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What Do They Call Christmas Holiday In South Africa


by Mirella Bergeron



Welcome to South Africa, a vibrant and diverse country nestled at the southernmost tip of the African continent. Known for its beautiful landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and warm hospitality, South Africa is a popular destination for travelers from all over the world. But what about Christmas in this fascinating country? In this article, we’ll explore the unique traditions, celebrations, and customs that make Christmas in South Africa truly special.


For many South Africans, Christmas is a time of joy, festivities, and togetherness. While the roots of the holiday are deeply intertwined with Christianity, it has evolved into a celebration that encompasses both religious and cultural aspects. From traditional names for Christmas to unique foods and drinks, there’s a lot to discover about how South Africans celebrate this beloved holiday.


Whether you’re planning a trip to South Africa during the Christmas season or simply interested in learning more about this unique cultural experience, join us as we delve into the various aspects of Christmas in this enchanting country.


Background on Christmas in South Africa

Christmas holds a special place in the hearts of South Africans, as it is a time when families come together to celebrate and create lasting memories. The holiday season in South Africa coincides with the summer months, making it a festive and joyful time filled with sunshine and outdoor activities.


The origins of Christmas in South Africa can be traced back to the arrival of European settlers, particularly the Dutch and British, who brought their Christian traditions and customs to the country. The Christian faith plays a significant role in the way Christmas is celebrated in South Africa, with many people attending church services and participating in religious ceremonies.


However, South Africa is a multicultural and diverse nation, and Christmas celebrations here often incorporate elements from different cultures and communities. This fusion of traditions has created a unique and vibrant Christmas experience in the country.


It’s important to note that, while Christmas is widely celebrated in South Africa, it is not the only holiday observed during this time of year. Many South Africans also celebrate other holidays, such as Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, reflecting the diverse religious and cultural landscape of the country.


As the Christmas season approaches, cities and towns throughout South Africa come alive with decorations, lights, and the joyful spirit of the holidays. Shopping centers are adorned with colorful displays, and streets are lined with twinkling lights, creating a festive atmosphere that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.


Next, we’ll explore the traditional names given to Christmas in South Africa, revealing the influence of various languages and cultures on this cherished holiday.


Traditional Names for Christmas in South Africa

In South Africa, Christmas is known by various names depending on the cultural and linguistic background of the community. These traditional names reflect the diverse heritage of the country and add a unique touch to the Christmas festivities.


One common name for Christmas in South Africa is “Kersfees,” which is derived from the Afrikaans language, spoken predominantly by the Afrikaner community. The term “Kersfees” shares similarities with the Dutch word for Christmas, “Kerstfeest,” as the Afrikaner culture has Dutch roots.


Another traditional name for Christmas is “Ikhisimusi,” which comes from the Zulu language. Zulu is one of the most widely spoken languages in South Africa, and “Ikhisimusi” is used to refer to the Christmas holiday among Zulu-speaking communities. The Zulu people add their own cultural flair to the celebrations, incorporating traditional music, dance, and attire.


The Xhosa community, another major ethnic group in South Africa, refers to Christmas as “Krisimesi” in their language. This term is a testament to the unique linguistic heritage and traditions of the Xhosa people. The Xhosa culture is known for its vibrant ceremonies and rituals, which are often showcased during the festive season.


Other traditional names for Christmas in South Africa include “Khisimusi” in the Swazi language, “Keresemese” in the Sotho language, and “Keresemose” in the Tswana language. Each of these names holds cultural significance within the respective communities and contributes to the rich tapestry of Christmas celebrations in South Africa.


While these traditional names may vary depending on the region and community, the essence of Christmas remains the same: celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and spreading love, joy, and goodwill.


Next, let’s explore the Christian celebrations and practices that are an integral part of Christmas in South Africa.


Christian Celebrations and Practices

Christmas is a deeply religious holiday in South Africa, and the Christian faith plays a significant role in the celebrations. Many South Africans attend church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to honor and commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.


