Scary stories from a lovely place

Everyone likes Christmas, right?

This will be my first Christmas in South Africa. Even though it’s my third year of living here, for the previous 2 Christmas’ I’ve managed to return to the side of the world with all the trappings of a commercial Christmas. Last year Stephen and I were in snowy Dublin – we ate turkey and bread sauce and potatoes in various forms, and the year before in sunny Wombarra where we ate prawns, antipasto, octopus and salad, salad, salad.

It goes without saying that South Africa is far more diverse than Australia or Ireland and this is seen clearly at Christmas. It would seem that not everyone cares about Christmas here. Indeed, when living in Western countries, like Australia, at Christmas time it’s hard to imagine anyone anywhere not being bombarded by Christmas music in every shop, gaudy decorations around every corner and the constant orgy of consumption of gifts and too much delicious food. I guess that’s the thing about the Western world. All of life is tailored in a way to make it feel like that is the reality for everyone, and so images of poverty, famine or even just difference are received with confusion and distracted concern.

My first realisation that not everyone cares about Christmas was when my local Pick n Pay supermarket in Brixton advertised their Christmas trading hours. They are open Christmas Day, Boxing Day (St Stephen’s day for the Irish) without much change in their regular schedule. When I first saw this I thought to myself “wow Pick n Pay are really committed to pleasing their customers. In case any have a last minute mince pie or red wine emergency they can rush in on Christmas morning to make the necessary purchases”. But it didn’t really make sense to me so I checked with Stephen, who is always a step ahead on such matters, and he told me it’s because Brixton and surrounding areas has a really high Muslim population. These fellow South Africans will go through Saturday as if it’s no different to another day. Well, of course – that makes sense.

Then I was having a conversation with some friends, who are Jewish, and I asked them what their plans were for Christmas Day (while I scoured their living room for the obligatory tree). But there would be no celebration and no tree. Again, of course that makes sense not to celebrate what is inherently a Christian holiday. But I was under the impression that Christmas has, at least in a general way, moved so far beyond being about anything Christian, despite the occasional nativity scene, that it didn’t matter anymore. Even for me, Christmas isn’t really about anything solely Christian. It’s more about seeing family and eating nice food and giving presents. I don’t even normally go to church on Christmas morning. I’m more of the celebrate-Jesus-all-year kind of person, rather than make a special day of it.

These revelations have made me realise that South Africa really does tone down the whole Christmas thing. In most malls there is some effort towards Christmas decorations and a few carols heard chiming away in the background. But it’s not a big deal. I have barely had any conversations about Christmas shopping, sending cards or decorating trees. It’s refreshing to treat the 25th more like a normal day – where there just happens to be an amazing lunch. And I’m confident in the knowledge that if we need to go to our local hardware store, Indian spice bazaar or sewing shop all will be open for business on the 25th December.


6 comments on “Everyone likes Christmas, right?

  1. Bing
    December 27, 2010

    Hi Kim, my husband and I have just moved to Joburg for his work. I stumbled into your blog and had a great time reading your posts.. you’re too funny! Haha.. I just wanted to say Hi. =) I would love a fellow expat friend here.. write me!

  2. Sine
    January 6, 2011

    Hi Kim – I have to agree with you on the Christmas thing. I felt there was much less ado about Christmas here in Joburg than anywhere else I’ve lived, even Singapore! (by the way, hi Bing, nice to come across you here as well). Partly it’s the weather – it just doesn’t go with a Christmas kind of spirit. But it’s also more, and you describe it beautifully here. I went through the motions of finding a tree and decorating it, but I never quite fell in love with it and was SO glad when I finally took it down yesterday. It just felt out of place the entire time. All in all, it was a relief not to spend every waking minute thinking about Christmas but rather taking some time off and relax with the family.

    • kimlovesjozi
      January 6, 2011

      It’s all relative Sine. It’s insulting to say that southern hemisphere weather doesn’t ‘go’ with the Christmas spirit. Coming from Australia a hot Christmas feels totally natural to me. When I was in the UK for Christmas last year I found it so miserable. How can you celebrate Christmas when it’s so dreary outside? But I know I have that opinion just because of where I’m coming from, my experience of it. Countries with a warm Christmas celebrate it in their own individual way and it becomes a big deal when it is a Western country. After all it’s consumerism that drives so much of the ‘Christmassyness’ of such places, and as I said in my blog, it’s that which I didn’t miss.

      I agree with you, it is nice to forget about that stuff.

  3. Bing
    January 6, 2011

    Hi Sine! and Hi Kim!

    I appreciate a quiet Christmas. It’s so commercialised in Singapore. The roads will be lined with lights and decorations and the malls will have HUGE Christmas displays. It’s the season to convince everyone to spend. There are pre-Christmas sales, Christmas sales AND post Christmas sales. I don’t really miss the rush. =)

  4. Pingback: Christmas dis-spirit « Kimlovesjozi

  5. Pingback: Not so Good Friday « Kimlovesjozi

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This entry was posted on December 24, 2010 by in Being a christian, Life in South Africa and tagged , , , , , .
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