Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Traditions in South Africa

It has been interesting to spend the Christmas season in South Africa. First of all, it’s way too hot for Christmas with way too many flowers blooming. People are zipping around like crazy but part of the reason is that it is summer break for school children here as well as Christmas break for most of the workers. Some business areas are oddly quiet while others are crazily busy. Like in America, Christmas is a big eating season so the grocery stores are so busy that you’d almost rather just eat what’s in the cupboard than to brave the huge crowds of shoppers. We needed a couple of things this morning and you didn’t just have to wait in line to pay; you had to wait in line to even get a basket to shop. The big malls are even worse. We have wanted to see "The Hobbit" since it came out but have driven to the mall twice during times that we thought it couldn’t been too busy and left again because the parking lot just looked too menacing.
A description of holiday traditions would vary depending on the culture of the person and there are a lot. Some people we’ve talked to celebrate somewhat like us, but with the English slant since many are English. Father Christmas comes to these houses and he looks pretty much like an older version of Santa Clause but usually gifts are for Christmas Eve. Celebrations include crackers—the little popping rolled presents like you might have seen in the animation of Snowman. When you open the popper, there’s a paper crown inside that you’re supposed to put on, a corny joke and some kind of a little toy.

Some families we’ve talked to keep the celebration strictly spiritual. A little girl explained that her family didn’t have Santa Clause because they don’t worship Santa Clause. I thought (but didn’t say) we don’t worship either, but we really like him because he’s cute and jolly and brings presents J Some people have trees, but evergreens don’t grow in enough abundance to waste on Christmas—they use “plastic ones” as they describe.

Others we’ve talked to have very simple Christmas traditions—visiting friends, inviting someone who is lonely to dinner, maybe a gift, but something practical. A couple of the people we worked with who grew up in tribal cultures said that they would always get new clothes for Christmas, but they were almost always the school uniform they needed for the next year. They were very happy to get that gift and early Christmas morning, they would put on their new clothes and then walk around the village to all of their friends’ houses to show them their new clothes. Their Christmas treat was different too. Since bread was not usually eaten in their diet, on Christmas day, their parents would buy a number of loaves of white bread and slice it. The slices would be spread with jam and the children could eat as much as they liked throughout the day.
Since they can’t build snowmen or go on sleigh rides, Christmas is a big beach and picnic day in South Africa. Braais are almost expected for both Christmas and New Years Day. I would say that a braai is the same as a barbeque, but South Africans would tell you that they are definitely not. I haven't yet determined the difference, but I do know that it wouldn't be a braai without boerworse, meaning farmer sausage, that always comes rolled up. A lot of vendors on the streets are selling picnic baskets and decorative nets that keep the flies off the food. Boxing Day is also celebrated here, which is the day after Christmas. From the definition I see that it is a day when servants and tradespeople receive gifts from their employees. I’m not sure if that happens as part of that celebration, but almost everyone here in Johannesburg has a maid and a gardener so I hope they all get some presents.
We’ve attended several nice holiday programs that have helped us get at least some Christmas spirit. On Monday, one of the teachers we supervise invited us for a Christmas home evening. Tomorrow we’ll be helping with a Christmas Day activity for all of the young elders and in the evening we’re invited to the home of a South African family for a Christmas dinner and gift exchange. It has admittedly been lonely being away from family for Christmas, but we’ve appreciated the generous nature of the people here during the holiday and always.


  1. Was good to see Frank on breakfast detail again, has he made any of the members some of his omelets yet?
    Must be interesting to experience the variety of traditions that the bread and jam are special...think if I sent jam I could get back a maid or gardener for a day ������
    That sausage sure looks good be it BarB or braai bet those neighborhoods smell great today.
    Is good you'll be spending the day with a family who's traditions are similar to yours.
    Am just sure that big wonderful family of yours are missing you two a lot this year too!

  2. Fun to read all the traditions. I think we should get Father Time here in the states!