Celebrating Christmas in New Zealand

Celebrating Christmas in New Zealand

After three years in Europe I finally managed to combine the time and money to get home for a New Zealand Christmas. Of course there's the excitement of being with my own family rather than an adoptive one for Christmas day. But Christmas in New Zealand really has its own vibe that can be very hard for Europeans to understand.

For a start there's the season thing, it's the middle of summer so the activities around this time of year are very different to the snowy festivities of the Northern Hemisphere such as the German Christmas Markets and the huge events surrounding Christmas in London. But having spent the Christmas season in a few other countries I've noticed that a New Zealand Christmas has its own traditions, foods and atmosphere that makes it a unique experience.

So for all those people who ask me 'what's Christmas like in New Zealand?', here are all the ingredients for an epic Kiwi Christmas!

Clothing for New Zealand Christmas

Celebrating Christmas in New Zealand what to wear

Firstly, the correct attire must be worn, namely jandals and shorts. Even if the weather is not living up to the summer time expectations, a certain level of optimism is adhered to. Jandals (known as flipflops to the rest of the world) may be replaced by bare feet but any type of covered shoe ruins the Christmas vibe. Note for Germans: don't you dare try adding socks to this mix! 

New Zealand Christmas Activities

Christmas in New Zealand - Me and my brothers circa. 2003

A staple present received in the 'Santa Sacks' is a water gun or a pack of water bombs. Cue the Christmas day water fight. This great battle is usually governed by two rules: 1. If you're wetting people, be prepared to get wet. 2. No water in the house. Beware of stray water guns throughout the rest of the day, the battle is never over.

Another classic activity is the Annual Family Backyard Cricket tournament.  For those of you unfamiliar with cricket, it's a game that involves throwing a ball at some sticks and someone hitting the ball away with a bat. Perfect for three or more players this game can keep all the cousins occupied while the lunch is being prepared. Which brings us on to...

New Zealand Christmas Food

Christmas food New Zealand

Every family has their own spin on Christmas lunch but many families take the opportunity to cook outside and have a barbecue or a hangi. A barbecue is pretty self-explanatory but a hangi is something you'll find only in New Zealand. Traditionally the way Maori (the native people of New Zealand) cooked this is still a popular method for delicious meat and vegetables if you have a spare day!

A fire is lit inside a hole and used to heat rocks. The food is wrapped (traditionally in leaves, these days in tin foil) and buried under the earth for 3-4 hours. This results in tender meat and smokey vegetables for the whole whanau (family).

New Zealand christmas Pavlova

For dessert there's a classic KIWI dish called Pavlova (I emphasise this for all the Aussie readers who may be under the illusion that it comes from Australia). It's basically a large meringue but soft and fluffy on the inside. Notoriously difficult to bake to perfection, there is usually one dedicated family member who takes on this daunting task. This dessert is traditionally decorated with whipped cream, strawberries and kiwi fruit, which also make for a great disguise of any baking faux pas.


Celebrating christmas in New Zealand

I believe this stems from a British tradition but it is firmly implanted in my memories of Christmas day. Some time during the present giving there appears a box of Christmas crackers which are pulled between two. The winner is the person who gets the bigger half and gets to keep the glorious prizes enclosed. These prizes vary with the quality of the crackers but you can be guaranteed to get the following; a small toy or game, a joke (to read aloud and cringe at) and a paper crown which must be worn throughout the rest of the day.

New Zealand Christmas Tree

New Zealand Christmas Tree

Yes, we do have traditional Christmas trees in New Zealand and kids decorate them with baubles, lights and angels. But New Zealand has its own Christmas tree that is far more beautiful. The Pohutukawa tree is a self-decorating festive tree which blooms with beautiful red flowers around Christmas time. The green tree covered in red flowers fills the streets and gardens around New Zealand giving the ultimate summer Christmas feel.


New Zealand Christmas Songs

We still sing Jingle Bells and the other classics but we have a couple of our own.. ok,one. It's called 'Christmas on the Beach' and it's brilliant. Enjoy!

Another modern take is the recent Air NZ commercial featuring Ronan Keating and Julian Dennison. It's 'Summer Wonderland'.

