How to Celebrate Christmas like a Kiwi

18 Nov 2014

If you’re staying in New Zealand over Christmas, you’ll probably have a very different experience to what you’d have at home, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere! We’ve created this handy guide about the “NZ Xmas” and how to celebrate it like a Kiwi. Amongst the classic “Merry Christmas” greetings, try the Maori translation: “Meri Kirihimete”.

The Christmas celebration arrived with the early European settlers, with Dutch explorer Abel Tasman celebrating the first Christmas in New Zealand in 1642. Since then, it was slowly integrated into NZ and Maori culture to become the wonderful holiday that it is today.

A summer Christmas

Unlike the typical Christmas postcard image, the New Zealand Christmas has no snow in sight. Because the country is in the Southern Hemisphere, December 25th sits within the summer season, December to February inclusive. Christmas is usually a warm, sunny day, where many New Zealanders spend the day outside in the sun.

Many families retreat to their beach or river-side baches (holiday homes; or “cribs” if you’re in the South Island), celebrate on the beach, or spend the day in their back yard with family and friends – Christmas is a very social event in New Zealand.

People having a BBQ on the beach

Before the big day

Even before the big day, the advertising of Christmas goods can start as early as late October to encourage people not to leave Christmas shopping to the last minute. Santa parades are held during November and early December. These parades travel down the main street of a city or town, and local businesses and community groups participate by decorating a float or by walking in the parade in costume. You’ll usually see emergency services, guide groups, veterans, marching bands and marchers, school groups, sports teams and of course the “big man” himself in his trusty sleigh.

Children enjoy opening advent calendars – a calendar that has 25 windows as a countdown to Christmas. Starting on the first of December, one window is opened per day, and each window can contain a prize such as a piece of candy, chocolate or small toy.

A favourite family activity is the decoration of a Christmas tree. These are usually small pine trees, though fake options are available. The pohutukawa tree is also often named as New Zealand’s Christmas tree, because it blooms in December and produces vibrant red flowers.

pohutukawa tree

Kiwi Christmas food

Many Kiwis enjoy having a typical roast dinner as the main Christmas meal, though having a barbeque or hangi (Maori earth oven) is also popular. You’ll see many people cooking sausages, meat patties, kebabs, chicken and pork on a barbeque, to be teamed with coleslaw, salads, bread rolls and tomato sauce.

The most popular dessert is the sweet and easy to make pavlova. This luxurious treat was named after the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured New Zealand in 1926. There has been a lot of disagreement between New Zealanders and Australians, arguing over which country the dessert belongs to. Luckily the dispute was resolved in 2010 with New Zealand claiming the title of the true inventors of the sweet treat (of course we knew that all along!).

Pavlova cake

Christmas day activities

Christmas has different meanings for different people. Some families like to attend religious celebrations at church, while others like to head down to the beach for a prime barbeque spot. Many New Zealanders would agree that Christmas is about celebrating a great day with family and friends; as unlike many other countries and cultures, New Zealand doesn’t have a day set aside for family celebration. Aside from the gift-giving traditions, there are a number of different activities to take part in on Christmas day:

  • Attend a Christmas mass at a nearby place of worship
  • Relax or swim at the beach
  • Invite friends or family to a barbeque
  • Sing some Kiwi Christmas carols
  • Play a game of New Zealand’s favourite summer sport- cricket
  • Hike or walk through a local national park
  • Celebrate under a pohutukawa tree
  • Enjoy a game of beach volleyball, tennis or golf
  • Take to the water for some sailing, water skiing, kayaking or fishing

No matter where you are or who you’re with for Christmas, have a great day and enjoy your time at your chosen Kiwi Holiday Park!

Photo credits:
Community Barbeque by Phillip Capper, CC-BY-2.0
Pohutukawa Tree by Lynda, CC-BY-2.0
Dessert Time by Patrick Quinn-Graham, CC-BY-2.0

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