I live in New Zealand. Yes that does mean I know a lot about sheep and I appeared in Lord of the Rings as an extra (one of these statements is actually true. I’ll leave it up to you to work out which one). It also means we celebrate Christmas in summer and this, my friends, is a strange but delightful mixture of Northern Hemisphere traditions and the relaxed Kiwi summer lifestyle.
Despite being at the very bottom of the world, the celebration of Christmas in New Zealand is greatly influenced by the traditional Northern Hemisphere Christmas, despite the fact it is the middle of summer. We decorate trees with plastic snowflakes and snowmen figurines. We spray fake snow from a can around our windows. We often have a roast turkey and Christmas pudding despite the fact it is at least 85 degrees. We have Santa Claus, a man who drives a sleigh and has flying reindeer, despite the fact most Kiwi children have no idea what a sleigh is and I’m pretty certain there are no reindeer in this country. In short, some aspects of how New Zealanders celebrate Christmas are completely ridiculous when you take a step back and look at them. There is certainly no White Christmas here, Mr Crosby. I certainly don’t know what roasting a chestnut over an open fire involves.
While we do hold true to some strangely out of place notions of Christmas, Kiwis do put their own spin on it. I grew up singing a song called “Christmas on the Beach.” The only line I can recall from it is “Underneath the huge pohutukawa tree, Christmas on the beach.” Pohutukawas are New Zealand’s Christmas tree. Around Christmas time, they explode with these gorgeous red flowers, giving the coastlines a very Christmassy feel. As the song indicates, some people do spend Christmas at the beach. It is certainly hot enough to do so.
Some families like to forgo the traditional turkey dinner and have a barbeque instead. My own family does a mixture of both. My maternal grandmother will provide a turkey, and everyone else will bring salads, cold cuts and “things for the barbie.” My mother insists on Christmas pudding with steaming hot custard. The traditional Kiwi Christmas dessert is of course a pavlova, a giant meringue covered in cream, kiwifruit and strawberries, but that is a post for another day.
One Christmas related event I hold dear is the Christmas parade. Most towns have one, with floats of children merrily waving and businesses wishing everyone a merry Christmas in various nauseating ways, with Santa at the end throwing candy into the crowd. The small town I grew up in does the parade slightly differently. We certainly have the merrily waving children, but the highlight of the parade is always the floats created by the small farming communities that surround the town, poking fun at the year’s events. I remember that the year the Spice Girls hit the scene, there were no less than seven Spice Girls floats, which included several elderly war heroes dressed up as Spice Girls on their mobility scooters. The photos taken from the 2009 parade (the last one I attended) show a cross-dressing Susan Boyle, a truck towing a mobile barbeque that was serving sausages as it went, two floats about Tiger Woods, including fair number of mistresses (unfortunately there was some blackface involved in those ones. I never said it was an enlightened place), and cross dressing Next Top Model contestants. The parade began over 50 years ago, and since then, the parade has become a local icon–one of the most important nights in the social calender.
At the end of the day, a New Zealand Christmas is like a Christmas anywhere else. It’s all about family and how long it takes before you wish to throttle someone. It’s about coming together and sharing laughs and a terrible dish made out of grated carrot and gelatine made by doddery aunt that turns up year after a year, but you eat a little bit anyway just to be polite. It’s a special time of year that I thoroughly enjoy, mostly because it only happens once a year. Everyone has their own special traditions and it really can be the most magical time of the year, even without the snow and eggnog (whatever that is).
Happy Holidays everyone!