We saw a banner mounted above the entrance to St. David's Park one day: Carols by Candlelight … 15 and 16 December...Free tickets. Didn't that just make my heart stop? I googled to find out more and sure enough, they were handing out free entry tickets at the info booth on Elizabeth Street Mall.
Reading up a bit on this Australian Christmas tradition, I learned that it seems to have originated in southeastern Australia in the 19th century. According to Wiki, one of the earliest origins of this tradition began in the 19th century, when Cornish miners in Moonta, South Australia would gather on Christmas Eve to sing carols, their mining hats aglow with candles stuck to the brims. It's popular throughout Australia now, but especially so in Melbourne where it's even televised on Christmas Eve. The tradition, which has since spread around the world, gathers people together at the holidays in public venues to sing carols by candlelight. We saw it as an opportunity to congregate with the community and enjoy some Christmas spirit.
We read that there had been quite an issue concerning this year's Candlelight celebration in Hobart. The City Council had cut the budget substantially and moved the venue from Sandy Bay. St. David's Park could only accommodate half the number of people who had attended last year. I can understand the frustration of those who had worked hard to insure a big turnout in previous years, only to have their efforts thwarted by diminished budgets and a significantly smaller venue. We felt a bit guilty about using two tickets that might have been more appropriately given to locals who wanted to attend. We waited till near the end of the doling out of tickets, reasoning if people really wanted to attend, they'd snatch up the tickets early.
This year's Carols by Candlelight in Hobart was in its 63rd year, first occurring on 24 December 1949. The on-line information told us we could bring blankets and cushions, small amounts of wine/alcohol, a raincoat (if you bring it, you won't need it) and, of course, our best singing voices and Christmas spirit. The spirit wouldn't be hard, the voices? I didn't think they'd throw us out, but perhaps we wouldn't sing as loudly as we do when we're singing karaoke on the boat. We were advised not to bring pets, tents, eskies (coolers), large umbrellas or fireworks. Good, we had none of these things. No worries.
The day was windy, raw and rainy and we wondered how wet and uncomfortable it would be sitting on the cold ground to watch the festivities. We had planned to take a bottle of wine to share, but it was so chilly, we took a thermos of hot chocolate instead. It may be summer here, but it's still Tasmania. We found a good place to lay our plastic tarp and a blanket on top. I brought an extra blanket to snuggle up in. We bought candles and I couldn't help but think of the candlelight vigils being held all around the US now, not in celebration of Christmas, but rather in remembrance of the children and adults recently slain in Newtown, Connecticut. Sad thoughts don't mingle well with Christmas cheer.
The 90 minute program was small-townish and fun. The Lord Mayor of Hobart welcomed us. Local entertainers led us in song accompanied by the Hobart City Band and the Ogilvie High Concert Choir. Midst a sea of red Santa hats and reindeer antlers, we waited for the sky to darken to light our candles. It doesn't get dark here till well after 9pm now.
We knew most of the lyrics, but the tunes were significantly different for some songs. I know two versions of Away in a Manger, but the version they played wasn't close to either of them. We sang traditonal carols like Deck the Halls and more modern songs like Rudolph and White Christmas. It didn't seem to bother anyone that a “white Christmas” is neither expected nor dreamed of here. I looked around; everyone seemed to know all the lyrics.
Santa showed up. He was a bit frazzled being so close to Christmas with lots of work still to be done. His reindeer were “having a feed on the Domain lawns”, he said. He also explained that the hot Australian weather (farther north, for sure) was tough on the reindeer. When he makes his Australia run, he uses white boomers...big white kangaroos, the subject of a uniquely Aussie Christmas song.
We sipped our hot chocolate, snuggled up and enjoyed the evening. We were hoarse from singing when we left St. David's Park in good spirits and ready for Christmas.