allowed in Tasmania, Queensland up to 40 (going to 50 soon), 50 in South Australia, and the Northern Territory and Western Australia putting no limit beyond a 1.5 metre and 2 metre space per person rule respectively.
But these rules don't cover commercial venues, which may have more if they are large enough and have a COVID-Safe plan, and outdoor gatherings have their own rules. Most states leaders are keen to allow gatherings of all sizes by Christmas. Then of course, if COVID-19 has another comeback, numbers may be much smaller.
Then there is the question of whether people from other states can come and visit you for Christmas. At the moment, this is looking pretty likely, barring another outbreak. Most states expect to open their borders on December 1, and we are not sure when Western Australia will make their final Christmas decision.
So if you are in Victoria and even NSW, you probably want to plan for smaller gatherings, while in other states, you will be able to have big family get-togethers, unless of course, you have a huge family. My thought on this matter is that overall, smaller local gatherings are going to be better.
If there is anything that annoys me about COVID-19, and there are quite a few annoyances that result from a global pandemic, it is what has happened to events, especially free events. In the past, they would put on Christmas events, from parades to fireworks, from Santa flying using a water jetpack surrounded by elves on jet skis through to carols by candlelight. For these, you would just turn up and watch.
Yes, there are still events on around the country. In 2020, because organisers are trying to keep people safe and follow the rules, you usually have to book in advance for most events. Which usually means that if you don't book in early, you are going to miss out.
Yes, there will be Christmas events around Australia, but you probably need to book your free tickets in advance
So in 2020, keep a weather eye open for new free events so you can book in early, or stick with paid events. Hopefully, there will be a few events that everyone can just wander in and see. Watch Weekend Notes for any updates on events in your area.
Christmas Lunch & Dinner
For people who haven't travelled at Christmas time in Australia, one of the most common questions that is asked is "Where can I eat lunch on Christmas day?". With a few people also wondering about Christmas dinner.
So the general answer is this. Most 4 or 5-star hotels will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, though you will have to book in advance. Lots of restaurants also have Christmas lunch and dinner offerings. Again you have to book in advance, and these set menus, as well the hotel set menus, are generally pretty expensive. But nearly every decent tourist venue will have somewhere like this to eat dinner.
At the other end of the scale is the old staple of the family-run Chinese restaurant. I think these days, Indian restaurants are also an option for Christmas. These places are great for a cheap meal but ring ahead as they usually don't advertise in advance. Many a backpacker has had to wander around on Christmas day trying to find something open, only to eventually stumble on a Chinese restaurant so that they don't starve on that day.
In some tourist locations, I am thinking Bondi Beach and Surfers Paradise, have a range of restaurants that remain open for international tourists. While they have a Christmas surcharge, they are a lot cheaper than the set meal options. Not sure what will happen in those locations this year though as it has been a long time since international visitors have been let into the country.
My go-to option for Christmas is lunch or even dinner in a park. Remember, over the last few years, eating seafood, especially cold pre-cooked seafood for Christmas lunch has become an Aussie tradition. If you are travelling, remember, you probably want to pre-book your seafood selection as they will sell out on Christmas eve, and pick it up early on December 24. If you flew to your destination, take one (or several) of those foldable cooler bags, then pack it with ice, and fill it with cold prawns, lobsters, crabs or Moreton bay bugs. They should keep nicely until Christmas day. Head to a local park, beach or scenic spot with a picnic blanket, a few cold drinks, a salad, cheese, dips etc, that you picked up from the local supermarket the day before, and of course your loved ones. For me, life doesn't get better than this.
Outdoor Christmas parties are a great idea for Christmas lunch
Christmas dinner can be more of a challenge when you are travelling. Thanks to cooking shows, more and more people are going all out on creating the perfect Christmas dinner. Personally, I dislike cooking in a motel kitchen, where they always have the worst most battered cooking utensils you can imagine. AirBnBs can be better, as many places stock their kitchens with good equipment to attract guests you like to cook. My main advice is to keep it simple if you are on the road.
Volunteering & Charity
2020 has been a hard year for many people. Christmas is not only a time for family celebrations, but also about thinking about others. More so than in any other year, 2020 should be a year for giving and teaching your kids about the importance of charity.
Presents being wrapped to be given to kids in need
The most basic way to give this Christmas is monetary donations. One of the main charities that have been working hard this year is Foodbank who distribute food to organisations that give it to people in need. You might think it is better to give food to this charity, but remember, they can often buy the food at wholesale or even manufacturers prices, while you are paying retail for anything you donate. It also saves them having to pick up and sort through donations.
I can't list all the charities that need your help at Christmas or just for 2020 in general. But think of places like The Smith Family and Vincent de Paul Society, who help people in need, women's shelters, The Red Cross that do a lot of work including helping bushfire victims, mental health charities, and many more. This year, the demands on their services have increased, but people are giving less.
If you have kids, making physical donations, especially of food or toys, can be a good way to make the act of giving more concrete. Remember, good quality donations are valuable to them, while the wrong ones will cost them money to sort through or dump, and take up storage space. Donate old clothes is good if they are still in top quality condition. When your youngest outgrows their clothes, they can go to charity. Many supermarkets and shopping centres have places to donate shelf-stable food or toys to people in need.
Food being sorted to go out to families in need at Christmas
Please note, don't just drop clothes or food outside of charity. They are not geared up to sort through them, and they have nowhere to store them. In fact, this can cost them more money than if you donated nothing and they bought items themselves.
Many people will also look for volunteering activities to do. A popular one is Christmas wrapping. But also all the charities I mentioned above that need both regular volunteers and extra people at this time of year.
When the Grinch tried to steal Christmas, he stole all the Christmas presents, decorations and food, but found that he hadn't stolen Christmas at all. 2020 might not be the best year for many people, but we do our best to both enjoy the season and bring cheer to others.