the Zine page for current issue of news and articles concerning New Zealand life and culture in 1996 NZine became New Zealands first interactive online magazine showing NZ to the world warts and all New Zealand Regional Information and Links to New Zealand Resources contact the publishers and editorship of NZine
clickable listings of previously issued NZine articles - over 1000 still of interest Add your comment to the NZine guestbook - also join and use forums for more interaction
Search Articles  

           Home >  Community  > Humour  :

Confusion of New Zealand Christmas

Zela Charlton - 09/12/02

Christmas is a confusing time in New Zealand. It is our one really big holiday of the year, combining the main summer break and the traditional Christian celebrations designed for winter weather.

In fact New Zealand is rather poor in National celebrations: travel around France or Italy and you will become involved in horse races in the streets or parades of pretty girls wearing costumes from three hundred or more years past, following some revered religious symbol. The USA has Thanksgiving and Halloween and more. New Zealand does try to copy these two, as well as the UK's Guy Fawkes, but our efforts are really only half-hearted copies of the real things - and all at the wrong season.

But Christmas tops the lot. The shops want to make the most of their one big chance and start putting up their glitter and snow back in October. Did I say "snow"? Yes, snow.

What are our children to make of it ? What silly fantasy makes shops pile cotton-wool in their windows and spray corners with more white stuff? It is summer, for goodness sake, even if it is not yet quite as hot and sunny as it should be... we are all getting ready for our summer holidays, getting out the barbecues and swimsuits.

New Zealand is now - as our Prime Minister has said - a thoroughly secular society, and one which seems to have abandoned much study of history. So how many know what started this festival, and why it occurs on December 25 each year?

The link with the rotation of the planet is not as marked as in the Northern Hemisphere. The coming of the shortest night is somehow not nearly as noteworthy as the longest night - for us the days will now be getting shorter, not such a happy event as looking forward positively to the time of more daylight and the eventual expulsion of Winter. So there is not much in the natural world to make it an obvious date for us. It is easy to forget that the shortest day is really why Christmas is when it is - taken over by the early Christians from the much older celebrations of the pagans thousands of years before.

The meaning of the baby-in-the-manger story works much better when the weather is cold - as do the strings of fairy lights everywhere, fighting here against the southern sun, bright late into the evening. And what hardship is there in sleeping in a shed in summer time ? Lots of us will be settling down in shacks - baches or cribs - or dossing by the beach or sleeping in our cars while waiting for the Interisland ferry. And lots, too, will be travelling and getting to our destination to find that there is no accommodation in the motel...

Our summer season sort of takes away the impact of there being no room at the inn.

Then there is Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas.Many
of us do know the origins - basically commercial

Santa Claus
Native Tree
for Santa, I believe, imported from America originally but fewer know about St Nick; which is a rather odd link anyway and even further removed for us Pacific islanders. His frequent appearance in hundreds of locations around the country must be confusing for the younger children but that is common in all Westernised countries - but here, why on earth should a fat old man with a sweaty red face come around wearing those warm red robes instead of shorts and T-shirt? Last year I was sitting on the beach when I saw Santa approaching, puffing a bit, followed by a large group of nearly naked children. He looked very hot and rather embarrassed and totally out of place.

Then there are the trees. We do have plenty of pine trees here, and some growers specialise in the ‘proper’ Northern kind of fir. Again, the impact of these trees seems lost against the lushness of our local foliage, whereas they have far more meaning in lands where most trees are deciduous and by then bare and stark. No wonder the artificial trees
are favoured; but the symbolism is gone.

Then there is the feasting aspect. Back in the "olden days"’ the approach of the hardship of a long winter was made worse by the lack of storage facilities for fresh meat, and so it was probable that after this feasting (which usually went on for at least ten days) food would be scarce and poor.

Hence the large joints of meat or the traditional goose or turkey as centre of the feast. These would be rare treats for the coming months. The puddings were rich and filling - sticking to the ribs
and fitting the consumer for the walk or ride in
winter conditions. Some New Zealanders do

keep to the traditional roast, Christmas pudding and mince pies and rich Christmas cake. All of that is totally unsuitable for a summer feast especially if it is followed by sea sports.

Christmas cards often show tables groaning with such fare, along with the robins and snow, but increasingly we can see pohutakawa and pukeko alongside the traditional images.

So Christmas in New Zealand is celebrated in a sea of confusion and seems

more to be a celebration
of greed and materialism for no particular reason, a time when budgets are blown because of the commercial pressures to spend made worse by the added impact of the summer holidays.

But despite it all, we New Zealanders celebrate our Christmas happily - often on the beach, singing our carols around the BBQ with the summer holidays stretching ahead.

And a Happy New Year to all....

Home       NZ Map       Contact       Recent Articles       Your Views      

Copyright 1996 - 2005 NZine - A Quality Service from Plain Communications LTD