How to Ruin Christmas: a Netflix show that captures SA wedding season and all its cultural quirks

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Thando Thabethe as Beauty. (Image supplied by Netflix)
Thando Thabethe as Beauty. (Image supplied by Netflix)
  • Netflix announced that the Ramaphakela siblings will return this Festive Season with their trademark humour on a new 3-episode-series, How To Ruin Christmas: The Wedding, which premiered on 16 December 2020.
  • With a focus on a few traditional elements of tying the knot, this series starring Thando Thabethe as Beauty the bride-to-be, offers a quintessentially South African experience many will probably relate to.
  • Shortly before its release, Afika Jadezweni spoke to the lead couple and previewed the show; and as both a Christmas and wedding enthusiast, she highly recommends that others watch it too.  

December is wedding season for many a black South African - whether you're attending ceremonies weekend after public holiday after weekend (pre-Covid) or finalising the finer details of your own.   

For black South Africans, this season entails more than just a calendar of making multiple one-day-only appearances at picturesque wedding venues. It's a series of iimicimbi and preliminary traditional gatherings leading up to the main soirée of nuptials.

From amabhaso to umembheso - kilometers are traveled, meters of Shweshwe fabric are sewn, kilograms of rice, samp and vegetables are cooked, goats and sheep enter suburban backyards, and many thousands of rands are spent on gifting in the season of Brenda Fassie's Vuli'ndlela.

Of course, with a pandemic upon us, these numbers have seen a substantial decrease. 

And over recent years, it seems our generation has developed a more apparent keenness for the jovial traditional do's over the white ceremony.

READ MORE: Are black women ditching white weddings?   

I guess this is why not too long after attending one of these traditional ceremonies earlier this December, I was eager to find out just how relatable How to Ruin Christmas: The Wedding would be to young South Africans either stocking up on their Shweshwe ensembles or getting acquainted with their new in-laws, especially during the festive season. 

To satisfy my curiosity, I spoke to leading characters Thando Thabete (Beauty) and breakout star Sandile Mahlangu (Sbu). But before we get into that conversation...  

About How to Ruin Christmas 

Nothing makes a quintessential South African romantic comedy pop quite like a story with copious amounts of humour with well-timed jokes.

Busisiwe Lurayi stars as Tumi Sello, the family rebel and disappointment who begrudgingly joins her dysfunctional family for the first Christmas holidays in years. It is however, not the merry return of the prodigal daughter everyone was hoping for.

She manages to ruin her younger sister’s - Beauty Sello (Thando Thabethe) - Christmas wedding before it even takes place, and spends the next three days frantically trying to get things back on track.    

how to ruin christmas
Tumi arrives back home for her Sister's wedding. Image supplied by Netflix 

Tradition versus new money in-laws

My conversation with Thando and Sandile - the lead couple - opens with me asking to what extent the traditional aspect of tying the knot will be explored in this 3-part Netflix series.

Sandile (Sbu Thwala) explains that "the two families are so different."

"You get the one family that's rooted in culture (Sello) and you get the other family that's trying to run away from culture (Thwala). The uncle in the Sello family is the 'druncle' [drunk uncle] of the family and he wants to stay rooted into culture and he even brings [Dixie/Succulent] the sheep into the picture [to the Four Seasons], and the Thwala is new money and more 'modernised' and don't really want to take things there," he adds. 

how to ruin christmas
The mother of the groom and her first daughter-in-law. Image supplied by Netflix 

Sandile goes on to further explain that a few cultural aspects are definitely explored, and what's depicted through this is that as "more South Africans become new money now, they don't really want to participate in these cultural activities."  

"It also just shows the diversity of our celebrations," Thando (Beauty Sello) adds, also expressing the brighter side of a story that portrays a multi-cultural wedding as she says; "... the Sellos are Tswana, the Thwalas are Zulu, so it's an amalgamation of these two different cultures... and it's beautiful to watch." (sic)

The Thwala family - amaZulu

How to Ruin Christmas: the wedding

The Sello family - baTswana 

how to ruin christmas
Images supplied by Netflix 

Other South African-isms you might be familiar with include the druncle (as Sandile mentioned) who is actually the glue that sticks culture and traditions together - the goat/sheep usually cannot be slaughtered without his presence and approval. 

how to ruin christmas
Image supplied by Netflix 

Additionally, the coming together of the matriarchs of the family in their blue traditional aprons and ensembles - often called iGerimani (German etymology) in isiXhosa - to register gifts received and given, and approve the menu is also something that may have you saying "uDabs" [affectionate term for paternal aunt], or "... just like my rakgadi/makazi" at your screen.

Maybe some of our aunts wouldn't take bags of fresh produce and 3-legged pots to The Four Seasons, but late night chopping and chatting is a familiar scene.

how to ruin christmas
Image supplied by Netflix 

A Beauty(ful) and graceful bride

Here at W24, we're fascinated by brides and all that goes into their planning for the big day, so a question that was bound to come up during our chat is; What kind of bride is Beauty?

