Christmas is Christmas right? I mean it’s indisputable that Christmas is a religious festival in late December, but it’s quite different from one side of the world to the other. Having a typically winter festival take place in early summer makes a big difference to how it’s interpreted. In Auckland at the moment it’s approaching 25 degrees Celsius (77F) every day, the sun is shining and it doesn’t get dark until almost 9.00pm. There are no Christmas lights in the streets and Auckland doesn’t even have a Christmas tree up in the city. For someone from the UK, it really doesn’t feel like Christmas.
It’s not just the lack of decorations that stands out. Christmas food is different too. Think about all the food you eat at Christmas; a huge Christmas dinner, hot puddings and more rich food than you’ll eat all year. When it’s hot outside this doesn’t quite work. Who wants to eat roast turkey and potatoes followed by a hot fruit pudding when you’ve got clear blue skies and a ten minute sun burn time? A lot of times a normal Christmas dinner in New Zealand is made up of Barbecue and salads.
At the same time, a lot of the northern hemisphere traditions survive because New Zealand has such a huge European population, but they get blended with local customs. People still put up Christmas trees, but it is usually a pohutukawa tree not a pine tree . Many people will have pavlova for pudding on Christmas day instead of hot puddings and fruit cakes, and they might go for a walk on the beach after they’ve opened their presents.
At my job, on the last working day before Christmas we have a barbecue on the balcony of the top floor of our office. It’s a nice way to get everyone together before a few days holiday, but frankly it feels strange when the Salvation Army band starts playing carols and you’re eating steak or sausages, looking out to the harbour while the sun is shining with ‘In the Bleak Mid-winter’ (watch it here) playing in the background. It’s just not quite right.
I sometimes complain about life in New Zealand and most British people living here will tell you that Christmas isn’t really Christmas when you spend it in New Zealand. I’m not complaining. I’ll still get my Christmas treats like mince pies, stollen and my Terry's Chocolate Orange to remind me of home and I’ll put Christmas carols on when I get up on Christmas day it’s just that I’ll be wearing shorts and a t-shirt instead of jeans and a jumper. Doing something different is good and when the sun is beaming down and I’m going to the beach in December believe me I’ll have a smile on my face and be thinking of everyone at home keeping warm and eating mountains of food.