It’s time to switch up your perception of Christmas – snowmen and hot chocolate are out, sunshine and wildlife are in. Visiting South Africa at Christmas may be a far cry from what you’re used to, but it’s a guaranteed way to break from routine and discover what this vibrant country has to offer during one of its warmest months. South Africa is infused with festive spirit in December (think jolly decorations lining the streets and youngsters eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa) and with its usual offerings of safaris and beaches winter blues will be a thing of the past. What’s not to love?
Twinkling lights, jingling bells and flaming puddings... South Africa at Christmas isn’t so different to Christmas back home. The holiday may sit in the middle of summer, but South Africans don’t scrimp on festive traditions – in fact, they’re embraced with the same spirit as their wintery counterparts. Come the 25th of December, church services are held, crackers are torn apart, gifts are exchanged and drinks and conversation are enjoyed. Despite being far from home, you won’t miss out when it comes to South Africa’s traditions and you may even find some new favourites. Meat is cooked over a braai (barbeque) and paired with okra stew and cold sides such as chakalaka and potato salad, followed by a sweet malva pudding or brandy-soaked fruitcake for dessert. These indulgent cultural traditions will add an enriching twist to festivities you already know and love, and prove why South Africa stands proud as a fabulous Christmas destination.
South Africans enjoy a busy social calendar, with a diverse range of events across the year – and this is certainly no exception come December. The Durban Jazz Festival has been celebrating vibrant jazz music on the 26th of December for over 20 years, with audiences kicking back in the relaxed yet exciting atmosphere to listen to local and national artists. Cape Town’s pop-up Christmas markets see the city transformed into a winter(ish) wonderland with festive lights, street stalls selling irresistible treats and an all-round merry atmosphere. Alternatively, you could sample the best bubby from local wineries – the Franschhoek Cap Classique Festival in early December will see you pop corks, sip irresistible champagne and feast on complimenting delicacies. Pack a bottle of bubbly for the trip home and your friends and family can experience a taste of what’s on offer in South Africa at Christmas.
Days in December are stretched out by South Africa’s sun, and many tourists are drawn to the warm weather as an escape from their home country’s biting cold and rain. But summer brings more than just good weather. South Africa’s landscapes truly thrive at this time of year and hotspots likes Kruger National Park and Table Mountain are abundant with outdoor activities, wondrous wildlife and lush vegetation. You may not spot a reindeer, but embark on a safari and you’ll be sure to spot lions, cheetahs and elephants (pretty awesome alternatives if you ask us). Meanwhile, in coastal areas like Cape Town and Durban, youngsters can craft snowmen out of sand as you cool off in the refreshing sea breeze against a rugged mountain backdrop; it’s a million miles from the usual last-minute preparations at home.
Last on our list of reasons to visit South Africa at Christmas is the abundant opportunity to step back from the hectic rush of this time of year. The Christmas thrill of bustling crowds and endless festive music isn’t for everyone, and South Africa certainly knows how to cater to those wanting to opt out of the sea of Santa hats. The country offers a luxurious array of both wellness and active retreats, all nestled deep into the peaceful South African countryside. Whether you wish to spend the festive period rejuvenating with yoga and massages in KwaZulu-Natal, or drinking in panoramic views as you play golf in vibrant Sun City, South Africa is the perfect place to end your year with a truly cracking Christmas.
Written by Evie Buller
Header image by Olivier Romano