By far the majority of the inhabitants of traditional safari areas are Christians who celebrate Christmas as the biggest holiday of the year! However, this time of year in Africa (as with the rest of the southern hemisphere) is quite different to the typical and traditional roaring fires, snow-clad landscapes with snowmen, decorated trees and heavy meals of countries in the northern hemisphere that celebrate the holiday. Another big difference is that in Africa it is still primarily a holiday where the commercial aspect has not overshadowed the religious significance.
For rural folk, there are no ‘traditional’ carols or festivities and the decorating of trees and exchanging of gifts is not the norm. In urban environments, commercialisation of the holiday has however taken hold and in the weeks leading up to Christmas you will find widespread use of decorations, lights, trees and carols in shopping precincts with everybody marketing ‘gifts’ for Christmas.
What therefore makes Christmas ’special’ for us at Beat About The Bush? Here is a list of some of our favourites!
1. In common with most other countries, this is the year’s most important family occasion and we enjoy getting together with all our family members – immediate and extended – and friends for get-togethers where we can catch up and have no pressing work issues……taking a break from the constant connectivity and communications of the rest of the year.
2. Being the height of the local summer, this is a best time to spend long lazy days on the beach or at the pool, braaing (BBQ) almost every day and not to forget the obligatory ‘sundowners’ with excellent local gins. We then keep the fires going into the evenings where the odd roasted marshmallow and Amarula goes down a treat!
3. The rains have started (generally) and after a long, dry winter it is wonderful to celebrate the regeneration and rebirth of the land as grasses and leaves sprout, migrant birds return central and north Africa, Europe and Asia. The days are filled with vibrant birdsong and colourful flowers, and babies of every kind are born. The air is filled with energy and all life flourishes as the land is more bountiful.
4. The spectacular rain clouds and storms create a vibrant electricity that is exciting to witness. Wonderful sunsets, the smell of rain in the air and sparkling landscapes after a downpour make for magical memories. Few people from the northern hemisphere can understand how exciting the rain in Africa is. Not only does it bring new life, but it is desperately needed for agriculture and filling dams on a water-parched continent. Those who have experienced a true African thunderstorm will understand. Often only lasting half an hour, 100mm (4 inches) can fall accompanied by deafening thunder and blinding lightning.
5. Food, food everywhere! Christmas food is not the normal affair here in Africa. Turkey, for example, is the exception rather then the rule and given that it is likely to be 100-110F, a hot meal is just not appealing. A poolside braai (chicken, lamb chops and local boerewors sausage), cold cuts or some delicious local fish with salads is more likely while for dessert we have hot fruit cake with custard and ice-cream and trifle (layers of jello, custard, cream and chocolate & nut flakes on a bed of sherry soaked finger cookies). Small pastries with spicy fruit ‘mince’ - called Christmas Mince Pies – are also an institution here!
6. Celebrations at the lodges. The staff at the lodges will always make an effort to make Christmas in Africa memorable for visitors. Decorations are generally subdued but there will be ‘African’ trees with decorations and certainly the atmosphere and Christmas day are different in terms of the menus and ‘occasions / events’ on offer. You will certainly be made to feel like part of the family if on safari at this time.
7. This is the season of giving and it is wonderful to see how people open their hearts (and wallets) in order to support a good cause or those in greater need than themselves. There are many truly deserving charities to donate to over the Christmas season here in Africa. Giving is a big part of what this season is about and an enormous difference can be made in Africa. For example, sending Christmas presents through a reputable charity or donating to an aid organisation that protects rhinos are some of the many options.
8. An atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm. We love this time of year as most people are off work and a laid-back holiday atmosphere prevails where there is no rush, people are polite, jovial, accommodating and cooperative. It is a time of outdoor activity, picnics, games and sports and a lust for all things fun! But perhaps above all the children are so excited with their countdown to Christmas day and the arrival of Santa (Father Christmas here) and the gifts they may get – depending on how good they have been…..if only we had this as a disciplinary tool throughout the year!!
We hope you will have a wonderful Christmas / Holiday period wherever you are and however you celebrate this time of year