In fact, one of my clearest memories soon after immigrating, being thickly-accented and bright-eyed at a NZ school, was being seated in a school hall singing a very foreign and kooky carol titled, “Christmas on the Beach,” en masse, as the season approached. It took some getting used to.
In New Zealand, most Kiwis associate Christmas with their longest annual holiday and an opportunity to escape to their bach or crib (both terms for small, cheap holiday homes) for a week or two of relaxation. School has its largest break at the same time, and this small island country flocks to the beaches in jandals (flip flops) for games of cricket and touch rugby…some on Christmas day. Yet with such a mighty contingent spending the festive season on the sand, it’s remarkable to have so much space to yourself – as a New Zealand beach is rarely crowded.
While some stay away from the scorching, southern hemisphere rays, and others deliberately bake under them, what most Kiwis have in common at Christmas is an interest in spending time with one’s family. While this is good and swell, it’s a shame that country-wide the religious significance of Christmas has largely been shelved in place of this “family day” focus, alone. This shift has been so great that many schools no longer sing or present Christmas carols or shows that make any reference to Christ…for fear of offending someone.
For most, this family day and its lead-up entail a roast dinner (a couple of chickens will often do), and decorating a tree together. For many it also involves Santa, hanging stockings, presents, making a Christmas fruit cake, and singing carols by candlelight (which has to be scheduled pretty late at night, given that at this time of year it’s not getting very dark until around 9:30pm). Some still honour the tradition of viewing the Queen’s Christmas message (we’re part of the Commonwealth, after all), and others attend a church service in some form.
All in all, those who are clinging to the “Christ” in Christmas are definitely in the minority, but His significance to those who do is almost always respected. One thing that believers and the less-so do equally well in New Zealand, is remembering Christmas is about giving, and I each year I find opportunities a-plenty to smile as I see generousity and love evidenced in the actions of many.
Angela Noelle waved fare-thee-well to her previous playgrounds (the classroom, office and art gallery) in favour of drinking in every delicious moment of motherhood on offer. Now she juggles that privilege with her nesting instincts, design contracts, sales work, her churchy responsibilities, pregnancy cravings, and the need to straighten things – all with her cherub (Esky) in tow. You can read more from a Mormon Mum in New Zealand over at Angela Noelle’s blog, Striking Keys.