By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Christmas Down Under

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterLynn Harrell, who grew up in Australia, holds an authentic digeridoo, “not one of the tourist ones.” The musical instrument is made from a hollow branch. Harrell’s mother, Lorraine Jones, and their dachshund are also pictured. Earlier, Jones spoke to the dog, who was interrogating a visitor. “Do get back, Luv,” she said.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Lynn Harrell, who grew up in Australia, holds an authentic digeridoo, “not one of the tourist ones.” The musical instrument is made from a hollow branch. Harrell’s mother, Lorraine Jones, and their dachshund are also pictured. Earlier, Jones spoke to the dog, who was interrogating a visitor. “Do get back, Luv,” she said.
Marcus Larson/News-RegisterAn Aboriginal painting of fighting kangeroos is among several pieces of Australian art owned by Lorraine Jones and her daughter, Lynn Harrell.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
An Aboriginal painting of fighting kangeroos is among several pieces of Australian art owned by Lorraine Jones and her daughter, Lynn Harrell.

“The adults would lie around, prostrate with food, but the kids would play,” recalled Jones, who now lives near Amity.

The water was warm. After all, it was summer in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, Christmas marks the start of summer vacation, a six-week holiday from school that also includes two more holidays, New Year’s Day and Australia Day, which falls on Jan. 26.

“In January, you’d go to the beach every day,” Jones recalled. “And every afternoon at 3, a storm comes.”

Jones still lives fairly close to the beach, but she won’t be driving to the Oregon coast this Christmas. Instead, she will be celebrating with her daughter, Lynn Harrell of Amity. As a special treat, her other daughter, Lynn’s sister Vivien, will be visiting from England.

Before Vivien leaves London, she’ll stop by a Tesco supermarket and pick up a Christmas pudding. The traditional steamed dessert is a must for Christmas dinner in Great Britain and its former colonies.

Australia incorporates many British traditions, since it started as a British colony and retained the connections after becoming independent in 1901. It also honors many traditions Americans will recognize in its Christmas celebration.

Yet the hot weather, the singing magpies and kookaburra birds, the tropical flowers and ripe fruit make the Australian holidays unique.

When Jones was a child in Sydney in the 1930s, her family decorated a fir tree purchased from the market. The family also hung up Christmas cards, usually suspending them over ribbons — something she still does today.

“We didn’t go mad with decorations, like some people do,” Jones said.

On Christmas morning, she and her two sisters would awaken as soon as they could and “dive into the presents.” She said, “I wanted whatever I could get.”

That wasn’t much by today’s standards. But in the 1930s, any gift was welcome.

One of her favorites was a cardboard dollhouse that had to be punched out and assembled. “I had it put together before Mum got up,” she said.

She knew her parents provided the presents, but she also looked forward to seeing Santa Claus on Christmas Day. He was similar to a U.S. Santa, right down to the furry red coat, although it undoubtedly was too heavy for the Australian summer.

After opening gifts, Jones looked forward to a Christmas breakfast that included special treats: nuts and cherries, which ripen in December in Australia.

Later in the day, her father, a chef, would make stuffing for the Christmas dinner chicken. Some years, it was pork, lamb or goat instead, along with vegetables.

Christmas dinner featured Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, as well. The latter is a beloved mixture of cake and fruit, soaked with brandy.

The British cake is a cousin to U.S. fruitcake, but much better, said Jones and her daughter, who makes the cakes these days.

Her father was of Greek heritage, so Jones and her family also followed Greek tradition of dropping numerous silver coins or trinkets into their cake batter. As she grew up and started hosting holiday dinners herself, she said, Jones always made sure her father received a lucky piece — even if she had to seed his portion individually.

The Greek connection also showed in her family’s New Year’s celebration, which was even bigger than the one at Christmas. “Mom was Welsh, so we did the British traditions on Christmas, and Dad was Greek, so we celebrated New Year’s with his traditions,” she said.

That meant fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Men playing cards for money. And a big New Year’s cake that contained one large coin, bringing good luck to its recipient.

Her father was born in Cairo, the capital city in Egypt, when her grandparents were living there. The family later returned to Leros, one of the Greek Islands, but sent her father, then just a 14-year-old lad, France instead. There, he was indentured as a replacement worker for French men serving in World War I.

After the war, he returned to Greece briefly, then moved to Australia, where one of his uncles had settled.

