Festive Season, Africa-Style

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

Luigi GuarinoChristmas in Nairobi - Luigi Guarino

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

Marc VeraartLalibela, Ethiopia - Marc Veraart

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.

naomii.tumblr.comLalibela - naomii.tumblr.com

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.

New Year

South African TourismCelebration - South African Tourism

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!

Sanjoy GhoshBringing in New Year - Sanjoy Ghosh

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

South African TourismCape Minstrels, Cape Town, South Africa - South African Tourism

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)

Jean RebiffeTimkat - Jean Rebiffe

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.


If you liked this post, these trips cover similar ground…


Leave a Comment or Ask a Question

comments powered by Disqus

Places Mentioned in this Post

Similar & Related Blog Posts

Below you’ll find further reading and articles related or similar to this post.

4 of the Best Beach & Wildlife Getaways in Africa

Zanzibar IslandWhether you want to escape the winter chills or simply take a break and enjoy a change of scenery - these top African Safari Destinations are ideal for beach and wildlife holidays that you can afford! Read on

Our top 20 beaches in Africa - an African Beach Bucket List

From East Africa to South Africa, the continent is blessed with a multitude of breathtaking beaches. Our ultimate beach bucket list will reveal the beaches that pump all summer long, the best-kept sandy secrets and the beaches not to be missed. Here we share our top twenty beaches, all worthy of a place on a bucket list. Read on

40 foods to eat in Cape Town, recommended by locals

The Dogs Bollocks If you love to learn about a new place through food, read on. We asked Capetonians what they think visitors should eat when they come to their city. Some of these foods you’ll find only in Cape Town; the  others are available throughout South Africa. Read on

8 Affordable Adventures in Cape Town

Animal OceanWedged between the Cape Fold Mountains and the icy Atlantic Ocean - Cape Town has an impressive collection of affordable adventure activities to offer visitors thanks to its diverse and dramatic natural setting. Read on

Seven Cool Spots To Drink Craft Beer in Cape Town

Mellany FickA list of some of the coolest spots to drink craft beer in Cape Town – both breweries and restaurants. Read on

Where to go to avoid the crowds in summer in Cape Town

Cape Point Route In Cape Town over the summer holidays? We asked the locals where they go to avoid the crowds.  Read on

The Company’s Garden, Cape Town: Art, History, Stars and Squirrels

Monica Kaneko The Company's Garden, in central Cape Town, is an oasis of big trees, cool gardens and a squirrel paradise. Not only that, it also contains several places of interest to visit. Here's a short list of the best of them. Read on
Show us some FB Love
Follow @RealAfroSafaris