Christmas in South Africa is a summer holiday. For most people it is an out-of-town day. In December, the southern summer brings glorious days of sunshine that carry an irresistible invitation to the beaches, the rivers, and the shaded mountain slopes. Then the South African holiday season reaches its height. Schools are closed for the long summer vacations, and camping is the order of the day. If South Africa has no snow at Christmas, it has flowers, many beautiful varieties of cultivated and wild flowers being in their full pride to flame as brightly as a yule-log fire.
In many ways South Africans cling to the Christmas customs of the Old World. Shop windows are draped with sparkling cotton wool and tinsel to give the traditional Christmasy setting familiar to, say, shoppers in London and New York. Even Father Christmas, a South African prototype of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, braves the sunny side of the street in his customary robes-cotton wool trimmed cloak and hood to simulate snow-and points the way to the elaborate “toylands” in the big stores. In the shops he is seen helping parents to choose their gifts and spreading fun among the children.
Christmas greeting cards, complete with robin and snowdecked cottages, are exchanged during the season. In the cities and towns carol singers make their rounds on Christmas Eve. Church services are held on Christmas morning. Christmas Eve celebrations in larger centers include “Carols by Candle Light” and special screen and floor shows.
Homes are lavishly decorated, usually with pine branches, and all have the decorated Christmas fir tree in a corner, V/ith presents for the children around. Holly is missing, as tfone grows in the warm South African climate. Sometimes a local type of mistletoe is hung up in a strategic position, but more often imitation mistletoe has to do. At bedtime on Christmas Eve, children may also hang up their stockings for presents from Father Christmas.
Some streets are colorfully lighted up at night, with floodlights on prominent buildings and a sparkling Christmas tree on the city square. For many South Africans, Christmas dinner is an open-air lunch. For many more, it is the traditional dinner of either turkey, roast beef, mince pies, or suckling pig, yellow rice (tumeric) with raisins, vegetables, and plum pudding, crackers, paper hats, and all. In the afternoon, families go out into the country and usually there are games or bathing in the warm sunshine, and then home in the cool of the evening. Boxing Day is also a proclaimed public holiday usually spent in the open air. It falls on December 26 and is a day of real relaxation. For the non-European races of South Africa, Christmas is a holiday, a day of good eating and of lively exchange and enjoyment of gifts. On Christmas Day, the Cape Colored “Coons” in their gay and fanciful costumes commence their weeklong carnival of singing, dancing, and parading the streets with pipe and string bands.
Christmas was observed in South Africa as a purely religious festival until, by way of Victoria and Albert’s England, Teutonic customs began to be introduced. It was originally a day of prayer and quiet meditation, the day above all others when the mother church was crowded with young and old alike who had come to worship and who immediately after the service exchanged small Christmas presents. The settlers who came to the Eastern Province in 1820 brought the ways of old England with them. Although these people had often neither cause nor means to rejoice, they did their best to mark Christmas with a repast a little better than the ordinary fare of the pioneer. When the military villages of Woburn and Johannesburg were raided by the Kaffirs and burned on a Christmas Day in the 1850’s, Christmas dinner was being prepared, and some time later in one gutted cottage, where the roof had fallen in on the oven without crushing it, a plum cake was found cooked to