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Christmas In Africa: South African Christmas Traditions

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Christmas is celebrated in the summer in the gorgeous nation of South Africa, and all the customary European elements — shopping, pudding, and Christmas trees—remain the same. 

This article will give some insight into how a true South African Christmas is celebrated, from candlelight carols to outdoor Christmas feasts.

South African Christmas Traditions: Key Takeaways

  • Christmas in Africa isn’t far different from how it is celebrated in the rest of the world. 
  • In South Africa, Boxing Day is also a holiday, and people like being “out and about” and having a good time on that day.
  • Happy/Merry Christmas is  “Gesende Kersfees” in Afrikaans, “UKhisimusi omuhle” in Zulu, “Le be le keresemese e monate” in Sesotho, and “Krismesi emnandi” in Xhosa.
  • People visit family and friends on Christmas Day in the afternoon, or they might take a trip to the countryside to play games or go swimming.
  • Christmas lunch is frequently consumed outside in the pleasant weather. If the weather is particularly nice, South Africans will light the coals and bring out the meat for a braai (barbecue).

Difference between Christmas in other continents and Christmas in South Africa

One significant difference between Christmas in other continents and Christmas in South Africa is that Christmas falls in the middle of summer. Flowers are in bloom and the sun is shining.

All of that vitality is brought to life by the festive mood of the locals. The decorations, markets, carolers, and Christmas dinner all contribute to the festive atmosphere.

In response to a question about South African Christmas Traditions on Quora, here’s what South African native, Kaalvoet Kind had to say: 

The excitement builds in November, when our school year ends and all of the stores begin decorating their windows. In the second week of December, almost all shops and businesses close for the rest of the month, with only the major retailers remaining open; in a small town like ours, the only places open after the 16th are the gas station and the major supermarket. 

Then comes the week of Christmas, beaches and pools are flooded with people enjoying the summer sun and time off. In almost any town in SA you could stand outside and you’d smell the potjiekos and BBQ here we call it “a braai “, hear music and people laughing its actually fun.

South African Christmas Traditions

Although Christmas in South Africa differs significantly from Christmas in European countries, the actual celebrations and festive spirit are quite similar.

Carol Nights On Christmas Eve

One of the most popular ways South Africans spend Christmas Eve is to attend Carols by Candlelight – a gathering where people come together to sing Christmas psalms with orchestras and choirs.

There are many places in Cape Town that organize this event, such as Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Victoria Amphitheatre, Albert Waterfront, and many others throughout the city, where you can easily participate, sing Christmas carols and have fun.

Outdoor Activities

South Africa has a strong affinity for outdoor activities, so it’s no surprise that thousands of people visit Kruger National Park during the holiday season.

Because Christmas in South Africa falls in the middle of summer, there’s no snow. So locals can only dream of a white Christmas.

In exchange, the joy of the season is expressed through the countless varieties of cultivated and wildflowers that are in full bloom.

Christmas Decorations

Many homes have pine branch decorations. Most households have a Christmas tree in a corner that is decorated with presents for the kids. Christmas Day is a day of delicious food, a vibrant gift exchange, and the enjoyment of presents for native Africans.

Many South Africans and tourists head to Cape Town’s downtown area, such as Adderley Street, to enjoy the enchantment of Christmas. Here, you’ll discover lovely lights, night markets, and even unusual displays like dolphins pulling Santa’s sleigh.

The Christmas tree is a traditional symbol of the holiday season everywhere, and this is also true in South Africa.

All around the country, you can find wonderfully adorned Christmas trees in stores, offices, and houses. The gifts are placed under the trees by families, and some kids also hang their stockings for Santa to fill with treats.

In South Africa, Santa is known by a variety of names, including Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) and Kersvader (Father Christmas) for Afrikaans speakers.

South African Christmas Foods

Popular Christmas delicacies in South Africa include roasted meats and vegetables, fruit mince pies, and puddings, as well as sides such potato bake, sambals, and yellow rice with raisins.

Christmas Day lunch is traditionally eaten in the early afternoon in South Africa. Many families also elect to enjoy a braai rather than a sit-down meal.

Check out some popular South African Christmas foods you might want to try during the festive season! 

Glazed Gammon

In South Africa, glazed gammon (ham) is a traditional holiday dish. Christmas lunch would not be complete without it, in fact! Large pieces of boneless pig known as “gammon” are typically cooked on the stove with veggies before being baked.

The gammon is given a glossy, golden brown top by scoring it in a diamond pattern and brushing honey and mustard glaze over it. Slices of pineapple and glacé cherries are then added after cooking to garnish the dish.

Lamb Leg Roast

The ultimate Christmas indulgence is a leg of lamb that has been roasted slowly to perfection. Traditional accompaniments include roast potatoes, veggies, and mouthwatering gravy.

Roasted Turkey

If prepared properly, roast turkey, a favorite Christmas dish around the world, is juicy and tasty. Both the stuffing and the turkey can be made using a variety of recipes, depending on your preferences. Turkeys are either oven- or braai-roasted in South Africa, giving them a delightful smokiness and succulence.


Traditional Koeksisters are a sweet, sticky, crunchy, syrup-covered dessert that originated in South Africa and are spiced with ginger, lemon, and cinnamon. Perfect for a Christmas snack, afternoon tea, or even breakfast.

Malva pudding

Malva Pudding Cake is extremely well-liked in South Africa, and happily, word of this delectable treat has spread more widely recently.

Malva Pudding is an excellent apricot jam and heavy cream-based cake recipe that originates from South Africa and is eaten mostly during Christmas.

South African Braai 

There is no South African Christmas without South African Braai. A braai is an important part of the South African Christmas celebration. A braai offers a wide variety of foods, but the main draw is meat. Boerewors, a thick beef sausage, is one of the featured meats.

Braai is an African barbecue or roast, and braaivleis is roasted meat. The main distinction between braai and barbecue is the use of fire. Braai is only prepared on a gas grill.

Which South African Christmas foods are you looking forward to have?

Want to visit South Africa this Christmas? Send us a mail at or leave a comment below for all enquiries about the country! 

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