Things you want to know about Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

Christmas in New Zealand is a little different to the European experience

Christians around the world celebrate Christmas on December 24 and 25. But the celebrations vary across the world’s many time and climate zones. New Zealand Christmas celebrations take place in summer and involve certain traditions and eating habits. From the point of view of a European visiting New Zealand it is quite interesting to see how things happen here as opposed to what I’m used to with Christmas occurring in winter.

The southern hemisphere is the half of the earth that is south of the equator. Although 5 continents have countries in the southern hemisphere, there are only 2 continents that are completely within it. These are Antarctica and Oceania.

Maybe you would like to experience a Southern Hemisphere Christmas with a holiday in New Zealand?  So, we’ve put together some things you might want to know about Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere.

Pohutukawa Tree Flowers

What is Christmas like in Aotearoa/New Zealand?

Kiwis get the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in summer. This means that the temperatures are high by New Zealand standards. With temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees celcius, it is wonderful to spend time outdoors. And while Kiwi families may indulge in traditional European Christmas food, they might also choose a barbeque, and follow the roast dinner/barbeque with some water skiing or a surf 

With schools out, the summer holidays are in full swing and the build-up to Christmas is not as extreme as you might find in other parts of the world.

The Pohutakawa: New Zealand’s own Christmas Tree

The blooming of the Pohutukawa tree is a sign that summer has arrived for New Zealanders. And, with its beautiful and bright red colours, the tree has become an important and valuable part of New Zealand’s Christmas.

Children at school sing about it, the tree appears on postcards and Kiwis love to see these trees in bloom as they prepare for the holiday season.

The Pohutukawa tree is mainly found in the upper half of the North Island and in coastal areas around New Plymouth and Gisborne. On the South Island, they grow as far south as Westport. This amazing tree can become 20 meters high and 35 meters wide and is characterised by the bright red blooms that come out in December each year and last only a few weeks.

Traditional Christmas Activities

With Christmas in summer, the majority of people would rather be outside than celebrate indoors. Families spend a lot of time doing hikes and discovering coves in and around waterside cities. A lot of time is spent on the beach and the day itself often ends with a barbeque. And, even though New Zealand has its ‘own’ Christmas tree, a more traditional pine tree is also decorated indoors.

Food generally connects people, whatever the situation or holiday. But what is eaten in New Zealand during Christmas? Ham, turkey, roast potato, mince pies and Christmas pudding are popular dishes eaten on December 25 when families get together.

Also, in New Zealand, the British cultural legacy is strong. And some people also stick to these traditional English foods. After all these savoury dishes, it’s time for dessert. A typical New Zealand (and Australian) dessert? Pavlova. This delicious dish has a meringue crust and a topping of whipped cream and summer fruits like strawberries, kiwi fruit or passion fruit.

Another type of fruit that is very popular with Kiwis at this time of the year are cherries, it being a seasonal fruit. Cherries are to Christmas, what chocolate is to Easter. This sweet fruit can be found on almost every table in New Zealand.

Northern Hemisphere vs. Southern Hemisphere

So, where Kiwis celebrate Christmas on the beach, people in the Northern Hemisphere usually celebrate indoors. And with a bit of luck, there will even be a white Christmas. Here Christmas markets are organized, and mulled wine is a popular drink.

But don’t think New Zealand doesn’t have Christmas markets. There are plenty of options for you to chose from, but mulled wine might be harder to find! (Here is a helpful list of the best Christmas markets in New Zealand).

Most countries in Europe also have a second Christmas day. This is an official holiday and is used to spend more time together with your loved ones. For the most part, it has no relation with the religious origin of Christmas, but it is still used to enjoy a nice meal together and to take a winter walk.

The days in Europe (Northern Hemisphere), unlike in New Zealand, are short. This result is that that many people like to decorate their gardens with lights and ornaments as well. Because it gets dark so early (around 4:45 PM), people can also enjoy this more and longer than if everyone in New Zealand would do this. Here in New Zealand, the sun only sets after 9 PM and Christmas lights are at their best for a shorter time.

Coastline of Heart Island

What is Boxing Day?

Boxing day is a national holiday that not everyone is familiar with. Or at least the countries that don’t celebrate it. And even people in New Zealand don’t always know where it comes from and how it originated.

To begin with, Boxing Day is celebrated the day after Christmas. So, this is December 26. There are several stories about where the name and history came from. The most common is that in the past the wealthier people always made boxes with presents for the poorer people who couldn’t celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day. This box then consisted of food and other gifts. Countries that are part of the commonwealth celebrate boxing day.

Often the purpose of Boxing Day is to see people you didn’t get to see on Christmas day. Together, activities such as eating, drinking at pubs, relaxing at home, going to the beach or walking are undertaken. Boxing day is also associated with shopping. Shops have a lot of discounts, and it is also a time to hand in gift cards or to return items you have received as a present…

Merry Christmas!

All in all, everywhere in the world Christmas is magical. But what could be better than celebrating Christmas in your shorts while you can enjoy all the hotspots in New Zealand in the meantime. If it’s up to us, everyone should have experienced that once in their life.

At We Tour New Zealand some tours run during the festive seasons, giving you the chance to experience Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. Do you still want more information, or do you need help with booking? You can contact us so that a suitable trip can be selected!

(Myrthe is experiencing her first New Zealand Christmas this year working for We Tour NZ on the other side of the world from her home in the Netherlands.)