21 September 2012

Holidays

When South Africa reformulated itself in 1994 into the modern republic it is today, it also revamped their Public Holiday calendar.  Today, the country celebrates 12 public holidays, 2 more than the United States does.  I was surprised to see that only Christmas and New Year's Day are common holidays between the two countries, which both fall in the middle of the height of summer school holidays here.  I'm still pretty sure I would have trouble trying to celebrate Christmas in the heat of summer, but that's how it works in the southern hemisphere.

This weekend is a long weekend here in South Africa, as Monday celebrates Heritage Day, a day set aside for all South Africans to celebrate their culture and its unique contributions to the heritage of the country.  When the public holiday calendar was being re-worked, the Zulu people from KwaZulu-Natal were not pleased that their holiday celebrating King Shaka was not included.  Shaka Zulu is often regarded as one of the more influential tribal leaders in South African history, and left a legacy of unification between different factions in the Zulu Kingdom.

The powers that be decided to continue to celebrate the King's birthday, but re-branded it as a new national holiday, Heritage Day. In recent years, the day has become known as National Braai Day, where the entire country is encouraged to get together with friends and family and have a local Braai to celebrate something that every person in the country here loves to do--grill meat over a fire!  Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, is in on the celebration, becoming the patron of National Braai Day, encouraging the country to forge together not in one giant Braai, but to just gather and celebrate.  When asked how vegetarians should celebrate, he responded, "They can stand and watch."

One of the major benefits to me of working for a government mission is that both sets of holidays are celebrated, and the embassies are closed for both US and South African holidays; I'm not sure where that tradition started, but it gives me an extra day to travel, so I'm fine with it.