Christmas Day, celebrated on December 25 is a public holiday in South Africa. On this day Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. The date is traditional and is not considered to be the actual date of his birth. The story of Christ’s birth has been handed down for centuries, based primarily on the Christian Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Historians differ about when Christians first began celebrating the Nativity of Christ. Christmas is the only remaining Christian event which virtually the whole world acknowledges. Even though it is celebrated worldwide, it has largely lost its Christian character and is now often focused on goodwill and celebration with friends and family. Gift-giving is a near-universal part of Christmas celebrations. The giving of presents was used by Christians around the world to proclaim the Good News of the real Gift, the Christ Child, who was born to die and give us the gift of pardon from sin and eternal life. Presently, it is typically the largest annual economic stimulus in South Africa and other countries.
It is estimated that in South Africa’s demographics, in terms of religious affiliation, about two-thirds of South Africans are Christian, mainly Protestant. They belong to a variety of churches, including many that combine Christian and traditional African beliefs. Many non-Christians espouse these traditional beliefs.
How is Christmas Celebrated in South Africa?
The schools are closed for the Christmas holidays and some people like to go camping. Going carol singing, on Christmas Eve, is very popular in towns and cities. Many South Africans also attend church services on Christmas Eve for a “Carols by Candlelight” service on Christmas Eve. And they also go to a Christmas morning Church Service.
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 Christmas meal is either turkey, duck, roast beef, mince pies or suckling pig with yellow rice with yam pastes (“fufu ) & vegetables, okra soup, followed by Christmas Pudding or a traditional South African desert called Malva Pudding (sometimes also called Lekker Pudding) – get the recipe. People also like to pull Christmas Crackers! The meal is often eaten outside in the summer sun! If it’s really hot they might even have a barbecue or ‘braai’.
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.
Christmas: Things to Do
- If you are 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.
- 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.