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South Africa’s incredible diversity is reflected not only in its beautiful landscapes but also in its traditions. Aptly named “the rainbow nation” because it’s made up of diverse cultures and religions, South Africa boasts 11 official languages. At Boldr, we believe that our communities’ movements and history should be honored as they paved the road toward equity and freedom. Join us as we dive deeper into South Africa’s holidays.

New Year’s Day (Jan 1): South Africa celebrates New Year’s Day on January 1st. As a public holiday, the majority of people have the day off from work, while schools are also closed. In many parts of the southern hemisphere, New Year’s celebrations are spent outdoors due to the warm and sunny weather. Common activities to welcome the new year range from trips to the beaches to isolated firework displays to family gatherings around a fireplace with meat sizzling on the braai.

Second New Year (Jan 2): Tweede Nuwe Jaar originated long ago as an alternative New Year celebration for slaves to have a day off from work obligations. During this time they dressed up in minstrel clothing and danced to the lively sounds of tubas, banjos, guitars, and whistles. This colorful parade, traditionally performed by the Kaapse Klopse, became known as the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival and is still celebrated today.

Human Rights Day (21 March): This day is historically linked to the events that took place in Sharpeville on March 21, 1960. On that day, a peaceful protest took place against the pass laws, which were discriminatory laws restricting the movement of black South Africans. A clash between protesters and policemen unleashed leading to the deaths of 69 civilians. This event was a turning point in the apartheid era and became a day to commemorate Human Rights in South Africa.

Good Friday (7 April): In South Africa, Good Friday is recognized as a national public holiday, and it is observed with various religious and cultural traditions. It is a holiday to commemorate Christ’s death and it takes place before Easter Sunday. As in many other countries in the world, common activities during Good Friday include praying, meditating, fasting, and attending church.

Family Day (10 April): This public holiday is observed the day after Easter Sunday, allowing families to enjoy a long Easter weekend. Most families visit the beach or take this long weekend as a perfect excuse to go on a road trip.

Freedom Day (April 27): The first democratic elections in South Africa were held on April 27th, 1994. This was significant because it was the first post-apartheid national elections where anyone could vote regardless of race. Freedom Day commemorates South Africa’s remarkable progress since 1994 and honors the country’s past and the many sacrifices made to ensure its independence, democracy, and freedom. 

Workers Day (May 1): May 1st is a day to honor the contributions of trade unions and worker’s movements to create better working conditions and implement labor rights. It serves as a reminder of the struggles overcome to secure social justice.

Youth Day (June 16): On June 16th, 1976, the Soweto Uprising took place in South Africa. It marked a pivotal moment in the struggle against apartheid, the system of racial segregation and oppression that was in force in the country at that time. The youth played a role in fighting to stop the inequality and oppression caused by the apartheid regime, joining liberation movements in exile. Today Youth Day in South Africa is a day to remember and celebrate the lives of those lost.

National Women’s Day (August 9): Women’s movements all around the world set a precedent for the establishment of women’s rights. In South Africa, August 9th marks the anniversary of the great women’s march of 1956, where they gathered in the Union Buildings to protest against the carrying of pass-books. Today South Africa celebrates their bravery and success.

Heritage Day (September 24): This holiday, known by locals as Braai Day, recognizes and celebrates the cultural wealth of South Africa and its heritage. There is a lot of significance behind the holiday as it represents the spirit of reconciliation after the devastating effects of apartheid. Expect to see locals wearing traditional clothing that has cultural significance unique to their heritage.

Day of Reconciliation (December 16): This is one of the more important dates in South African history as it marks the end of apartheid. This holiday came into effect in 1995 and the purpose of the day was to foster unity and reconciliation across the nation. The date was chosen because of its relevance to past events that were of importance to both African and Afrikaner cultures.

Christmas Day (December 25): The South African Christmas holiday is unique due to its summery setting and customs. As in many other countries, schools are closed, and most people get the day off from work. Christmas activities include swimming, hiking, and gathering with family. The diversity of cultures in South Africa has brought along special traditions during this time of year.

Day of Goodwill (December 26): This holiday replaces Boxing Day and serves as a rest day after Christmas. In 1994, the South African government renamed this holiday as an indicator of the country’s independence. 

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Aitana Rangel Garibay is Boldr’s creative writer and she is passionate about writing purpose-driven stories.