Christmas Traditions in New Zealand

Aotea Square & Town Hall at Christmas
Getty Images/Susan Blick

If you're coming from the northern hemisphere, you'll find Christmas to be rather different in New Zealand. Because of the country's European heritage and roots (especially British) you will see many of the same traditions observed - sort of. With a different climate and time of year altogether, the Kiwi Christmas is something unique and it can be a lot of fun.

Christmas Weather

The most obvious difference to a northern hemisphere Christmas is the weather. December is the middle of summer in New Zealand. Many visitors from the US or Europe can't quite get their heads around having Christmas dinner as a barbeque on the beach! However, Christmas marks the beginning of the summer holidays for most kiwis, so many Christmas activities revolve around summer holidays.

New Zealand Christmas Festivals and Events

Many towns and cities in New Zealand hold a Christmas Parade. They are usually held on a Sunday and can feature marching bands, floats and an appearance from the grand old gentleman himself, Santa Claus.

The largest and best-known parade is the Auckland Santa Parade, which has been a feature of the Auckland Christmas since 1934. It attracts thousands of spectators every year and is a great event for children.

Christmas Dinner

Kiwis maintain the British tradition of having a family dinner during the middle of the day on Christmas Day. This is usually preceded on Christmas morning by exchanging presents which will have been left under the Christmas tree in the home.

The Christmas meal itself is increasingly becoming a casual affair. Often it is a barbeque on the deck or patio. However, the traditional Christmas fare of turkey, ham and roast potatoes are still very popular, along with salads and of course a glass of bubbly.

For dessert, plum pudding and Christmas cake are often served alongside the Kiwi icons, pavolova, kiwifruit, strawberries, and cream.

Christmas Church Services and Religious Observation

Most New Zealanders do not attend church regularly. However, the Christmas services (particularly the Midnight Mass held at 12 pm on Christmas night) is extremely popular. Cathedrals (particularly in Auckland) and churches will often be filled to overflowing.

There are also often other religious services held over the Christmas season. These include the Nine Lessons and Carols at Anglican cathedrals and churches.

Signs of Christmas in New Zealand

  • New Zealand Christmas Tree - the pohutukawa. The pohutukawa tree, which lines most of the beaches along the east coast of New Zealand flower around Christmas time. The bright red and crimson flowers make a great sight and are one of the things New Zealanders associate most with Christmas time.
  • Christmas trees. Many New Zealanders decorate a tree in their homes with tinsel and lights in the European tradition. The most commonly used tree is the pine tree, which is found extensively throughout New Zealand.
  • Christmas office parties.
  • Christmas Carols. It may seem a bit incongruous to hear "White Christmas" or "Deck the Halls" in the middle of summer! Nevertheless, carols are popular and you will hear them played or sung in shopping malls in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
  • Christmas shopping. This is the busiest time of the year for retailers as shoppers buy gifts and all the other trappings of Christmas.
  • Summer holidays. The summer holiday break begins on Christmas Eve and lasts until the end of January. Schools are closed throughout January and much of December (see the New Zealand School Holiday Dates)
  • Christmas traffic and crowds. With so many people out shopping, the days leading up until Christmas can be extremely busy on the streets. It all stops on Christmas Day, however - and starts again the following day (Boxing Day) when many people head away for their summer holiday at the beach.
  • Christmas cards. Christmas cards are not nearly as popular as they are in the northern hemisphere, so don't be offended if you don't get one.

Christmas and New Zealand's Many Cultures

New Zealand is an extremely diverse society and many of the cultures represented do not recognize Christmas in the same way as the early European settlers and their descendants. However, Christmas is a special time for all New Zealanders. It's a time to get together with the family and enjoy the great New Zealand summer outdoors.