Christmas in Australia and New Zealand

Christmas traditions in Australia and New Zealand have many similarities to British, Irish, American and Canadian traditions, including traditional Christmas symbols featuring winter iconography. This means a red fur-coated Santa Claus riding a sleigh, songs such as "Jingle Bells", and various Christmas scenes on Christmas cards and decorations. However, the timing of Christmas occurring during the Southern Hemisphere's summer season has resulted in the development of some local traditions as a result of the warmer weather.[1]

Shared traditions[edit]

Pavlova is a popular Christmas dessert in Australia and New Zealand

The traditional Christmas tree is central to Christmas decorations and strings of lights and tinsel are standard. Decorations appear in stores and on streets starting in November, and are commonplace by early December. Many homeowners decorate the exterior of their houses. Displays range from the modest to elaborate, sometimes with hundreds of lights and decorations depicting seasonal motifs such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, or nativity scenes. Particular regions have a tradition for elaborate displays, and attract a great amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic during the Christmas season. This is despite the longer days, resulting in dusk occurring as late as 9.00 p.m. in the southern latitudes.[2]

Most workplaces conduct a "Christmas Party" some time during December, but rarely on Christmas Eve itself. As many people take their holidays between Christmas and New Year's Day, and many workplaces completely close for that period, these parties are effectively an end of year or break-up party and frequently feature little or no reference to Christmas itself. Likewise, schools, TAFE (vocational training), and universities break for summer holidays. Schools typically end in the week before Christmas, to recommence in late January or early February. Following Christmas, many churches will change their evening meetings to a less formal format, while many hobby clubs also suspend or alter their meetings in this period.

On Christmas Eve, the children are told, Santa Claus[3] visits houses placing presents for children under the Christmas tree or in stockings or sacks which are usually hung by a fireplace. In recent decades many new apartments and homes have been built without traditional combustion fireplaces, however with some innovation the tradition persists. Snacks and beverages (including liquor) may be left out for Santa to consume during his visit. The gifts are opened the next morning, on Christmas Day.

Families traditionally gather for a Christmas Day lunch traditions that include decorated hams, roast turkey, roast chicken, salads and roast vegetables. Christmas crackers are pulled before eating. More recently, as appropriate to the often hotter weather of the day, it has become increasingly popular to serve local seasonal produce such as cold meats, seafood and salad.[1][4] Similarly, dessert also includes a mix of traditional winter Christmas food (such as plum pudding with brandy butter, fruit mince pies, and trifle) alongside local traditions such as pavlova,[5] a dessert popular in both countries, and fresh fruit such as berries and kiwifruit.[1] Candy canes are a popular confectionery in Australia for the children's table in the Christmas period.

In both countries, Christmas by Michael Bublé re-enters the album charts every year at Christmas time until the new year, generally reaching number 1 or the top 5.[6] Similarly, "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey re-enters the singles charts each year in both countries again until the new year.

As Christmas falls in summer, the watching of television is not a strong part of Australian or New Zealand Christmas traditions, unlike in the United Kingdom, in which it is one of the most important days for television ratings. Television ratings in Australia are not taken during the summer and schedules are mostly filled with repeats of old programs or previously cancelled shows. Some locally produced programs have a Christmas special, though often it will be shown early December and not on Christmas Day itself. Many television stations rerun Christmas-themed films in the weeks leading up to and including Christmas Day, such as Miracle on 34th Street, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, The Polar Express, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas and various film versions of A Christmas Carol.


"The average Australian Christmas" cartoon by Livingston Hopkins (c. 1900) – click to enlarge.