So if you are backpacking New Zealand over the summer make sure to find yourself a kiwi family to enjoy Christmas with and partake in some of the weird and wonderful parts of a New Zealand Christmas. 

If you need some ideas for Christmas gifts check out these useful gifts for backpackers.

Read about Christmas in the sun and how Christmas is celebrated Down-Under. All the exciting things about Christmas on the beach in New Zealand! #christmas #newzealand #nz #beach

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German Christmas Markets: Things to Try

When you're used to Christmas in New Zealand, acclimatising to spending Christmas in the middle of winter is tough. However, having the Christmas markets down the road makes it a little more bearable. Originally a German thing, they have now spread across Europe and many people come from other continents just to experience this magical Christmas tradition. As a result of their popularity the Christmas markets are almost always crowded and can be very overwhelming if you’re visiting just one and want to try everything. So I’ve made a list!

Here are my favourite things to try at the Christmas markets and some tips for finding the top spots.

1. Würste/Sausages

What German experience would be complete without a sausage or two? Every German Christmas market will offer a wide selection of sausages usually including a local specialty. They are almost always served in a crusty bread roll (brötchen). Look around for the mustard pump, if you’re lucky it will be an udder-like squeezy bottle hanging from the roof!

2. Warm Alcoholic Beverages

I’m not really a hot drinks person at the best of times so hot alcohol really isn’t my thing. But this year I made it my mission to find a Christmas market beverage that I enjoyed. There are plenty of Glühwein (mulled wine)  options including red, white and rose and even options for shots to be added. Here in Frankfurt the local drink is apple wine which they serve hot at the markets. My pick though is a hot chocolate with a shot of brandy and cream. Mmmmmmm!

3. Nuts

You’ll be able to locate the nut stalls by their sweet smells wafting through the market. There are huge varieties covered in various flavoured coatings. Roasted chesnuts are a real winter thing here and there are often big ovens roasting the nuts while you wait.

4. Lebkuchen

Things to try at the German christmas markets

This is the German version of gingerbread and anyone who has been to Oktoberfest will be familiar with them. Usually heart-shaped biscuits with piped icing to decorate and write some kind of message. They come on strings to hang around your neck. I’m not such a fan of the actual biscuit but love the look of them all hanging in the lit up stalls. So German!

5. Schokokuss

best foods at german christmas markets

For my fellow kiwis these are somewhat comparable to a Mallowpuff. Delicious flavoured marshmallow filling on a waffle base, cased in chocolate. The marshmallow is lighter and creamier than normal and comes in the most amazing variety of flavours such as coconut, Baileys and mocha. A real melt in the mouth treat and at only 70c a pop you can try a few flavours!

You will find these things at almost every Christmas market in Germany. It can be very difficult choosing which Christmas markets to visit and when to go.

Tips for Visiting German Christmas Markets 

  • Big city ones will be busy. For a quieter experience head to small towns. These can be just as nice and much more relaxed and authentic. For big ones try Nuremberg, Cologne, Frankfurt or Dresden. Smaller ones are in every town. Around Frankfurt I can recommend Wiesbaden, Darmstadt or Mainz.

  • Pace yourself if you're going to more than one. They do all get the same after a while so choose a couple of things to try at each.

  • Every market has local specialties and different souvenirs so look out for something different.

  • Take the cups. If you're looking for something to remember the markets you can take home the glühwein cups which have a special design for every market every year (you pay a €2-3 deposit when you buy a drink).

  • Go during the day to shop as its much quieter and then go back at night to enjoy the atmosphere and drinks.

Christmas markets will never quite replace barbecues in the sun in the lead up to Christmas but they sure make the cold more tolerable and bring a bit of Christmas magic to almost every town in Germany.

Looking for more German food experiences? Here's some things to do in Munich.

Delicious things to try at a traditional German Christmas market. #christmasmarket #germany #winter #glühwein
Planning a winter trip to Europe? Don't miss the gorgeous German Christmas Markets. Read about delicious things to try at a traditional German Christmas market. #christmasmarket #germany #winter #glühwein #food #christmastime #travel #fairytale #fairytalemarkets