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date: 24 May 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on Southern Africa, examining how the transformation of Johannesburg and the Witwatersrand into the region’s industrial gold-mining hub has shaped the Christmas culture of the last one hundred years. What follows scrutinizes three distinct Christmas Days in and around Johannesburg. First, I show how the largely unattached male community of early twentieth-century Johannesburg interpreted Christmas as a period of (licensed) seasonal debauchery, while also pointing to the evangelical temperance organizations simultaneously pioneering a new definition of urban respectability. Moving to the 1930s, the chapter charts the rise of a new black middle-class in the city, and the manner in which Christmas celebrations became an opportunity to demonstrate their upward social progress and purchasing power, part of their larger argument for equal rights within a repressive and racially segregated South Africa. The final Christmas Day snapshot looks at the complex rural–urban networks that characterized the lives of those who worked in Johannesburg. It argues that annual labour migration patterns—whereby most city workers returned ‘home’ to the countryside over Christmas—established the holiday as a key node in monetary networks of obligation, support, and exchange. The chapter concludes by showing that most rural ‘African Independent Churches’ have emphasized other liturgical events—for example, Easter, or devising entirely new celebrations—due to Christmas’ popular associations with alcoholism and criminality.

Keywords: Southern Africa, migrancy, industrialization, urbanization, rural–urban networks, criminality, temperance, respectability, African Independent Churches

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