Sandals, shorts, barbecues and beaches:

What Christmas in New Zealand is like

Christmas is just around the corner. This is why I asked myself what major differences are there between European Christmas traditions and the way people in New Zealand celebrate Christmas.

One major difference is that, like in Australia, Christmas comes in the middle of the summer holidays. School typically finishes one week before Christmas, so that people in New Zealand have enough time to buy the last-minute presents for Christmas Day. Christmas in New Zealand is like in Germany a three-day event. On the 24th December, the so-called Christmas Eve, most of the families go out to Midnight Mass at church and celebrate the birth of Jesus. On the next day, the 25th called Christmas Day, children finally receive their presents from old Santa Clause and take afterwards dinner with their parents. On Boxing Day, the 26th December, which is the last of the three Christmas days, most of the Kiwis spend time in the families or go to some Boxing Day sales. This is when most of the stores have dramatic price reductions, similar to the Black Friday sales in the United States. To put it in a nutshell, Christmas Day itself is the most important day of the three days when the whole family comes together. Therefore, Christmas in New Zealand is, like in Germany, very family-orientated.

But what the hell do Kiwis do on Christmas? Well, as Christmas is celebrated in summer, most people in New Zealand spend their time on the beach, go camping or enjoy other outdoor activities and games. Many towns like Auckland even have Santa Parades with decorated floats, bands and fancy dress. This can also be seen as a commercial event for New Zealand.

Sticking to Auckland, ‘Christmas in the Park’ is also a well-known festival in New Zealand with live music acts. Like the Australian ‘Carols by Candlelight’, ‘Christmas in the Park’ is a large outdoor festival, uniting people on Christmas for carol-singing.

We have to keep in mind that the 24th December is a special day for children in New Zealand because Santa Clause and his reindeer come around placing presents for the children in the night before Christmas. This is why good kids in New Zealand leave some pineapple chunks and drinks for Santa and his reindeer at the door.

In the meantime, the parents prepare the Christmas tree. In general, there are two standard Christmas trees. The first one is the typical decorated Christmas tree like people in the United States or United Kingdom have it. The second one is a special tree Kiwis often use: the pohutukawa. This is a large tree with bright red flowers, also used for decoration or for special features on Christmas cards. This tree makes Christmas even more summer-like in comparison to our fir tree in Germany.

To sum it up, many Christmas traditions in New Zealand are quite similar to Australian ones and they are even mixed up with UK and North American ways of celebrating Christmas. However, it will always remain one of the biggest dream of Europeans: celebrating Christmas on the beach.