A Cape Colony Christmas in 1863 and Strawberry Santas Gone Bad

I have been away again. I was here, in the bush; out of mobile phone range, without electricity, surrounded by the Big 5, with two wild animals of my own, one of whom rolled off the dining room table and smashed out their front teeth. Well, they’re dangling by a thread and the 5 dentists (yes, there are only 5 of them) working in South Africa over the Christmas holidays could do no more than give us telephonic advice. They have suggested we wait and see. They might firm up again or if there is nerve damage, my beautiful 3 year-old daughter’s teeth will start to turn black, at which point we might be able to get an appointment to see one of the big 5. Despite the blood and potential toothlessness, this is an improvement on our last family holiday in the bush when my husband drove over our son with a Land Rover. He was fine. You can read all about on my husband’s blog.


And now it’s Christmas Eve day and I’ve run out of time to tell you all the wonderful stories of the characters of the Lowveld. I’ll start in the New Year. There are stories of hunters, of Rain Queens, of malaria and its heart-breaking devastation, of robbers and scoundrels, of buried treasures and gold rushes, of great Kings and brave Chiefs, of magic and ghosts and a river of stars. The bush is truly a magical place and filled with such rich history. So, next year, while my hubby writes about its ecosystem, I’ll tell its human stories.

For today though, Happy Christmas to all who celebrate it. Thanks for reading my blog occasionally. Enjoy your holidays. Enjoy your families. I’ll leave you with an article about Christmas in The Cape of Good Hope in 1863. It was published in The Cape & Natal News in March of 1864.

christmas cape town


We have our own way of spending our holidays, and know how to keep up our spirits (writes “The Lounger,” in the ” Town Talk” of a Cape Town journal) We retain many of the customs of the old country. We do not forget nor neglect the religious origin and character of the festival. The Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics go to churches decorated in such a style as churches cannot be decorated in countries where the snow covers up all the treasures of Nature.

Look at those garlands, festoons and wreathes of brightest, freshest green, interwoven with brilliant flowers of every hue. Look at those stars, crosses, and other appropriate devices, composed of everlasting flowers. You have no such things in the country.

The Dutch, though they do not decorate their churches, attend them in crowds; for strict Calvinists though they be in most matters of doctrine, Christmas Day is to them one of the most solemn and sacred in the year. Coming from church – not through crunching snow under our feet, but in town through hot, dusty, sweltering streets, through shady lanes, with the perfume of orange blossom and a thousand other flowers wafted to us on a welcome breeze from the orchard gardens, and cornfields – we go home and sit down to our hot heavy orthodox Christmas dinners of roast beef and plum-pudding, with the thermometer standing at 90 or 100 degrees in the shade. But we do not sit long over our wine and walnuts. For as evening comes on our rooms, cool during the day, become oppressively hot. No closed windows or shutter here now. Every door and window is thrown open to admit the slightest breeze. But still it gets hotter within doors.

Round House picnic taken a good few years after the newspaper article was written.

Round House picnic taken a good few years after the newspaper article was written.

We go out under trees, among flowers, and there to spend out Christmas evening. As the day closes, a full, round, summer moon with a rich rosy blush, caught from the sun which has just set in a blaze of colour in the western waves, rises over the far distant mountains, flooding the landscape with such a glorious sheen as never you saw in northern climes. No, sirs you never saw such a Christmas Day and evening as we had here last year. Our climate is renowned – fine days and even finer evenings are not scarce with us; but even we were in raptures. We did not envy you your snowy fields and frosted trees, your cosy rooms and roaring fires. Out in open air, in the clear moonlight, we gathered in happy groups, and there told our Christmas tales, played our Christmas games, and sang our Christmas songs. And there we drank to your healths, and thought of you fondly and affectionately; did not envy you; did not wish that we were there with you, but that you were with us, to see how we spend our Christmas in this sunny southern clime.

And we are fonder of Christmas and New Year than you are, so fond of them that we are not content with one day, but have a second Christmas Day and a second New Year’s Day.


