Holiday traditions: The Christmas tree hike

I find this time of year very hard in NZ.

I hate the changing of the seasons, because even though this is a good change (from cold to warm), it just reminds me that they will change again.

I hate having Thanksgiving and Christmas in the summer.  It means all the heavy food and fun comes at the good time of year, and winter is one long, unending trudge with no holidays between June and October.

I hate how commercial Christmas is here.  It’s nothing but ads on TV for consumerism, and spend, spend, spend.

And I really, really miss my family, and all my family traditions.

As a Baha’i, I don’t put a huge emphasis on Christmas, but I do have a great deal of respect for the religious origins of the holiday, and for all the traditions that encourage creativity, and generosity, and  spending time with friends and family.

My family was big on that kind of traditions.  We had gingerbread house making parties, and cookie decorating afternoons, and we made wreaths together.  Money was always tight, so from a very young age we all made handmade gifts for each other, from the really lovely to the really awful.

Much younger Goldie and I in front of a tree, in dresses and jester hat made by me

The best tradition of all was the Christmas tree hike.  One day after Thanksgiving we (my sisters and I, perhaps my parents, often some friends), would all hike into the mountains behind the farm, trudging up steep, steep hillsides, and clambering through ravines until we reached a secret patch of Norfolk pine trees.

Taking a break in the tree-tops on the hike up. I'm thinking wistfully of Mr D-to-be

After a picnic and much debate and discussion on the merits of various trees we would settle on our tree for that year.

Then would come the process of cutting it down.  Inevitably, we would pick the hardest tree to access: the one that was growing on the near-vertical side of a ravine, or the top of a tall one that could only be cut by climbing up into the trees around it to get high enough to chop it down.

What this picture doesn't show is that I am perched 10 feet off the ground in the tops of the bushes in order to cut down the tree!

Cutting the trees served a dual function: it supplied us with trees, and it kept the invasive introduced Norfolk pines from taking over.

Success! (we are all making raindeer horns)

With the tree cut, the hard part began.  First we would wrap it in old sheets and blankets, and then tie it up with rope.  The would begin the process of carrying it back downhill.

Goldie lends little extra support in the middle of the tree.

We would balance it on our shoulders, and trade off as the terrain got trickier, or as people got tired.  This section is where my unique talents come in: I’m part mountain goat and can navigate the trickiest, steepest hillsides as easily as a walk in the park.

This is the easy part.

The hardest part of the hike is the very last section: an almost sheer hillside descending down to the farm.  It took all 5 people handing the tree from one to the next to get it down the hill, so no photographs.

I see the sea!

And then, with the tree finally home, we would have cookies and rosajamaica tea (my other favourite holiday tradition),  and a little rest.  Everyone would exclaim over the size of the tree: every year we swore we would get a smaller one, but every year we got more ambitious, and the trees went from 7 feet to 14.  Good thing my parent’s house has a very tall ceiling!

Tall ceilings in the (as yet unfinished) house.

The next day we would decorate the tree with our random assortment of ornaments: antique blown glass from Mum’s side, little wooden ones from my parents first tree ever, funny ones that Grandma sent, ones we made as kids, and best of all Mum’s fabulously quirky handmade loofah critters.  Every ornament had a story, and putting them up was an excuse to retell them

The Naiad made the bead snowflake, the odd looking red and white one is an antique, as are the strings of glass baubles.

That was a tradition worth having.  I haven’t done it since the year we got married.


  1. Even at 45 I feel a sense of loss that the traditions our family had are now so far evolved from when I was a child. And that as I am no longer one of the young ones, it’s a different experience anyway. You at Mr D and your kiwi family and friends will make new traditions that your children will relish and remember. 🙂 I have done so much traditional baking this year – 9 cakes, 150 mini puds and at least a dozen other puds, batches of stole, you name it and it’s been hot work in hot weather. Very nutty, I tell myself, yet I am a mad hybrid like all kiwis who haven’t had the sense to embrace a Xmas barbecue! Perhaps next year we should commit to a real pagan midwinter Xmas! xoxo

  2. I hear you. Boy, do I hear you. Thanks for sharing your family tradition, how lovely.

    I think I’ve decided to switch the Thanksgiving and Independence day menus from here on out. And maybe have some deliciously anglo- pagan feast on midwinter solstice.

    I’m coping this year by wearing crazy hats, decorating with boughs of bougainvillea, and plotting a Christmas camping near the beach. I think it helps a LOT to have a delighted small person around. This year is the most Christmas fun I remember having for a long time, it’s because of her.

  3. Elise says

    I remember how disorienting it was to move from the mainland to Hawaii where Christmas was a hot affair, and second banana to Chinese New Year, anyway. But then I starting accumulating a ‘ohana and I started embracing the emu and I started realising that the holiday season has lots of permutations, and all of that ‘the real meaning of the holidays….’ stuff.

    But that ‘real meaning’ stuff can also be a smug way of saying ‘buck up and deal with what you’ve got.’

    So I think that it’s swell that you get both: (1) New friends and family for hot new traditions and (2) an opportunity to get all of the good, old, yuletide wonderful winter traditions during NZ winter!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  4. This will be my third Christmas in the Antipodes, without family or snow. I know how much the winter down here sucks, but remember that there’s always Matariki (that’s the Maori New Year/winter solstic festival, for those of you not well-versed in stuff relating to Aotearoa). It’s starting to become more of a tradition in NZ, and perhaps the Wellington Historical Costume Society could commemorate it in some way?

    I miss the roaring log fire, the Christmas ornaments, and the hot cocoa my mother makes from scratch every year. On the other hand, being able to brag about going to the beach when everyone back home is shivering is pretty great!

  5. You are so lucky to have such memories of happy holiday times. I grew up with many of the things people associate with happy December holidays – brisk snowy weather, Christmas trees, menorahs, hot chocolate – but the heart was missing from it all with my difficult family. Here’s hoping your Kiwi Christmases have their consolations.

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