Things You Should Know About Christmas in New Zealand

Whether you’ve just moved to New Zealand or have been wondering about visiting, there are a few things you should know about Christmas over here. However, living in a foreign land or going on vacations, it can be confusing to know how to celebrate and where to go on Christmas Day.

Christmas in New Zealand and Australia is in the middle of the summer holidays, so the celebration is significantly different from what we are used to in the Northern Hemisphere. New Zealand has its own unique culture and traditions, a combination of Britain, the Māori culture, and the summertime – so it’s beach time, BBQ, and parties for Xmas!

Read on to discover how New Zealanders like to celebrate this festivity and the things you should know about Christmas in Kiwi land.

Also read about Halloween in New Zealand.

How do New Zealanders celebrate Christmas?

Have you ever thought of Christmas in the summertime? Sounds insane, right? Well, in New Zealand, it’s true! 

Christmas in New Zealand is not about snow fights and sleigh bells, instead, it’s about sunshine, sandy beaches, and barbeques in the backyards. 

New Zealanders take pride in their British heritage, and you can tell that they own it. But there are differences in how New Zealanders celebrate this annual festivity. 

Yes, Christmas is still called Christmas in New Zealand, Santa Claus does come, and presents are also opened, but some things make Christmas truly unique for Kiwis.

Christmas celebrations start months before the event and continue till the new year. In big cities such as Auckland, Queenstown, and Wellington, huge light shows and displays are set up to welcome the holiday season.

You can hear carol services all around the streets of the country, through the towns, villages, suburbs, and rural areas. But what is different is that the Kiwis have created carols of their own!

Since the winter wonderland doesn’t exist here, their carols are sung. Favorites include ‘Te Haranui’, ‘Sticky Beak the Kiwi’, ‘Christmas in New Zealand’, and ‘A Kiwiani Christmas’.

Some carols have even changed to adjust to Kiwi culture, such as the ‘12 Days of Christmas’ has been rewritten as ‘A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree’ and the ‘Silent Night’ has been translated into the Māori language.

“Pohutukawa tree”

Another unique tradition that pays respect to the Māori culture is their very own Christmas tree: Pohutukawa. It’s a large tree with bright crimson-red flowers, which are used as decorations and featured in festive cards.

According to local beliefs, an 800-year-old ancient Pohutukawa tree sits at the cliffs of Cape Reinga. It is given prime importance as Māori culture has the story that this old tree is the point from where spirits of the dead pass on to Hawaiki, the next world.

Believe it or not, Santa doesn’t come down the chimney in New Zealand! Neither does he wear those big, big boots and that huge fur jacket. The Santa Claus over here prefers wearing jandals (flip flops) and sometimes a rugby shirt paired with shorts! 

A typical New Zealand tradition is to have a Santa parade adorned with floats all across the country. People say that back in the day, Santa entered Christchurch on an elephant, and once, he dropped off a parachute in Auckland.

Since it’s the annual holiday for most Kiwis, you will notice many Kiwis fleeing to other countries for holidays or to celebrate Christmas with their families overseas.

Nowadays, the parade is accompanied by an entourage of elves, funny little characters, and people in costumes. The parade starts going around early in November to practice for the special day.

New Zealanders celebrate with a classic barbecue or the traditional hangi to honour the day. Since it is summertime, people prefer holding dinners in their backyards or going to the beach to party.

The warm weather tends to take a toll on the food choices of hot roast or turkey. People enjoy cooking ham slices, venison, seafood, root vegetables, and meals over the grill for the main course. Popular snacks include Christmas crackers and whitebait fritters, which are a must on the table!

“Māori hāngī – image credit: JSilver.”

If the family has Māori roots, cultural foods such as hangi, umu, and lovo are eaten. A hangi is an underground cooked meal in which fish, chicken, vegetables, and sweet potatoes are blanketed in flax leaves. Then it is cooked by placing it on hot stones inside a pit in the ground.

The long cooking hours turn the food into a precious meal with a smokey, earthy flavour.

Once again, the hot weather calls for something cold and sweet. Desserts are big at this time of the year. Traditional British desserts like whipped cream, cold fruit salad, pudding, and trifles are loved.

