42. Santa in New Zealand from 1776 to present
DEX. 16, 2021
Pete tracks down the diverse history of our very own Santa Claus (or should that be Father Christmas?) and chats with comedian Jarred Christmas about the traditions of a New Zealand Christmas, where Santa shows up at the height of Summer.
This episode ‘tis the season to be jolly, and apparently enjoy a barbeque on the beach!
Pete and Ryan take a look at New Zealand, also known as Aotearoa, the 'land of the long white cloud'. Famed for a powerhouse rugby team (the All Blacks) and their fearsome haka, as well as kiwi birds, sheep farming, manuka honey (which only comes from New Zealand) and of course, Hobbits and orcs, the North and South islands combine with over 700 smaller islands to make a country about half the size of France.
To start the show, Pete gave Ryan the gift of beer – specifically Speight beer, a New Zealand institution brewed in Dunedin in the South Island since 1876. In 1880, Speight's won a gold medal at the Melbourne International Exhibition, giving rise to the Speight's Gold Medal Ale brand and by 1887 it had become the largest brewery in New Zealand.
Alongside the beer, Ryan and Pete also tasted a soft drink called, L&P or Lemon & Paeroa which was originally lemon juice with carbonated mineral water from the town of Paeroa. Since then, bottling has been taken over by Coca Cola, but the town still sports an impressive 7 metre high statue of a bottle of the drink.
History of New Zealand
New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses settled by humans. It was first settled by Polynesians from Eastern Polynesia and there are no human artifacts dating earlier than the Kaharoa Tephra, a layer of volcanic debris deposited by the Mount Tarawera eruption around 1314 CE on the islands.
The main settlement period was somewhere between 1320 and 1350 CE, the descendants of these settlers then went on to become known as the Māori.
In December 1642 Dutch explorer Abel Tasman arrived northern end of the South Island in Golden Bay, although he named it Murderers' Bay after being attacked by local Māori
He also sketched maps for the two main islands' west coasts and called them Staten Landt, which was the name that appeared on his first maps of the country.
However, in 1645 Dutch cartographers changed the name to Nova Zeelandia from Nieuw Zeeland, after the Dutch province of Zeeland.
In 1769, British naval captain James Cook visited New Zealand, and two months later, Frenchman Jean-François de Surville arrived too. This started an era during which Europeans mostly traded and whaled in the local waters. In the early decades of the 19th century, numerous trading stations were established and Christianity was introduced to New Zealand in 1814 by Samuel Marsden.
But as well as religion the Europeans brought guns, which severely affected the balance of power between Maori tribes. Tribes with muskets would attack tribes without them, killing or enslaving many and as a consequence guns became very valuable and Māori would trade huge quantities of goods for a single musket.
This power imbalance resulted from 1805 to 1843 in the Musket Wars, during which battles resulted in the deaths of between 20,000 and 40,000 people and the enslavement of tens of thousands of Māori as well as significantly altering the tribal territorial boundaries
In 1840 Treaty of Waitangi On 6 February 1840, British naval captain William Hobson and about forty Māori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi. The British then took copies of the Treaty around the islands of New Zealand for signature by other chiefs. A significant number refused to sign or were not asked but, in total, more than five hundred Māori eventually signed.
This Treaty gave Māori sovereignty over their lands and possessions and all of the rights of British citizens. But what it gave the British in return depends on the language-version of the Treaty used.
The English version gave the British Crown sovereignty over New Zealand but in the Māori version, the Crown receives kāwanatanga, which, arguably, is a lesser power. The dispute over the "true" meaning and the intent of the signatories remains an issue to this day.
Whilst the Māori had welcomed Pākehā (people of European descent) for the trading opportunities and guns they brought, they soon realized they had underestimated the number of settlers that would arrive.
Demand for land resulted in a conflict – known as the New Zealand wars. From 1845 to 1872 conflict between New Zealand Colonial government and allied Māori on one side and Māori and Māori-allied settlers on the other was ongoing.
These became known as the Land Wars or the Māori Wars, also known by maori as the White Man’s Anger. At the end, large areas of land were confiscated from the Māori by the government as punishment for rebellion.
