Does SA lack festive feels because we have sun, not snow?

For many South Africans, the real feel of Christmas is found in a snowy winter wonderland. Picture: Sveta K/Pexels

For many South Africans, the real feel of Christmas is found in a snowy winter wonderland. Picture: Sveta K/Pexels

Published Dec 25, 2022


It may not be a super common feeling, but many South Africans dream of a white Christmas, with the idea that beautiful lights, gentle snow, and glistening, wet streets encompass the real feel of the festive holidays.

This is even seen in the way we decorate our homes and the ornaments we hang on our Christmas trees.

But is the frosty white Christmas really all it is cracked up to be? Or do we take for granted our sunny days, beaches, and evening braais?

IOL reached out to expats on Facebook who have emigrated to the United Kingdom and Ireland, and as it turns out, having that winter wonderland fairy tale is everything they dreamed it would be, and more.

“Christmas in the cold is just magical,” says Jade Potgieter.

“Every single traditional thing about Christmas was designed for the cold. For example, look at Father Christmas...his large suit and snowy beard isn’t suited to a hot 30 degree day. Christmas in the cold in the UK is wonderful. I absolutely love it but do miss spending the day lazing with extended family and friends.”

Even when still living in South Africa, Lydia Orsmond says the movie-styled white Christmas she did not yet know seemed to carry a more Christmas and festive feel than she was experiencing. And now that she knows the ambiance of a winter Christmas, she has found that sentiment to be true.

“Christmas in the cold is beautiful. My family, having come from England, celebrated as they always had – same traditions, etc, which make more sense now. This is our first Christmas we have had as residents and not visitors, and we love it; it feels 'right'.

“The Christmas lights in people's windows and gardens (that don't get stolen!), wreaths on the doors, the atmosphere everywhere is so festive and homes are cosy and warm. Love the traditions and feels so much less commercialised.”

While being fun, happy, and about reconnecting with family and friends, Angela Raines says southern hemisphere Christmases do not conjure up the same feelings of a true northern hemisphere Christmas.

“Beach, sand, sun, and braai, and the vibes of summer made us go home every year for so long, and I cherish those special times, but now living in the UK, the true joy and spirit of Christmas can be seen everywhere.

“My house has never been more decorated and I love this time of year – even if the days are shorter and I'm not a huge fan of the cold – but there is something special about a ‘white’ Christmas...”

Paula Leahy always loved Christmas as a child, and her lingering memories are of pool toys and days playing in the swimming pool.

“Once I had children, I passed that tradition on. However, as I got older I started feeling less and less Christmassy. Saying that, I always made an effort to have a big secret Santa evening with friends and family every year- that is always the highlight of my Christmas.

“We have been in the UK for just over a year now, and Christmas is just heavenly here, even more so with the recent snow. I make time out to visit the street Christmas light displays, I stop at the stations to listen to the carol singers; I feel like a child again. I've always loved Christmas but a winter Christmas, a London Christmas, definitely makes a difference.”

The ‘colours’ of Christmas are more vibrant in the UK, says Ruby Cluer.

“Against the background of white snow, or even just grey skies and drizzle, the bright reds and greens and sparkling Christmas lights take on a life not seen in sunny SA. The people really embrace all the old traditions fully as well. A new look at the season for me.”

Faith Manureki and her family only arrived in the UK at the beginning of December – just in time for the snow.

“But boy, this just a while different game of Xmas...I was so used to our loud braais with family, but here it's silent, but you definitely feel the season.”

Christmas in the UK is “so different” says Jenni-Di Martin-Brown.

“I can remember my first white Christmas in the UK in 2002. It was an experience. To build a snowman and just lie in the snow was magical...I love Christmas here, but I don't forget my Christmases in my Sunny South Africa.”

Beverly Chetty moved to UK a month ago, so it was a change from a sunny coastal home to a cold windy Scotland. Her childhood dream was to have a white Christmas and she used to imagine a Christmas tree against a backdrop of snow. So when it snowed two weeks ago, her heart “had flutters”.

“I felt that warm feeling of my childhood dreams coming true. I cannot explain my excitement with my kids. We made a snowman. We put up our Christmas tree and got the exact backdrop I dreamed about as a child. I'm so so happy to be here at a time like this.”

Photo: Beverly Chetty

On the other side of the fence, Jet Campbell spent his childhood in the UK with cold Christmases that were sometimes snowy – when they were lucky. Now living in South Africa, he says it does not feel like Christmas here.

“I’ve never got into the festive spirit here the same way I did in the UK. It’s not supposed to be 36 degrees on Christmas day.”

Megan Kim Olivier states, however, that Christmas still feels like Christmas, no matter the weather.

“We have the same traditions here in Ireland that we did in SA; we celebrate together as a family.

“This is our first cold Christmas and so far it is taken a lot more seriously here; the decorations, Christmas lights etc are way more here than we ever had in SA. Besides for the Christmas carols making more sense now, it's not the weather that makes Christmas.”

Although the majority of Christmas movies were American made, with snow, over-the-top Christmas lights on the houses, beautifully decorated Christmas trees, Samantha Job did not long for that feel while living in South Africa. And this year has been the first year that her family has experienced snow during December.

“It was lovely and felt like we were now in the movies we watched as kids.”

However, she adds: “As much as we love Christmas time in the UK, no-one can understand what ‘Woza December’ means, unless they have had a Christmas in SA. It’s long days, night swims in the pool, loud music, day drinking, sunburns, the sound of Christmas beatles in the evening, mosquito bites, sweating over a full English roast on Christmas Day, and about an extra 5 kgs put on before Jan.”

Ultimately, it seems that, despite their love of the winter wonderland fairy tale, what South Africans want, and appreciate most, about Christmas, is family.

This re-worked song below sums up what a summer Christmas is really like.