Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to ride on a surfboard in the sea, Hey! Ja bru, I’m telling you, Chrismas in SA is lekker like a cracker!
In South Africa, we are fed a diet of books published in the north. The Magical Faraway Tree, The Famous Five, Narnia series and the BFG. They all had their fair share of extended summer holidays and winters cosseted inside beside a raging fire. Added to this the experience of Christmas movies like the Grinch, Home Alone and a Nightmare Before Christmas and you’d forgive my confusion when Christmas came around and all I could see were swimming pools and green suburban grass… A friend from Durban once told me that Christmas for him was Santa Claus on a surfboard cruising into Durban main beach!
Now, not all of us were fortunate enough to grow up by the sea BUT… Christmas in the southern hemisphere is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
Christmas time is Summer Time
Christmas in South Africa is a time for frolicking outside. Our festive days are spent poolside or by the sea, dipping in and out of the warm waters, sunning oneself on hot bricks or yellow beach sand while you listen to the sound of the ocean. Christmas day is for testing out your newly acquired toys and other gifts, pump-action water pistols, soccer balls, Frisbees, bats and balls or drone and braai tongs. It is a time to spend with the family, children laughing and playing while adults relax in the shade. Its summer tie and the weather is easy.
Food Glorious Food
While Christmas dinner, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas day often had the standard fare of roast turkey, gammon and Christmas pudding these were usually accompanied at some point in time with a gathering of extended family around the braai. Beer in hand, boerewors (Afrikaans sausage), steak, lamb chops (pronounced with a “chj”) and hamburger patties on the braai (Afrikaans BBQ). Potato salad, krummelpap (maize), tomatiesmoor (tomato based spicy herb sauce) and bread rolls waiting in the wings. Regardless of when and where, beach, park or suburban backyard, Christmas is a time to feast.
Being summer, it is also a time for watermelons, mangos and litchis. The juice runs sweetly down chins and arms and if the hosepipe isn’t handy then a dip in the nearest water source pool, river, dam or sea does just fine. It is an exemplary pairing of sticky fruits and outdoor summer living.
Johannesburg’s Big Secret
Johannesburg is known for many things. These include being the largest man-made forest in the world, its purple haze of Jacaranda trees in spring, the Newtown Cultural Precinct, Soweto and the Apartheid Museum. What is commonly known by those who have lived there but widely neglected by those who are blinded by its big city reputation, is the fact that it has one of the best climates in the world.
One of the best-kept secrets about Johannesburg is that come the Christmas holidays, there is a mass exodus to the beach, anywhere coastal will do from Mozambique to Durban, the Eastern Cape or Cape Town. The result is a sense of tranquillity and quiet not usually associated with a big city. The Green spaces in Jozi are particularly lovely, oases of green with trees and water aplenty and you could do a lot worse than spending the day at Emmarentia Dam, Delta Park or the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens.
- Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens (WSBG). For the last 9 years in a row, WSBG has been voted the best place to get back to nature in Gauteng. It boasts a waterfall, riverine forest, a nesting pair of Verreaux's Eagles and immaculate lawns on which to sit back and relax. They are open throughout the festive season.
- Johannesburg Botanical Gardens (JBG). 81 hectares of sculpted garden, lawns, flowers and the famous Emmarentia dam. It is a popular spot for families, canoeists, joggers and dog walkers.
- Germiston Lake (GL). GL is a great place to chill out and relax by the water. Picnic, braai, water sports and a playground or venture a bit further afield to the Rondebult Bird Sanctuary nearby.
Head for the Beach
There is always a bit of city rivalry between Durban, Cape Town and Jo’burg. Being Jo’burg born I am more than a little biased so I’ll stay out of the fray by pointing out a few of the bonuses of the beach.
The warm waters of Durban are world famous. At Christmas time the masses head for Durban beach front like a Mongolian horde. People from Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and around seek out the warm KwaZulu-Natal waters and a chance to escape the landlocked interior. While Durban main beach is a spectacle not for the faint of heart, the KwaZulu Natal coastline is exquisite and huge. Take your pick from any number of breath-taking and relatively peaceful beaches.
- KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts (KZNSA) Gallery: Tucked away in the leafy suburb of Goodwood this gallery of South African art has three exhibition spaces to showcase art as it should be, personal, meaningful and intimate.
- Head to the Beach: Spoilt for choice, Durban has some amazing beaches. Head down to North Beach, Addington Beach, Umhlanga Rocks, South Beach or the Bay of Plenty.
- Head South to the Sunshine Coast: Named for having statistically the most hours of sunshine through the year, the Sunshine Coast has some sparkling gems from Port Alfred to Kenton on Sea. There is no shortage of things to do or festivals and events.
Cape Town really needs no introduction. One of the most beautiful cities in the world is graced with Table Mountain and surrounded by majestic sea. Take your pic of entertainments and beaches, you really cannot go wrong. My top 3 listed below.
- Zietz MOCCA: The new kid on the block is the recently opened Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. An architectural delight, this museum has the WOW factor and shouldn’t be missed!
- Boulders Beach Penguins: I never get tired of recommending the African penguins at Boulders Beach. These little guys are just wonderful and the setting on the edge of the stunning waters of False Bay is spectacular.
- Cape Town Cable Way: It's worth battling the crowds to get to the top of Table Mountain for views that are simply spectacular! For the more fit amongst us, take a walk up Platteklip Gorge and rest your limbs on the Cable Car down. It’s a fixture and a feature of any trip to the Mother City.