For those spending their first Christmas in South Africa, here is our guide to the festive season – South African style.

Although Christmas in South Africa is has marked differences from Christmas in the rest of the world, the actual celebrations and festive spirit are pretty similar.

One major difference is that in South Africa Christmas is celebrated in the middle of summer. Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and everything is alive. All that vitality is brought to life even more by the festive mood of the people. The decorations, markets, carolers and Christmas dinner (which in South Africa is more of an outdoor lunch) help you get into the Christmas spirit.

Just like any other place in the world, the annual preparations for the celebration of Christmas begin way in advance. You will find schools empty. Shops and business institutions post notes on their doors saying “We are closed for the holidays”. Some businesses are closed for the whole month of December.

South Africa is a country with a great affinity for outdoor activities, so it’s no surprise that thousands of people celebrate the holiday season with visits to Kruger National Park.

In South Africa there is no snow at Christmas time, so locals can only dream of a ‘white Christmas’. In exchange, the joy of the season is expressed by the countless varieties of cultivated and wild flowers blooming in their full glory.

In the cities and towns, carolers make their rounds on Christmas Eve. Church services are held on Christmas morning. Christmas Eve celebrations in larger centers include “Carols by Candlelight” and special screen and floor shows. Visit these websites for events in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Homes are decorated with pine branches and most families set up a decorated Christmas tree in a corner, surrounded by gifts for the children. For native Africans, Christmas Day is a day of good eating, with a lively exchange and enjoyment of gifts. Plum pudding, mince pies, vegetables, turkey, yellow rice, roast beef and other variations of festive dishes add an authentic touch to the celebration. The festival is a carnival-like week of singing, dancing and feasting. English-speaking children hang up their stockings for Father Christmas to fill up with goodies.

On Christmas Day, children and adults, representing the angels in the fields outside Bethlehem, go from house to house singing. A church service is held where they dress in their native attire or Western costumes. Later on, there is a feast of rice and yam paste called fufu with stew or okra soup, porridge and meats. Families eat together or with close neighbours, and gifts are given.

In Liberia, on the west coast of Africa, most homes have an oil palm for a Christmas tree, which is decorated with bells. On Christmas morning, people are awakened by carols. Gifts such as cotton cloth, soap, sweets, pencils and books are exchanged. A church service is held in the morning in which the Christmas scene is enacted, and hymns and carols are sung. Dinner is eaten outdoors, with everyone sitting in a circle, to share a meal of rice, beef and biscuits. Games are played in the afternoon, and at night fireworks light up the sky.

In Afrikaans (one the languages spoken in South Africa) Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Geseënde Kersfees’. So, Geseënde Kersfees to all and don`t forget to be good for the rest of the year!

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