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Christmas in Hell: What is Christmas Like in South Africa?

Updated on April 15, 2015
You think that's weird... over here he'd be dressed in a khaki safari suit carrying an R5 rifle.
You think that's weird... over here he'd be dressed in a khaki safari suit carrying an R5 rifle. | Source

Go To Hell...

I read a hub request a while ago that asked, “What is Christmas like in your country?”

I thought that I would give it a go.

When people think of Christmas, their thoughts typically wander and start to imagine snowcapped Christmas trees, snowmen, and a feast on the table fit for a king, along with a nice toasty fire on a winter’s eve.

This is only applicable in the northern hemisphere, however. If you want to know, and I mean, really want to know what the other half experiences, then read on.

Christmas generally starts in about September, at least in the shops it does. If only we could have Christmas in the stores, as they are the only places that are cool. With the air-conditioning blowing, it’s likely the closest we’ll ever come to a white Christmas.

South Africans usually have this on Christmas.
South Africans usually have this on Christmas. | Source

Just for the record, Hell is an actual place in Southern Africa. It’s a nickname of a valley called Gamkaskloof, which means ‘Ravine of the Lions’, and as you might expect, it is dry, sandy, windy and surrounded by mountainous peaks. Nobody lives there anymore, as it was deserted years ago and I’m sure you can guess why. It might have been the terrible climate; if not, it was probably because letters that arrived there were addressed to ‘The Hell’. Taxpayers there were offended.

Christmas food

For food, scrap turkey. Don’t even mention turkey.

The one year we decided like most people to deviate from the traditional, and go with having a big fat turkey for Christmas lunch. It was left overnight to cook, and for too long, I might add. When we awoke on Christmas morning, we were horrified to find that the bloody thing had spontaneously combusted and blown its insides all over the oven! The smell was awful. It was like sitting next to a person with catarrh breathing all over you, except ten times worse.

So, it was back to cold gammon ham and corned beef, which I honestly prefer, as I don’t trust roasts anymore; they’re so unpredictable. All of us ate that, except for my dad, who gladly sat down and had the whole bloated, blown up turkey to himself.

Another favourite that we all seem to get on Christmas is biltong, which is basically like beef jerky. One year my dad got some as a present, and it had been left in a closet for three weeks without even being wrapped in cellophane. It was covered in mould and of course my dad thought that this was supposed to be a condiment of sorts and proceeded to eat it all, while we watched in horror.

We even got a mega can of baked beans as a present one year (?).

Other people have braais (BBQs), and salads, drink beer, and pretty much eat and do what they would do on any other given Sunday.

Here there is a different Christmas tradition; in fact there are many traditions. We mostly eat cold food. Oh, and we don’t say ‘Merry Christmas’; the stores always wish people a ‘happy holiday’ as some types are offended by the word ‘Christmas’.

And then there are others who have the sense (and wallet) to go to a restaurant, all-you-can eat buffet, or order take-out.

For dessert, there’s trifle which is the favourite, and Christmas cake and puddings. That bit is probably similar to what everyone else around the world has. We have a rule in our house: if we go to a bakery and the guy behind the counter doesn’t know what a mince pie is, then we never go to that bakery again as it’s probably just a front for drug smuggling. You don’t want whatever might go into their products, although some might, especially if they are over from The Netherlands for the holidays.

Our Christmas decorations don't differ from other nations' decorations much.
Our Christmas decorations don't differ from other nations' decorations much. | Source

Saintly superstitions surrounding the silly season (say that six times, not sober)

• A Christmas tree is evil because it represents a phallus, which represents fertility, which alludes to fornication (like at office Christmas parties).

• You may not have a five-sided star on a Christmas tree or anywhere because if turned upside down it looks like a goat’s head (who’s going to turn the star upside down anyway, if they are Christian?).

• ‘Santa’ is an anagram of ‘Satan’ (hasn’t appeared in any cryptic Christmas crossword clues, yet).

Christmas Decorations

When we finally reach November, the tree is up and decorated, because the Christmas spirit usually wears off as soon as December arrives.

There’s pretty much everything you’d expect on the tree; baubles, bells, and an angel or a snowflake on top. The only thing that is different is that it’s a synthetic Christmas tree and not a real one, as they are usually all sold out by the time we get there, and the only ones left look very anorexic.

Christmas presents

In our house, there are four men and one woman. For presents, there are usually a lot of gadgets and magazines being passed around, with the odd pair of boxer shorts and salted nuts (cashews!).

Even my mom got a pop-up telephone directory one time, and one time only.

Christmas entertainment

Truth be told, in our neighbourhood there’s usually not a lot to do except sit inside and watch TV. It’s too hot to go outside, and there are no ‘community functions’, unless you count the burglars who get together and drop in for a visit while you’re out or on holiday (happened to me once).

Most people have friends or relatives round and get drunk, judging by the sound of all the clinking bottles on bin-day later on that week. The only alternative is those utterly stupid Christmas programs that come on TV that are mostly all repeats, or perhaps ducking the various religious representatives who come round in their business suits with briefcases to convert, or the Christmas band that travel around the streets, mugging people for their change.

So, there you have it. You wanted to know, and I’ve told you. It’s all pretty unremarkable all in all, and not the pretty picture painted by most. I do like getting gifts that I wrote down on a list months in advance though, as I don’t trust surprises anymore…they’re so unpredictable.

“Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home.”

— Carol Nelson

What do you think of Christmas in South Africa?

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© 2008 Anti-Valentine


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    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 4 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      I'm South African and you forgot the part about most people gone on holiday and suburbs like tombs! In our case we go for the Gammon on the Webber, but in the lapa with the swimming pool otherwise we will die from the heat.

      We have also done away with the hot desserts and make something light and cool as you usually are so stuffed there is no place for dessert!