New Christmas Clothes

So Christmas is upon us. Once again. I got to thinking about Christmas thanks to my good friend, Jossi Tinga, who blogged about his Christmas experiences in Queensland, away from home in Kenya . See, Jossi Tinga, like me, is a rural boy at heart. Whenever I get to thinking about Christmas I have a myriad of thoughts and past experiences fly through my mind: new clothes, good vibes, plenty food. A time to be merry.

But I also get images of forced church services, overindulgence, excessive ‘festive adverts’ on television, over-the-top Christmas decorations in shops. Christmas trees and snow also come to mind: stop sneering, I know hell would have to freeze many times over before it snowed on Christmas on the Southern tip of Africa, but that’s not the point. The point is through what seems like a hundred Christmases I have no image that counters the snow-covered Christmas tree image! Even my four-year old girl knows the stuff around Christmas trees is snow, even though it’s never snowed on Christmas here.

Before it sounds like I have an axe to grind with anybody who loves the snow-covered Christmas tree image let me make this clear, I celebrate Christmas as the day when Jesus Christ was born. That’s significant to me. It’s also significant that the ‘festive season’ has been transformed into family time, the one time when family feuds are put aside and members can relate without animosity. I’m a sucker for the good vibes that prevail around this time of the year.

What I don’t get is what happened (and when) that the birth of Jesus became a signal to engage in unparalleled frenzied spending. I was once a beneficiary of such spending as a little person. I loved the new clothes, not because it was Christmas but because I wasn’t left out when the rest of the kids in our village paraded their new clothes. The Christmas tree was not in the picture then and snow wasn’t even a concept I could wrap my head around.

Christmas in the villages meant dads coming back home from work in Johannesburg, with goods and goodies. None of this “Mary’s Boy Child” on permanent repeat in malls! The only person who surely loves this is Boney M, who probably looks to Christmas as we all should, the birth of the savior. Only, Boney M expects a different kind of savior, the sound of money hitting the till machine every festive season when everybody suddenly realizes that in last year’s drunken stupor they misplaced their Boney M CD.

In the village, us kids couldn’t wait to bath on Christmas day, the same can’t be said about bathing on the other days though. We would be dressed in entirely new clothes from head to toe and herded off to church. This was the one day where the “missionary village” part of our heritage came out in full force. Elim, where I was born, was apparently one of the first to receive white missionaries when they arrived. As a result, we had a fully-functional “Swiss Mission” church on a hill, where it still stands to this day. On Christmas, even your sworn heathens went to church, nobody wanted to be left out. The Nativity play was staged on Christmas day. I don’t remember ever being part of one, I suppose my teachers just noted early on, “this one can’t act”, so I was left out of the story of the birth Jesus(sob! sob!). It could be that I was once an extra but who remembers being an extra?

Every family I knew had ‘Christmas food’ on the day, the basis of which was chicken and rice. You had all sorts of other colourful vegetables on the menu but slaughtered chicken was just the thing to do. This was true free range chicken which could take you up to an hour to catch if you had an unfenced yard like most families did. I suppose part of enjoying the chicken came from knowing you had to work your socks off to catch the bugger. God bless you if you had to catch and slaughter two or three different chickens. You’d swear these chickens had been on training to run away from you for the whole year.

And rice. For everybody. Yeah, rice wasn’t always for everybody in those days. Nooo!. The more well-to-do families had it every Sunday, but even they appreciated that rice signified special occasions.  It brings a smile to my face that what we considered luxury, rice, is a staple food for billions around the world.

Following the Christmas meal after church, it was time to parade our new clothes, going from one family to another as a group and trying to stay clean. Baked Queen’s cakes with Oros (cool drink if you were lucky) were on offer at most homes so yes, we ate our tummies sore. This generally festive mood lasted just about until New Year’s. Plenty of food and good neighborliness.

Even the village drunkard was welcome into most homes. Those that brewed home-made beer would offer it to their guests on arrival, and the village drunk would always wedge himself in to the group. Nobody would shoo him away like they would during the year. It was a time to be festive. Contrast this with the urban setting where I heard a caller on radio appealing for “consideration for those whose families are not around this festive season”. This would never happen in the villages, everybody became family around this time. Oh, what we gave up for life in the city!

And then one grew up, malls took over and Christmas trees became the norm. And fake snow. The one unparalleled joy of urban Christmas are the Christmas lights. People go to town on those, makes you wish it was Christmas all year round. I suppose the festive spirit makes one ignore all the clutter and zone in on what they like, I like the lights. And the birth of Jesus, lest we forget.

If I could replace the snow-covered Christmas tree with another image it would be an image of a child in new clothes, from head to toe. That’s what Christmas meant to me. What did it mean to you?

Have a merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year, thank you for reading this far, you made my 2013!


Captured on a local lights show:better than snow-covered Christmas tree


12 responses

  1. The good citizens of Hobart put up so many lights in some areas that it has turned into a fierce neighbourly competition! I thin you’d enjoy them, although it gets dark so late (about 9pm) that some parents who do a little tour with their kids end up with very very tired infants.


    1. Thanks for reading Heidi. Some people here also put up really good displays of Christmas lights, but not enough houses to warrant a viewing walk, otherwise I would. There is a house nearby that we specifically drove out to view last year, quite an elaborate display.