Some Australian songwriters and authors have occasionally depicted Santa in "Australian"-style clothing including an Akubra hat, with warm-weather clothing and thongs, and riding in a ute pulled by kangaroos, (e.g. Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris). There are also a small number of popularly recognised original Australian Christmas songs, including Paul Kelly's How to Make Gravy, Colin Buchanan's Aussie Jingle Bells and Tim Minchin's White Wine in the Sun but these depictions have not replaced mainstream iconography.[7]

The tradition of sending Christmas cards is widely practised in Australia. The price of a Christmas postage stamp is lower than that for a standard letter; senders are required to mark the envelope "card only" when using the lower priced stamps.[8]

Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day are national public holidays in Australia (with the exception of South Australia, where Proclamation Day is celebrated on 26 December instead).[9]

Two major sporting events traditionally commence on the day after Christmas Day in Australia: the Boxing Day Test cricket test match, and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

Local traditions[edit]

A float in the 2008 Norwood Christmas pageant depicting Santa Claus' sleigh on top of Australian-style historic buildings

A popular tradition celebrated in Adelaide is the Adelaide Christmas Pageant. This parade is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting crowds of over 400,000 people. Begun in 1933, the pageant is staged in early November every year, usually on a Saturday morning, marking the start of the Christmas season. It comprises a procession of floats, bands, clowns, dancing groups, and walking performers, all culminating in the arrival of Santa Claus. At the terminus of the pageant Santa proceeds to the Magic Cave in the David Jones department store where he can be visited by children. Smaller scale pageants are also held in regional centres.

South Australia does not have a Boxing Day holiday. Rather, the weekday following Christmas Day being the Proclamation Day holiday. Christmas Eve, from 7:00 pm to midnight is now a Public Holiday.[10]

Carols by Candlelight is a tradition that started in Melbourne in 1938 and has since spread around Australia and the world. At the event people gather on Christmas Eve, usually outdoors, to sing carols by candlelight in a large-scale concert style event. The Vision Australia's Carols by Candlelight which takes place at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on Christmas Eve, is televised nationwide and it has become a tradition for many Australians to watch the performance.

Carols in the Domain has traditionally taken place in Sydney the Saturday before Christmas Eve exclusive.[11][12] However, since 2016 it has been held on the Sunday next before Christmas Eve exclusive.[13][14]

Special events for international tourists away from their families are held on Bondi Beach in Sydney. These may involve a turkey barbecue and such humorous stunts as a fake Santa dressed in a Santa suit surfing in to appear to the crowd.

New Zealand[edit]

The December-flowering pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) is an often-used Christmas symbol in New Zealand.

Christmas Day and Boxing Day are both statutory holidays in New Zealand. While Boxing Day is a standard statutory holiday, Christmas Day is one of the three-and-a-half days[a] of the year where all but the most essential businesses and services must close. Many of New Zealand's Christmas traditions are similar to those of Australia in that they are a mix of United Kingdom and North American traditions conducted in summer. New Zealand celebrates Christmas with mainly traditional northern hemisphere winter imagery, mixed with local imagery. The pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), which produces large crimson flowers in December, is an often used symbol for Christmas in New Zealand, and subsequently the pohutukawa has become known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.[15]

Auckland's Sky Tower illuminated in Christmas colours during the month of December

Several Christmas themed parades are held in New Zealand. The most popular is Auckland's Santa Parade down Queen Street. This features numerous floats and marching bands and attracts large crowds every year. It is held late November to accommodate holidaymakers and is seen as the preamble to the later festivities. The Australian tradition of Carols by Candlelight is popular in New Zealand, especially in Auckland and Christchurch, where there is usually a large outdoor carol-singing gathering known as Christmas in the park.

No advertising is allowed on New Zealand television or radio on Christmas Day, a rule that also applies on Good Friday and Easter Sunday (as of 2014).[16]

Christmas music from Australia[edit]

