Why Does New Zealand Celebrate Christmas in Summer

Why does NZ celebrate Christmas in the summer?

In the heart of the South Pacific, New Zealand celebrates Christmas with a twist. Unlike the snow-laden imagery often associated with this festive holiday, Christmas in New Zealand falls during the summer months.

As the rest of the world bundles up in cozy sweaters and sips hot cocoa by the fire, Kiwis enjoy barbecues on the beach and frolic in the warm ocean waves. But why does this island nation celebrate Christmas in summer? 

New Zealand celebrates Christmas in the summer because New Zealand’s geographical location is in the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are flipped compared to the Northern Hemisphere. While December brings winter to countries in the north, it ushers in New Zealand’s summer height.

Although the celebration may differ from the wintry Christmas experience in the Northern Hemisphere, it has given rise to unique traditions that make the Kiwi Christmas truly special. So here’s everything you need to know about a Kiwi Christmas!

Historical Background on NZ Christmas 

New Zealand’s summer Christmas celebrations are a unique fusion of traditional European customs and local Kiwi flair, shaped by the country’s location in the Southern Hemisphere.

Christmas, or Kirihimete as it’s known in Māori, started to become widely celebrated in New Zealand in the late 19th century, primarily among Pākehā (European) settlers. The holiday was brought over by these settlers, who continued to observe it according to their traditional customs. 

They decorated homes with holly and ivy, sang carols, and prepared a hearty feast reminiscent of a winter’s day back in Europe. However, as time passed, the celebration of Christmas began to shift and adapt to New Zealand’s contrasting seasonal cycle. 

Instead of being a snowy winter month, as in the Northern Hemisphere, December marks the beginning of summer in New Zealand. This meteorological flip led to the evolution of a distinct Kiwi Christmas tradition.

New Zealand Christmas Traditions 

Here are some of New Zealand’s Christmas traditions if you want to celebrate Christmas as Kiwis do! 

A Christmas Tree Like No Other

The centrepiece of a traditional Northern Hemisphere Christmas, a pine tree, is replaced in New Zealand by the Pohutukawa. This native tree, also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree, blooms with bright red flowers from late November to January. 

Its festive colour symbolises the Christmas spirit, and its bloom heralds the arrival of the holiday season.

Beachside Celebrations

The warm summer weather invites Kiwis outdoors, and the beach becomes a popular spot for Christmas festivities. Families and friends gather for picnics and barbecues, sizzling up traditional Christmas fare alongside local favourites like lamb, seafood, and kumara (sweet potato).

Water sports and beach games have also become a common sight. From building sandcastles and playing beach cricket to swimming and surfing, these activities add a uniquely Kiwi flavour to Christmas celebrations.

Santa Parades

Starting from mid-November, towns across New Zealand host Santa parades. These colourful events feature floats, marching bands, and a variety of performers, culminating with Santa Claus’s arrival. 

The parades are a festive spectacle that brings communities together, celebrating the season in the warm summer sun.

Outdoor Concerts and Carol Services

Many Kiwis flock to parks and public gardens to enjoy Christmas concerts and carol services. Local choirs and bands perform traditional carols as well as popular Kiwi Christmas songs like ‘A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree’ and ‘Christmas in the Sun’. 

These events often end with a spectacular display of fireworks, lighting up the balmy summer night.

Traditional Christmas Spread

Despite the shift towards outdoor celebrations, the Christmas feast remains an important part of the holiday. Many Kiwis still prepare a traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings, albeit adapted to suit the summer weather. 

Cold salads, fresh fruits, and pavlova, a beloved meringue-based dessert topped with cream and summer berries, are common additions to the festive table.

Advantages & Disadvantages of a Summer Christmas

Celebrating Christmas in the summer has its advantages and disadvantages, so let’s see what they are! 

Advantages of a Summer Christmas

Outdoor Celebrations

The balmy weather of December allows Kiwis to take their Christmas celebrations outdoors. Beaches, parks, and backyards become popular venues for festive gatherings. 

From barbecues and picnics to games of beach cricket, these outdoor activities add a unique, relaxed vibe to the holiday season.

Fresh Summer Produce

With Christmas falling at the height of the growing season, there’s an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available. Strawberries, cherries, peas, and sweetcorn are just some of the seasonal produce that often feature in Kiwi Christmas meals. 

Unique Traditions

A summer Christmas has given rise to unique Kiwi traditions. The pōhutukawa tree, Santa parades, outdoor concerts, and carol services are distinct elements that add to the charm of a Kiwi Christmas.

Disadvantages of a Summer Christmas

Lack of Traditional Winter Imagery

For those accustomed to a white Christmas, celebrating in summer can feel a little out of place. The lack of snow, cold weather, and traditional winter imagery, such as sleigh rides and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, can be a downside for some.

Hot Weather Challenges

While the warm weather allows for outdoor activities, it can also present challenges. Preparing a traditional hot Christmas meal can be uncomfortable in the summer heat. Plus, certain foods like chocolate and cheese can melt or spoil if not stored properly.