Celebrating Christmas in New-Zealand

By Shar-nica du Plessis

Although December is a joyous time when we are looking forward to a sea or bush holiday and the little ones’ Christmas wishing lists, this time of year is also time for nostalgy and deep longing. At Christmas we always thinking of children and grandchildren, brothers and sisters on the other side of the world and how they celebrate on their own. This week, we are chatting to Shar-nica to hear how they celebrate Christmas in New Zealand.

Are there interesting Christmas customs and traditions?

Our first Christmas in our new country was rather sad. We had just returned from South Africa; my father-in-law had died, and we went back to celebrate his life. Boy, were we lonely! We had been in New Zealand for a mere seven months and only knew a few people. My husband’s boss invited us to the Te Ngaere beach on Christmas Day and it was there that I rode a jet ski for the first time. We ate delicious food – it was heavenly!

Since then, we have decided that no person should feel that lonely, and every Christmas we open up our home for families who are lonely – and this is how we celebrate Christmas. We will continue this tradition. We also exchange gifts (playing Secret Santa). We also support   Puketona Christmas Tree Farm and choose our very own Christmas tree every year. Yes, it is a little messy, but it something that my family looks forward to every year, and the tree’s smell is just lovely. It’s our new tradition and we will continue it for as long as possible. On Christmas Day we go to the beach with Susan and Andre, and we eat all the food that is left and enjoy the day as a family.  

Do you still enjoy a traditional South African spread, or do you try new dishes? Maybe there are exquisite dishes inherent to the country in which you live. Send us a few recipes!

Everyone takes along a plate of food (we refer to bring a plate). After we played Christmas games, we serve delicious vegetables, curry noodle salad, ham and leg of lamb!

For dessert there is always a peppermint tart and a New Zealand dessert called ambrosia. I cannot get enough of it. The recipe is at https://www.nzfavouriterecipe.co.nz/recipe/easy-ambrosia/ (and I always add Flake chocolate). For something to drink, I take a 2,25 litre Sprite and add cinnamon sticks, apples and mint leaves.  

Are there gorgeous Christmas lights in your suburb or a new Christmas fad in your country?

Our town is small and has a committee that erects a large tree in the centre of town. Moreover, the businesses have a competition to see whose windows are the decorated the most beautifully. Some houses here really go the extra mile. Everyone who knows me knows that I adore Christmas (I start as early as June to post Christmas ideas and things on Facebook). Every year I try to do something extra for our guests and our children in my house. Normally, we go out on the 24th to walk through the town and enjoy ice cream at McDonalds.

Do you keep to the old, traditional festivities, or do you invent new ways to celebrate Christmas?  

We are always open to new ideas. We also ate this heartily in South Africa and went out to watch the lights. For us it is about family and friends who join us to celebrate this special day, no matter where we are – as long as we are together.

How do you keep in touch with family members who are far away?

We video-call family because our family is scattered across the world. Two of my sisters live in Austria, another in the USA and one in South America. My brother and his family are now moving to the Netherlands, while my brother-in-law and eldest sister are still in South Africa. We send pictures and share recipes and tales from long ago. I use Checkers’ Sixty/60 service to send something to the children. This year, I want to send something to my dad, mother-in-law and grandmother. 

My brother has never missed a Christmas; he is quite fond of my sons. And every year I make foot prints to show that Santa Claus was here, and we also put out carrots for Rudolph. My poor brother always had to take a bite of the carrots, eat the cookies and drink the milk, because after watching lights it is almost midnight and then we unwrap our gifts. I don’t think my brother can stomach more raw carrot!   

Once I read the story of Jesus’s birth to my sons in English, as my youngest sometimes struggles to understand Afrikaans (except when I scold them or bought sweets!). My youngest wanted to know why the wise men brought Jesus a mirror (referring to the myrrh) and asked: “Weren’t there any toys back then?”

We all have wonderful memories of South Africa and of here. We would give anything to have our family under one roof again. Maybe one day …

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