Christmas in South Africa
A Brief History
Christianity was first introduced to South Africa by the Dutch in 1652 in the form of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). Unfortunately, the DRC was also responsible for Apartheid- a policy of racial segregation. The DNC claimed these policies and beliefs had a biblical basis. Apartheid lasted for over 50 years in South Africa. Despite the abuse of biblical truth by the Dutch Reformed Church, true Christianity did grow, as persecution did not cause native Africans to lose their faith. Instead, they started their own churches and Christianity proliferated. Thus, 80% of the population professes to be Christian.
Like so many other African nations, South Africa’s people have a long history of pain and suffering. The story of how apartheid came to an end is a long and complicated one. However, there were three noteworthy figures who aided in its demise: the Anglican Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and now former President Nelson Mandela. Bishop Huddleston was educated at Oxford University and became a monk in 1939. Two years after graduating, he moved to the slums of Johannesburg where he lived and worked. Bishop Huddleston became a vehement and outspoken enemy of apartheid. He helped found Britain’s Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1959. He was recalled to England in 1956 by his superiors, who feared he would be expelled for his strong feelings expressed in a book he had published about his experiences.
Huddleston was incredibly influential in the life of Bishop Desmond Tutu, who became the first black South African Archbishop of Cape Town. Bishop Huddleston visited the young Tutu when he was in the hospital ill with TB. Later, as a young man, Tutu followed in the steps of his mentor and fellow activist, Bishop Huddleston by becoming a priest in the Anglican Church. Whereas Bishops Huddleston and Tutu chose the route of non-violent resistance to fight the evils of apartheid, after decades of little progress, Nelson Mandela grew frustrated with this approach. Thus, Mandela began a militant movement for change.
Nelson Mandela was raised by the Acting King of the Thembu people. He was groomed to assume high office, but later ran away to avoid an arranged marriage. Mandela had originally attempted to defeat apartheid through peaceful means. However, after decades of little change, he began agitating for change through various violent means. This eventually landed him in prison; but he did not allow his imprisonment to keep him from fighting for freedom for his people. After more than 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela was finally released in February 1990. He was elected to the presidency of South Africa in May 1994; the first ever to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Apartheid had come to an end.
As a predominantly Christian country, Christmas is an important holiday. And, as in other parts of Africa, the focus is on relaxation and being with family and friends. Since December 25th is the height of summer in South Africa, Christmas is a summer vacation for South Africans. Most families enjoy barbeques at the beach or camping out of doors at this special time of year. Many South Africans observe European traditions such as gift-giving, Christmas trees and decorations. Church services are held on Christmas morning, and in many areas, children and adults will go door to door singing.
Families celebrate with an open-air lunch rather than dinner on Christmas Day. Traditional South African Christmas fare consists of roast beef, suckling pig, turkey, yellow rice, mince pies, vegetables and puddings.
Boxing Day, Dec. 26th, is also a popular South African tradition. On this day, food leftover from Christmas is ‘boxed’ (or put in a picnic hamper, or other container) and taken to the beach, mountains or other places of relaxation to enjoy with friends and family. Because this holiday was traditionally tied to the British colonial past, the name was changed to the Day of Goodwill in 1980 to be more inclusive to all South Africans.
Merry Christmas is “Sinifisela Ukhisimusi Omuhle” in Zulu, in Sesotho it's "Le be le keresemese e monate," in Xhosa it's "Krismesi emnandi" and “Geseënde Kersfees” in Afrikaans.
Although South Africa is predominantly Christian, it has many deep scars from centuries of racial oppression and pain. Violent crime in South Africa is seven times that of the US, and South Africa has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. Please pray for spiritual, emotional, financial and political healing for South Africa.