Christmas in New Zealand is without snow, ice and cold. It’s summer and of course it is different from the Northern Hemisphere with Santa struggling without snow for his sleigh and hot Christmas dinners being replaced with BBQs and fun on the beach.

A Kiwi Christmas in New Zealand is a relaxed affair and the emphasis is very much on being outdoors to eat, play and be merry. It should come as no surprise that we even have our own version of 12 Days of Christmas – we call it A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree. Here are some Christmas experiences that are unique to New Zealand.

A blooming Pohutukawa

Nothing symbolises Christmas in New Zealand quite like the iconic Pohutukawa tree. Meaning ‘sprinkled by spray’, the tree also has a deep cultural significance for the Māori. It is seen to connect the beginning and end of human life. Legend has it that the Pohutukawa’s crimson flowers represent the blood of the Māori warrior Tawhaki, after falling to earth while attempting to find heaven to avenge his father’s death.

For most part, the flowering Pohutukawa represents summer with hours sent lazing under these shady trees and the onset of another joyous Christmas season.

Father and son dressed in Santa suits along a beach lined with a pohutukawa tree in bloom

Santa needs to lose some of his clothes to enjoy a summer Christmas!

Santa needs a change of attire

Spare the jolly man a thought. He arrives when the temperatures here are touching 30 degrees! Our Santa is happy to replace his coat with speedos and join our shenanigans on the beach.

A relaxed affair

With scorching temperatures, a traditional plum pudding with turkey doesn’t quite make the cut. Instead we Kiwis make it a casual affair with the BBQ fired up, typically in the backyard or a beach. Fresh seafood and quality meat cuts replace the turkey and pavlova (yes, it is a Kiwi dessert, not Australian!) or berry trifle are the chosen desserts. Our version of the roast is a hangi – typical Māori fare that is cooked beneath the ground and enjoyed with friends and family (whanau).

Longer days mean plenty of hours spent with friends and family in the backyard or outdoors, enjoying sports, swimming, etc. The celebrations carry well into the night with dinner under our famous starry skies.

The starry skies

In New Zealand the star that guided the three wise men to Bethlehem is found in the Southern Cross – our most recognised constellation. This collection of stars also provides the theme for the New Zealand Christmas carol ‘The Southern Cross looks down’.

The Christmas carols and decorations

Marie te po (Silent Night) to A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree and Sticky Beak the Kiwi, we even have our own versions of Christmas carols, some set to the traditional tunes while others being quite distinct.

As you’d expect we bring our Kiwi spirit into the Christmas trees with many native birds finding pride of place alongside the fairies and other Christmas decorations. Our national bird – the kiwi – can even be spotted in various guises on the top of the tree, replacing the traditional star.

Once we’ve wrapped up these beautiful Christmas in New Zealand traditions, we get on with celebrating summer. Starting around Christmas time, locals flock to their favourite summer hot spots. Typically these involve the beach or lake, boat, camping and barbies. Christmas is the start of the fun in the sun!