It’s that time of the year again, when Johannesburg empties out and everyone takes a national road or flight home. Yes, ke Dezemba, boss! Despite the hot weather and long days, South Africans have adopted Christmas traditions like fir trees and sparkly lights from up north. PONTSHO PILANE reflects on some of the things that mark Christmas in the homes of many black South African families. In no particular order, here are a few Christmas traditions you may not have seen on TV.
1. Choice Assorted biscuits
Absolutely nothing says Christmastime more than this two-kilogram delight. While growing up, I used to sneak up and steal the pink wafer biscuits and the chocolate biscuits wrapped in red foil from the box. Because the house is usually crowded with cousins, my mother or grandmother would hide the box somewhere, but my brother and I would always find it. On the rare occasion when we didn’t, Christmastime would extend into January when our mother finally remembered where she’d hidden the box.
2. Dikuku le gemere (home-made cookies and ginger ale)
Ah, yes! Gemere just makes everything about Christmas so much better. A night or two before Christmas my mother makes about 50 litres of ginger ale. (Not a typo, she literally makes about fifty litres of the stuff.) She lets it ferment overnight and in the morning we pour it into as many 2 litre cool drink bottles as we can find. Since your wine tendencies will not be entertained no matter how old you are, you are sure to find comfort in the gemere come Christmas Day.
No, not sweets, “sweets”. That is what my grandparents call dessert, which is usually trifle or custard, jelly and canned fruit. No matter how possessed you may be by the Model C devil within to make malva pudding or peppermint fridge tart, when things go wrong, you can always rely on custard and jelly as a back-up plan.
4. Christmas clothes
For most Western-influenced households, the end of your childhood is symbolised by the realisation that Santa Claus is not real. In black South African households, your childhood ends when your parents stop buying you Christmas clothes. These are specifically bought to be worn for the first time on Christmas Day. There is a set for Christmas, Boxing Day and even New Year’s Day. And after Christmas lunch, be prepared to pose for pictures in your new gear.
5. The drunk uncle
We all have one (or two) in the family; that one uncle you have no recollection of ever seeing sober in your entire life, that one who will bring up family drama or feuds at the wrong time, the one who will always want to make a speech, or say something even when it is unnecessary. Yes, he is problematic, but you still love him to bits.
6. Church in the morning (and the infamous catwalk)
So you have been living out of home for a few years and you have had time to “find yourself”. You realise that going to church is not something you particularly enjoy or want to do, or maybe you want to go to your own church, or perhaps you are an atheist. No matter. Church on Christmas morning is happening – by fire or force. You will sit there, probably even doze off as Moruti preaches, waiting for offering time. In most churches back home, the offering basket doesn’t come to you, you go to the offering basket. This is when the importance of Christmas clothes becomes apparent because you get to do a little cat walk around the offering table.
*Tip for the ladies: You want to wear a fierce pair of heels so that your high school crush notices you, but comfortable enough that you don’t fall on your face mid cat-walk.
7. The fight over unreturned Tupperware
Tupperware is sacred to a black mother. On the rare occasion that your mother lets you use her Tupperware, like say to take home leftovers from Christmas lunch, please remember that she will practically disown you if you do not return it soon and in good condition. I don’t know what it is about Tupperware and mothers, but that relationship runs deep. To avoid any Tupperware drama in the new year, be sure to take empty 2-litre ice cream containers with you when you go home, so that you can pack a nice skafting for yourself before you leave.
Do you have any Christmas traditions back home that don’t fit into the northern stereotype? Share them with us in the comments.
– Featured image via Wikimedia Commons