From 1840 there was even more European settlement, primarily from the UK, spurring in part by gold rushes.
As part of the British empire, New Zealand sent soldiers to World War One during which around 100,000 served overseas and 18,000 died.
This was repeated in World War Two with another 120,000 troops.
After this, New Zealand became an independent nation, although debate continues as to how exactly this happened. It has no fixed date of independence from the United Kingdom; instead, political independence came about as a result of New Zealand's evolving constitutional status. As such, the concept of a national "Independence Day" does not exist in New Zealand.
Christmas in New Zealand
The first recorded Christmas service in New Zealand was in 1814, with Samuel Marsden delivering a sermon to around 400 Māori at Oihi Bay in the Bay of Islands.
English and Irish settlers brought their own Christmas traditions. Scottish settlers did not widely celebrate Christmas as the Scottish Presbyterian church never placed much emphasis on the Christmas festival, on the grounds that it was unscriptural
In 1873 Christmas Day became a bank holiday following the Bank Holidays Act 1873, and all workers were entitled to a day. The Public Holidays Act 1910 further established Christmas Day and "the day after Christmas Day" (Boxing Day) as non-working days.
But the major difference a European would notice about Christmas in New Zealand is that it takes place at the height of summer.
They also have a very different Christmas tree. Metrosideros excelsa aka Pohutukawa grows in coastal forests on New Zealand’s North Island, where its thick roots help it to grow on the cliffs.
These trees can live for up to 1000 years and flowers in a vivid red in December and January.
In Maori mythology, Tawhaki, a young Maori warrior, was attempted to find heaven to seek help in avenging the death of his father. He fell to earth and the crimson flowers are said to represent his blood.
Christian settlers were inspired to call it the New Zealand Christmas tree and in 1833 the missionary Henry Williams described holding service under a ‘wide spreading pohutukawa’.
Other 19th-century references described the pohutukawa tree as the ‘Settlers Christmas tree’ and ‘Antipodean holly’.
Who is Santa?
Santa Claus today is also known as father Christmas but they’ve not always been the same person – actually father Christmas and santa claus have different origins.
Santa Claus originated with a third century saint, Saint Nicholas. He was a charitable bishop from Myra (now called Demre) in Turkey. One story tells how he helped three poor sisters. Their father did not have enough money to pay their dowries and thought of selling them into servitude. Three times, Saint Nicholas secretly went to their house at night and put a bag of money inside. The man used the money so that one of his daughters could marry. In another version he left a gold coin in each of the daughters’ stockings and in others he dropped his gifts down the man’s chimney because the door was locked.
St Nick was believed to have died on December 6th and the Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of Saint Nicholas on this day, with a common practice for children to put out their shoes the night before. In the morning, they would discover the gifts that Saint Nicholas had left there for them.
Dutch immigrants brought the legend of Saint Nicholas, known to them as Sint Nikolaas or by his nickname, Sinterklaas, to America in the 1700s. Thus Sinterklaas become Santa Claus
Father Christmas, on the other hand, had a quite different origin, starting in England.
In a 15th-century carol we see meet 'Sir Christëmas' who doesn’t bring gifts but shares the news of Christ's birth. He tells his audience to 'Make good cheer and be right merry.'
Also in York, England there was a festival called the 'Yule Ridings' took place on the 21 December. A man disguised as Yule carried cakes and meat through the streets and threw nuts into the crowd. In 1572 the procession was banned after complaints of 'verie rude and barbarouse' behaviour.
After this, Playwright Ben Johnson wrote a play that was performed for the royal court in 1616 called Christmas, His Masque. In the play, the character of 'Christmas' appears in old-fashioned clothes with a long thin beard, calling himself 'old Christmas' and 'old Gregorie Christmas'.
He brings with him several of his sons and daughters, each personifying a different tradition of the period, with names like ‘Misrule’, ‘Carol’, ‘Mince Pie’, ‘Mumming’ and ‘Wassail’[mulled wine].
