Living many years in South Africa and spending the festive season the last few years in the UK I have had the privilege to experience best of both worlds, though they are the same in most respects being based on a religious holiday, presents, food, friends and family. There are still many things are very different too. It is hard to say that SA and UK Christmas are not the same, as every family can celebrate it in their own way and there are no rules for how it should be done.
In days leading up to Christmas it is time for the school year to end, work Christmas functions and summer holidays to begin. Christmas lights going up in the shopping centres and festive music playing for all the shoppers, whilst back at home Christmas trees and lights are being put up. A few days before Christmas many people have get together where is there is often more friends than family having festive food and secret Santa. I have seen this done in a few ways back home, we always brought a random gift under an agreed amount, adding it randomly to a pile of presents. Later that evening we all get to pick a number out of the hat. The goal would be to pick the last number as you have free choice out of all the gifts. Starting with number 1 choosing a gift and unwrapping it, ascending in numbers, number 2 can decide whether to steal a knowing opened gift or choose an unopened one. If they decided to take a gift from the other player that player can now open a new gift. This goes on until the last person who has the option of knowing all but one gift.
The best part of course was Christmas day, we would wake up as young children anytime we could as long as it was reasonable (4am was classed reasonably reasonable) running to the tree, having a peep and seeing ALL the gifts, running to wake the parents in complete excitement. Before opening the presents we had to wait for everyone to be in the room, while we waited for the adults to get coffees and join us, we could start on our stockings. Once everyone is at the tree opening of the big gifts began. Later we often played outside with our new gifts and swimming on a hot day whilst our parents started cooking the roast dinner. Mainly chicken or turkey is cooked with gammon, mix of vegetables, Yorkshire puddings and gravy. Desert is often trifle, layers upon layers of deliciousness. The UK often have more varieties of meat that are easily sourced, like duck and goose, which I had never considered before as a Christmas dish with Christmas pudding. Meals are often eaten in the evening when it is cooler to cook and eat with socialising into the late evening.
As the summer holidays are long and hot, spending it away is not uncommon often finding beaches or lagoons to cool down and relax. Don’t be surprised if a few South Africans have a braai for Christmas this is becoming ever more common.
The UK has been very similar, but the greatest difference is the atmosphere. The cold days and long dark nights allow lights and markets to brighten up and bring a fantastic atmosphere to Christmas. With many people looking for something to do this time of year, creativity really shines through, making the days running up to Christmas even more special adding some roast chestnuts and malt wine to warm the cockles.
Hope you have a wonderful festive season.