  2. Beautiful and evocative word pictures of your childhood Christmases, I really enjoyed reading this. (And Jossi’s story too, what a culture shock that Queensland Christmas must have been) :-). Some memories: dressed in my best for midnight mass, processions around the Church holding lighted candles in the dark; school nativity plays (once, for about three seconds, playing the innkeeper’s wife); the fun and laughter of opening presents around the tree with my siblings; Christmas ham with new potatoes, mint peas, roast pumpkin and lamb. And for dessert (over several days) English trifle, plum pudding, pavlova, and my mother’s dark fruit Christmas cake, which took two weeks to make. Always, friends and neighbors stopping by for some Christmas cheer. When we were lucky enough to be at the beach for the holidays, then Christmas lunch (always lunch, never dinner) was followed by an afternoon of sun and surf. One of my Christmas books always came with me until I fell asleep with it in the sand, happily sated with food, the warmth of the sun, the lull of the waves and the seagulls wheeling and crying overhead. Christmas now is about thousands of multi-colored lights on trees and homes everywhere, some churches and their grounds lit up like fairy tale castles, a warm fire and hot drinks, scarves and boots and mittens. We may all celebrate differently across cultures and hemispheres, but I pray we never lose the love and joy and gratitude that make this holiday so special.


    1. Luckily you had your three seconds of Christmas fame Cynthia, I’m hoping one of my kids will land a big role someday, like the inn-keeper, lol. Thank you for reading. Midnight Mass, sounds magical, Christmas tree and gifts, post-card perfect Christmas, thanks for sharing your experiences.


  3. Merry Christmas Cuz! You’ve just inspired me. Was feeling all sorts of confused about what to offer my little person as our own new and evolving christmas day tradition. And you’ve just reminded me all those good feelings and vibes that christmas brought. The one thing i agree with is i’ve always wanted to put the birth of Jesus Christ more prominently in my celebrations of christmas. Santa is there somehow, but i want it to be passed on to my little person that he, Father Christmas, is in the periphery of this whole thing.


    1. Thanks for reading Cuz. I think your little one’s early Christmas experiences are safe in your hands. With the amount of ad spend behind Santa, it will be difficult to get the focus right in the beginning but it’s not a lost battle, especially if the festive goodwill spirit is always in the air. That way she’ll want to know why everyone is so good to each other over this period, then you nicely put Jesus’ birth above the red-clad gift-bearing bearded old man who’s taken over Christmas. Merry Christmas to you too Cuz.


  4. The picture of lights is incredible! That looks like a park nearby that charges admission, and people line up in their cars for hours, waiting to get in. I walked through one year with my kids before it was so popular. It was sponsored by grants, mostly from national corporations. The only other place where I see displays like that is in new, wealthy housing developments, where neighbors are competitive, like you wrote about, Heidi.

    I have a hard time understanding the use of Christmas lights where you are. Sure, they represent the light of the newborn Savior. But here, the nights start by supper time, and the sun rises after breakfast. Those long winter nights give us time to be out and about to see them. I imagine that your nights start around bedtime, like ours do in the summer, and end before breakfast.

    As I was reading what you wrote about the lights, I was wondering whether people down south get out and about to see the lights. Do you leave your windows uncovered at night to see the lights?

    Heidi, when I followed your link, I got stuck on a page advertising Graph Search. Maybe it’s because we’re not “friends”?

    Christmas was a lot of fun through my kids’ eyes. We are adjusting to our empty nest. Christmas zoomed up on us, and I haven’t sent even one card! I usually started sending them the first week of December!

    Christmas cards were a big part of Christmas for me. It was the one time of the year when I heard from everyone I knew. I especially enjoyed the photos and annual letters that came. With the internet, we keep in touch all year long, so I only got three cards this year, so far. I used to send 100. I haven’t bought Christmas cards in several years, and still have a box full of them, ready to go, with beautiful covers and moving messages, red pens, and festive return address labels. Now I want to get them out of hiding, even if just to enjoy looking at them.


    1. Hey Grace, thank you for reding. “That looks like a park nearby that charges admission, and people line up in their cars for hours, waiting to get in.” You are right, it is a sort of a park,but a walk-in one, with about a 20-minute wait in line to get in. Luckily the ‘Garden of Lights’ is still free and it is quite a spectacle.

      Our summer nights down here start at about 6:30pm, sunset, till about 5am, sunrise. Houses with full-on Christmas lights decorations are few so no, we wouldn’t leave the windows open for that. I’ve always wondered if I would enjoy a snow-filled Christmas and I think not, it looks good on tv or a postcard but I much prefer our Southern Hemisphere temperatures over Christmas.


  5. Grace, try this link maybe that will work better. Here the best lights are in the not-so-rich suburbs! Strange, isn’t it? We hardly send any cards any more, either.


  6. You just reminded me of the ‘good old days’! Christmas was a time to look forward to, for the whole year. No school for a while!! I love christmas lightings. My family would drive all the way to Commissioner street in Jo’burg central from Soweto just to see the decorations along the street. To this day, and as old as I am I still love those!! Have a Blessed to all!!!!!


    1. Thank you for reading, much appreciated. A Merry Christmas to you too!


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