With the year coming to an end, people are preparing for the holiday season. Because of its cultural diversity and colonial history, South Africa shares a lot of holidays with other countries. And it appears that South Africans do enjoy foreign festivities, because every year more events seem to be celebrated – aside from religious holidays like Diwali and Eid, I’ve been surprised since moving to SA to see many English and American traditions come past, including Guy Fawkes Day, Boxing Day, Halloween and most recently, Black Friday. Nobody celebrates Dutch holiday tradition Sinterklaas, which makes perfect sense because it’s kind of racist and super awkward.
Guy Fawkes is remembered by lighting fireworks on the 5th of November, a day on which the UK has a 600 percent chance of rain. In South Africa, November is the very-windy-dry-hot-do-not-even-think-of-fire month, so this year the event burned down an entire valley.
Black Friday is the American holiday after Thanksgiving, when major retailers go ‘into the black’ in their balance books by making profits from offering great specials at the start of the shopping season. In South Africa, people were trampling down stores to buy a half-priced butternut or boerewors, and you could get major discounts on inflatable Christmas trees and of course, South Africa’s favourite, personal funeral covers.
The country has many national holidays too. Twelve to be exact. There’s New Year’s Day, Human Right’s Day, Good Friday, Family Day (aka Easter), Freedom Day, Worker’s Day, Youth Day, Women’s Day, Heritage Day (aka Braai Day), Day of Reconciliation, Christmas Day, Day of Goodwill (aka Boxing Day) and for Cape Town, every Friday afternoon and the whole month of December.
I find Christmas to be the oddest of the bunch to experience in sunny South Africa. I obviously get the religious part of it, but having grown up in the Netherlands, for me Christmas is also so closely related to a cold, snowy, white Christmas with reindeer.
And just like any place in the northern hemisphere, South Africa celebrates Christmas with spray-on snow, decorated Christmas trees, cozy winter food and jingle bells.
You’ll be flip-flopping your way through Spar in swimming trunks and a sweaty t-shirt looking for a refill of your sunscreen when Dean Martin reminds you through the speakers that the ‘weather outside is frightful’. It’s 31 degrees with clear skies Dean, and the only people frightened by that day’s weather are, as far as I know, vampires and old people.
As you reach the check-out point, there’s a guy in a Santa suit panting his last breaths through mere overheating, wishing you a Merry Christmas (and a soft, whispering ‘help me!’, if I remember correctly).
Yet no one here is weirded out by this. My question is, where is the South African Christmas? Why is Santa not arriving on a surfboard with a bunch of springboks?
And how about a Christmas palm tree? Can’t they have some Noot-vir-Noot dude sing that the weather outside is ‘lekker’?
I might be overwhelmed by confusion, but perhaps I miss having an authentic Christmas. It’s the one time of the year I don’t crave the beach and enjoy wearing a ridiculous jumper while listening to Wham! (of all bands).
It’s the only opportunity to be stuck inside due to rain (it used to be snow, thanks a lot climate change!), and having to listen to family arguing over which aunt not to invite that year.
It’s the only night I voluntarily eat cranberries (in a sauce) because plentiful glasses of Chateau Panado have given me the confidence to do so.
Whatever Christmas I’m looking for, I can’t find it.
So don’t be surprised if I’m a bit hard to find this holiday season. While you all get together doing your Christmas braai and sharing gifts wrapped with snow and sleigh prints, I’ll probably be in my jumper in my own winter wonderland (inside my fridge), waiting for Santa (Mister Delivery with my pizza), humming to the tune of Last Christmas. Because that’s not weird at all.