How Does South Africa Celebrate Christmas?

how does south africa celebrates christmas

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South Africa is known for its natural beauty and vibrant culture. And, if you’ve spent time here in December, you’ll also know that a South African Christmas is a truly unique experience. It’s such a popular time of year that it’s been termed “Dezemba” – which is considered a feeling more than anything else.

Depending on the region you’re in, you may see decorated houses, each complete with a giant Christmas tree, or some other unique South African Christmas traditions. Whatever the case, everybody in South Africa most definitely has a festive spirit.

Let’s take a look at Christmas in South Africa.

festive lights in cape town

Why South African Christmas is a Big Deal

First and foremost: Christmas is a big deal in South Africa. There are a couple of reasons why.


Because South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, the holiday season takes place in summer. So, there’s tons of sun and it’s a great time to be outdoors.

The break

The Northern Hemisphere generally celebrates a summer break and a Christmas break. In South Africa, these breaks are rolled into one. So, this is the time when people in South Africa get to unwind and spend time with their families.

Inclusive celebrations

Celebrating Christmas in South Africa isn’t restricted to Christians. It’s a season for giving, and it’s a great opportunity to experience the melting pot of cultures as people from different religions break bread and celebrate.

Spirit of ubuntu

Ubuntu is a South African term that means “humanity towards others”. The Christmas holiday is a chance for the more privileged to give to others who aren’t as fortunate.

What Makes Christmas In South Africa Unique?

Like other Christian countries, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December. But, in South Africa, Christmas differs slightly in how it’s celebrated.

The name “Rainbow Nation” exists for a reason. And one of the times when it’s more evident is in the cultural influences around Christmas.

Social gatherings

Christmas in South Africa is definitely focused on social gatherings. It’s the time of year when families and friends gather. This is largely influenced by African cultures, which place a lot of emphasis on community.

Festive foods

While South Africans still enjoy traditional Christmas meals like turkey and gammon, there are also a couple of cultural influences that are added to the mix.

Christmas meals are influenced heavily by the Afrikaans culture. What I mean is that you’re going to see a lot of traditional South African meals.

Indian influence is also involved here. It’s why South African Christmas meals are packed full of fragrant spices.

Decorations and carol singing

Decorations of Christmas trees and Christmas carols are common in South Africa thanks to the British.

It’s especially evident in Johannesburg and Pretoria, where the streets are adorned with Christmas decorations.

Christmas markets

Christmas markets are a world-famous tradition that has strong German roots. It’s also visible in South Africa as Christmas markets pop up in December. You’ll often find them at schools or weekend markets. Here, you’ll be able to buy traditional Christmas meals, trinkets, and other festive goodies.

Celebrations In South Africa

As I said earlier, Christmas in South Africa is celebrated differently depending on the region you’re in. Here are some hallmarks of Christmas in different parts of South Africa.

Western Cape

People in places like Cape Town have themselves a very merry Christmas by doing a couple of things.

Mainly, you’ll find a lot of trips to the beach, Cape Malay foods, and church services on Christmas Eve.

One more tradition that’s unique to the Western Cape is visiting the V&A Waterfront. You won’t find an unoccupied seat in a restaurant or an empty shop here during the Christmas season!


Places like Johannesburg and Pretoria have a much more urban celebration. You won’t find a house without a Christmas tree or a street that’s not covered in Christmas decorations.

People in this province also attend church services, but the main events are family gatherings.

Eastern Cape

This includes places like Port Elizabeth, where you’ll find more emphasis on church services and community gatherings.

You’ll also find lots of other outdoor activities here during the festive season.

Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN)

Because of its large Indian population, you’ll find a lot of Indian sweet treats and curries, especially during Christmas time.

Christians in KZN also like attending midnight mass.

Northern Cape

This includes places like Kimberley. The Northern Cape is a sparsely populated area, which means you won’t see a lot of Christmas markets. However, you will see a lot of family members getting together.

Free State

Known for its agriculture, places like Bloemfontein usually celebrate Christmas on farms. These gatherings can range from extended family to parents and children.