Then in 1642-51 there was the civil war in England – puritans vs royalists. Puritans were not famed for their parties and not keen on Christmas. So royalists came to Christmas's defence in the 1645 pamphlet 'The Arraignment, Conviction and Imprisonment of Christmas'. In this allegorical story, a woman asks the Oxford town crier where 'old father Christmas' has gone. She is told that ‘The poor old man...was arraigned, condemned, and after conviction cast into prison amongst the King’s Souldiers; fearing to be hanged.’
The didn’t win though. In 1647 Parliament banned Christmas altogether, along with Easter, Whitsun and many other traditional feast days.
In 1658, another pamphlet entitled 'The Examination and Tryall of Old Father Christmas' depicted him as a man with a white beard and old-fashioned fur-trimmed gown. He's put on trial for his life. Is acquitted.
Christmas returned after the Restoration of 1660 and around this time there have been various depictions of a personification of Christmas but notably he was not associated with presents.
In fact a lot of our Christmas sentiment comes from one book - Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol from December 1843.
The Ghost of Christmas present has a recognizable robe, although not red yet “clothed in one simple green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur.” And he is jolly, “its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air.”
As the immigration flowed to America, these two historic Christmas traditions started to blur into one.
1809 Washington Irvine’s history of New York claimed that old Dutch families still told tales of Sinterklaas on St Nicholas's Day. He was said to fly over the city in a wagon and climb down chimneys to deliver presents.
In 1821 an anonymous illustrated poem called ‘Old Santeclaus with Much Delight’ introduced Santa’s red coat, reindeer and sleigh. This poem put his arrival on Christmas Eve rather than St Nicholas’s Day and added that for the naughty he leaves a birch rod to be whipped with!
Two years later Clement Clark Moore, wrote his famous poem 'A Visit from St Nicholas'
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
And this introduced more or less the santa we know today.
Did Coca cola invent santa?
A lot of our modern imagery for Santa came from a Harper's Weekly illustrator Thomas Nast who drew Santa, sometimes green, sometimes stars and stripes, but also in a red version
By 1881 Nast had perfected his vision of Santa. His illustrations for ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ were hugely popular, and he introduced the world to Santa’s workshop, as well as the notion that his base of operations could be found at the North Pole.
But Coca Cola did help popularise red santa. In the 1920s, when Coca-Cola first began Christmas advertising in American magazines like The Saturday Evening Post they used adverts of a man dressed as Santa, not dissimilar in appearance to the Santa Claus in Thomas Nast’s depiction from the mid-1800s.
In 1931 the company commissioned the services of D’Arcy Advertising Agency and artist Haddon Sundblom to create a new santa for them. Then from 1931 to 1964, Coca-Cola advertising showed Santa, appeared regularly in The Saturday Evening Post as well as in Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and more.
This era of mass advertising meant what has developed over time in different locations had become a shared icon with a shared visual language - really the first time there was a ‘real’ santa that was widely agreed upon.
In fact, people complained when differences started to appear, coca cola received letters from customers when one year he was depicted without a wedding ring.
Santa in New Zealand
It’s hardly surprising Santa has developed in some ways specific to the job he has to do I New Zealand.
Santa Claus made his commercial debut in New Zealand in 1894 when appeared in the the Wellington D.I.C. store on Lambton Quay
This developed into Santa parades that were introduced to help promote the arrival of santas into stores, which started to hapopen in the early 1900s. Wellington store ‘the Economic’ was possibly the first in 1905 asking local boys and girls to come and see ‘Mother and Father Christmas’ arrive at the railway station.
That train journey was the start of more and more interesting modes of santa transport, making reindeer look positively tame. During the 1930s Christchurch shop Armstrong’s Santa travelled on an elephant, and aeroplane Santas became a thing.
To top it off, on November 20th 1937 in Auckland George Sellars as Santa was to planning to leap from a plane, float majestically to the ground in full Father Christmas regalia in the Auckland Domain – large park in the city - and distribute toys to waiting children.
What actually happened was the plane levelled out at 1,000 feet, which was low – so everyone could see the excitement. Sellars then stood on the wing, people on the ground could see him.
