Christmas in Jo'burg

A street vendor sells Christmas decorations in Johannesburg A street vendor sells Christmas decorations in Johannesburg

For Milton Nkosi, analyst/correspondent in the Africa Bureau in Johannesburg, Christmas is a time of blue skies, barbecues and memories of his young sister, who died of HIV/Aids this time last year.

What Christmas traditions are kept in South Africa?

Spending time with family and loved ones is still the most kept of all Christmas traditions. It's also the time when the high number of people who go to church tends to increase. Sending messages of goodwill via Christmas cards and the buying of gifts are still big, even in poor parts of the country.

Milton Nkosi Milton Nkosi: Skies are blue but cards picture snow

The good thing about Christmas here is the weather. We do not lock ourselves indoors because, for us, Christmas means summertime. There's that big blue sky around Christmas in South Africa, but our Christmas cards have snow on them - an influence of our colonial past. Sometimes I wish that those who colonised us had had summer during their Christmas, so that our Christmas cards could reflect the beautiful weather that we enjoy.

Another bugbear is Santa Claus. Most of our Father Christmas figures at shopping centres wear heavy, warm clothes and a huge beard. I feel for the poor blokes buried in the thick, woollen garments when I see them sweat in the heat as they entertain young ones.

What do people typically eat and drink on Christmas Day?

South Africa is amongst the biggest meat-eating countries in the world and people tend to gather around a 'braai', which is what you would call a barbecue. Others slaughter an ox, a sheep or a goat to thank the ancestors for keeping them out of harm's way in the year leading up to Christmas.

Milton Nkosi's family open their Christmas gifts Milton Nkosi's family open their Christmas gifts
Does religion play a major part in the celebrations?

Religion still plays a major role in Christmas celebrations in South Africa. Church attendance tends to increase during big Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas. Christmas is also associated with a massive movement of people who criss-cross the country going to their homes. Most people travel great distances looking for employment opportunities, leaving their loved ones behind in the rural areas. So when it's Christmas, the great trek begins - they all return home to the far-flung corners of this country to spend quality time before they return to the mines or big cities again in the New Year.

How do the people of South Africa see in the New Year?

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Growing up in Soweto under apartheid, Christmas was a time when everyone in our street... would turn up in their Sunday-best”

End Quote Milton Nkosi

South Africans are always optimistic about the New Year. They buy crackers and celebrate with traditional and modern alcoholic drinks. South Africans love a good time, so any excuse to celebrate - they come out in huge numbers.

Where/how will you spend Christmas this year?

I will be at home with my wife and two kids. We will also spend time with the wider family - cousins, nephews and nieces. In our family we lost my young and only sister this time last year and held her funeral on December 2. She was only 34 when she died of HIV and Aids. This will be our second Christmas without her. My two brothers and I will spend time with our mother - crying and laughing as we share our greatest and funniest memories of Senele.

Do you have a favourite Christmas memory?

Growing up in Soweto under apartheid, Christmas was a time when everyone in our street in Orlando West would turn up in their Sunday best. It was the time when most people got new clothes for the year ahead and I used to love seeing the big smiles on their faces as they sought approval for their slightly oversized new garments. It brings a smile as I think about it, even if it's decades after I joined my comrades in seeking praise for my new pair of slightly bigger shoes.


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