South Africa is a diverse country in the Southern Hemisphere, so Christmas falls in the summer. Schools are closed for a month, businesses often close for a month as well, and many people go camping.
Just as in Australia, Christmas in South Africa is often spent on the beach. Christmas means flowers and fireworks, though some people also have Christmas trees. Gifts are exchanged, but the focus of the holiday is on relaxing with friends and family.
There are some nice picture books for this study:
Rachel Isadora’s The 12 Days of Christmas is set in Africa generally, with illustrations from various countries including South Africa.
An African Christmas Cloth tells the simple story of a South African city dweller taking a trip around the countryside and bringing back a Christmas cloth — which is in fact the embroidered illustrations of this geography-packed book.
This video from NorthPoleChristmas features a South African Christmas song that may be familiar to your students, “Sing Noel,” with pictures and greetings from South Africa:
Once you’ve gotten in the mood with stories and music, get a clear idea of the geography of South Africa. Geology.com has a good map.
South Africa was once a British colony, and the people there continue to observe many English Christmas customs. Christmas usually involves lunch outdoors, but it’s not a simple picnic. It includes traditional English Christmas foods like turkey, roast beef, and trifle .
South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Many more languages are spoken there. Have students practice their research skills by tracking down holiday greetings in as many of the languages as possible. We particularly like this activity because we still often hear people talk about “African” as though the entire continent of African used a single language.
Make decorations for your classroom tree in traditional South African styles. Zulu beadwork includes many different types of bead stringing and weaving. Create bead stars or circles in this style. An Australian tutorial gives step by step instructions for creating a bead star that looks much like these Zulu ornaments.
There are many other traditional South African crafts which are now used to create Christmas ornaments. Make puppets of animals or people with arms and legs attached with brads. The link has step by step instructions from South African blogger Se7en.
Wire angels are another popular item. Use pipe cleaners to create simple shapes and attach them together to create an angel. A simple diagram is shown below.
South African wire angels often have beads strung on the wire, or decorative loops of wire. Let students begin with the simple shapes and add their own creativity to make something unique. If angels are not suitable for your classroom, consider making people or animals. The idea of beginning with simple materials and simple shapes, and then embellishing them with individual creativity will help convey the South African artistic tradition. We made a simple wire angel with ordinary soft jewelry wire: