The arrival of Christmas in New Zealand

by Anonymous Author

Our first New Zealand Christmas traditions travelled across the seas with the arrival of immigrants from around the world, but were soon adapted to recognise the uniqueness of our country.

The first noted celebration of Christmas was in 1642 with the arrival of Abel Tasman. While sheltering from a storm in Wellington Harbour the crew had the first New Zealand Christmas dinner, which was freshly killed pork and extra rations of wine. 

The next reported celebration of Christmas was not until 1769 when James Cook and his crew on the Endeavour celebrated Christmas with a variation of goose pie made from a gannet shot by one of the crew. 

The first recorded Christmas service was in 1814 in the Bay of Islands and was taken by Samuel Marsden.

While the traditional Northern hemisphere Christmas trees of pine, spruce, and fir trees remain popular in kiwi homes, the native pohutukawa has come to symbolise the uniqueness of a New Zealand Christmas, the image of which has been used on Christmas cards and in songs and poems.

Santa has been found in New Zealand malls and shops for well over a century.

Santa made his first in store appearance in 1894 at a DIC store in Wellington. Department stores did not stock toys back then, but the arrival of Santa saw sections of stores cleared for Santa’s display and purchasable treasures. 

Santa parades in New Zealand began in the early 1900s as a way of department stores attracting customers.

Many Santas of early last century would arrive at their assigned store in style. In 1937 the Farmers Santa arrived at the Auckland Domain by leaping from a plane, with a parachute on his back of course.

New Zealand now has its own tradition of Christmas songs, many having been adapted from traditional carols. An example is Kingi Ihaka’s version of the traditional carol The twelve days of Christmas called A pukeko in a ponga tree, written in 1981.

While many New Zealanders of European descent still enjoy traditional Christmas recipes passed down from their families, more and more people are choosing to eat unique New Zealand fare. Whether having a hangi or a barbeque in the back yard, Kiwis are celebrating their own culinary identity. Who can say no to a piece of pavlova on the pudding plate?