What is Christmas like in the Southern Hemisphere?

Photo credit: Denise Johnson

Do people in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa celebrate Christmas? In the north, winter and Christmas are inseparably linked, but what do you do when December is during the peak of summer?

In the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas is among the most important holidays of the year. Even though at its root it is a Christian celebration, commercial interests and pop culture have turned this into a mainstream phenomenon. Christmas markets, family time, present shopping and mulled wine are meant to lift your spirits when daylight and temperatures are in decline. For some the festive season can also be very stressful, but for most it is something to look forward to in winter.

Since Western culture is strongly influenced by North America and Europe, it’s easy to forget that many countries celebrate Christmas in summer. This brings about a lot of questions: Does Santa wear shorts? Wouldn’t his sleigh get stuck in the sand? Luckily, we have team members from New Zealand and South Africa who shed some light on what it’s like to celebrate Christmas in summer.

Christmas in summer

Christmas time is holiday time across the world – just that in the south it’s the summer holidays. This means that people are often on camping trips and the beaches are crowded during this time. With warmth and light in abundance, the build-up to Christmas is less intense. People still enjoy decorating their houses, and shopping malls are fully prepared for gift-shoppers. However, this is the main holiday and there is a lot to do outdoors, so any Christmas events face some real competition for people’s attention. When it’s 30° C outside, the swimming pool is just much more appealing than a cup of mulled wine.

Photo credit: Pineapple Supply Co.

Southern Christmas traditions

You would expect traditions in the Southern Hemisphere to be adjusted to the season, but the influence of the former British Empire is still very noticeable in some places. 25 and 26 December are bank holidays and fall within the summer holidays, so many businesses are closed during the festive season. Families gather around the Christmas tree on 25 December for presents and a generous meal. Ham, turkey, roast potato, mince pies and Christmas pudding seem out of place in summer, but are very much the festive staples. Walking through the neighbourhood to look at Christmas decorations is also popular, but you have to wait much longer for darkness so you can see the lights.

Other traditions are quite different, as you may expect. In New Zealand, people might enjoy a Christmas barbecue on the deck. Instead of wearing ugly sweaters, they have Christmas-themed Hawaiian shirts and Christmas day could end with a swim at the beach.

In South Africa, Boxing Day is beach day. People from far and wide pack the leftovers from Christmas lunch into cooler boxes and head to the sea. For many of them this is the only time of the year that they’ll go for a swim, so the lifeguards have an important and stressful job on their hands.

Christmas in winter

Even though people spend less time indoors, Hollywood’s Christmas movies are screened in the Southern Hemisphere as well. As a consequence, many people wonder what it would be like to have Christmas in winter. The town of Tulbagh in South Africa’s Western Cape simply decided to have a Christmas festival in June or July and call it “Christmas in Winter”. Of course this removes the religious aspect and only optimists would expect snow, but by South African standards it’s easily cold enough to light the fireplace and cuddle up indoors with a hot drink and rich traditional Christmas treats at one of the shops or galleries.

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