“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
My earliest memories were from colonial days in the 1950’s, when we lived in Swaziland. There were certain rituals and traditions some of which have lived on through the generations.
The first was the hunt for a Christmas tree. I seem to recall that there was some subterfuge required as pine and cypress trees in and about the town were council property. Daddy could not participate as he was a high panjandrum in the government, so it was up to Mum.
Suitable trees would be identified during the year. As it got dark, Mum would drive to the spot (usually next to Mbabane Oval) and the tree was quickly felled with an axe and the tree stowed in the boot and we would hasten home trailing pine needles. Dad would splutter but faced with a fait accompli he was powerless.
Decorations came out of a box: beautifully coloured delicate globes and silver and gold tinsel, with the Star placed on top by Daddy, which made him an accomplice. Presents were piled around the foot of tree – cause of much speculation and dreaming. Quite a few presents as there were six of us and Gogo (as Granny Vialls was called), Bessie (the dog) the servants: Samuel, Lamzima, Jane and Tsabetse, our convict gardener.
We also made streamers by cutting and plaiting strips of red and green crepe paper.
Carols by candlelight were held at the amphitheatre. Daddy who loved to sing, would sing protracted Noweeeeeeeels, much to the amazement of all in general and our acute embarrassment! There were a little crib and a live donkey: I always loved Away in a Manger thereafter.
The Christmas box was a local tradition where little gifts were given to deliverymen and service people like rubbish collectors. We carried wrapped sweets in the car to throw out to the Swazi children who would run along the side of the road calling out ma-sweeet, ma- sweeti!
On Christmas Eve we would be given orange bags as stockings to hang on the end of our beds for Father Christmas presents. We retired very early and awoke at about four a.m. to start investigating … soon rustle, rustle would turn to yips of glee and look what I’ve got’s.
The best gifts for my brother and I were a space-age machine gun which emitted a ferocious rattle and flashed sparks. No-one slept after four am that Xmas.
Gogo would make mebos (tart apricot preserve) which was a great temptation. As we would be going to communion we were not allowed to eat until after mass. The mebos suffered at the hands of early morning sinners…
Father Botta knew better than to delay his parishioners by a long sermon and we invariably passed the Anglicans as they came out of church. Dad would say: beat the Prods again! (Not very good behaviour for a papal knight!)
After breakfast, there would be tidying up and the grown ups would sip port and nibble mince pies, while we hovered around the Christmas tree where the family presents were piled.
Eventually, Daddy relented and Tim and I being the youngest had to deliver presents after he had read the label.
Then tidying up again, laying the table, trying to sneak charms out the crackers and stealing nuts and mebos…
We still managed to eat turkey with cranberry sauce and roast potatoes, wearing silly hats and reading silly jokes… then came the pudding, bathed in blue flame with glints of silver treasure. In the pudding, Mum had inserted sixpences and tickeys (threepence) which was big money – our pocket money was tickey a week.
Then a toast to “Absent Friends” and Daddy would choke up and Mummy would finish for him.
We’d clear the table and set up the kitchen table for the servants’ dinner; somewhat hurriedly as there was lawn cricket outside. We managed a few overs before Daddy nodded off behind the wickets.
We do it a bit differently in Australia these days and have Christmas braai (barbeque) on Christmas Eve, as it can get quite hot here in the day. But we still have port and mince pies and always remember “Absent Friends” which becomes harder as we grow older and the list grows longer…
One of our children has gone off meat so next year we will have vegetarian options:
- Borshch (beet soup).
- Vegeducken – layers of pumpkin, capsicum, zucchini and asparagus are filled with a crispy hazelnut stuffing and baked to perfection.
- Vushka (small dumplings with mushroom).
- Varenyky (dumplings with cabbage and potatoes).
- Holubtsi (stuffed cabbage roll)
- Kutia (sweet grain pudding).