In the first of a three-part series, Lincoln Tan looks at the different traditions around Christmas lunch for migrant communities and finds the thing that makes the Kiwi festivities unique is the diversity of ways we celebrate.

New Zealand Christmas dinner is not just about ham and turkey, but kimchi, lechon and tequila too, a Massey University sociologist says.

Christmas here has been largely defined by our immigrants from the UK, but recent migrants from Asia, South America and other non-traditional source countries are changing that, says Professor Paul Spoonley.

Today Auckland has more than 220 recorded ethnic groups, and is more ethnically diverse than Sydney, London and even New York.

Spoonley says this Christmas will be a good time for Kiwis to try something different.

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"Cultural diversity has added new layers to this most traditional of days," Spoonley said.

"Already New Zealanders' eating habits have changed significantly, so why not at Christmas?"

Ethnic restaurants around the city have special Christmas menus offering everything from spit roast pig to rice cake soup.

Several members of breast cancer charity Sweet Louise were invited by the Herald to experience the Christmas fare at three Auckland ethnic restaurants.

Their stories, and Christmas traditions from the homelands of the migrants behind these restaurants, will be told over three days as part of this series.

Spoonley said eating out as part of a celebration was a common practice for many immigrant communities.

"Restaurants provide a safe and enjoyable environment where the food and the language are familiar," he said.

"In many ways, restaurants are at the core of the social life of immigrant communities at Christmas, or on any day that deserves a celebration."

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Although many elements of the New Zealand Christmas had migrated from the northern hemisphere, Spoonley said traditions had been combined with local customs such as the summer BBQ.

"It must seem very strange for many immigrants," he said.

"For immigrants, many of their extended family will be in another country and often in another hemisphere, so instead they will gather as members of ethnic and immigrant communities."

Nearly four in 10, or 39 per cent, of Auckland's 1.4 million residents are born overseas, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Professor Edwina Pio. Photo / Chris Gorman
Professor Edwina Pio. Photo / Chris Gorman

AUT University Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio said nostalgia for home and ethnic traditions during Christmas meant a lot to immigrants.

"Traditions reminiscent of their Indo-Portuguese heritage may mean that some migrants indulge in savoury dishes made with pork such as sorpotel and vindaloo, along with delicately hued marzipan, pure white shell-cream, nankati and silver baubles and pale pink coconut sweet," Pio said.

"Or those from the Philippines whose noche buena favourites may be sweet spaghetti and keso de bola or Edam cheese."

She said New Zealand already offered a Christmas that was something unique.

Newcomers are greeted by Santa on a skateboard wearing short and sunnies, instead of riding on a sleigh.

"Churches organise BBQs in parks and generous families throw open their homes on Christmas day, by including those who do not have family be they Muslim, Hindu or Christian, to share in their Christmas meal with gifts for everyone," Pio added.

"It is a fabulous opportunity to join in carol singing, swap stories of celebration from various religions and in the process of festivity garner respect, knowledge and delight in Christmas."