Pohutukawa christmas illustration

Kiwi Christmas Traditions

The Christmas spirit is embraced by most Kiwi families. You might notice it in your workplace, around the shop front windows and on T.V and the radio. Often there will be that one person in the office that will wear their Santa hat every single day during December, even if it’s 25 degrees outside! Kiwis REALLY like getting festive so, there are some essential Kiwi Christmas Traditions that every new kiwi needs to know about.

It’s summer in New Zealand!

If you’re from the UK, USA or Europe, this is a big deal. Since New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere Christmas falls in summer, so there’s no chance of a white Christmas, unless you count white sand on the beach! Christmas in New Zealand is less about building snowmen and more about having a summer barbeque with family. People (including Santa) often wear jandals (flip-flops), and a Christmas swim is an important part of the day.

Christmas Trees

Let’s kick off with the important things like what type of Christmas tree to get. Most New Zealand families have a Christmas tree in their home which goes up at the beginning of December. A quintessential kiwi ritual is to put the Christmas tree up with the family and take a before photo, and then on Christmas day, take another photo to show-off all the presents!  

Pōhutukawa trees

While the Pōhutukawa is iconic for its red flowers (you’ve maybe seen it on Christmas cards), Kiwis usually have a traditional tree with decorations.

Pine trees

Let’s start with the pine tree. A small pine tree is a good choice as there is very little assembly required and they smell wonderful. Some people think that the aroma of pine needles is one of the essential features of Christmas.

The one disadvantage of using a real pine tree is that the needles will dry up and fall off the tree, particularly towards the end of December. It’s no biggy though, you can easily vacuum them up when you dispose of the tree.

Here’s a fun fact about pine trees:

One of New Zealand’s greatest All Blacks (the national rugby team) was called Sir Colin ‘Pine Tree’ Meads. We’re not sure how festive he was but he sure was a tremendous rugby player. Nice one Pine Tree!

Synthetic Christmas trees

Synthetic trees haven’t quite risen to the status of having a rugby player named after them, though they’re an excellent alternative to a Pine Tree. Synthetic trees are popular because they’re easier to decorate and an inexpensive alternative that can be packed away and used year after year. Synthetic trees have a wire frame, so they keep an excellent shape for the whole month of Christmas. They don’t brown like a pine tree either, but they will leave a few bits of stray shiny plastic on the floor, so if you’re into having a sparkly floor for a month after the big day, a synthetic tree could be for you.

Let’s talk about a few more essential Kiwi Christmas Traditions, and build-up to the big day.


In New Zealand, traditional Christmas carols like Jingle Bells, We Wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer are now almost exclusively confined to Bastien beginner piano books.  

You are most likely going to hear a mix of Snoopy’s Christmas, Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer and Mary’s Boy Child on the radio and in the shops, so if you’re into variety, it’s best to listen to your own special mix of festive favourites.


Kiwis have celebrations and preparation leading up to Christmas day. Most towns hold a Santa Parade on the main street. The christmas parades have community groups and local businesses with decorated floats in them – often with a lolly scramble accompanied by Christmas carols.

Advent calendars

Advent calendars are popular for kids to help countdown to the big day. An advent calendar is a cardboard box with 25 windows full of chocolate to help with the Christmas countdown.

Neighbourhood lighting displays

As you walk around at night you might notice that many houses are decorated with Christmas lights. It is a Kiwi Christmas Tradition in many suburbs to decorate their individual houses with bright lights. In some towns, entire streets worth of houses are lit up spectacularly and are worth visiting. Keep your eyes peeled on community noticeboards as there are a few savvy operators that offer tours around these suburbs.

Last minute shopping

For some reason, Kiwis seem to leave their Christmas shopping right until the last minute. On Christmas eve, there are always literally thousands of people in the major shopping malls tying up the loose ends of their Christmas shopping. If you still need to do shopping on Christmas eve, try and get it done during the day, or late at night as most shopping centres are open until midnight.

The family beach holiday

A New Zealand rite of passage is the family beach holiday. Some families are lucky enough to have a bach and other families prefer to go camping. Christmas in New Zealand is all about getting everyone together in a location that is within walking distance to the beach.


Due to the hot weather, Christmas lunch usually includes ham, chicken, lamb or even venison – and if you’re lucky you might get a few whitebait fritters. On top of this, Kiwis eat roast vegetables like pumpkin, carrots, potatoes, and kumara (sweet potato) with coleslaw and gravy on the side. For dessert, pavlova (a type of meringue cake), jelly and ice cream are all popular choices.


An essential Kiwi Christmas Tradition is to sit around the Christmas tree and hand out the presents that have been accumulating under the tree for the month. They can be given out before or after lunch and give the children something to do for the remainder of the day.

Family sports

Backyard and beach cricket

Lots of families set aside a fair chunk of time for a traditional game of backyard cricket. Backyard cricket is not just a Kiwi Christmas Tradition, it’s a New Zealand institution. It’s a great time to get competitive and get active after the Christmas lunch.


Someone always gets a swingball set for Christmas. The swingball matches thereafter can become an all out family competition, depending on how competitive the family is.

Boxing day sales

Once Christmas is over and the whole family has recovered from a big day of food and fun, you’ll need to check out the boxing day sales. Boxing day sales are legendary as retail prices on toys, clothing, sports gear and electronics are heavily discounted. Like with last minute Christmas eve shopping, there will be thousands of people out and about seeking a bargain and spending their Christmas money.

A final note about Kiwi Christmas traditions

Woah – pretty long list, huh? At least you’ve now got everything you need to have a perfect Kiwi Christmas. Remember to enjoy your holiday and be responsible with your Christmas celebrations.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year from the team at OrbitRemit!

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