Churches across the country hold special Christmas services, including midnight Masses and carol singing. These services provide an opportunity for the community to come together in prayer, reflection, and worship. The hymns and carols sung during these services are a cherished part of the Christmas tradition in South Africa.


One of the most anticipated moments during the Christmas church service is the reading of the Nativity story from the Bible. This retelling of the birth of Jesus, often accompanied by dramatic performances or reenactments, brings the story to life and reminds worshippers of the true meaning behind Christmas.


In addition to attending church services, families and friends gather for festive meals and celebrations. It is common for households to have a Christmas tree adorned with decorations, lights, and a star on top, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem that guided the wise men to the birthplace of Jesus.


As part of the Christian tradition, Advent calendars are also popular in South Africa. These calendars count down the days to Christmas, with each day revealing a small treat or Bible verse to help individuals and families prepare for the joyous occasion.


South Africans also participate in the lighting of the Advent wreath, which consists of four candles symbolizing the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each week, a new candle is lit, signifying the growing anticipation of the arrival of Christ.


Christmas Eve is often celebrated with a special meal and the exchange of gifts. Some families attend the midnight Mass together, while others gather for a festive meal at home. The meal typically includes traditional dishes such as roast lamb, turkey, or chicken, along with a variety of side dishes and desserts.


Throughout the Christmas season, carolers can be seen and heard going from house to house, singing traditional hymns and spreading the joy of Christmas. These caroling groups often include children or members of local church choirs who share their musical talents and bring the spirit of Christmas to the community.


As we move forward, let’s uncover the festive traditions and customs that add a special South African flair to Christmas celebrations.


Festive Traditions and Customs

Christmas in South Africa is not just a religious celebration; it is also a time for joy, laughter, and engaging in festive traditions and customs. These traditions showcase the unique cultural heritage of the country and bring communities together in celebration.


One popular tradition is the practice of decorating homes with colorful lights, ornaments, and festive wreaths. Many South Africans take pride in adorning their houses and gardens with elaborate displays, creating a dazzling spectacle for passersby to enjoy. Some neighborhoods even organize competitions to see who can create the most breathtaking Christmas lights display.


Another beloved tradition is the hosting of festive braais, also known as barbecues. South Africans love gathering with family and friends to cook over an open fire, enjoying succulent meats, flavorful sides, and delicious desserts. The aroma of sizzling boerewors (sausage) and lamb chops fills the air, accompanied by laughter and good conversation.


On Christmas Day, families often come together for a festive meal that extends beyond the typical braai. Traditional South African dishes like bobotie (a spiced minced meat dish), yellow rice, and malva pudding (a sweet and sticky sponge cake) are prepared, showcasing the country’s rich culinary heritage.


Many South Africans also take advantage of the warm weather by spending Christmas outdoors, enjoying picnics, beach trips, or nature walks. Parks and beaches are filled with families and friends gathered for a day of relaxation and fun, soaking up the sun and creating cherished memories.


Additionally, the Christmas season in South Africa is marked by a variety of community events and festivals. These include Christmas markets offering unique arts and crafts, live music performances, and delicious street food. Attendees can shop for handcrafted gifts, sample traditional delicacies, and immerse themselves in the festive ambiance.


Children eagerly await the arrival of Father Christmas, known in South Africa as Sinterklaas or Kersvader. Just like the Western Santa Claus, he is said to come on Christmas Eve to deliver gifts to well-behaved children. Many communities organize events where children can meet and take photos with Sinterklaas, adding excitement and wonder to the holiday season.


These festive traditions and customs encapsulate the vibrancy and spirit of Christmas in South Africa, bringing joy and happiness to both young and old. As we continue our journey, let’s explore the unique foods and drinks that are enjoyed during this festive season.


Unique Foods and Drinks during Christmas

When it comes to Christmas in South Africa, the festivities are not just about the spirit of togetherness and the exchange of gifts. The holiday season is also celebrated with a variety of unique and delicious foods and drinks that add a special touch to the celebrations.


One traditional South African Christmas dish is “biltong,” a popular dried beef or game meat snack. Biltong is marinated in a mixture of spices, including coriander and black pepper, and then air-dried to develop its distinct flavor. It is often enjoyed as a savory snack during the Christmas season.