But what is adored is the local dessert called Pavlova, which is a combination of meringue topped with heavy whipping cream and various summer fruits such as kiwis, strawberries, and raspberries.

How to say Merry Christmas in New Zealand?

New Zealanders have the same version of Merry Christmas as the rest of the world. But, since a significant proportion of the New Zealand population follows the Māori culture and heritage, the greeting is somewhat different.

In the Māori language, Merry Christmas is translated to ‘Meri Kirihimete’. It’s an adaptation of the English version and is a common expression at this time of the year. Also, Santa Claus is called Hana Kōkō.

Māori culture is dearly valued and loved by Kiwis. Even at Christmas time, New Zealanders try to add a touch of Māori culture into their daily lives, celebrations, and conversations.

Banners and flags can also be seen around the country, with Meri Kirihimete written in large letters. This simple greeting can start a conversation between people and create a friendly space without much effort.

What is open on Christmas in New Zealand?

Christmas Day is a public holiday in New Zealand, as in most countries across the world. New Zealand places strict rules when it comes to labor rules during public holidays.

Most businesses cannot operate according to the Shop Trading Hours Act 1990. However, there are exceptions depending on the location, so businesses in some tourist areas, like Queenstown and Taupo, are allowed to open.

This means Kiwis get to enjoy the entire day with family and friends without worrying about work.

But where can you enjoy it, and where can you go shopping or grab a bite? What is open on Christmas in New Zealand?

Generally, supermarkets operate on limited hours, but some might be closed. You will need to check on the shop’s website to see its working hours during Christmas.

That said, many restaurants are open during the Christmas period but are closed on Christmas Day. Only a few takeaway shops stay open, like KFC and McDonald’s. But most hotels have their restaurants available, and a reservation will be necessary. On Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day, shops and restaurants will be open again.

Fortunately, you can enjoy a movie on Christmas day or night, too! Seven Hoyts cinemas are open across Auckland, Christchurch, and Hamilton on this festive day.

Consequently, your top destination and go-to spot during Christmas is the beach! Spending a day on the warm, sunny, and sandy beach with the cool water up your toes and many outdoor activities available is a family tradition for many.

The best part is that you’re never too far away from the beach. From the barbeques going on and children making sandcastles, the beach offers a festive vibe like no other. 

It’s a day for families to rejoice with each other, so most public places are closed on Christmas Day for families to spend time together. You can attend Carol concerts or take kids to the park — but anything you plan for the day has to be outdoors!

How is Halloween celebrated in New Zealand? Read here!

Top activities and things to do on Kiwi Christmas 

So, Christmas falls in the summertime, and you’re confused about where to go? Fortunately, you’re in for a ride! 

Here is a list of activities and things to do on Kiwi Christmas:

  • Enjoy the beach

We can’t stop saying this! Head to the beach for a well-spent Christmas day. On Christmas Day and the next few days, flocks of people will leave for their favorite coastal places.

All the regular beach day activities, such as swimming, surfing, beach volleyball, beach cricket, and sunbathing, take place. Instead of making snowmen or having snowball fights, children make sand castles!

It is this time of the year when most people hire camper vans and go exploring to visit all the places that they want to see – be it hiking, extreme sports, mountains, sand dunes, or far away beaches.

  • Time for some twinkling lights

All cities have the traditional festivities of Christmas light events and carol concerts going on. The Santa Parades and light shows are a great event for kids to relish.

Such events take place in the streets so everyone can come to see and be a part of the marching bands and musical performances.

  • Enjoy a festive night

There are a lot of events taking place on Christmas Day and the days preceding it to help cure your boredom. Every year many events occur throughout the country, providing a chance for tourists and locals to mingle.

One of the greatest events is the Christmas in the Park Festival held in Auckland Domain. It is an iconic night full of music, comedy, and entertainment suitable for all ages.

Various versions of Christmas in the Park are held throughout the country in various cities. These are annual events, free for everyone to attend and enjoy.

The Wellington Christmas Markets feature hundreds of stalls with handmade artifacts and gifts. There is a fantastic variety of goods available, and the street food vendors are no joke.

Rest assured, this time of the year, there will be no shortage of free activities, celebrations, and events, no matter which part of the country you are in.

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