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Christmas Island Culture

From its early days of phosphate discovery in 1881, when settlers and workers arrived bringing cultural and religious traditions, the island community grew to become a fascinating melting pot of cultures.

Today, visitors are welcomed and encouraged to join in, learn more and experience the thriving, contemporary Christmas Island “feel” in the many amazing foods, festivals and places.

Islanders are proud of their home and its harmony, with a blend of Buddhist, Christian, Taoist and Muslim cultures that are celebrated openly.  Places of worship are open to all.

For information and access to strategies and documents relating to Christmas Island’s Culture and Heritage as developed by the National Trust of Western Australia, please click here …

Christmas Island, Australia

The People

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.
Christmas Island Australia, Language


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.
Christmas Island, Australia, food

Taste of The Tropics

Christmas Island’s restaurants,  cafes and pubs showcase its rich cultural mix from spicy asian fare to modern western cuisine.  A variety of styles is offered from traditional grills, to colonial settings to laid back casual pub options. Some offer the chance to relax over your meal while appreciating stunning outlooks.

Take advantage of the Island’s many picnic and barbecue venues and pack your own hamper from supplies available at the local shops.  Restaurants use, and shops supply, fresh local produce when available.

Cafe and restaurant options may be limited during Ramadan, Chinese New Year and Christmas – the Visitor Information Centre can provide information as to what is open during your visit.  As most food on Christmas Island is imported the cost for food and meals may be higher than other places to cover the additional transport.

christmas island, australia

Cultural Tips

  • 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.
  • Visitors are welcome to enter and photograph the Chinese Temples and join in the celebrations.
Christmas Island, Australia


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!
christmas island events

Annual Festivals & Holidays

See our What’s On page.   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.

Book your Christmas Island Trip

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