Christmas in South Africa
Jon and Dawn Barnes – South Africa
We are not dreaming of a white Christmas, but rather a day at the beach with family and a big barbeque grill! Christmas here in South Africa is in the height of summer time and is celebrated somewhat different than in the United States. Since it is summer time all the children are on a month long break from school and many people take this time off from work as well.
Some businesses shut down for the month of December. Even the home office of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, our partner church here, is closed for the month. People take this holiday very seriously and are intent on truly relaxing. And you will find that most people celebrate Christmas Day outside in their backyards, down at the beach or anywhere that they can be together with family and friends. Christmas in South Africa is about being with family and friends, sharing a meal together and about relaxing. It is not about a Christmas tree, gifts or Santa Claus. Quite a contrast to our culture of Christmas in the USA!
We often say that there is much for us, as Americans, to learn from our brothers and sisters here in Africa. And this is one of those things! The first Christmas we spent here in South Africa was just the two of us. We put up our fake Christmas tree, while sweating, and listened to “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” on CD. We were forcing what we know as Christmas into our lives here. We exchanged gifts on Christmas day with each other and then went to eat lunch with our friends. We found them with their entire family out on their front porch eating, chatting, laughing and relaxing together. Then we all headed down to the beach for a walk and a dip. We quickly learned our lesson about what Christmas here means! It was not about “what did you get for Christmas or from Santa Claus?” on Christmas morning. It was about sharing relationships with the ones that you love.
The other lesson that we have learned and that we can all learn from is that giving here in South Africa is done year round…not just at Christmas. So often, we in the US, tend to gear up for our giving at Christmas…we give to the needy, the poor, the orphaned. We make special efforts to make sure people “have” something at Christmas time. But what about the rest of the year? What about sharing ourselves with others and spending time with people? South Africans give of themselves right straight through the year, day in and day out. We have seen so many instances: a granny who gives endlessly to 25 orphaned children, a lady who shares her food with a neighbor who does not have any, a boy who shares his 2 Rand with a friend to buy a bag of chips, people giving others that they do not know a ride into town, a woman giving of her time, skills and talents to an organization without any monetary compensation and knowing there is no income for her family, and the list could go on. Here in South Africa, you can show up at someone’s house, totally unexpected, and get the warmest welcome with tea and biscuits, and a readily listening ear available to hear your news or problems. People do not worry about their own agenda; rather it is people and the relationships that are important. People here give when there is nothing to give but themselves.
We have much to learn from our African brothers and sisters. Why do we not change our theology of giving and even our traditions of the holidays? Let us focus this year on our relationships, on giving of ourselves to others and on relaxing. Whether we are buried in snow or sand…may your holidays be blessed!
Revs. Jon and Dawn Barnes
Jonathan and Dawn Barnes are missionaries with the Kei Regional Council of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, South Africa. They serve as development officers in the Kei region of the Eastern Cape of South Africa.