"Beauty wants the whole thing to be perfect. I think it's the anxiety of having her sister come to the wedding that really freaks her out because she's known to mess everything up," Thando says before she adds;

"But she also knows what kind of family she's marrying into - it's very different from the family she was raised in and I think a part of her is trying to live up to marrying a politician's son, yet coming from a home where the mom used the lobola money to refurbish her house." 

On being frantic amid the chaos that unravels upon Tumi's arrival, Thando expresses that "she tries to keep it together, but reaches boiling point." Given the chaos, Beauty "doesn't have much room other than to react."

"She keeps it together well and I think she did better than I would have," Thando chuckles.   

how to ruin christmas
Beauty and her sister Tumi at their fittings. Image supplied by Netflix 

After appearing as the lead in 2019 local film Love Lives Here, which I had coincidentally watched just a few weeks before our interview, it's safe to predict that Thando Thabethe will fast grow on us as the darling of SA romcoms - kind of like Julia Roberts in her '90s heydays, but more endearingly so than Julia. 

So I ask; what was Thando's favourite part of being a bride-to-be in this production? 

"The fact that it wasn't just on a superficial level - she's not just a bride," was the appeal of her role this time around. "There are so many layers to her - there's a fully-fledged story. You'll find that she's much more complex than initially meets the eye," the actress shares.

READ MORE: A feminist in the streets and a makoti in the sheets? 

Here comes the bride all dressed in Orapeleng Modutle

There's no denying that visualising wedding season stunners is part of the thrill of receiving an invitation to umtshato, umshado, nyalong; and the wardrobe stylist of this show really captured this element and came to the party, giving us a glimpse of Rich Mnisi and a showstopping moment for this Orapeleng Modutle gown. 

How to Ruin Christmas: the wedding
how to ruin christmas
The white wedding. Images supplied by Netflix 

The rest of the wedding party - along with Tumi's (Busiswe Lurayi) edgy standout pieces that I have my eye on - also have memorable style moments, as Thando says it's not just the bride who boasts enviable fashion credits, but "the entire cast."

"We're showing off so many different cultures. What the [wardrobe stylist] did with the looks is absolutely spectacular - its' a showing off of our diverse cultures and just how rich our cultures are on all sides and how we can switch it up as well," she beams.

"Everyone's going to be like; 'you wanna be wearing that if you're going to a wedding in December'," says the show's bride. 

How to Ruin Christmas: the wedding
how to ruin christmas
how to ruin christmas
how to ruin christmas
how to ruin christmas
Fashion credits to Google immediately. Images supplied by Netflix 

Sbu will husband well...

"Sbu Thwala is a young man who's very in touch with his emotions. He's not scared to show his vulnerable side and show it to the person he's marrying.

"Initially, he does play the 'mother's son' [role], but eventually understands that it's time to take control of the situation. He'll stand for the person that he loves," is what the man who plays the groom tells me about his character Sbu when I ask if he's the kind of husband who'll speak up for his wife when pandemonium ensues with the in-laws. 

I ask because African men - in cases where their families are toxic in-laws - have been known to opt out of standing by their wives as if marriage were a streaming platform subscription, and we need healthier film/TV portrayals of black husbands in this era.

READ MORE: It's time to adapt the songs we sing about lobola and what being a makoti means today 

Sandile reassures that "he's the kind of person who - in protecting his wife/fiancée - takes the 'us against them' approach," and that's certainly the wholesome depiction of young marriages that South Africa could do with a generous dose of, that I'm asking for here. 

how to ruin christmas

how to ruin christmas
how to ruin christmas
Images supplied by Netflix  

So are they... 'goals'? 

Sure, I just got a bit starry-eyed over Sandile being a good fiancée (and potentially good husband), but I personally don't subscribe to the movement of doting over various romantic pairings as "couple goals". 

However, I do enjoy seeing couples being dope together, so for lack of a better term, I asked this pair if they'll be considered "goals" by viewers.

"They're fun together," Thando immediately responds.

And almost as if they were real-life newlyweds, Sandile chimes in enthusiastically to add "... and the willingness to go against what the family [imposes on them] just to be together." 

Completing each other's sentences again, they reveal that when you watch the 3-part series, there may be many instances that might have one thinking "maybe they shouldn't be together", but then "they fight it out".

"And they look very good together," Beauty concludes.  

They do indeed.

how to ruin christmas
Image supplied by Netflix 

A Bus to good times

In true Mzansi style, the big day is concluded by "i-step" - a dance routine performed by the wedding party and usually entails the Bus - to the tune of global viral hit and social media challenge (which you'll have to see when you watch it).

But in terms of numbers, the Sello-Thwala wedding gives a nod to our current times with its Covid-compliant wedding reception dinner. 

how to ruin chritsmas

how to ruin christmas

How to Ruin Christmas: The Wedding is now streaming on Netflix in 190 countries.

All production stills and series synopsis provided by Netflix South Africa

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