Another beloved staple is “potjiekos,” a slow-cooked stew made in a cast-iron pot over an open fire. This hearty dish typically includes a variety of meats, vegetables, and spices simmered together for hours, resulting in a rich and flavorsome meal. Potjiekos brings families and friends together as they gather around the fire, sharing stories and enjoying the delicious flavors.


When it comes to desserts, “koeksisters” are a popular choice during Christmas. These sweet, syrup-soaked pastries are made by plaiting dough into a twisted shape, frying until golden brown, and then dipping them in a sticky syrup. Koeksisters are a delightful treat to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee and are often served at Christmas lunches or as a special indulgence during the holiday season.


During the warm South African summer, refreshing drinks play a vital role in Christmas celebrations. “Rooibos” tea, a caffeine-free herbal tea native to South Africa, is a popular choice. Served hot or chilled, with or without some added fruit flavors, Rooibos tea is enjoyed by many during the festive season.


“Mampoer” is a strong, distilled fruit-based liquor that has gained popularity during the Christmas season. Made from various fruits such as apricots, peaches, or plums, Mampoer is known for its high alcohol content and is often enjoyed in small quantities as a festive and celebratory drink.


As South Africa is known for its excellent wine production, it comes as no surprise that wine is a common feature on Christmas tables. Families and friends raise a glass of locally-produced red, white, or sparkling wine to toast to the holiday season and share in the joy and merriment.


These unique foods and drinks not only tantalize the taste buds but also add a touch of South African flair to Christmas celebrations. The combination of traditional dishes and festive beverages create a culinary experience that is deeply rooted in the rich cultural and culinary heritage of the country.


Next, let’s discover some of the popular holiday attractions and events that draw locals and tourists alike during the Christmas season in South Africa.


Popular Holiday Attractions and Events

Christmas in South Africa is not just about the traditional religious and cultural celebrations. It is also a time when people come together to enjoy an array of holiday attractions and events that offer entertainment, adventure, and festive cheer. Whether you’re a local or a visitor to the country, there are plenty of activities to engage in during the Christmas season.


The festive season in South Africa coincides with the summer months, making it the perfect time to explore the country’s beautiful beaches. Coastal cities like Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth are known for their stunning shoreline and warm waters. Many people flock to these beach destinations to relax, swim, and soak up the sun during their Christmas holidays.


If you’re in the mood for some family-friendly fun, the festive season sees the opening of numerous holiday-themed markets and festivals. These events offer a plethora of arts and crafts, local products, delicious food, and live entertainment. From Cape Town’s popular V&A Waterfront Christmas Market to Johannesburg’s bustling Neighbourgoods Market, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.


The picturesque town of Plettenberg Bay hosts the enchanting “Plett Lantern Parade” during the Christmas season. This magical event sees families and friends gathering to carry colorful lanterns through the streets, creating a mesmerizing spectacle as the town is illuminated by the warm glow. It’s a festive experience that truly captures the spirit of Christmas.


For those seeking an adventurous Christmas, South Africa offers countless outdoor activities. You can embark on a wildlife safari in one of the country’s renowned national parks, such as Kruger National Park or Addo Elephant National Park. Exploring these pristine natural habitats allows you to witness the majestic wildlife and immerse yourself in the beauty of the African wilderness.


Christmas concerts and performances also take center stage during the holiday season. The country’s renowned theaters and music venues showcase a variety of shows, including carol concerts, ballet performances, and theatrical productions. Attending these events is the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit while being entertained by talented artists and performers.


A visit to the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town is a must during the Christmas season. The gardens host a series of open-air concerts known as the “Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts.” Set against the backdrop of the stunning botanical gardens, these concerts feature world-class local and international musicians, creating a magical and memorable experience for all attendees.


Christmas markets, like the popular “Hazel Food Market” in Pretoria, offer an opportunity to indulge in delectable food and beverages. From artisanal cheeses to mouthwatering desserts, you can savor a wide range of culinary delights while enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of these bustling markets.


