Text Size
New Zealand's Christmas Tree

Tis the season to be jolly


Christmas is one of many important festivals and special occasions. A time for remembering, counting one’s blessings, belonging, sharing, caring and helping those who might be struggling with loneliness, loss and other challenges.

Full of history

The origins of Christmas stem from both the pagan and Roman cultures. The Romans actually celebrated two holidays in the month of December. The first was Saturnalia, which was a two-week festival honouring their god of agriculture Saturn. On December 25th, they celebrated the birth of Mithra, their sun god.

Many of our Christmas Traditions stem from our English heritage. Modified over the centuries to better suit the actual country where Christmas is being celebrated.
According to UKHistory.com the Christmas we know today took shape in Victorian times when the rowdier celebrations from medieval periods were toned down to be a quieter, more family-focused festival.

Queen Victoria with husband German-born Albert and their nine children gave personal touches to festivities. The Christmas trees Albert popularised from his childhood rapidly caught on as did decking them with lights and presents. The source of the Christmas carol ‘Deck the halls with boughs of ivy…’tis the season to be jolly.”

Many of the other elements of Christmas were ‘created’ in this time including Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, eating turkey versus goose and even the invention of Santa Claus in the 1870s. A figure that had elements of the European tradition of Saint Nicholas but commercialised in the United States to be then transported around the world.

Last-minute hints for Santa’s special helpers

The current depiction of Santa Claus is based on images drawn by US cartoonist Thomas Nast for Harper's Weekly beginning in 1863. Nast's Santa owed much to the description given in the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”), first published in 1823.

In between the Yuletide cheer and the sharing of glad tidings, the so-called ‘Silly Season’ can produce unnecessary worry about what to do regarding presents.
Believe it or not, there is even a medical condition aptly named Christmas Gift Anxiety Syndrome that is fuelled by many factors making this season of joy unnecessarily stressful.

For older people the desire to be generous is outweighed by the reality that money may be too tight to mention. The very good news from the North Pole is that some of the truly magnificent gifts that keep on giving need not cost much…or even anything.

Simple is powerful. It is also natural, easy, unpretentious and clearly from the heart.

So, if you are a grandparent fretting about what to give your children, and theirs, here are some thoughts from the ‘seasoned’ giver.

  • Repackage that book you just finished reading. Even if it looks a bit ‘used’, the content will still be fresh. Hint: even 92-year-old grandmothers LOVE Jack Reacher.
  • Home baking. Delicious any time of the year but some Christmas infusion heightens the delight.
  • Garden harvest. Whether it is flowers or produce, fresh is always festive. Bouquets or a fruit and veggie basket are just some ideas.
  • Offer to house sit, baby sit or even pet sit. Make it fun by creating a special voucher for redemption any time within the next year.
  • Create a cookbook of seasonal favourites to make sure the memories, and tastes, will always linger.
  • While you are at it, make a family tree and write your own stories for inclusion. Encourage the rest of the family to respond in kind so that your stories will always remain alive.
  • If you are creative, write a poem that captures the Christmas spirit or even paint your own Yuletide scene.
  • If you are a prolific knitter get those fingers flying making a stocking for a new arrival or even a rug for a precious family pet.
New Zealand's Christmas Tree

Our kind of Christmas

Christmas in Aotearoa New Zealand is less about snow and sleigh bells and more about sun, sand and barbecues in the backyard. Visit Christmas | NZHistory, New Zealand history online or Kiwi Christmas - Christmas in New Zealand | NZHistory, New Zealand history online to test your knowledge of Yule Times Down Under.

You’ll find out that:
In 1642, Abel Tasman's crew celebrated 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 pie’ (made with gannet).

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?

The beautiful Pohutukawa is Aotearoa 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 reputed to guard the entrance to a sacred cave through which spirits pass on their way home to Hawaiki.

Santa or Christmas parades take place throughout Aotearoa New Zealand in November or December each year. They began in the main centres in the early 1900s. Created by department stores to promote the arrival of in-store Santas, with the clear aim of drawing customers directly into their stores.

Feedback welcomed

We'd like to hear your thoughts on this topic

Click here to submit your feedback

Date Published: December 2022

To be reviewed: December 2025