Smiles, candles, community - the Australian tradition of Carols by Candlelight

Smiles, candles, community – the Australian tradition of Carols by Candlelight

Being an Australian, Christmas means summer time and with it come the uniquely southern hemisphere traditions.

One of my favourites is Carols by Candlelight. Every community organisation, church and council arranges these events which take place in local parks in the evenings, just as the sun goes down on a sizzling hot day, and the night time breeze rises just a little.

Friends and strangers gather together and start with that most ubiquitous of Australian cuisine – the barbecued snag, served with or without onions, on a sliced of buttered bread. For the price of a couple of dollars all donated to charity, it’s a single-handed snack that satisfies body and soul.

Being closer to the equator than other parts of the country, Queensland doesn’t get twilight, here the sun makes her downward trajectory fast, and the thirty minutes of grey is subsumed by an inky black sky sprinkled with stars.

Glowsticks, torches and candles make their appearance too. Armed with basic stage lighting and a mobile amp, the carolers, often from local churches, lead the singing and everyone joins in those familiar songs – Away In A Manger, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night…

carols2And we sing them together in a spirit of community, gathering close, united by tradition and celebration.

I hadn’t realised that the Carols by Candlelight started in the spirit of charity and giving:

The inspiration for Vision Australia’s Carols by Candlelight® presented by Myer was born one Christmas Eve in 1937, as radio veteran, the late Norman Banks MBE, strolled along historic St Kilda Road in Melbourne after a late night radio shift.

As he walked, he noticed an elderly woman sitting up in bed by her window, her face lit only by a candle. She had a radio beside her and was singing along to the Christmas carol, Away in a Manger. It was at this moment that Banks was inspired to create the first gathering of people to sing carols by candlelight…

…And so, in 1938, 10,000 people gathered at midnight in the Alexandra Gardens to sing carols with a 30 strong choir, two soloists and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Band. The unusual candlelight setting, and the beauty of the carols, instantly won the affection of the large assembly. A new Christmas tradition was born.

Missing out on what seemed to be a ‘proper’ Christmas – sleet, snow, sleigh bells – didn’t seem to matter so much when one remembered the true meaning of Christmas.

Sometimes we’d share another modern tradition with our British and American cousins – the special Christmas episode of our favourite TV shows. They were charming, festive and fun and seemed to have a magical quality that embody the season. Last year I blogged on some of my favourite Christmas episode here.

Coming November 2016

Coming November 2016

And it was in that tradition that I wrote The Thief of Hearts – a little Agatha Christie, a little Girls’ Own Adventures and a little romance thrown in too. Even the heroine’s name, Caroline (shortened to Caro), hints at Christmas.

It’s release day for The Thief of Hearts. I hope you enjoy reading it and may Christmas bringing you joy, peace, love and feeling of belonging to something transcendent.

Below the excerpt is the book trailer for The Thief of Hearts.


“But now I’m home again, at my father’s behest, and he’s telling me once again I need to settle down, join my brother in business. So I shall. This will be the last season for The Dark Duke.”

“Doesn’t that make you sad?”

“Not really. In fact, I’m rather looking forward to it. I learned a lot as an engineer in the Army, so much that can be applied here at home – especially mechanical engineering. I think there’s a time when one must ‘put away childish things’, don’t you agree?”

She smiled at him but said nothing and turned to look out of the window. She thought of her law studies and her mother’s opposing desire to see her daughter wed and with a family of her own. Perhaps it was time she grew up also, and take up her responsibilities. Perhaps it was selfish to hold onto her dream of becoming a lawyer.

She sighed inwardly.

Perhaps, despite her misgivings, she should accept Bertie’s offer of marriage. After all, who knew her better than he did? At least he would let her finish her studies and not demand she break them off immediately.

She was unaware she was lost in her own thoughts until she sensed Tobias watching her closely. She turned to face him and felt a heated blush burn her cheeks. There was something in his expression which fascinated her and, for a moment, she felt a deep longing. What would it be like to kiss him?

“Now there’s a trick – disappearing so far into your own thoughts you were no longer here,” he said, his voice barely audible over the steady clip-clop of the horse and the sound of the traffic around them. “A penny for them?”

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