Immediately strong winds started to blow him off course and he realised he was heading towards the Winter garden in the park, which had a glass roof.
He desperately tried to steer the parachute away from the danger, turning just yards from the roof, seconds from disaster.
He crashed rather heavily into the ground between two greenhouses, narrowly missing two unsuspecting gardeners and bashing himself up somewhat in the process. Untangling himself from his chute he realises the crowd is approaching.
But in the chaos, Sellars realises his Santa beard was all off kilter
New Zealand Herald said
“Mr Sellars meanwhile had found that his father Christmas beard had been twisted awry by the fall and limped into shelter to fix it before returning to assist with the gift distribution.”
What a Santa!
Plane santas weren’t just novelty, though, they were very practical too. The Chatham Islands are part of New Zealand, in the Pacific Ocean about 800 kilometres (500 mi) east of the South Island.
The archipelago consists of about ten islands including New Zealand's easternmost point. In fact the Chatham Islands are so far away they have their own time zone, 45 minutes ahead of the rest of New Zealand.
In 1951, in a flying boat, with the help of Tasman Empire Airways Limited, which since 1965 has been Air New Zealand, flew Santa to the children of the islands.
“His traditional reindeer and sleigh replaced by a four-engined TEAL Solent, Father Christmas flew up to the Chatham Islands on Saturday. More than 400 of the islands’ 500 inhabitants cheered him hilariously as he stepped ashore from a launch in Te Whanga Lagoon, a huge sack of toys over his shoulder.
In the three and a quarter hours he distributed good cheer, the islanders – all in paper hats provided by TEAL – consumed several bottles of whisky and soft drinks, numerous cartons of strawberries, 48 dozen chocolate ice creams, and 60 dozen ice cream blocks, and 10 gallons of ice cream, estimated to produce 450 ices. The ice cream was donated by a Christchurch firm and carried free by TEAL.
From two brightly decorated Christmas trees and a number of bran tubs on the beach each of the islands’ children received a present from the hands of Father Christmas himself. Never before has Te Whanga Lagoon witnessed so many hand-shakings, expressions of good will and head-pattings.”
Even the reindeer have competition in the Southern Hemisphere – in the form of Stickybeak the Kiwi.
IN 1961 Gisborne songwriter and folk singer Bob Edwards and Neil Roberts decided to make Christmas a bit more New Zealandy. They wrote a song called Sticky Beak the kiwi, sung by schoolgirl Julie Nelson about how basically a kiwi called Sticky Beak decided that reindeer had no jurisdiction in his part of the world. As the song says:
Now Sticky Beak the kiwi, that bird from way down under
He's caused a great commotion and it isn't any wonder
He's notified old Santa Claus to notify the deer
That he will pull the Christmas sleigh in the southern hemisphere.
And for Maori have also developed their own rendition of the Santa tradition. Hana Koko is a Maori version of Santa. He has been known to arrive by Waka, a kind of canoe and will bid you Meri Kirihimete! Which means Merry Christmas! .
In 2018 the town of Nelson New Zealand Christmas parade Hana Koko, was personified by Robert Herewini, sporting a red cloak made of feathers, called a korowai and carrying a big fish hook like a sceptre. This was a Hei Matau which represents strength, prosperity, fertility, good luck and safe travel over water.
Sadly, the parade organisers were criticised for this portrayal of Santa and a lot of un-christmassy behaviours were exhibited.
Which is sad and wrong, because as we’ve seen, Santa has always come in many forms.
No more so than Secret Santa, who has thousands of different faces. In 2010, Twitter user WebSam, Sam Elton-Walters put a call out to see whether anyone would be interested in participating in an online Secret Santa. #nzsecretsanta was born.
In year 1, 386 people sending gifts all around the country
In year 2 696 people signed up, twice as many as the previous year.
Year 3 saw over 800 join up. It was all becoming a bit much for Sam, so New Zealand post stepped in to help with the organisation until by 2017 over 3,600 people signed up and were sending gifts all around the country to people they had never even met.
So if you’re in New Zealand wondering what Santa looks like, you might just be sitting next to him, or her, right now.