New Zealand divided by Nelson's Māori Santa

Christmas is supposed to bring people together, however this year it seems to be driving communities apart.

The latest outrage has come during Nelson's Santa Parade, where the traditional Santa was dropped for a Māori man representing Santa Claus, but with very little in common with the jolly character.

Images from the parade show a man without the customary red suit, red hat, white hair or white beard. Instead, a bare-faced Santa wore a short-sleeved shirt, a red korowai and carried a large fish-hook sceptre.

Video shot by a bystander shows the crowd erupting in confusion as the Santa float drives past.

"That's not Santa!" one woman exclaims.

"Where's Santa?" several children ask.

The woman who shot the video, who asks to remain anonymous, says families went to the parade to see Santa - but were "shocked" by what they got instead.

"All these kids were dumbstruck really, you could hear the 'that's not Santa'," she told Newshub.

"Our six-year-old son burst into tears after the video finished. We had to explain to him that Santa was running late."

The decision to dump the traditional Santa outfit was made by the Community Arts Works Trust. Secretary Mark Soper told Stuff that Santa's costume design represented "bi-culturalism leading multi-culturalism".

"That's the modern-day reality, we have a multicultural society. One third of Nelsonians are born outside of Nelson."

He said Santa didn't have to be traditional and he was proud to have created "something memorable".

"Who's to say... that is accurate anyway," he told Stuff.

"That's what art does, it's made to make people think."

The designer calls it "bi-culturalism leading multi-culturalism".
The designer calls it "bi-culturalism leading multi-culturalism". Photo credit: Nelson Santa Parade / Facebook

But shocked locals are divided, with many taking to the Nelson Santa Parade Facebook page to share their opinions.

"We had tears after that parade with Santa being a no-show," one person said.

"I'm pleased I never took my children to the very non-Santa parade, Nelson gets more pathetic & embarrassing each year," another commented.

But the Māori Santa also had its supporters who say it's "time for change".

"Who dictates what Santa looks like? He is actually depicted very different in different cultures. Good on you Nelson for embracing kiwi culture," one said.

The controversy seems unlikely to have affected Mr Soper, who told Stuff he expects next year's parade will be "even more multicultural".