South Africa is a multi-cultural society and each family celebrates the holidays in their own unique way. I interviewed people from four different families. This is a peek into South African family Christmas traditions. These are their Christmas stories.
Family Christmas traditions of Marco Gustavo Wenn
Marco Gustavo Wenn is as typical Cape resident. He is part of the Khoisan tribe, whose heritage goes back to some of the first indigenous inhabitants of the Western Cape.
He talks quite emotionally of the history of his family before apartheid where his people were made to live solely in the Cape Flats Area. He also talks quite proudly of a great ( many times over ) grandfather who was Irish, “Grandpa Collins.”
Marco and his wife have four children, ranging from 6 to 18. The family are regular church goers. They are Pentecostal and attend The Universal Outreach Mission.
When asked if the family went to church on Christmas Day, Marco patiently explained that it was a family church and the day was for family. The church’s philosophy is that there should be no interruption of this precious family time.
Instead, for their family Christmas traditions, they attend a late Christmas Eve service every year at 10:00 p.m. When they return home near to midnight, any children that have fallen asleep are awoken and told that Santa has come and that they can open their Christmas gifts.
At two a.m. Christmas morning, once the excitement of opening presents has slowed, Marco’s wife will begin food preparation for the day ahead. They only go to bed when these preparations are complete.
On Christmas Day, Marco and his family have a huge family celebration with his wife’s family and his own mother, brother and children. They all come to his house for the celebration. Marco is the chief Braii (BBQ) master. He cooks lamb chops and sausages to add to the whole cooked ham and chicken. Along with this, the traditional fair of pies and samosas are served. On this occasion only, the children are allowed, buffet style, to take their own food. All other meals in the Wenn household are strictly plated and must be eaten up.
The next course, a recurring theme in South African family Christmas traditions, is the Christmas trifle. Marco proudly told me he has learned to make it himself. No alcohol is partaken by any of the family. Marco later plays Father Christmas to the hoards of children and hands out a small sum of money to each of them.
The final tradition for this household is a trip to the beach. This happens either the day after Christmas or New Year’s Day depending upon when Marco has to work.
Another family tradition, which is still followed, started with Grandma. Having the only TV on the street, she allowed neighbors to come and watch the Liverpool United team play soccer. Marco proudly continues this tradition. His is the only household with satellite TV and the neighbors still join the family to watch the game – Liverpool of course.
Eric (Que Que) Mncedsi’s family Christmas traditions
Eric is a traditional Xhosa family man. An indigenous man from the Eastern and Western Cape. His real name, Que Que, is two clicks and not pronounced. These clicks are made from the back of the throat to the roof of the mouth and are a typical Khosa style of speaking. Eric, who is married and has three children whose ages range from 6 months to 14 years old is also involved deeply with church. This family are regular attendees of The 12 Apostles Church.
He, his wife and family, exchange gifts on Christmas morning then go to a church service where more gifts are exchanged, but this time only for the children in the form of sweets.
A traditional family gift is an advent calendar given on Christmas Day. Also the girls are given a flower to put in their hair. When the family returns from church they enjoy a Christmas Braii with, sausages, lamb, pork chops and chicken. The tradition of a trifle is also enjoyed with this family and is the big treat of the day. Once again the family do not partake of any alcohol at any time.
The day after Christmas the tradition of spending the day picnicking at the beach is always a family favorite. As the sun goes down Que Que and his family visit other family members to deliver Christmas good wishes.
Teresa Salhob’s Christmas with family
Teresa Salhob is Lebanese mixed with second and third generation South African. But as a third and fourth generation South African, she still follows family traditions with her daughter (14).
Christmas Eve is the start of their celebration, when they play cards and eat a cold buffet in the evening. All this is accompanied by the sound of Christmas carols playing in the background to while away the time. They also drive through the town to admire the wonderful Christmas lights. When it is midnight the gifts can be opened.
Christmas Day is a laid back day. Family drop in and a large ham is cooked. It is a time for family to catch up with each other. A Braii is the traditional mode of cooking the day after Christmas and family casually drop in and out all day.
Carla Mariemeyer’s family Christmas Celebration
Carla Mariemeyer is part of a fourth generation South African Family. Starting her independent life, she lives separately from her immediate family.
Christmas Eve does not feature as part of this family’s tradition. But Christmas Day is all about the family. They gather together for the day and enjoy opening their gifts before having a family lunch. There is no traditional Christmas Day food – it changes from year to year. This year it will be a family picnic at home. For the whole day, she and her partner will join her brother, aunts, uncles, mother and grandparents. This always takes place at her grandparents home.
The family gift giving tradition is that each person chooses one person within the family to give a gift to and they all enjoy receiving and opening gifts.
There is no tradition for this family the day after Christmas, just a relaxing day off work for most of them.