South Africans celebrate Christmas a bit differently in South Africa from other parts of the world, but the celebrations and festive spirit is similar. In short, Christmas in South Africa is all about the outdoors, food, friends and family.
What to do on Christmas day:
Christmas in South Africa is celebrated right in the middle of summer, so there is no such thing as a white Christmas. Christmas celebrations in South Africa start off with presents on Christmas morning, which is on the 25th December, followed by a traditional Christmas dinner or braai in the afternoon. South Africans usually have dinner on Christmas Day (25th December) rather than on Christmas Eve (24th December).
Because of the beautiful sunny weather in South Africa, Christmas meals are eaten outside, in people’s gardens next to the pool, or on patios. The casual setting allows for invitations to be extended to friends of friends, and even to complete strangers.
What to eat on Christmas:
As in most other countries, South Africans celebrate Christmas with a cooked dinner shared among family and friends. This is usually a roast, which includes a variety of meats including gammon, chicken, turkey, beef and/or fish. The meal is accompanied by all different salads and roast vegetables. Some families prefer a cold meal, which would include salads, cold meats and fruit. There is no real tradition when it comes to the choice of food for Christmas dinner; there is just usually a lot of it with a large variety to choose from. This is also because South Africans always cater for unexpected guests. If you decide to eat out on Christmas day, be sure to book well in advance. Restaurants often have a set menu or buffet on Christmas Eve, and prices are generally a bit higher than usual.
Christmas decorations in South Africa:
South Africans decorate their homes with a Christmas tree, which is usually a replica of a real tree and store-bought. Some households go to the extreme with lights and decorating. Many main streets in the Cape Town city centre, especially Adderly Street, are lit up at night with stunning Christmas lights and decorations, including Christmas dolphins pulling Santas on sleighs.
The shopping centres in South Africa go all out with Christmas decorations, festive songs, and displays where children can meet Santa, bring their wish list, and sit on Santa’s lap.
Carols by candlelight:
Christmas Eve celebrations involve coming together to listen to orchestras or choirs, and singing along to well-known festive songs in a beautiful setting. To get into the Christmas spirit and truly experience the bliss of Christmas in summer, it is recommended that you join one of the many Carols by Candlelight gatherings. Picture a big lawn, picnic blankets, a sea of candles and a tipsy crowd singing along to “Silent Night”. Carols by Candlelight events are held at Kirstenbosch Gardens, the V&A Waterfront Amphitheatre, and several vineyards.
Christmas charity and volunteer work:
During Christmas-time there are many charity events, and there are also opportunities to get involved. A common and favourite charity is the Santa shoebox charity. Santa shoebox collects gifts from individuals and companies, and delivers Christmas gifts to needy children throughout South Africa.
Shops closing over Christmas:
Over Christmas-time most company offices close from about the 19th of December until the 7th of January. Those businesses that stay open find it difficult to get anything done. The 25th and the 26th of December are both public holidays. Most shops are closed over these two days, but it is still possible to do some grocery shopping at large outlets like Woolworths and Pick n Pay. The shops experience the usual mad rush on the days leading up to Christmas, so make sure you stock up on all your food and drinks a couple days before Christmas to avoid disappointment.
Most Cape Town attractions are open on Christmas Day, and the city and beaches are usually a mad buzz over these two days. In fact, Cape Town becomes so busy during the festive season that those Capetonians who own holiday houses leave the city.
Christmas is a wonderfully cheerful and vibrant time to visit South Africa, as most people are on holiday, the weather is beautiful, and there are loads of activities to keep you busy.