On the Beach

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas in swimmers

A few days ago, I was sitting having coffee with a friend in her garden. We were both wearing sunglasses to avoid squinting at each other in the bright sunshine, our arms and legs bare. Beyond the coffee cups, the mountains starkly jutted out against the kind of blue sky that can only mean summer. The children were running around- some shirtless- loading up on ice water between bursts of energy in the garden.

My friend is a recent arrival from he northern hemisphere suddenly asked: "After a while here, does it ever start to feel like Christmas?". They had been through all the Christmas rituals of putting up the tree, switching on the lights, arranging the presents from people they couldn't be with at Christmas and still she said, it didn't feel like Christmas.

This Christmas is our fourth in South Africa so, whilst this hardly qualifies us as Voortrekker stock, I feel I am a little qualified to answer the question. My immediate, instinctive reply was: "no".

I've been reflecting on my answer, though, and I've come to think that there isn't a yes or no answer to that question: whether or not it feels like Christmas, depends on what Christmas means to you.

Today- Christmas Day- I am sitting on a stoep in a remote part of the Cedarberg (is there anything other than a remote part of the Cedarberg?), my hair wet from the pool. The breeze alleviates the 35 degree C heat and I am grateful for that and the shade. The view is endless, dry with not a hint of human development in view. The dog sleeps: the heat is too much for him and some of our party sunbathe as the crickets sing.

Yesterday, Santa arrived (in full polar gear) on the back of the tractor with sacks of presents, eagerly received by two young ladies and a rather less desperate group of adults. He sat in a rocking chair on the lawn, the early evening sun beating down on him, his 2 acolytes and a bemused dog.

On a brief trip to Clanwilliam in the morning,  getting out of the car I was slapped by a wall of heat so strong it must  unimaginable to those in northern  Europe at the moment. 40 unforgiving degrees of stillness, no breeze, the hot air rising from the concrete and bouncing off the buildings. You sweat without even having to move. In the midst of this, a brass band jauntily played Christmas carols, their brows shiny with the effort,  and people frantically shopped for Christmas. They certainly seemed to be in a festive frame of mind.

So, I got to thinking that whether or not it feels Christmas, depends on what Christmas means to you. I'm an expat child, a serial adult expat and Christmas has always meant family to me. So far we have managed to be together every Christmas but 1 as a family- we congregate in one place, people flying in from wherever they are to be together. Christmas to me means our traditions as a family, executed as a family.

We've had Christmas on at least 3 continents and in more countries but it feels like Christmas because we're together.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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