Mpumalanga and Limpopo

Because of its heavy African influence, you’ll find a lot of traditional African dance, music, and food in these parts of the country.

Christmas food in South Africa

Christmas Food

There’s nothing that shouts “Christmas Holidays” quite like a South African Christmas meal. Here’s a list of some of the most iconic meals South Africans enjoy during Christmas:

  • Braais
  • Gammon (with all the trimmings)
  • Roast lamb
  • Roast turkey
  • Bobotie with yellow rice
  • Trifle
  • Koeksisters
  • Mince pies
  • Malva pudding

Christmas Activities

Part of South African Christmas traditions is the Christmas activities. Here are some of the more popular ones.

Going to the beach

A lot of South Africans celebrate Christmas by going to the beach. They’ll spend the entire day in the sun, reading, relaxing, and catching a tan. It’s a unique way to experience the festive spirit, but South Africans are unique people!

Giving back

Another huge South African Christmas tradition is charity work. During the Christmas holidays, South Africans organise charity events. They’ll visit underprivileged areas and hand out food or donate goods. A well-known charity is the “Santa Shoebox Project“.

It involves packing a shoebox with treats, toys, and basic goods. These shoeboxes are handed out to kids in poorer areas so that they can also have a merry Christmas.


Probably the most iconic South African tradition, braaing is almost guaranteed anywhere you go in the country, especially on Christmas day. Apart from the delicious food, braaing is also a time when families gather and catch up on the past year.

Christmas Eve

Some areas in South Africa also enjoy a traditional Christmas Eve. These Christmas Eve celebrations usually involve a church service, hanging stockings and other Christmas decorations, and leaving cookies and milk out for Father Christmas.

Being Christmas Eve, it’s also when the little ones get most excited.

Christmas morning

Of course, no Christmas would be complete without Christmas morning. Parents are woken up by their children who want to open their Christmas presents. Some families may also attend a Christmas morning church service.

Christmas Day

Christmas day is the signalling of family members to come around and enjoy a Christmas meal. And South Africans do not cut corners when it comes to Christmas Day lunch.

You’ll find Christmas crackers on every table, a veritable Christmas feast, and Christmas hats for everybody to wear.

Some families will host a Christmas lunch, while others may prefer a Christmas dinner. Whichever one it is, there’s no doubt that it’s going to leave you absolutely stuffed!

going to the beach during christmas day in south africa

Travel Tips For Foreigners During Christmas

If you’re travelling to South Africa for Christmas, here are a few things you should keep in mind.

  1. Book (long) in advance: Christmas in South Africa is a popular time for people to travel. That includes locals travelling within the country. You’ll need to book well in advance if you want to secure a hotel for the night, or a restaurant for lunch. That also applies to booking shuttles if you plan on sightseeing.
  2. Pack for the weather: This isn’t your usual Northern Hemisphere Christmas. You may see fake snow, but there’s no need to pack tons of warm clothes.
  3. Be ready for crowds: Popular tourist locations will be swarmed with locals and foreigners during the Christmas season. You’ll want to visit these locations early in the morning, or late in the afternoon if you don’t want it to be packed.
  4. Try local foods: If you haven’t had a chance to enjoy some bobotie with yellow rice, or South African mince pies, this is your chance. Christmas markets and most of the grocery shops will be stocking these delicious Christmas foods.
  5. Learn how to say “Merry Christmas” in different languages: I’m not joking with this one. As soon as December starts, South Africans are saying “Merry Christmas”. It’s a good idea to learn how to say it in the language that’s spoken the most in the region you’re visiting. South Africans really cherish Christmas, and they’ll love it if you cherish it with them!


What are some names for Father Christmas in South Africa?

South Africans have a couple of names for Santa Claus:

  • Father Christmas
  • Santa Claus
  • Vader Kersfees
  • Kersvader

How long is the Christmas break in South Africa?

In South Africa, schools generally close for the Christmas break from December to January, for about 5-6 weeks.

Is Christmas the biggest holiday in South Africa?

That depends on who you ask. But the general consensus is yes, Christmas is the biggest holiday in South Africa.

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