After three years in Europe I finally managed to combine the time and money to get home for Christmas. Of course there’s the excitement of being with my own family rather than an adoptive one for Christmas day. But Christmas in New Zealand really has its own vibe that can be very hard for Europeans to understand.
For a start there’s the season thing, it’s the middle of summer so the activities around this time of year are very different to the snowy festivities of the Northern Hemisphere. But having spent the Christmas season in a few other countries I’ve noticed that kiwi Christmas has its own traditions, foods and atmosphere that makes it a unique experience.
So for all those people who ask me ‘what’s Christmas like in New Zealand?’, here are all the ingredients for an epic kiwi Christmas!
Firstly the correct attire must be worn, namely jandals and shorts. Even if the weather is not living up to the summer time expectations, a certain level of optimism is adhered to. Jandals (known as flipflops to the rest of the world) may be replaced by bare feet but any type of covered shoe ruins the Christmas vibe.
A staple present received in the ‘Santa Sacks’ is a water gun or a pack of water bombs. Cue the Christmas day water fight. This great battle is usually governed by two rules: 1. If you’re wetting people, be prepared to get wet. 2. No water in the house. Beware of stray water guns throughout the rest of the day, the battle is never over.
Another classic activity is the Annual Family Backyard Cricket tournament. For those of you unfamiliar with cricket, it’s a game that involves throwing a ball at some sticks and someone hitting the ball away with a bat. Perfect for three or more players this game can keep all the cousins occupied while the lunch is being prepared. Which brings us on to…
Every family has their own spin on Christmas lunch but many families take the opportunity to cook outside and have a barbecue or a hangi. A barbecue is pretty self-explanatory but a hangi is something you’ll find only in New Zealand. Traditionally the way Maori (the native people of New Zealand) cooked this is still a popular method for delicious meat and vegetables if you have a spare day!
A fire is lit inside a hole and used to heat rocks. The food is wrapped (traditionally in leaves, these days in tin foil) and buried under the earth for 3-4 hours. This results in tender meat and smokey vegetables for the whole whanau (family).
For dessert there’s a classic KIWI dish called Pavlova(I emphasise this for all the Aussie readers who may be under the illusion that it comes from Australia). It’s basically a large meringue but soft and fluffy on the inside. Notoriously difficult to bake to perfection, there is usually one dedicated family member who takes on this daunting task. This dessert is traditionally decorated with whipped cream, strawberries and kiwi fruit, which also make for a great disguise of any baking faux pas.
I believe this stems from a British tradition but it is firmly implanted in my memories of Christmas day. Some time during the present giving there appears a box of Christmas crackers which are pulled between two. The winner is the person who gets the bigger half and gets to keep the glorious prizes enclosed. These prizes vary with the quality of the crackers but you can be guaranteed to get the following; a small toy or game, a joke (to read aloud and cringe at) and a paper crown which must be worn throughout the rest of the day.
Yes, we do have traditional Christmas trees in New Zealand and kids decorate them with baubles, lights and angels. But New Zealand has its own Christmas tree that is far more beautiful. The Pohutukawa tree is a self-decorating festive tree which blooms with beautiful red flowers around Christmas time. The green tree covered in red flowers fills the streets and gardens around New Zealand giving the ultimate summer Christmas feel.
We still sing Jingle Bells and the other classics but we have a couple of our own.. ok,one. It’s called ‘Christmas on the Beach’ and it’s brilliant. Enjoy!
Another modern take is the recent Air NZ commercial featuring Ronan Keating and Julian Dennison. It’s ‘Summer Wonderland’.