The diversity of the settlers' native tongues and cultures has influenced the island's own culture, as evidenced by the range of ethnic festivals held throughout the year. Today most residents are Chinese followed by Australian / Europeans and Malay. All are permanent residents of Australia and the majority hold Australian citizenship.
Though English is the official language there are many residents who generally communicate in Malay or one of the four Chinese dialects. The earliest settlers spoke English and Cocos Malay, a unique version of Bahasa Indonesia which has been isolated from the mainstream language for over 150 years. Early arrivals from China mainly spoke Cantonese. Many early place names around the island are Cantonese words - such as Poon Saan- literally meaning half way up the hill.
Post war arrivals who came from Penang introduced other Chinese languages including Hakka, Hainese, Hokkien and Teochew, whilst those from Singapore introduced Mandarin. Bahasa Malayu is widely spoken by the Malay Community.
Because English was not a prerequisite for employment, a sizeable proportion of todays community is not fluent in English and many residents still converse in their native tongue. The influx of tourists has had an impact on the island's language. Indonesian is frequently spoken along with many of the Chinese languages. Thai, Japanese, German and a few other Europen languages are sometimes heard.
Tastes of the Tropics
Christmas Island's restaurants showcase its rich cultural mix. From spicy Asian fare to modern western cuisine often crafted to highlight fresh, local produce.
- It is suggested that ladies should dress modestly out of respect in the Kampong area.
- Shoes should be removed before entering a house, temple or mosque.
- Muslims use their right hand for eating, giving and receiving and will appreciate if you do the same when meeting them.
- There are dietary requirements which some of the different religions must adhere
- Refrain from touching a persons head.
Despite its mixture of races, languages and religious beliefs, the community works in harmony, freely sharing and borrowing from each others cultures. Religious tolerance is evident from the number of Chinese temples-Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and others as well as a Christian church, Muslim Mosque and a Baha'i Centre. Many religious and cultural festivals are observed including Christmas, Easter, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya.
The cultural diversity of the island has resulted in an adaptation and blending of ideas. People are always happy to tell you why things can sometimes be different on Christmas Island!
Annual Festivals and Holidays
The island certainly has more holidays and festivals than most places, but this is a product of its multicultural mix. Exact dates may vary from year to year however you can check by contacting the Christmas Island Tourism Association.