Title Composer / Lyricist Year published Notes
First Hymn for Christmas Day James Johnson 1840s Composed for Saint James Church, Van Diemen's Land [17]
Christmas Present Polka John Howson 1852 Cover Art show pioneer lady with pudding [18]
All my heart this night rejoices Charles Edward Horsley 1862 [19]
Hymn for Christmas-Day James Johnson 1862 [20]
Our Australian Christmas Song Ernesto Spagnoletti 1863 [21]
Christmas In Australia George Tolhurst 1864 Lyrics celebrate southern hemisphere summer christmas
Christmas Quadrille Richard Herz 1864 biography unknown - music printed in Melbourne [22]
Victorian Christmas Waltz Cesare Cutolo 1866 no lyrics[23]
Christmas Anthem Paolo Giorza 1870
Song Of The Angels Charles Sandys Packer 1883
Oh, lovely voices of the sky Alfred Pumpton 1890
Star of The East Augustus Juncker 1890 [24]
While all things were in quiet silence Henry John King 1899 Protestant school master - setting of Solomon 18:14 King James Bible
In The Cathedral George Savin De Chaneet 1900
Nine Christmas Carols Arthur Rivers (1857-1940) 1904 Sheet music sold eighteen thousand copies [25]
My Little Christmas Belle Joe Slater and Ward McAllister 1910 [26]
Australian Christmas Carol Joseph Summers 1908 Captures the sound of St Georges Perth Cathedral Bells
Yuletide Gavotte John Albert Delaney 1900
Star Of The East August Juncker 1910 [27]
Eleven Carols Massey, Arthur 1861-1940 1910 unclear if these tunes are original or arrangements of existing songs [28]
The Christmas story in carols Rivers, Arthur Richard 1857-1940 1912 [29]
Bush Christmas Carol Jessie Penfold 1912 Western Australian
A Christmas Hymn Joseph Furphy (Tom Collins) & Arthur Chanter 1914 [30]
The Night Of Fear Is Over Fritz Hart 1929
Hurrah For Father Christmas Christian Hellerman 1952


  1. ^ The other "half-day" closing of most essential businesses and services is the night of Christmas Eve


  1. ^ a b c "Spreading around the Christmas cheer". The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 December 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  2. ^ "Sunrise and sunset times for Hobart, Australia in December". Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  3. ^ "Letters from Santa Claus your Kids will love! Santa Claus Letters". SantaMail. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
  4. ^ "Christmas in New Zealand". New Zealand Tourism Guide. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  5. ^ "Christmas in Australia". Retrieved 22 December 2011.
  6. ^ "Michael Buble is top of Christmas pop again in Australia". 22 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  7. ^ "Where is all the Australian Christmas music?". The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  8. ^ "Christmas Stamps". Australia Post. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  9. ^ "Australian Government – Public Holidays". Archived from the original on 4 January 2015. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
  10. ^ "Public Holidays: Public holiday dates". Government of South Australia. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  11. ^ "Carols by Candlelight defines the Aussie Christmas on the couch". The Conversation. 23 December 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Carols in the Domain". Sydney A to Z. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  13. ^ Knox, David. "Carols in the Domain moving to Sunday". TV Tonight. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  14. ^ "Carols in the Domain". Carols in the Domain. 17 December 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  15. ^ "Pohutukawa trees". Ministry of Culture and Heritage (New Zealand). Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  16. ^ "New Zealand Broadcasting Act 1989". Government of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Howson, John, 1819?-1871 (1852), The Christmas present polka / composed by J. Howson, J. HowsonCS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Horsley, Charles Edward, 1822-1876, All my heart this night rejoices [music] : Christmas hymn / composed by Charles Edward Horsley, C.E. HorsleyCS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^
  21. ^ Spagnoletti, Ernesto (1863), Our Australian Christmas song, Alonzo Grocott, retrieved 17 September 2019
  22. ^ Herz, Richard (Richard F.) (1864), Christmas quadrille, Printed and published for the proprietors, by Robert Stewart at the Herald Office, retrieved 29 September 2019
  23. ^ Divall, Richard; Quaife, Merlyn; Wood, John Bolton; State Orchestra of Victoria (2009), Australia unite! : the road to federation, Naxos Digital Services/ABC Classics, retrieved 19 September 2019
  24. ^ Juncker, Aug. W. (August W.); Rogers, W. R. Russell (1890), Star of the East, A.W. Juncker?, retrieved 17 September 2019
  25. ^ Rivers, A. R. (Arthur Richard), 1857-1940 (1904), Nine Christmas carols / by Arthur R. Rivers, s.n.], retrieved 20 September 2019CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  26. ^
  27. ^ ""The Star of the East."". National Advocate. 7, (73). New South Wales, Australia. 31 January 1896. p. 2. Retrieved 19 September 2019 – via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  28. ^ Massey, Arthur. (1910), Eleven Xmas carols, W. H. Paling & Co, retrieved 24 October 2019
  29. ^ Rivers, A. R. (Arthur Richard) (1912), The Christmas story in carols, H. J. Diddams & Co, retrieved 17 September 2019
  30. ^