Whether you’re exploring the stunning coastlines, joining festive parades, embarking on thrilling outdoor adventures, or immersing yourself in live performances, South Africa offers an array of holiday attractions and events that cater to every taste and interest.


Lastly, let’s dive into the culture of gift-giving and the unique Christmas gift traditions in South Africa.


Christmas Gift-Giving Culture

In South Africa, gift-giving is an important part of the Christmas celebrations, symbolizing love, appreciation, and the spirit of generosity. While the traditions may vary from family to family, the act of exchanging gifts is a cherished tradition that brings joy to both children and adults during the holiday season.


Gift-giving in South Africa often follows the Western tradition of placing presents under the Christmas tree. Many families decorate a tree in their homes and place beautifully wrapped gifts beneath it, creating a festive atmosphere that adds to the excitement of Christmas morning.


When it comes to choosing gifts, South Africans take into consideration the preferences and interests of their loved ones. Some people opt for practical gifts, such as clothing, accessories, or household items, while others prefer to give more personal and sentimental presents that hold special meaning.


Children eagerly await the arrival of Father Christmas, who is believed to bring gifts to well-behaved children on Christmas Eve. In some households, children leave out stockings or empty shoes, hoping to wake up to small gifts and treats inside. This tradition adds an element of magic and anticipation to the holiday season.


While the exchange of material gifts is a common practice, many South Africans also emphasize the importance of giving back to the less fortunate. Charitable organizations and community initiatives are often supported during the Christmas season, with individuals and families donating food, clothing, toys, and other essential items to those in need. This act of giving reflects the spirit of Christmas and the desire to make a positive impact in the lives of others.


In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards experiential and meaningful gifts. Rather than focusing solely on material possessions, many people choose to gift experiences such as spa treatments, concert tickets, or vacation getaways. This shift in gift-giving culture highlights the value of creating memories and shared experiences with loved ones.


Furthermore, handmade gifts or homemade treats have also gained popularity in South Africa. Creating personalized crafts, baking delicious cookies, or making preserves are thoughtful ways to show affection and effort in gift-giving. These homemade gifts carry a special touch and are often appreciated for the time and love invested in creating them.


Overall, the Christmas gift-giving culture in South Africa encompasses both the joy of receiving and the satisfaction of giving. It is a time when families and friends come together, expressing their love and gratitude through thoughtful gifts that create a sense of warmth and togetherness.


To conclude our exploration of Christmas in South Africa, it is evident that the country’s celebrations are a unique blend of religious traditions, cultural customs, festive events, delectable cuisine, and a spirit of giving. Whether you’re spending the holidays in South Africa or simply intrigued by its diverse and vibrant Christmas culture, embracing these traditions and experiences is sure to create lasting memories and a deep appreciation for the beauty of this captivating country.



Christmas in South Africa is a truly magical and enchanting time of year. As we’ve explored in this article, the celebrations in this diverse and culturally rich country are a unique blend of traditions, customs, and festive experiences.


From the traditional names for Christmas in various languages to the Christian celebrations and practices that bring communities together, South Africa embraces the spirit of the holiday with a deep sense of joy and reverence.


The festive traditions and customs, such as decorating homes with lights, enjoying festive braais, and savoring traditional dishes like koeksisters, add a special South African flair to the Christmas season.


The holiday attractions and events provide opportunities for adventure, relaxation, and embracing the beauty of the country’s natural landscapes. Whether it’s exploring the stunning beaches, attending outdoor concerts, or getting involved in community markets, there’s never a shortage of activities to engage in.


Gift-giving is a significant part of the South African Christmas culture, symbolizing love, appreciation, and the spirit of generosity. From the exchange of thoughtful presents to giving back to those in need, the act of giving reflects the values of compassion and sharing.


As we wrap up our exploration of Christmas in South Africa, it is clear that this country’s celebrations are vibrant, diverse, and filled with the warmth of family, community, and traditions. Whether you’re a local embracing your cultural heritage or a visitor immersing yourself in this unique experience, Christmas in South Africa is sure to leave a lasting impression and create memories to cherish for years to come.