As South Africa lies below the Equator, December 25th arrives during the summer, making for sunny, flower-filled Christmas if not a white one.
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The Christmas season runs through the whole month of December, and many schools and businesses are closed for a good deal of the season. South Africa is one of Africa’s most populous nations at over 50 million people, and over 80 percent of its population identify as Christians. Most Christians in South Africa are Protestant, but around seven percent of the population is Catholic. Each denomination has its own way of holding Christmas services, but below, we will concentrate on the more commonly held Christmas traditions of South Africa.
Many South Africans attend church services on Christmas Eve for a “carols by candlelight” service and again on Christmas Morning. Services will often include Christmas-themed shows projected onto a screen or onto the floor. Many also go carolling around town to spread the good news of Christmas in song. Children who go carolling are often dressed up like angels, to remind of the angels who brought the announcement of the very first Christmas.
On Christmas Day, families gather together for Christmas lunch and to exchange gifts. Neighbours and close friends also sometimes attend. The meal is frequently an outdoor one, involving an excursion to the countryside, games, swimming, camping, and other activities. The meal will normally have such foods as roast turkey, roast beef, mincemeat pies, pork, rice with yam pastes (“fufu”), vegetables, okra soup, porridge, plum pudding, and native “Malva” pudding.
At home, a Christmas fir tree, children’s stockings hung up for “Sinterklaas” to find, pine branch decorations, and more betoken the season. Presents are left under the tree to be opened by impatient children, and singing, dancing, and feasting continue for days on end. Being a former British colony, South Africa has also adopted Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, as a public holiday. On the 26th of December, many like to travel and shop and continue the festivities of the 25th.
Should you choose to travel in South Africa for Christmas, some activities to take part in include:
- Visit Kruger National Park, as do many native South Africans around Christmas time. The park covers a vast amount of territory and contains within its bounds breathtaking natural beauty, historic and archaeological sites, and hundreds of species of native wildlife.
- If in South Africa in early December, be sure to go to Cape Town to witness the annual “Festive Lights Switch-On” on Adderley Street. Otherwise, you can witness the lights display after it has already been switched on. The switch-on event also brings live musical performances, street parties, and other entertainment. After seeing the lights, you may wish to proceed to shop Adderley Street and other nearby areas.
- Visit Johannesburg to shop its numerous Christmas markets, which run through both November and December. Though there are a dizzying array of markets to choose from, one of the best is the Transoranje Christmas Market, which has been held for around a decade now. It features arts and crafts demonstrations, live music, dancing, children’s choirs singing Christmas carols, and around 80 stands to shop at. The event continues for nine days straight.
South Africa is a land with many unforgettable experiences for the tourist at any time of year, but visiting South Africa at Christmas time gives a special taste of the highly diverse cultural traditions of its people.