TODAY   |  December 08, 2013

Mourners celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life

On South Africa’s day of prayer, people were encouraged to gather at home and reflect on the words and actions of Nelson Mandela, but most felt better gathering in public. NBC’s Michelle Kosinski reports.

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>> reporter: mentioned, south africans are observing a national day of prayer and reflection. it is the start of the official events to celebrate the life of nelson mandela , culminating in a state funeral one week from today. nbc's michelle kosinski is just to our east in johannesburg. michelle, good morning.

>> reporter: lester, you can imagine in churches around the world today mandela might be mentioned. here people were basically encouraged to do their own thing, reflect on the message of this champion of freedom. people in enormous numbers actually felt better gathering together including members of mandela 's family.

>> it had the feeling of a sunday revival. here a few hundred gathered in the tent at mandela 's offices, anything but quietly reflective, full of joy.

>> whenever there's death, we don't all crying, we need to celebrate his life.

>> reporter: soweto gospel choir that performed for mandela so many times in his life, felt his loss.

>> he will come and say how much he loves us.

>> reporter: there were many services to day. winnie mandela and the south african president attended. ahmed cath rata is one of mandela 's closest friends and advisors, spent decades in prison together, knew each other for more than 60 years. last time they met, he held his hand in the hospital.

>> i left from there knowing that he won't be long with us.

>> reporter: the national grief made lighter day by day in celebration of that powerful legacy. the feeling out here is absolutely jubilant. more people than we've seen so far, all over south africa . down in capetown this morning, the hard core surfers gathered in a big circle in the ocean on their boards and joined hands in tribute. one described it in one word, goose bumps . lester?