Holidays & Celebrations

Christmas in South Africa

For those spending their first Christmas in South Africa, find out how to celebrate it South African style.

Christmas in South Africa

By Expatica

Updated 16-1-2024

When moving abroad, one major way your life might be different is how you celebrate the holidays. South Africa has plenty of public holidays, but how will the Christmas and New Year celebrations differ from those in your home country? Although you may find that Christmas in South Africa is slightly different to what you’re used to, you’ll still be able to get into that festive spirit. Read on to find out all the best bits of a South African Christmas, including:

Summertime Christmas

If you’ve moved to South Africa from Europe, the weather on Christmas day is likely to be totally different to what you’re used to. That’s because South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas is in the middle of summer. In fact, flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and everything is alive. All that vitality comes to life through 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.

Empty schools and shops

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 also post notes on their doors saying they’re closed for the holidays. In fact, some businesses close for the whole month of December.

Outdoor Christmas activities in South Africa

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 snowy Christmas. In exchange, the joy of the season is expressed by the countless varieties of cultivated and wildflowers blooming in their full glory.

Christmas Eve

In the cities and towns, carolers make their rounds on Christmas Eve. Church services hold services on Christmas morning. Christmas Eve celebrations in larger centers include Carols by Candlelight as well as special screen and floor shows. There’s loads to do in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban.


Pine branches decorate many homes. Most families have a Christmas tree in a corner, complete with gifts for the children. Christmas Day is always 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. Many 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 occurs, where they dress in their native attire or Western costumes. Later on, there is a feast of rice and yam paste (fufu) with stew or okra soup, porridge, and meats. Families eat together or with close neighbors, also exchanging gifts.

On Christmas Day

On Christmas morning, carols awaken the people. Family and friends exchange gifts such as cotton cloth, soap, sweets, pencils, and books. A church service occurs in the morning in which the Christmas scene is enacted, and hymns and carols are sung. Dinner is eaten outdoors, with everyone in a circle for a meal of rice, beef, and biscuits. Games take place 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!