It is my second adult Christmas in South Africa and it still feels weird. By that I mean that Christmas here is not as a northern European would know it.
I think is partly because the northern hemisphere somehow has managed to exert a monopoly on what exactly Christmas is and should be.
Let me explain: Christmas in western culture is very much celebrated as "festival of lights" in dark, cold times- think of all the candles, Christmas tree light, (hideous) house lights. Christmas decorations are snowflakes, Father Christmas is always very warmly dressed as he strides over a snow-topped roof, pictures of snowmen in the background. In the northern hemisphere, we need twinkling lights, cosy fires and nice thoughts of Santa to get us through very short, often dark days which can be rather nippy. I don't think it is any coincidence that Christmas is in the middle of winter, at a similar time to the pagan festival of light. As people we need something to get us through: for the religious it is the celebration of the birth of Christ. For the more secular of the population, it's a time to enjoy the lights and the fires and get together with your nearest and dearest over a feast of food and drink, to exchange gifts and defeat the cold and dark, chatting with friends and family in a room of twinkling lights, while the mantlepiece overflows with cards with pictures of Santa, angels, the nativity scene and robins in snow.
Presents are a big feature of Christmas, at least for the shorter members of the population and the retail and consumer industry are very happy to help us to spend our money whether or not we have it. To be fair, on the other side of the planet when the weather sucks, it's one of the few things that you can do. Plus can you IMAGINE the drama if little Chardonnay didn't get the Bratz doll collection from Santa? OMG. It'd be enough to make her mum's spray tan fade.
Personally, I have always loved Christmas. As an expat from a very young age, my parents always ensured that we were all together at that one time of year and, thanks to my mum and dad, we kept our Christmas traditions alive wherever we were, and I am so grateful for that. For me, Christmas is about being with my family, just enjoying being together. I have some serious issues with the commercialisation and hijacking by retailers of Christmas (which would probably fill a significant portion of Wikipedia, so I'll keep my comments brief). My objections and rantings are probably best summed up by describing the Christmas lights on Oxford Street maybe ten years ago: "Captain Birdseye Wishes you a Merry Christmas". How festive.
So here I am, December 3rd 2011 and I really do not feel terribly "Christmassy" at all. The sun is shining, the days are nearly the longest they can be and I fear that Father Christmas would be rather sweaty unless he underwent a radical seasonal wardrobe change.
Don't we have lights here? Well, yes we do. The shopping centres are full of beautifully decorated and twinkling trees. You have to look really veryhard to see the twinkles because of the blazing sunshine powering through the doors, windows and skylights rather makes them difficult to see. My youngest daughter became fascinated with some snowflake decorations and fiddled with them wearing shorts and a sunhat. I bought some wrapping paper with snowmen in scarves. And it looked odd as I put it into the car with the hot sun beating down on me.
The school opposite my house had their Christmas concert last week singing all the traditional Christmas songs. The difference? The concert was outside and the parents watched from picnic blankets, sipping rose wine and wearing sunglasses. "Moves like Jagger" by Maroon 5 would have been more fitting as a soundtrack, I think.
For someone who has spent most of their life in the northern hemisphere this is all very confusing. It's like the calendar has gone mad and everything is upside down. The most Christmassy I have felt so far was when I went to a hypermarket to buy a swimming pool and a Christmas tree (see??? what a weird combination!). It was quite dark and the displays were all lights, baubles and trees. Not forgetting the Christmas songs sung in Afrikaans. Actually, I must have been really desperate as I must confess to not find it the most soothing and appealing of languages. Sorry. It sounds like a Dutch person gargling to me. Just being honest. Sorry. If it makes you feel better, the other languages I prefer not to be sung to in: are Dutch, German, Flemish, Vietnamese and Mandarin. You're not alone in being excluded from my CD collection.
What I find most fascinating about this is the fact that that the northern hemisphere has someone managed to export their version of Christmas wholesale to the sunny southern hemisphere. I know they exported Christ and Christmas in the first place. But it's like the "vision" came with it. Maybe it's "for the kids".
Since moving to Cape Town, I have realised that most South Africans are much more religious than people in the UK so I suspect there will be a lot more "Christ" in Christmas here.
All the food and travel literature seems to talk of Christmas braais, Christmas cocktails, Christmas ice cream (merciful absence of turkey and Christmas pudding so far) and Christmas day on the beach which gives me hope that the folk down south will make Christmas their own.
While there is a part of me that misses the lights and the cosiness of Christmas in the northern hemisphere, I know that's pure nostalgia and sentimentality.
I'd rather be applying sunscreen.