The Christmas holidays in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) have many similarities to those in the Northern Hemisphere: excess food and alcohol consumption, Christmas carols, and spending time with family. But for those who haven’t experienced it, there’s also the sun, the beach, the sun, barbecues, the sun, the cricket, and did we mention the sun?
For any travellers who are heading Down Under for the Southern Hemisphere’s summer and wondering just what to expect – sunbathing Santas? Koala-led sleds? Read on to find out five ways you can prepare yourself for an ANZ Christmas.
A traditional pastime for Christmas Day in Australia and New Zealand is hitting the beach to work off any Christmas breakfast and chocolate consumption. Both countries boast gorgeous beaches with some great surfing spots, and some that are just perfect for lying around and doing nothing. If you’re used to Christmases spent lying around inside, think again when in the South Pacific and prepare to head outdoors.
You can rent a surfboard, pick up a boogie board, try body surfing or invest in a beach umbrella and a paperback book. Be sure to pay attention to any lifesaving flags or guards, and be careful of rip currents.
However, thanks to various factors including that wonder of human creation, ozone depletion, both countries have high ultraviolet indexes in summer, the measure for the intensity of UV radiation, and have some of the highest rates of melanoma in the world. This means visitors to the countries will need to protect themselves from sunburn, even on shady days, by slathering on sunscreen and covering up with hats and clothing.
In New Zealand, the pohutukawa tree is also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree for its habit of blooming around the holiday, although pine is generally still used for the decorated indoor trees. With bright red flowers, the tree is native to Aotearoa, and can live for hundreds of years. Its habit of growing on the coast means your camera will be filled with pictures of white sands, sparkling blue seas and crimson flowered trees.
Being that it happens in summer, barbecues are pretty prevalent in Australia and New Zealand during the Christmas season. While many stay with the British tradition of a roast ham, it’s not unknown to opt for a barbecue Christmas dinner, and Australian locals say barbecue for breakfast is not uncommon either.
The meringue dessert, pavlova, (also known as ‘pav’ in either country) is a common sweet treat around Christmas time, filled with cream and topped off with the multitudes of fresh fruit available over the Southern Hemisphere’s summer: think strawberries, cherries, nectarines, peaches and more.
The origin of the pavlova, named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, has been a sticking point (no pun intended) between the ANZ countries, with the Kiwi’s claiming it was created in New Zealand and the Aussie’s saying Australia. So travellers might be wise to fill their mouths with the delicious dessert and keep quiet on the subject altogether.
Be prepared to see a lot of sport on and around Christmas Day. Making the most of the sun, it’s common to see backyard rugby, soccer, and in particular cricket, in play, or beach versions of the same.
There will also be various sporting events televised with Kiwis and Australians glued to their screens (when not outside or at the beach). Australians say traditions in this vein include the Boxing Day cricket test match held in Melbourne, while in Sydney, apparently people line the harbour to watch the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
With the beach culture comes the ability to gather ingredients from the bounty of the ocean and some New Zealand households will gather shellfish for their own Christmas dinner and seasonal meals.
Shellfish gathering in New Zealand is common, with pipis, mussels and cockles sought after, either by searching rocks in the sea or using the age old technique of standing in shallow water at the beach and digging into the sand with one’s feet. Be aware that there is a limit on the number of shellfish you’re allowed to collect, set by the New Zealand government.
So if you’re in either country for December, what are you waiting for? Slap on your sunscreen, pick up your pipi basket and get into the fun of Christmas in the sun!
Want to discover more about how different cultures celebrate Christmas? Check this out! Wacky Christmas Traditions Around the World