A South African Christmas

A South African Christmas

Christmas in South Africa is smack-bang in the middle of summer, so the usual depictions of reindeer and snowmen have always been a bit odd to me. That doesn’t mean our Christmas décor isn’t made up of reindeer and snowmen, of course.

When I signed up to blog about a South African Christmas, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that there isn’t really one. We’re such a hodge podge of different cultures and traditions, and so when I write about a South African Christmas it’s how I celebrate it as a Christian white English-speaking woman of English/Irish/French/Dutch descent, married to a Christian coloured man of Indian/Khoisan/German/Dutch/French/Xhosa descent.

And so I write about our family’s beliefs and traditions, just one of many kinds of a South African Christmas.

I honestly remember nothing from last year’s Christmas. I was about six weeks pregnant with Rafe, and morning (i.e. morning-noon-and-night) sickness had struck just a few days before.

Preparing for Christmas

I love Christmas. I sing carols all year round. My all-time favourite is “Oh, Holy Night”. It gives me goosebumps every single time I hear it. One of my newer favourites is “How Many Kings?”

The girls were part of their first church Christmas play this year, so we had a legitimate reason to be singing carols in September. We practiced the carols every morning at the end of our Bible time, and is there any better way to start the day than by singing Christmas carols? The girls got to play the shepherds in the nativity scene, but that didn’t stop them from memorising other scenes, and since the play has ended I have been subjected to reenactments of various moments from the play.

I usually do several Advent countdowns with the girls. (Did I mention that I love Christmas? Last year we did one looking at the names of Jesus. This year we’re doing the Jesse Tree again. I bought a wire baobab tree from a craftsman on the side of the road a couple of years ago, and it’s served us well as our Jesse Tree. I’ll probably also do another craft countdown. (By probably, I mean definitely.) Of course, there are also always the ubiquitous chocolate Advent calendars.

A South African Christmas

We’ve allowed Santa Claus (as well as the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy) into our children’s lives, but the role he plays in our Christmas is really very small. We do make it absolutely clear that Christmas is not at all about Santa bringing presents, but is about celebrating Jesus’ birth and the ultimate gift God gave us in His Son.

The girls like watching Buck Denver’s Why Do They Call It Christmas? several times a year, too. I love the DVD; I think it does a great job of explaining the history behind Christmas traditions like Santa Claus and Christmas trees, and points its viewers back to the real Christmas story: Jesus’ birth.

We usually put up our tree the last weekend of November, or the day that we start the Jesse Tree. The girls help Jacques assemble the tree – we have a fake Christmas tree – and help with hanging the decorations. We’ve had the same tree since we got married seven years ago, so it’s looking a bit battered. Our decorations are a mix of store-bought and homemade. I try to add one new bought decoration and one new homemade decoration from each child every year. The cat is particularly fond of the silver balls – and we have to keep picking them up and rehanging them every morning.

A South African Christmas

Our church has a Christmas carols service near the beginning of December. Angie has been asking about it for months already. One year there was a braai in the church parking lot beforehand, so everyone hung out and ate together. That’s one of the bonuses of a summer Christmas – we get to do most of our celebrating outdoors.

We usually bake Christmas cookies to give to our friends and family. (You can find my favourite recipe here.) The girls “help” decorate with red or green icing. Last year we didn’t do the cookies, because the last place I wanted to be was in the kitchen. This year, I have already designated a Baking Day, and an Icing Day.

Celebrating Christmas


We empty our stockings on Christmas morning, and unwrap the presents under our tree at home. Then we go to church, and then to Christmas lunch with family. Sometimes lunch is a potjie, sometimes it’s a braai, and sometimes it’s a roast.

A potjie is a kind of stew – though not a proper stew since there’s not that much liquid in it – that is cooked in a three-legged black pot over hot coals. (Potjie is the Afrikaans word for “little pot”. Potjiekos, then, translates as “little pot food”.) It originated with the Voortrekkers way back when. As they travelled across the country, they’d use whatever meat was available to make their potjiekos. It’s eaten with rice, dumplings, or mieliepap (a thick porridge made from maize meal, a South African staple).

A South African Christmas

A braai is basically a South African barbecue, but it’s more than just that. South Africans take their braaing very seriously. Usually, it’s the man’s job to cook the meat – which the women don’t complain about because who really wants to stand in all that smoke? In addition to the meat, there will be various salads – always including a carrot salad and a potato salad. There is also often mieliepap, served with a tomato and onion relish.

For dessert, there’s almost always a trifle, in addition to condensed milk tart, normal milk tart, ice cream, chocolate pudding and fruit salad. When I was growing up, my dad would chuck a watermelon in the pool to stay cold until we wanted to eat it. It ended up as a post-dessert dessert most of the time, eaten later in the day with the lunch leftovers.

We often spend Christmas in or next to the swimming pool. So although we may have dressed for church in the morning, Christmas lunch is often eaten while wearing swimsuits and towels. I’m sure other families may prefer a more formal lunch, but my family has always been very relaxed.

We alternate which side of the family we spend Christmas Day with. We’ll be with my in-laws on Christmas Eve this year, and my family on Christmas Day. Christmas Eve will probably also involve food, and the grandchildren (six girls and one boy) will get to open their presents. We try our best to keep it calm, but with that many kids – all under the age of six – it gets crazy quite quickly.

Last year we decided, on both sides of the family, to do a secret Santa among the adults rather than buy presents for everyone. This year, we’re probably going to give homemade gifts on my side, and the children are going to do a Secret Santa on my husband’s side.

How do you celebrate Christmas?

This post was written as part of iHomeschool Network’s Christmas Around The World Linkup. Click the image below the see the rest of the posts.

Christmas Around The World Linkup

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