Sitting on the porch in a sleeveless blouse under clear skies on a Christmas evening can only mean that I’m not anywhere close to my home in Baltimore, Maryland. In fact, I am in New Zealand, called “Aotearoa” translated from the Maori language as the “land of the long white cloud.” I’ve seen that long white cloud stretch across the sky since my arrival here at my sister and brother-in-law’s home—a long silky sash that covers the horizon, but this evening the sash is snipped into cotton tufts with serrated edges, still ever so beautiful.
New Zealand is a land that has its own natural Christmas tree—the Pohutukawa (pronounce po-hoo-ta-car-wa)—a large, magnificent evergreen that blooms red all along the Auckland Bay, lines the city streets, and generally proclaims the good news of the season. Although New Zealanders decorate their homes with traditional twinkling pines and ornaments, the Pohutukawa is their official “Christmas Tree.” What I most love about this New Zealand native is how tenacious and unassuming it is. Tolerant of poor soil, salt-laden winds and inhospitable dry sunny sites, it still produces an exuberance of flowers, smothering the landscape in a bright crimson blanket. Although it can tower to 70 feet in height, it is humble and just as happy hugging the coast line as a shrub, aflame for only two weeks, long enough to allow honeybees to feast on its nectar, and for us to later enjoy a silky smooth uniquely flavoured honey. (And like me, it doesn’t like frost or possums.) Children sing songs about ‘the native Christmas tree of Aotearoa’ and how it fills their hearts with ‘aroha.’ May it usher in a brand new year of hope and blessings for us all, no matter where we live.