How do they celebrate Christmas in South Africa?

This is a guest post from my lovely husband, Ian.

Christmas in South Africa is celebrated in different ways, as you would expect from a country with such cultural diversity.  The main differences are between white “European” and black “African” celebrations.  However, what they all have in common is the fact that Christmas is a holiday in the summer, as South Africa is in the Southern hemisphere.  It is one of the main holiday seasons for local people, and children have a month of school holiday.  This means that the only snow is on Christmas cards, with normal Christmas weather being hot and sunny.

santaWhite South Africans celebrate in ways that are familiar to us in Britain, reflecting the fact that the country was a British colony for many years.  People decorate their houses with fir trees, colourful lights and decorations.  They might even use cotton wool around their windows – this is as close as they can get to a “white Christmas”!  The most distinctive decorations are the beautiful South African flowers, which are in full bloom at this time of year and give a fantastic colourful look to the festive season.  Children hang their stockings up, hoping to get gifts from Father Christmas.

As in Britain, Christmas is a time for getting together with family and friends for meals and parties.  Christmas dinner is often roast turkey or beef, with mince pies and plum pudding to follow.  While the food is familiar, the difference is that most people eat Christmas dinner outside in the sunshine, and many even have a “braai”, or barbecue, a much-loved part of South African culture.  Many people make the most of the summer weather by heading into the countryside for picnics, swimming in lakes, family sports or visits to game reserves in some areas.  Some families even like to go camping over Christmas.

In rural African communities, celebrations are a mixture of Western and local traditions.  Church services and family celebrations are more important than the more commercial aspects of the festivities.  In small villages, the whole community gets together to celebrate, and the women join forces to brew beer and prepare food for everyone.  Traditionally, though, the men cook the meat to show that they have provided for their families.  Singing and dancing are a very important part of the festivities.  Boxing Day is when gifts are normally exchanged, and tend to be practical items rather than luxury goods – household products for adults, school books or clothes for children.

No matter what cultural tradition South Africans come from, Christmas is a special occasion, and an opportunity to spend enjoyable days with family and friends, making the most of the wonderful summer weather and beautiful countryside.

Ian works as a Blue Badge Tourist Guide and as a German to English translator. Even though I could be accused of being biased, I have to say that he is excellent at both! If you don’t believe me, book a place on his Tolkien coach tour in January and see for yourself!

Related posts: How do they celebrate Christmas in Spain, How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark, How do they celebrate Christmas in GreeceHow do they celebrate Christmas in Russia, Christmas in New York, How do they celebrate Christmas in Greenland

Who or What is La Befana?

According to Italian traditions, the three wise men knocked on the door of an old witch-lady and asked her for directions to Bethlehem. They told her about the birth of baby Jesus, and asked her to go with them. She told them that she was too busy.

Later, some shepherds knocked her door and asked for directions. They also invited her to go with them, and again she said she was too busy. Later still, she saw a beautiful light in the sky and regretted not going with the wise men or shepherds. She decided to go after them, and so she packed up some presents that had belonged to her own baby who had died, and she went to find this special baby.

However, she lost her way and never did make it to Bethlehem to see Jesus. Italians say that she is still looking for him. On the 11th night (5th January) she flies around on her broomstick searching for baby Jesus. Every time she passes a house with children, she slides down the chimney and leaves presents in their stockings, just in case he is in that house.

la befana - an Italian witch on her broomstick

Related posts: How do they celebrate Christmas in Spain?    How do they celebrate Christmas in France?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece?  Who is Babushka?