Today South Africans get the day off to celebrate Heritage Day. But what exactly are we celebrating?
When I first got here, I asked people that question on nearly every public holiday. The meaning behind Heritage Day elicited more blank stares than most, so I looked it up. Turns out it’s not just a long weekend to celebrate the coming Summer weather, and there’s a good reason people aren’t sure why they get the 24th of September off – it’s a relatively new holiday. According to good ‘ole Wiki, Heritage Day celebrates “…the diverse cultural heritage that makes up a “rainbow nation“. It is the day to celebrate the contribution of all South Africans to the building of South Africa.” It was added to SA’s list of public holidays only in 1995.
In 2005 there was a movement to change the name of the holiday to National Braai Day, and although it didn’t officially take hold it is still they name by which what many people know this long weekend. Rather than celebrating all the different cultures that make up the country, Braai4Heritage proposes that South Africans celebrate a tradition that brings South Africans from all walks of life together – braai-ing meat (and maybe other things) over an open flame. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the official patron of the day: he talks below about why he thinks Braai day a positive, “unifying” holiday (and apparently can cook up a mean chop himself.)
On a lighter note, I’ve also dug up some important braai etiquette that you should know, just in case you find yourself in the vicinity of a Weber today.
As anyone who has ever moved to another place knows, a large part of your initial ‘settling in’ is made up of identifying everything that makes this place different from what you know. Despite many similarities to what I’ve grown up with and experienced in other places, particularly the UK, I’ve had to get used to all sorts of ‘new’ things – strange words and phrases, foods, customs, obsessions, odd habits. Even after living here nearly two years (!) I pick up something new every day, it seems. As I am inclined to do, I’ve been keeping lists of some of the odds and ends I’ve picked up. Many of them have become part of my everyday life and lingo, so much so that I sometimes forget how odd they seemed when I first arrived. I thought it might be fun to post some of my observations here, in part to give those who haven’t had the opportunity to travel to this beautiful country a little taste of its uniqueness (and equally to explain a little to friends and family in the US since I always get grief when I come home to Mpls for sounding ‘funny’). So, for those of you who haven’t had the distinct pleasure of having a ‘lekker’ ‘braii’ while overlooking ‘the mountain’, sipping some Black Label with your ‘chinas’…ok, enough. If you’re not sure what I’m on about, stay tuned for future SA101 posts…
Some disclaimers: For you SAfricans reading, feel free to correct me if I get things totally wrong. (If I do, I fully blame it on my cultural translator, Nick. He has been away from SA for awhile, after all…). I also fully admit that my knowledge of South Africa, particularly the language and culture, is heavily influenced by the fact that my family and many friends here are English (speaking) South Africans. I’m sure there are MANY other South Africanisms I am missing out on – I hope my horizons will continue to widen the longer I’m here.