He met her mother there. Her family was Welsh, but immigrated to Australia prior to her birth.

Jones’ childhood holidays were filled with Christmas music. Even in school, she and her friends sang religious carols and hymns.

Later, she became a teacher. And she recalled, “We said a prayer before lunch and sang ‘God Save the Queen.’”

Now Australia’s population is both more secular and more diverse, featuring a variety of religions. Since not everyone recognizes the birth of Christ, Christmas carols are banned from schools and government buildings, she said. Even some shops don’t play Christian tunes, for fear of offending.

“But you can celebrate in home or at church,” she said.

Jones taught primary school, kindergarten through second grade, for 30 years. Later, after moving to Germany, she ran a childcare center, led tours and taught English to soldiers. After coming to the U.S., she taught reading and writing classes for seniors.

During her teaching career in Australia, Jones planned a field trip each December. She would take her young students to see the Christmas pantomimes, broadly comic plays that also are a British heritage.

Students would laugh at Punch and Judy, fairy stories and other sketches. Afterward, they would picnic on Aussie meat pies before heading back to school.

“That was so lovely,” Jones recalled.

After school and during the first days of the summer holiday, Jones would take her two daughters to see the decorated windows in downtown stores. Some, like the David Jones department store chain, had elaborate displays featuring moving toys, trains, fairies and Santa Claus.

They would also visit Martin Place, Sydney’s version of Times Square. Each December, it would have a huge decorated tree as well as lots of flowers, from poinsettias to bougainvillea and other kinds of flowering plants that flourish in the tropics.

Martin Place also is the site of Australian’s memorial to war dead. They would watch soldiers perform the daily ceremony in tribute to the unknown soldiers lost in battle.

When her daughters were young, Jones made a tradition of hanging up Christmas stockings. Ready-made, pre-filled stockings were available, but she made her own and stuffed them with candy and toys.

The stockings served an important role, she said. They occupied the girls until it was time for them to pull their presents from under the silver, artificial tree.

She also fixed a big Christmas breakfast for her children. “Prawns,” daughter Harrell said, recalling her favorite holiday dish.

Harrell and her sister fell in love with prawns during an ordinary Friday shopping trip, Jones said, noting Australians usually did all their shopping once a week, rather than stopping by the store frequently as she sees Americans doing.

“The girls looked into the window of the fish shop and saw these huge king prawns,” Jones recalled, holding her hands a foot apart.

“‘Can we have one, Mummy? Can we each have one?’” she said, mimicking children’s voices. She bought the prawns, and from then on, that’s what the girls wanted.

For Christmas dinner, Jones said she might bake a chicken or a ham with pineapple and cherries. She would also serve lots of fruit, and, of course, the Christmas pudding and cake.

On Dec. 26, known in countries with a British heritage as “Boxing Day,” people would go visiting. “Everyone could feel free to come over and help eat up the leftovers,” Jones recalled, adding that help was needed, since the Christmas meal was always so bountiful.

Harrell celebrated Christmas in Australia until she was 21, when she left for a tour of Europe. 

It was a common practice for Australian young people at the time. But in her case, she never returned. 

Instead, she met Leroy Harrell, an American soldier serving in Germany. They married and set up house near his base.

Her mother, divorced by then, joined her in Germany a few years later.

There, Jones also met and married an American soldier as well — Bill Jones. “He was one of the most delightful people — the most delightful — I’ve ever met,” she said of her late husband.

She recalled talking him into playing Santa for a Christmas party at her childcare center. He did a great job with the ho-ho-ho’s, she said.

Jones moved to the U.S. when her husband was transferred back home. Her daughter also moved with her husband, landing at Fort Lewis, Washington.

After her husband retired from the Army, Harrell joined. She served 20 years, mostly as a recruiter.

She and her husband came to Yamhill County when she was assigned to the recruiting center in McMinnville. Her mother joined her after being widowed.

Today, they still serve Christmas cake and pudding.

But their tree is decorated not just with reminders of Australia, but also with ornaments they’ve collected in their travels around the world. Some came from a factory in Furth, Germany, near where they once lived.

They still love their homeland. They have many paintings and other reminders in their home, including an authentic digeridoo.

“Not one of the tourist ones!” Harrell said.

“Australia is an amazing country,” Jones said. But she added, “So is this one.”

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or

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