December and January are high summer in southern Africa and, in many southern African countries, it’s the long school holidays. The weather is great and there’s an air of fun and frivolity.
A melting pot of cultures and religions, there are a number of major holiday days celebrated during December and January in Africa. And here, festivities usually involve singing, dancing, eating and celebrating!
It’s a bright, colourful (and hot!) time of year.
Christmas in southern Africa
A large portion of southern Africans practice Christianity. This encompasses a wide range of sects, most of whom celebrate Christmas. Christmas Day is celebrated on the 25th of December and in many southern African countries both the 25th and 26th of December are public holidays.
The day is celebrated – in true African style – with time with family and friends attending church services and then feasting. Feasting often takes the form of a braai or barbecue – meat cooked slowly over a fire while those gathered socialise.
Genna: Christmas in Ethiopia
Ethiopia, too, has a large Christian population, mainly attending the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which follows the Julian calendar. Christmas Day – called Genna – falls on the 7th of January and the day before is traditionally a day of fasting.
As Genna dawns, traditionalists don their shammas, a white cotton garment, and attend the early mass. The mass is accompanied by choir-singing, the lighting of candles and the Prayer Walk, processional walking around the church.
After the church services, families and friends get together and celebrate with feasting, often including wat, a spicy stew made of meat and vegetables, scooped up with flat bread, injera. Traditionally, the meal is accompanied by a wine-like drink made using honey, called tej.
While we don’t have the New Year’s Eve ball of Times Square, most of Africa celebrates the coming of the New Year with great fervour and celebration. Parties are organised at homes, in clubs, on beaches and at bigger venues with pretty spectacular outlooks. There’s something to suit everybody.
The – fast becoming infamous – Vic Falls New Year’s Festival in Zimbabwe/Zambia now runs over three days. Party-goers gather in their thousands to celebrate, along with some of the best musicians Africa has to offer, at what must be one of the most spectacular spots on earth, the Victoria Falls!
In Malawi, New Year is referred to as Chilimike and is, as throughout the rest of Africa, celebrated with music, dancing and revelry which continues well into the new day.
Basically, whether you’re in a bustling city, or out in the middle of nowhere with just the spectacular African night sky above you, there’s sure to be a celebration of the New Year!
Kaapse Klopse in Cape Town
Dating back to the days of the slaves in Cape Town, who celebrated their rare day off for the new year, this tradition keeps on. Usually on the 2nd of January, known as Tweede Nuwejaar (second New Year), the streets of Bo-Kaap and the CBD are filled with colour and music.
Up to 10 000 minstrels, grouped into clubs – each with their own distinctive, brightly-coloured satin suits, bow-ties, hats and umbrellas – take to the streets, as thousands more line the pavements to watch this wildly joyous celebration.
Timkat: The Baptism of Jesus (Ethiopia)
This three-day festival from the 19th of January, is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus. The streets are filled with colourful processions and music, led by the priest carrying the Tabot on his head.
It’s a time of rejoicing, celebrating and feasting.
No matter how, or where, you celebrate the many festivals in Africa over the December/January period, you'll be assured of having a good time with great people.