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How different South African cultures celebrate Christmas

By December 9, 2022September 4th, 2023Newsletter

How different South African cultures celebrate Christmas

December 9, 2022


If you are looking for white, snowy Christmas scenes, roast turkey with all the trimmings, and Brussel sprouts galore, then South Africa is not the place to go! While many South African cultures have adopted certain aspects of the British and American Christmas often shown on TV, roasting chestnuts in front of a roaring fire while outside temperatures plummet below zero is not one of them!

No, the South African Christmas is much warmer, and instead of toasting your toes in front of an indoor fire, you can light the braai while sitting beneath a thousand stars as your steaks cook on the coals! Like most countries, South Africa celebrates Christmas with great exuberance! It’s a time for sharing gifts and spending quality time with family while eating copious amounts of food. So how does the South Africa Christmas holiday season differ from that across the pond?

South African Christmas, Saffa style!

With so many different cultures combining to form the rainbow nation as we know it, it’s not surprising that in South Africa Christmas is celebrated in some unique and wonderful ways.

  • Hot weather

As mentioned earlier, forget the snow-dusted Christmas scenes depicted on Christmas cards and in American movies. Instead, you can enjoy the hot South African sun. Like Australians, most South African cultures celebrate Christmas surrounded by sun, glorious weather, the beach, and summer flowers.

  • Carol singing in the heat

We saffas also enjoy our Christmas carols (kersliedjies), and while you won’t find us ‘dashing through the snow,’ you will find us raising our voices beneath the stars at beautiful outdoor areas like Kirstenbosch gardens in Cape Town. In fact, many events in and around the country provide South Africans with the opportunity to get their singing voices in tune!

  • Christmas dinner braai

Unlike our friends on the colder side of the globe, Christmas dinner is not your average roast dinner with trimmings. In South Africa Christmas dinner is almost always cooked over the hot toasty coals of the infamous South African braai! The wide selection of roasted braaivleis (braai meats) can include any meat variation your tastebuds desire! From chicken and beef to lamb, pork, prawns, or snoek (barracouta fish), the world, or rather South African Christmas braai, is certainly your oyster!

Of course, there have to be multiple salads (at least 5!), braaibroodjies (braai sandwiches), and the mandatory stukkie boerewors (farmers’ sausage). But the South African Christmas dinner doesn’t end there; once the delicious food is eaten, it’s time for Ouma’s fabulous braai puds and sweet treats, all cooked over the coals, of course!

  • South Africa Christmas decorations

It may seem odd to those living on the opposite side of the hemisphere to celebrate Christmas without a real Christmas tree and snowman for decoration. But when it comes to Christmas decorations South Africa isn’t lagging behind. Instead, the South African Christmas tree is often a replica of the real version (artificial) and can be bought in many shops around the country. However, mango or palm trees are also seen as good substitutes!

Decorating the South African Christmas tree with lights and gifts is a tradition many South African families follow. Furthermore, many homes, shops, and Churches are decorated with lights, tinsel, and baubles. However, we’re not above some strategically placed fake snow to create a little extra magic!

  • The South African Christmas guest list

Every meal in South Africa is a celebration, especially if it involves family and friends; however, it’s not unusual to find guests around the braai at Christmas time who have no family connection! From Oom Koos, who lives around the corner, to dad’s friend from work and tanie (aunty) Marie, who isn’t your aunt but sometimes waters the garden when you go on holiday! Yes, a South African Christmas includes everyone because, after all, we’re just one big family!

Christmas traditions found only in Africa

While researching Christmas in South Africa, we stumbled across some very interesting ways our neighbouring African countries celebrate this holiday.

  • Tanzania

The Tanzanian Christmas meal consists of an entire cow or goat roasted on the coals, washed down with plenty of local beer. Sounds like a South African braai to us!

  • Liberia

Liberians believe in Old Man Bayka (the devil), who is the opposite of Father Christmas. Instead of giving presents, he knocks on doors begging for gifts!

  • Egypt / Ethiopia

Coptic Christians follow the old Julian Calendar, which means Christmas celebrations in that part of Africa start on the 7th of January.


For all our cultural diversity, as Christmas traditions go, we South Africans are pretty much the same as the rest of the world. However, while the essence of our Christmas celebrations may be similar, in true Saffa style, we put our own African spin and flavour on things. Finally, no matter where you are based in the world, remember, when it comes to Christmas, if you are surrounded by loved ones, how you choose to celebrate or decorate is inconsequential! From the FInGlobal team, we hope you have a Merry Christmas filled with love, joy, and peace!

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