Now Christmas in South Africa still seems to cling to colonial times and places where it snows, people still chow down on huge stuffed turkeys and steaming pudding like they’d been caught in a snow drift. Some, of course, take to the braai and then there’s no end to the fussing, with beer being poured on everything on the grid, including the vegetarian's butternut squash. Neither is very sensible when it’s 36 degrees in the shade and the humidity is dangerous. But Saffricans are tough and that’s that, no matter what.
Now in the last month leading up to this, I’ve been subjected to abuse in the shopping car parks (sneaky theft of spaces is the order of the day), and on the roads. Everyone seems to be dying to get there and some are literally doing so. Perhaps you can relate to this because I can seriously lose a bolt when someone hoots at me as the robot (traffic light) turns green…at the very instant it turns green…not after I finish my daydream, but when I’m in “aware mode” and my knuckles are white with anticipation. I tell you, even Santa’s little helpers can’t remove the bad thoughts from my head at that moment. I want to take the “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” song, shove it in a bubble, hard boil it, and crack it through their window.
I would imagine that today and tomorrow the queues in and out of the favourite malls will be beyond belief, snaking out onto freeways. This time of year seems like a manic nightmare at times. We are lost in the insanity, and only come around in January, blinking in the sun like stunned lizards, clutching our hearts and wishing we hadn’t flattened the budget before back to school shopping begins. I have once again tried to see Durban at this time of year, for what it is. Durban is a city like many others, where criminals are doing their shopping too, and where angels donate to worthy causes of their own free will. Where children, almost paralysed from “smoking” glue, beg in the hopes of any Christmas at all. While some relish the heat, others (like me) dream of a white Christmas, or a way to fit inside the fridge (impossible, I’ve tried), or an air con in my very old car.
There are homeless people sleeping on pavements, dreaming of their own brokenness, and people with mansions and high electrified fencing, hoping they can hold onto what they have. There is survival against all odds, even weeds cling tenaciously to life in the heat of Durban.
Yellow billed Kites soar, dip and dive with the swallows as they catch and feast on fat insects on the wing.
Durban drips and oozes and sometimes smiles broadly as the tar melts on roads and labourers return home to families over our borders. There will be Christmas babies and Christmas fatalities, and many dreams floating like ghosts, connecting us invisibly to one another.
We have Father Christmases posing in stores with children on their knees. Fake beards slipping and sliding and sweat beading their brows. I think of my dad, who looked like a Father Christmas, but could never be coaxed into playing the part.
(I photoshopped a hat into the pic below - this is seeing Dad like he would never have been seen, sorry Dad, but I bet you don't mind the fun now. My lovely father with his two Granddaughters xx)
He was an electrical engineer who dreaded Christmas at decorating time, because nine times out of ten, the tree lights would not work, and he would be asked to fix them. In the end, he huffed and said “If the bloody lights don’t work this year, please go and buy some new ones”. It seems ludicrous not to have a South African version of Father Christmas (Santa). We seem to be stuck with the one created by Coca Cola all those years ago in their ad.
(I can't take credit for this pic, I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find it's origin) I do believe this might just be the REAL South African Father Christmas :)
White flowers fall beneath trees like living snow, for those who see.
There are weavers’ nests decorating fever trees, green against the hot blue skies, and there are jingle bells in the form of zephyranthes grandiflora on traffic islands across suburbia, going unnoticed as we rush past.
In my garden I have Littonia Modesta that come up every year in December from stock over 50 years old, and you can see why they are called Christmas Bells.
I think of the songs we sing at this time of year, especially the silly ones, and people have done some crazy good things with some these old favourites (there are links at the end of this post). “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” comes to mind, and I always wondered what kind of true love sends you ‘lords a leaping’ and all those swans and doves and a partridge in a great pear tree. Imagine all those droppings…no thank-you. So in the same spirit, I give you a South African version that I’m sure would be just as unsatisfying to the true love as the original! You all know the tune, remember you start with…On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
A hadedah in a thorn tree…you know how it goes (too tedious to write it all down) so this below would be the last verse.
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love sent to me12 taxis hooting
11 hungry guests
10 cans of mace
9 biting mozzies
8 sweaty santas
7 man-hole covers
6 ous a braaing
5 bunny chows (the rhythm changes here - you sustain the fiiiiiiive)
4 gals toy toying
3 ous in speedos
2 melk terts
And a hadedah in a thorn tree
I was thinking about all the spending on gifts at Christmas, after hearing some of the wish lists of my little art learners. Big things they NEED, PSPs and other things that think and move with no effort, things that flicker and blast on screens, dolls that cry and wet their nappies, robots and i-pads and i-pods. Yes, expensive things they feel they need, things they dream of and maybe don’t get because they can’t be afforded, but they dream as children do, and sometimes I think that the dreamers are better off than those who get, and who knew they would. I thought about a Christmas list that would be perfect for any child, and then I realised it would be perfect for any adult too, and here it is.
- A packet of seeds
- A sketch pad and pencils
- Bubbles to blow in the garden and out the car window
- A recipe book
- A box of good quality chocs where each one is a little artwork
- An adventure story with pictures
- A torch to read the adventure story under the sheets when you’re told to sleep but can’t because it’s too exciting
- A pack of playing cards
- And maybe a tent for inside or outside camping, where chocs can be studied and enjoyed, adventures read and dreamed of, where treasure maps can be drawn and discussed, where bubbles will work like smoke signals, and a torch is indispensable.
I hope each and every one of you finds a little time to reflect, to smile at tellers while waiting in queues, to sit alone and to breathe in salty old Durban, knowing we are just part of a glorious globe floating in space, where everything works perfectly if we allow it to. Make time, go a little slower, be safe, blow bubbles and have yourselves a merry little Christmas.
Now grab an eggnog or chilled brew and listen to these amazing takes on the old Christmas faves…even if you are a "bah humbugger", you will enjoy them I promise!
Here’s “Rudolph” in Swedish by Erato, three gorgeous Swedish girls with cream cheese tubs making it spiritual (wait for it to load don’t press the huge arrow underneath or you’ll get something awful instead)..
A beautiful version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Christina Perri. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSl07H7lzAs
just an audio with pictures, but close your eyes and just listen. It’s sentimental, but what a dream, sigh…”My Grown Up Christmas List” Michael Bublé http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av0AhTED7Qw
Oh, and lastly, one of my very favourite actors, comedian and sexy li’l thing, Hugh Laurie (you know House). This is just a bit of fun with the other wonderful soul, Stephen Fry, from a Christmas show in the 90’s (so they are young). Sandy Shore sings “The Little Drummer Boy”, and Fry and Laurie perform some strange and over-the-top percussion with cereal boxes and a stapler. It’s too funny (but then I’m a Blackadder/Monty Python fan). Sandy Shore manages to sing perfectly all the way through with some seriously manic slapstick behaviour behind her. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLqjeJgLClA
Oh, and thank you to my daughter who took all the photos, and who adores Christmas with her whole soul, she also produced these yummy Christmas cupcakes for her staff party!