Christmas in New Zealand falls in the middle of summer and for that reason alone it is very different. Instead of shop windows full of mannequins displaying black velvet party frocks with gold jewellery, t/shirts and shorts are the order of the day.In England Christmas is used as a good excuse to cheer up the winter months, with the shops looking warm and inviting with all the lights and tinsel. Although the shops do put up a few decorations here everything is much lower key. There is not the relentless advertising of children’s toys in the build up to Christmas and although the shops become busier there does not seem to be seething masses determined to spend every penny they possess.
Poor old Santa, who must surely be sweltering in red suit and white beard, can be seen wandering around the shopping malls, but he looks slightly incongruous weaving his way through patio sets, sun-hats and sunblock.
Christmas pud, turkey and all the trimmings are available in the shops but many people quickly adopt the Kiwi tradition of a cooked ham with new potatoes and fresh strawberries for dessert. A barbecue or picnic are both popular alternatives.
If you are a lover of Christmas trees and like to go the garden centre and pick out a beautiful pine to grace your home over the Christmas period, then I suggest you go into hiding and re-emerge mid January when the festive season is over. The ‘trees’ here are in reality branches lopped off huge pines. They resemble monkey tails and all your decorations slide off them onto the floor, in their favour they are extremely cheap, a six footer costing on average $8.00.
Signs offering trees for sale appear at school playing fields or similar sites, in the lead up to Christmas. Often the trees are sold as fund raisers. Many people choose not to have a tree at all, particularly if they are setting off on their Summer holidays on Boxing Day, which many do.
After enduring a couple of years of a “Kiwi’ Christmas tree, I purchased a pine tree from the local garden centre, which I have dug up and re-planted successfully for the past three years.
Petrol stations and video shops are open on Christmas day. The television’s contribution is an advertisement free day on all channels, with a selection of Christmas viewing that also includes the Queen’s Speech.
The statutory holiday consists only of Christmas Day and Boxing day but for many people it is Summer Holiday time. The Christmas festivities are quickly over but the holiday lasts for up to three weeks with everything often not returning completely to normal until the end of January.
If you are used to traditional family Christmas gatherings then you might find it a rather quiet time of year and may feel you wish to take off on your holidays with the rest of the population.
Mid Winter Christmas
Mid Winter Christmas is a term that pops up in June. A strange custom, ostensibly to give immigrants a ‘feeling of home’, Many restaurants and clubs offer a Christmas dinner in June ( Mid winter) as it is seen as a more seasonal time to be eating roasts and plum pud. It is a thriving commercial tradition, that sees artificial trees, decorations and Christmas trappings appear in some shops in June, in the middle of the New Zealand winter.We arrived in New Zealand in the May and our first encounter with Christmas paraphernalia in the June stopped us in our tracks. I can honestly admit that for a couple of minutes I was unsure. I remember thinking that possibly, but surely not, New Zealanders celebrated Christmas in June.