It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Christmas in New Zealand

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!

By Cesy

Cesy grew up in a sheep farm in New Zealand. Accordingly some of her views are a bit strange.

13 replies on “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Christmas in New Zealand”

You are still blowing my mind here with this Christmas-in-New-Zealand business. It seems so strange that young kids don’t question the logic about the fake snow and sleighs and other Northern Hemisphere-centric traditions. Logic, Kiwikids. (Although, I suppose that snow on Christmas is probably the most logical of all Christmas traditions. Don’t tell Santa.)

I pity the fact that I was too young to remember the parades, but my Australian friends (yes I know, that’s not NZ, don’t hurt me) always always send me a Christmas card that involves a) a barbecue and/or b) Santa in swimming trunks.

And I would love to have a summery Christmas once. Snow’s overrated.

Yay for New Zealand Christmas!  As a Canadian, I had my first warm Christmas last year in Whakatane with my partner’s family.  It felt very different.   I loved warm New Year’s without reservations, that is the best!  I live in Melbourne now but am headed home for a few weeks so won’t be able to see if they ever get the Christmas sign put up at Flinder’s Street Station (much controversy over that this year).  Hurray for Antipodean things!

Honestly, one of the best nights of the year for me. I missed the last one and I’m going to miss this years one, but I’m going to try my hardest to get to the one next year!  I left out the bit about how we went to the pub with my parents the last parade I went to and my Dad attempted to set up my sister with a Scottish man wearing a kilt who was leaning on the bar. Dad invited him to the family BBQ we had the next day, and he showed up, intending to woo my sister. My sister, not so keen on being set up with random Scottish men by her father, didn’t take it any further.

I’ll never forget when I lived in New Zealand, the first Christmas I celebrated there. I was given a necklace of jade, and taken to my father in law’s ‘work do’, as you call them. I got to participate in a hangi, where food is cooked underground, thermally (New Zealand is a hotbed of volcanic activity). We drank wine and ate yorkshire puddings and other delicious smoked foods, and topped off the evening with the Coronation Street Christmas special (okay, so that’s an English show). It was extremely enjoyable for me. I loved every minute of experiencing something different than the usual American Christmas I’d experienced all my life.

Have to admit,  I’ve never had a full hangi. Had an umu at my Mum’s Christmas work do which is done above ground in metal drums, which was incredibly tasty. I think the basis of a celebration is the same the world around (good people, food, booze), it’s just the way you do it or the weather you do it in may be slightly different.

Hangi is actually cooked in a pit with heated river stones, rather than relying on geothermal activity (which is sort of patchy around the country anyway). Other polynesian islands and countries practice similar methods of cooking, including Hawai’i, where I think it’s called Kalua?

Anyway, it’s delicious and since I’ve been living in Australia, I’ve been craving it SO HARD.

It’s actually going to be my first christmas outside of NZ this year, and I’m rather interested to see how Melbourne gets it done.

I don’t believe there has ever been a decree but it seems like the de facto dessert of the nation. It’s pretty much the only “New Zealand” dessert I can think of, and I’d attribute most of that feeling to the dispute over the origins of the pav which we have with Australians, which I hope to write about very soon. Australians and Kiwis love to pinch things off each other and call them their own.

You know I’m claiming it the other way around! I grew up where Phar Lap was born, we have 2 statues and a racecourse named after him and Crowe identifies as a Aussie (why else would  he buy the Rabbitohs?) You’ll also never take the Finn Brothers away from us either.


Keep an eye out later in the week for a post where I stake my claims on all these things…



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