Cook Islands Christmas Ideas: How to Spend Christmas in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands© Unsplash
Cook Islands Christmas Ideas: How to Spend Christmas in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands

Cook Islands Christmas Ideas: How to Spend Christmas in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands

© Unsplash

What’s it Like to Celebrate Christmas in the Cook Islands?

Looking for something different to do this Christmas? Escape to Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, a stunning set of tropical islands in the South Pacific. It’s a place where Christmas is celebrated with enthusiasm, from the harmonious carol singers echoing from the churches to feasts across the islands’ villages and resorts. But what can visitors do for Christmas in the Cook Islands? We’ll lay out your options in this guide on how to spend Christmas in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. Meri Kiritimiti!

7 Things to Do for Christmas in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands

  1. Stuff yourself like a Christmas turkey at one of the Cook Islands resorts Christmas Day lunch and dinner events
  2. Check out the tropical Christmas decorations in Avarua and the Cook Islands’ villages (and make your own coconut palm-frond Christmas tree)
  3. Listen to the gorgeous singing of carols at one of the Christmas church services
  4. Watch performances, try tropical Christmas treats and shop for gifts at the Punanga Nui Market’s Christmas Market
  5. Spend Christmas on one of the outer islands, like Mauke or Aitutaki, to see the traditions of teretere or koni raoni taking place
  6. Go on a self-guided tiki tour of your chosen island, checking out the amazing snorkelling spots, island hikes and beaches
  7. Enjoy Christmas in your own quiet corner of the Cook Islands by staying in a holiday home or villa.
Cook Islands Christmas Ideas: How to Spend Christmas in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands© Unsplash

Is Christmas a Good Time to Visit Rarotonga and the Cook Islands?

We might be a little biased, but yes, Christmas is an exceptional time to visit Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. The weather is warm at a maximum average temperature of 28°C / 82°F and there’s plenty of sunshine to be had in this tropical paradise. However, there have been a few rainy Christmases on record, so be prepared for that.

While accommodations and resorts don’t charge a premium for Christmas holidays (it’s technically part of the low season), flights are a little more expensive during this time and are booked up well in advance, so get in there quickly.

Are the Shops Open at Christmas in the Cook Islands?

Know that Christmas Day and Boxing Day are public holidays, which means that shops are closed, as are many businesses and restaurants. Some convenience stores have shorter hours on these days but note that you won’t be able to buy alcohol due to the local liquor laws. It’s best to prepare your self-catering needs at least the day before Christmas.

See the Rarotonga & the Cook Islands Weather in December for more tips about visiting the Cook Islands during the holiday season.

Cook Islands Christmas Ideas: How to Spend Christmas in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands© Melanie Cooper - Cook Islands Tourism

How Do Cook Islanders Celebrate Christmas?

As a devout Christian country, Cook Islanders celebrate this Christian holiday with enthusiasm. Going to church is one of the most significant ways that Cook Islanders across Rarotonga and the Cook Islands celebrate Christmas.

Cook Islands Church Events at Christmas

There are many events organised by the CICC (Cook Islands Christian Church) on the days before Christmas, including productions of the Nativity Play, Midnight Mass and a church service on Christmas Day. The events are captivating, even for visitors who are not regular church-goers, with harmonious singing from the locals that will likely bring a tear to the eye.

Traditional Christmas Customs in the Cook Islands

Islands across the Cooks tend to have slightly different traditions for Christmas. For instance, the island of Mauke has a tradition where one of the two villages host the other with a feast. Food is displayed in different houses for villagers to indulge in. The locals often go from house to house singing traditional songs. The roles are reversed for New Year’s Day, which you can learn more about in How to Spend New Year’s Eve in the Cook Islands.

A similar custom happens on Aitutaki, but instead of exchanging food, the villagers exchange dance performances while moving from village to village. This is called Koni Raoni, where one village will dance around the island to raise funds for the village on Boxing Day, and another will do the same on New Year’s Day.

Of course, feasting is a huge part of any Polynesian culture, so you’ll find local families all across the islands are hosting their own picnics and barbecues on Christmas Day.

Cook Islands Christmas Ideas: How to Spend Christmas in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands© Tabby Berg - Cook Islands Tourism

Christmas on Rarotonga

Rarotonga is the Cook Islands’ most populated and developed island. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that there’s plenty happening here in the lead up to Christmas.

Christmas Markets on Rarotonga

Punanga Nui Market, the main market in Avarua, takes on an especially Christmassy vibe in the lead up to Christmas, as well as hosting an official “Christmas Market“. The date and time for the market are usually displayed on banners all over town in December. There are often dance groups, school performances, Christmas-themed food and even visit from Santa. It’s a great place to pick up some unique Christmas gifts for your loved ones.

Christmas Events and Lunches at Rarotonga’s Resorts

Some of Rarotonga’s largest resorts put on special Christmas lunches and live entertainment each year. While the offerings can change year-on-year, the resorts that tend to offer Christmas functions for the public include:

Learn more about these resorts and more in the Top 50 Resorts in the Cook Islands.

Cook Islands Christmas Ideas: How to Spend Christmas in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands© Cook Islands Tourism

Other Public Holidays in the Cook Islands

Christmas is just one of several public holidays in the Cook Islands experienced throughout the year. Other public holidays in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands include:

  • January 1 – New Year’s Day
  • January 2 – New Year Holiday
  • Friday before Easter Sunday – Good Friday
  • Monday after Easter Sunday – Easter Monday
  • April 25 – ANZAC Day
  • First Monday in June – The Sovereign’s Birthday
  • First Friday of July – Ra o te Ui Ariki
  • August 4 – Constitution Day
  • October 26 – National Gospel Day
  • December 25 – Christmas
  • December 26 – Boxing Day

Note that if any public holiday dates fall on a weekend, the next Monday (and Tuesday in some cases) is considered a national public holiday too. Learn more about what each day listed above entails in Public Holidays in the Cook Islands (& Other Important Dates).

More About the Cook Islands Christmas and Holiday Events

That’s it for our complete guide to Christmas in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. Need more holiday season inspiration or perhaps something to do for the New Year? Check out these guides:

Finally, fill up the rest of your time in the Cook Islands with the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as the Cook Islands. She knows the islands inside out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Raro’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also the editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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