On all these four days, the last two especially, Capetown streets – the business ones at any rate – were completely deserted. Not a workhouse, office or shop was open. No work of any kind whatever was done. Even the newspaper proprietors sent their papers to press some thirty-six hours before they were published, in order to give their printers two full holidays. New Year’s Day and the following day are greater holidays with the old Cape settlers that the Christmas days. And the were never more thoroughly enjoyed than they were this year. The weather continued as fine as it had been at Christmas, and picnics were the general order of the day for all classes. The trains took thousands of passengers out to all stations between this and Wellington, the tramway cars were filled with those wishing to picnic at Sea Point; omnibuses and carts plying from earliest morn took hundreds to cool retreats at Mowbray, Rondebosch, Newlands, Wynberg, and Constantia; the woods skirting Table Mountain, and those clothing the sides of the picturesque little valley which runs down into Camp’s Bay, were alive with people. No, sirs, you in the old country don’t know what a New Year’s Day picnic party is.

Camp's Bay 1922

Camp’s Bay 1922

March 15 1864

Thanks to Trisha McLeod of the Rootsweb South African Immigrants mailing list for the original transcription.

And with that, I must return to my strawberry Santas. In our hot southern climes, the cream is melting and our cute strawberry Santas are looking a little worse for the wear. My hubby tells me that they are freaking him out staring at him from the fridge with their dribbling pom-poms and leaky beards. I’m hoping the children will be more forgiving.

Hot Santa!

Hot Santa!

15 thoughts on “A Cape Colony Christmas in 1863 and Strawberry Santas Gone Bad

  1. Do hope that the teeth will be OK. Loved the article as usual.I found out through Pinterest that you also like Georgia O’Keefe and Ray. Looks like we are closer than we thought!!Have a Happy one.Love ya

    Date: Mon, 24 Dec 2012 06:24:46 +0000 To: chefnancylee722@msn.com

  2. Clever Christmas treat! I’ll have to remember that for next year. Sorry about your bad luck with the teeth. My daughter did that at about the same age. She had one dark front baby tooth until her permanent teeth came in.Hope it works out- stays in, that is. 🙂

  3. Bashed teeth? Not a good xmas present for anyone 😦 Despite that, I hope you all had a great xmas and new years!
    New Years in 1864 sounds like a real celebration the poor train drivers though, they were the only ones who had to go to work.

    After those hints I am very much looking forward to the posts you have planned in the coming year 🙂 I think I might have to steal your strawberry santa idea too, the kids would love them.

    • Steal away but be warned in Australia they will melt too and look more like old-school Santa; the one who gave you coal in a sock if you were naughty than that jolly ho ho ho chap. With boys though, scary, vengeful Santa might just be able to hold his swag for a few more years than old’ sing-along.

      The holidays were lovely thanks but I am so so SO ready for school to go back now.

      • I was thinking of trying icecream on the santas and freezing them! Scary santa would go well with the boys, just as zombie chocolate bunny did at easter.

        We only just started school holidays here a few days before xmas, a few more weeks of sleeping in and hanging out to go yet. I really enjoy school holidays and there won’t be too many more (with number 1) when he just wants to hang around with us so I am trying to appreciate them all the more this time.

      • I do have to pinch myself every now and then when I think that our eldest is nearly 9. The time does fly and one should treasure it. Some days are harder to treasure than others 🙂

      • I hear ya. Number 1 goes to high school next year and, quite frankly, I am not grown up enough to have a high school aged child. Clearly I am old enough, I just can’t accept it! He was toddler just last week wasn’t he?!
        Those days when I hear a whiny “muuuuuum” for the millionth time though, that is when I feel old old old…..

    • Thanks! I thought the site needed an update because of the mention in this month’s O Mag. Thank your lovely Sven (shameless plug for Marot & Sanders, people of the internet. Sven at Marot & Sanders. He rocks.) for designing cool borders and logo for me.

      Did I mention that Marot & Sanders rocks?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s