Christmas in South Africa

This month on my blog I’m sharing holiday traditions, mine and other people’s as well. This is the second of those posts, you can find the first, entitled Giftmas Cards (and subsequent ones) by visiting the main page, here. Happy Ho Ho!


Christmas in South Africa

by Suzanne van Rooyen

Sitting in dark and snowy Helsinki about to move to equally dark though slightly less snowy Stockholm, it’s hard to believe that as a kid I spent my Christmases trying to avoid sunburn, playing garden cricket and swimming in the pool!

To be honest, as a kid, Christmas was a strange and somewhat disappointing time of the year. All the Christmas songs we sang at school were about reindeer and sleighs, chestnuts roasting on open fires, and this mysterious white stuff called snow. Despite asking Father Christmas (never Santa Claus) for snow several years in a row and waiting anxiously for it to arrive, it never did. It wasn’t until I was 18 and spent December in Switzerland that I experienced a white Christmas and saw proper snow for the first time. Now I’m not quite sick of snow at Christmas time, but the novelty has certainly started to wear off.

In South Africa, the Christmas season kicked off for my family on December 16th – a public holiday in South Africa and the day the Christmas tree goes up. We had a real tree once or twice, but they inevitably died in the sweltering December heat so we stuck with a plastic tree after that, replete with balls of cotton wool in imitation of the ever elusive snow. After a while even that seemed silly so my brother, father, and I built a tree out of wire and wrapped it in tinsel. This happened about ten years ago and that same tree is still in use today back in my parents’ home in South Africa. Despite now living in the land of pine trees, the wire Christmas tree tradition has persisted so that my husband and I have a touch of ‘Africa’ up here in the north with our wire and tinsel construction.

Some of my fondest childhood Christmas memories involve my large, extended family hanging out in the garden and playing Marco Polo in the pool while Christmas dinner cooked on the braai (the South African version of a grill or barbecue). The best gifts were pool noodles and inflatable lilos. Christmas for me was never a stuffed turkey and vegetable casserole, but rather boerewors and salad. My mom attempted a traditional Christmas roast a few times but eventually gave up when the mercury climbed into the thirties (that’s well into the eighties, Fahrenheit) and no one wanted to eat a hot meal anyway.

In South Africa, Christmas Eve usually involved a light supper and laying out the presents. For a while, I left milk and cookies for Father Christmas but that eventually became beer and biltong – that was a year or two before I realised my dad was the one sneaking into the lounge to leave the last of the gifts. Our family, like most in SA, opened presents on Christmas morning before the big day of family and feasting commenced, which actually didn’t stop until after December 26th. It has taken me a while to get used to the more typical Finnish tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve. Eating too much this time of year seems to be an international phenomenon though.

While I do sometimes miss the sun and warmth of a summery festive season, I’ve got to say that there is something extremely special about a snowy, cold, dark December. And at least all the Christmas songs now make sense!


SuzanneAbout the Author:

Suzanne is a tattooed story-teller and peanut-butter addict from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When not writing you can find her teaching dance and music to middle-schoolers or playing in the snow with her shiba inu. She is rep’d by Jordy Albert of the Booker Albert Agency.


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