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Holiday Traditions of New Zealand

"Merry Christmas"

In New Zealand, Christmas comes in the middle of Summer, so many people like to spend time at the beach or at their “baches”, holiday homes, for Christmas. The traditional Christmas colors red, green, and white take on a whole different meaning for kiwis, or the inhabitants of New Zealand; red symbolizes the bright red flowers of the Pōhutukawa tree, green symbolizes the lush tropical foliage that blooms in the Summer, and white symbolizes the pale sandy beaches on which Christmas is often celebrated.

Santa might swap his traditional red coat and boots for “jandals”, sunglasses, and don a swimsuit or sports apparel to help keep cool. He can often be seen surfing, jet-skiing, and sailing along the coasts. Children leave out carrots for his reindeer, along with a beer and some pineapple chunks for the man himself.

Cities across New Zealand have Christmas parades featuring floats decorated by local businesses and churches, marching bands, and Santa Claus. The largest and most famous parade is the Auckland Santa Parade, which has been attracting thousands every year since 1934. Impressive Christmas light shows and carol services can also be found throughout then nation during the Christmas season. 

In addition to classics like Silent Night and White Christmas, New Zealand has some special carols of their own, such as Te Harinui, Christmas in New Zealand, A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree, Sticky Beak the Kiwi, and A Kiwiana Christmas. One carol, The Southern Cross Looks Down, is based on a constellation called the Southern Cross, which is the Kiwi version of the star that guided the magi to Bethlehem on their journey to visit the baby Jesus.

Like western nations, Kiwis have Christmas trees in their homes and decorate them with garland, ornaments, lights, and stars. An alternative to the traditional pine tree is their very own special Christmas tree; the Pōhutukawa, a large tree which blossoms bright red flowers in the summer. It only grows on the North Island, and flowers from mid-December until the 2nd week of January. One might find the nation’s national bird, the Kiwi, as a popular decoration on tree tops.

On Christmas Eve, the nation’s Christians attend a midnight mass, when cathedrals and churches are packed. The next morning, the family gathers around the Christmas tree to open presents together. One popular present is a pair of “jandals”, equivalent to flip-flops or sandals. The name comes from combining the words “Japanese Sandals”. 

After the gift-giving comes the Christmas lunch. The traditional Christmas meal in New Zealand is a barbecue, eaten at home, a park, or at the beach. The food cooked on the barbie is ham, turkey, venison, and seafood like shrimp and whitebait fritters, served alongside exotic salads and seasonal vegetables. Another popular meal is Hāngī, a traditional Māori roast dinner cooked in an underground pit. 

Dessert is mostly served cold, like pavlova, a meringue covered in whipped cream and topped with strawberries and kiwifruit, cold fruit salad, and ice cream. More traditional Christmas foods, however, like plum pudding, Christmas cake, and Christmas Crackers can also help make for a memorable holiday in New Zealand.

Holiday Traditions in New Zealand

Video by Jola Josie