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Christmas in New Zealand

Page 1 – Introduction

Pohutukawa flowers
Pohutukawa flowers

Christmas in New Zealand is less about snow and sleigh bells and more about sun, sand and barbecues in the backyard. We've provided a range of stories that showcase some of the quirkier aspects of Kiwi Christmases past and present. You can also test yourself on our Kiwi Christmas quiz.

Christmas comes to New Zealand

Gannets for Christmas

In 1642, Abel Tasman’s crew enjoyed the first Christmas dinner in New Zealand – freshly killed pork from the ship’s menagerie washed down with ‘extra rations of wine’. In 1769 James Cook’s crew marked the occasion by feasting on ‘Goose pye’ (made with gannet). more...

The first sermon?

Samuel Marsden's first service

The Christmas Day service given by Church Missionary Society representative Samuel Marsden at Hohi (Oihi) Bay in the Bay of Islands in 1814 is often cited as the first in New Zealand, but did a French priest travelling with Jean François Marie de Surville in 1769 beat him to it? more...

New Zealand's Christmas tree

Pohutukawa trees

The beautiful pohutukawa is regarded as New Zealand’s iconic Christmas tree. The pohutukawa also holds a prominent place in Māori culture: an 800-year-old tree clinging to the cliffs of Cape Reinga is reputed to guard the entrance to a sacred cave through which spirits pass on their way to the next world. more...

Santa parades

Santa parades

Santa or Christmas parades take place throughout New Zealand in November and December each year. They began in the main centres in the early 1900s. They were established by department stores to promote the arrival of in-store Santas, with the aim of attracting customers. more...

‘Sticky Beak the kiwi’

Many traditional Christmas songs have been adapted for New Zealand audiences and conditions. One of the most popular New Zealand Christmas songs of the 1960s was ‘Sticky Beak the kiwi’ – read the lyrics and listen to the song (a Web first recording?). more...

Santa goes to the Chathams

Santa goes to the Chatham Islands

When Santa Claus visited the remote Chatham Islands in 1951, he swapped his reindeer for a TEAL Solent flying boat. More than 400 of the islands’ 500 inhabitants cheered him wildly as he stepped ashore from a launch in Te Whanga Lagoon with a huge sack of toys slung over his shoulder. more...

Politically incorrect Christmas games 

Politically incorrect Xmas games

Before the time of computers and mass television, people played all sorts of games around Christmas time. Some of these games, such as the ‘Light the cigarette race’ and ‘The slave market’, haven’t stood the test of time very well. more...

Kiwi Christmas cards

Christmas card slideshow

Historic Christmas cards combine colourful imagery with reflections on contemporary events, such as overseas wars. Familiar New Zealand symbols – tattooed Maori figures, kiwi, tiki and ferns – add a distinctively local flavour to traditional Christmas greetings and imagery. more...

Summer holidays

Summer holidays

In late December, thousands of Kiwis get ready for their annual holidays. They look forward to lazy days at the beach or the bach (or crib), games of backyard cricket, food on the barbecue and the holiday uniform of shorts, jandals and T-shirts. more...

Claus in stores

Stores and Claus

Santa Claus made his commercial debut in New Zealand in 1894, when he took his place, complete with tree and toys, among the furniture in the DIC store on Wellington’s Lambton Quay. These days, children have the option of sending Santa an email or text message with suggestions for preferred presents. more...

Christmas in wartime

Christmas in wartime

Christmas during wartime gave soldiers a rare opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves away from the stresses and hardships of combat. It was also a time of sadness for many New Zealanders, both overseas and back home, as they thought of family, lovers and friends who were far away. more...

A day off for Christmas

A day off at Christmas

It's hard for most of us today to imagine Christmas Day not being a holiday, but a day off on 25 December hasn’t always been a legal entitlement. A newspaper published on 25 December 1841 doesn’t even mention Christmas, and the day only became a formal public holiday in 1910. more...

Auckland’s giant Santa

Auckland's giant Santa

In 1960 Farmers erected a giant Santa on top of their Hobson Street department store in Auckland. He appeared above the store each Christmas for almost 30 years. He left Auckland’s CBD in 1990, but was re-erected above Whitcoulls’ store on Queen Street in 1998. more...

Kiwis’ attitude to Christmas

Kiwi's attitude to Christmas

In a 2006 survey, Reader’s Digest asked a representative sample of 259 New Zealanders, ‘Just what does Christmas mean to New Zealanders in 2006 – and what do we treasure most?’ The responses showed that dinner with the family was still important to Kiwis, but the Queen’s message was losing relevance. more...

How to cite this page

Kiwi Christmas, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated