First events on the Christmas calendar in New Zealand? Santa parades! In the first or second week of December many towns and cities have a parade which kicks off the excitement of Christmas for the youngest Kiwis. The streets will be lined with parents and kiddies who enjoy watching the singing and dancing. But the highlight is when Santa himself arrives in his sleigh decked out in Christmas reds. And, since Christmas falls in the summer down here in the Southern Hemisphere, Santa can often be seen wearing shorts, sunglasses and jandals (flip-flops).
The weeks leading up to the 25th of December will be busy as people shop for Christmas presents and also attend parties put on by their place of employment. The office Christmas party is a tradition where people tend to let loose with their workmates and enjoy the end of the work year together. Depending on where one works, you might be having the party in-house, or some employers will book a restaurant or maybe even a dining cruise. There is usually food and drink and sometimes there is also a “Secret Santa” element to the party. For this, everyone will buy a gift that costs up to a specified limit, usually just 5 or 10 dollars, and all the gifts will be collected, mixed up and then handed out randomly. You never know what you will get or who will end up with the present you bought.
Christmas in New Zealand is very much centered around family and being outdoors. As it’s also school holidays, many families will leave town for a few days or even weeks to relax at the beach. They may stay in a caravan or a bach. Whatever they choose, the aim is to get away from it all. A day or two before Christmas everyone will pack up the car and head out to the destination of choice. Upon arriving they will settle in, finish wrapping presents for under the tree, have some food and perhaps some New Zealand wine or beer and let the relaxing begin until Christmas morning when it’s time to open presents.
While Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere is all about keeping warm and cozy during the winter weather, New Zealand Christmas is more about enjoying the sunshine. Heavy roast dinners are not as common and many people will have barbecues and, if they are lucky, get to eat the seafood they’ve caught that day. Having said this, there is one thing that is essential to the Kiwi Christmas dinner table, and that is the pavlova. A pavlova is like a meringue that is the size and shape of a cake. It is adorned with fruit such as berries or kiwifruit to offset the sweetness of the meringue.
On the morning of the 25th, Christmas Day, everyone will wake up and open the presents that have appeared under the tree from Santa. Kiwi’s tend to have either a fake or real fir tree with lots of decorations as is common in Europe. But there is also a New Zealand Christmas tree called a pohutukawa. These trees grow all over the country and are marked by bright red, brushlike, blossoms around Christmas time. When the landscape begins to turn red, Kiwis everywhere start to get that summer feeling and look forward to Christmas.
Although New Zealand has a recognised bi-cultural European/ Maori heritage, you can see that many of our Christmas traditions have a lot in common with those of European countries. But one thing that sets our festivities apart is the wonderful summer weather we have in December. Everyone should experience a warm Christmas at least once in a lifetime!
Come back tomorrow for our final Christmas around the world post, Christmas in Germany, by Marcel.
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