Christmas in New Zealand is weird.
That’s not just the biased opinion of an immigrant from the Northern Hemisphere; it’s weird for New Zealanders as well.
You see, New Zealand is a small country that doesn’t produce much, and, as such, a lot of its culture is imported from America and Great Britain. This means that the majority of the Christmas movies that New Zealanders watch on telly, the majority of the Christmas cards and the wrapping paper they buy in shops, the majority of the Christmas music they hear and the carols they try not to sing have been made with the Northern Hemisphere in mind.
Kiwi children grow up being told that Christmas is one thing, yet seeing with their own eyes that it is something else. They grow up with the image of the traditional White Christmas hammered into their consciousness when many of them have never felt snow in their lives. In New Zealand, Christmas is in the middle of summer.
Santa Claus isn’t exactly dressed for a New Zealand summer – he’d die! (You’ve got to feel sorry for New Zealand shopping mall Santas, eh?)
The Kiwi Christmas is such a contradiction – an exercise in Orwellian doublethink: you have to hold two conflicting concepts in your mind and believe both of them to be true. In New Zealand, the tangible version of Christmas that is happening around you is one of barbecues and beaches, of road trips and campervans, of super soakers and trampolines, of scorching concrete and relieving grass; the intangible version consists of snowmen and fairytales, of candles behind frosted windows, and of cute woodland creatures that don’t exist in the New Zealand bush.
My boyfriend was born in New Zealand and, a couple of weeks ago, he said something interesting: for him, growing up, Christmas and summer were two separate things that happened to coincide, that ran parallel to each other. For me, growing up in Britain, Christmas and winter were inextricably intertwined – one did not exist without the other, yet here the traditions of Christmastime and the time of year in which they took place clashed.
Christmas and summer are polar opposites: despite the efforts of New Zealanders to mash the ill-suited magnets together, they remain slightly repelled from each other, just unable to touch. The Kiwi Christmas cards you can buy showing, for example, Santa in a red budgie smuggler barbecuing sausages on the beach are fun to send to relatives in the Northern Hemisphere, but the image is forever overshadowed by the Santa in the snow.
Kiwis long for a White Christmas just as much as the Northern Hemisphere expats. In fact, it is quite common in New Zealand to celebrate a ‘midwinter Christmas’ in June. Many places have a public Christmas tree lit by a giant star put up in winter. Auckland’s started having a midwinter ice rink in Aotea Square, which looks terribly pretty all lit up at night.
Every year, my nana, who emigrated from England to live with us a few years ago, goes absolutely mental decorating the house for Christmas. Every year, you’ll hear my dad exclaim, “The horror! The horror!” at least three times a day in reaction to this, but, actually, my nana decorates beautifully. Everyone wants to come over to see it. If you want to truly feel like you’re in the midst of a White Christmas, step into my nana’s lounge – and that’s just what her Kiwi friends do.
I’ve been groaning that it’s difficult for me to get into the Christmas spirit when it’s the middle of summer and I’m being bothered by mosquitoes, but my nana’s Christmas grotto never fails to guide me there, and for that I’m so grateful to her.
I asked her today – as I sat in the sweltering, blooming garden writing this article and she took photographs of me and the cats – what she thought of Christmas in New Zealand, and she replied that she really doesn’t like it being in summer. It shouldn’t be so bright outside! It’s all very well making a cosy atmosphere inside with the decorations, but cosy in this heat runs the risk of becoming stuffy. But she makes the best of it.
Boy, does she make the best of it.