If you are planning to visit Africa in December, particularly around the holiday season, make sure to book at least a year, or even two in advance! December marks the beginning of the long summer holidays throughout sub-Saharan Africa, so both local and overseas tourists book their vacations at the beach and at safari lodges and camps. Christmas is celebrated by Christians (and many non-Christian friends and neighbors) in most African countries,. Goats are in peril this time of year as the preferred Christmas dinner, and churches are filled with joyous song. From Nairobi on down to Cape Town you’ll see lovely plastic Christmas trees adorned with fake snow. If you are enjoying a safari over Christmas expect to wear paper hats and enjoy a traditional “British Christmas” celebration, courtesy of the colonial heritage in many countries. You won’t see any Kwanzaa celebrations, that’s a uniquely north American holiday.
December brings summer rains to much of southern Africa, with a short rainy season in East Africa, so expect warm temperatures throughout the major safari and beach destinations, with a chance of a thunderstorm here and there to cool off the day. Birdwatching is spectacular this month, the Okavango Delta camps, and lodges around the Chobe and Zambezi rivers in particular, are filled with “twitchers” from around the world. Watch out for large tele-photo lenses and more excitement around a Pel’s Fishing Owl sighting, than a lion kill.
In East Africa the great migration of wildebeest and zebra heads toward the southern Serengeti and Ndutu plains for the green pastures. It’s a fantastic spectacle, shared by many happy predators who are spoiled for choice. Pregnant females abound as the incredible baby boom generally starts in February.
Cape Town is at its most festive in December. The holidays are in full swing and the warm weather makes for perfect picnic weather in the Winelands, or at the beach. Summer outdoor concerts are in full swing and New Year’s Eve fills up all the clubs and hot spots around town. If you plan on celebrating the holidays in Cape Town, dinner reservations are a “must” at least 2 months out at the more popular restaurants.
December Festivals and Events to Keep in Mind…
- 24/25 December and 31 December – the vast majority of African countries celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day is a public holiday throughout Africa so banks and all government offices as well as many businesses will be closed.
- 28 December – Incwala Harvest Festival is also known as the “Festival of the First Fruits,” Ncwala is Swaziland’s biggest festival and one of Africa’s most interesting. Ancestors are remembered, the first harvest is celebrated and above all, the King is honored. The two main celebrations are Little Ncwala and Big Ncwala. The exact timing of the festival is up to the king’s astrologers but it starts in December.
- 31 Dec/1 January – Cape Town Minstrel Carnival is celebrated in great raucous style. The parades are huge flamboyant affairs with grand costumes, wonderful marching bands, singing, dancing and more. Needless to say, few Capetonians make it to work on the 2nd of January.
- December (TBD) – Maasai Olympics takes place in the Amboseli region (Kenya) every two years in December. It was started as a innovative conservation strategy to encourage young Maasai men to show off their manhood by participating in traditional active events (Olympics with a Maasai twist), as opposed to the even more traditional rite of passage – to hunt and kill lions.
- December (TBD) – Maker Faire Africa is held every two years in a different African capital city. The Faire brings together a compendium of handcrafters that hail from Africa’s tiniest villages to her most expansive urban burgs. What they have in common is an unwavering commitment to origin, ingenuity and innovation. A fellowship of creators who believe making is the most authentic form of manufacturing, and manufacturing is what forges a vigorous middle class.