How is Christmas celebrated in South Africa?

Tired of the cold and snow? Why not spend Christmas in South Africa? This beautiful country celebrates their festive season in summer, but you’ll still find all the classic traditions like Christmas trees, pudding and markets. From candlelight carols to outdoor Christmas feasts, here’s how to celebrate a real South African Christmas.

Christmas in summer

It might seem odd to imagine a Christmas without snow, woolly sweaters or hot chocolate but since South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas falls in summer. That means swapping the snow for sunshine, the scarves for swimmers, and the mulled wine for outdoor barbecues! You’ll still get all the Christmas markets, decorations, food and carolers that you’re used to – but you get it with gorgeous weather too. 

EXPERIENCE IT FOR YOURSELF: Best of South Africa

Outdoor festive fun

Since schools and many businesses shut down for the Christmas holidays, many people love to take advantage of the summer weather and get outdoors. South Africa is a stunning country with amazing beaches, hiking, mountains, forests, waterfalls and national parks filled with wildlife, so there are endless opportunities to reconnect with nature during Christmas. Many families like to go camping, spend the day at the beach, or even celebrate the holiday season with a visit to Kruger National Park to spot the Big Five.

RELATED CONTENT: 11 bucket list experiences you can only do in South Africa

Christmas decorations

The Christmas tree is a universal symbol of the season and it’s no different in South Africa. You’ll see beautifully decorated Christmas trees in shopping malls, businesses and homes across the country. Families put the presents under the trees, and some children also hang up their stockings for Santa to fill with gifts and goodies. Santa goes by a few names in South Africa, including Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) and Kersvader (Father Christmas) for those who speak Afrikaans.

You’ll also see plenty of other Christmas decorations like extravagant fairy light displays, glittering baubles, tinsel and fake snow. Head to the shopping malls, and you’ll hear Christmas carols ringing out and see displays where kids can go and sit on Santa’s lap and tell him their Christmas wishes.

If you’re wondering where to go to experience the Christmas magic, head to the centre of Cape Town, like Adderley Street, where you’ll see enchanting lights, night markets and even special decorations like dolphins pulling Santa’s sleigh.

RELATED CONTENT: 7 new and unique experiences you can now do in South Africa with Trafalgar

Christmas Eve in South Africa

The festive spirit begins as soon as December arrives in South Africa, and it really amps up on Christmas Eve. You’ll find a magical atmosphere across the country on December 24th, with carol singing, candlelight services and special events. If you’re looking for the best ‘Carols by Candlelight’ events, check out the V&A Waterfront Amphitheatre or Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town.

EXPERIENCE IT FOR YOURSELF: Essence of South Africa

Christmas Day in South Africa

There are many traditional ways to spend the big day – December 25th – in South Africa. Some people start the morning with a church service, while others get straight to opening their Christmas presents. After the morning of activities, friends and families gather together for a Christmas lunch or dinner, followed by some backyard games like cricket, or a well-earned nap! 

The Christmas feast

The Christmas feast is the highlight of the whole celebration. Many families gather for a traditional meal of roast turkey, duck or beef, or suckling pig with yellow rice, raisins and vegetables.

You’ll find everything from cold cuts to salads, plus there’s also delicious desserts like the classic Christmas pudding, mince pies, or a traditional dish called Malva Pudding (or Lekker Pudding). Whatever you eat, there’s always plenty of food to go around, and unexpected guests are always warmly welcomed. 

The Christmas lunch is often eaten outside in the beautiful weather. South Africans never miss a chance to have a braai (barbecue), and if the weather is really good, they’ll fire up the coals and bring out the meat. And don’t forget to pull your Christmas crackers and wear the paper crown you find inside!

RELATED CONTENT: The ultimate guide to South African Braai

South African braai Christmas in South Africa

How to say Merry Christmas in South Africa

Famed as the ‘rainbow nation’, South Africa is home to dozens of different cultures and languages, including 11 official languages. That means there are many different ways to say Merry Christmas. Some of the most common ways include:

‘Geseënde Kersfees’ – Afrikaans
‘UKhisimusi omuhle’ – Zulu
‘Krismesi emnandi’ – Xhosa
‘Le be le keresemese e monate’ – Sotho

Learn them all and you’ll get to wish almost everyone a Merry Christmas in South Africa!

Would you like to spend Christmas in South Africa? Let us know in the comments below…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  • Sign up to our newsletter

  • Monthly travel tips, stories and inspiration, delivered straight to your inbox.