Christmas is almost upon us, and here at the Presbyterian Archives we have prepared some short photo slide shows looking at how Presbyterians in Aotearoa New Zealand, and further afield, in the New Zealand Presbyterian Missions, have celebrated the coming of Te Harinui, the great good news.
To move between the photos, click on the arrows at the far right and left of the photographs.
Initially many New Zealand Presbyterians did not celebrate Christmas in the way that we do today. In Scotland where the first Presbyterian settlers came from, the New Year celebrations called Hogmanay,rather than Christmas, were the main mid-winter festival. Many Scottish Presbyterians maintained that there was no instruction in the Bible to celebrate Christmas, and also that the date of Christ’s birth was unknown, and so not necessarily December 25th.
In New Zealand however, these Scottish settlers encountered people from other Christian denominations for whom Christmas was a major celebration, and they gradually began to adopt the Christmas traditions of their neighbours. By the early 20th Century Presbyterians in Aotearoa New Zealand had become enthusiastic celebrators of Christmas!
Getting ready for Christmas has often involved decorating churches and other spaces that were to be used for Christmas events. This might involve congregations making their own Christmas decorations, often using what was readily available, such as the garlands of tropical vegetation which were used to decorate churches in Vanuatu [the New Hebrides].
“And she brought forth her firstborn son; and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger for there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7)
The nativity pageant was not originally part of Presbyterian Christmas traditions, but become more popular from the early twentieth century onward, and many Sunday Schools would perform a Christmas play featuring the nativity story.
The Christmas crib, a display of figurines illustrating the nativity has also became increasingly popular.
Christmas services have taken a variety of different forms, from the outdoor service of a Second World War army encampment to the midnight service of an inner city church, complete with choir and candles.
“Not on a snowy night, By star or candlelight...”, the words of the New Zealand carol, Te Harinui, written by Willow Macky, emphasise that the Christmas celebrated in Aotearoa New Zealand is not the winter festival of the Northern Hemisphere. Here Christmas comes in the summertime, and traditional Christmas features such as Nativity plays and decorated Christmas trees were joined by other activities such as outdoor races and Christmas camps.
“In a Far Land Upon a Day...”
The celebration of Christmas took many forms in the New Zealand Presbyterian Church’s foreign missions.
We wish you a happy and joyous Christmas from all at the Presbyterian Archives.