Once the Jacaranda’s start blooming I know that my favourite time of year is on the way. Christmas has always been exciting for me, and as the days inch closer and closer to the end of the year I work myself up more and more. I usually start planning my Christmas lunch menu around October. Yes, that’s right. I need a lot of time to get it just right! I spend many a happy hour searching for the perfect recipes and planning exactly what my colour scheme for my Christmas table is going to be.
Of course one can’t forget the gifts! Shopping for gifts as early as possible really takes the stress off you closer to the festive season. I can’t think of anything worse than being stuck in an incredibly busy shopping centre on Christmas Eve, frantically trying to find something suitable in what’s left in the aftermath of the crazy spending of the shoppers gone before me. Shop owners realise that we’re easy targets at this time of year, and it’s so easy to overspend this way. Other than relieving the gift-induced panic, buying a couple of presents throughout the year is definitely easier on the pocket.
Home baked goods are a lovely way of giving gifts to many people without breaking the bank. Wouldn’t you rather receive bottled jams and chutneys, a basket of freshly baked muffins or biscuits, an aromatic Christmas cake or flavoured liqueur than some uninspired shop-bought gift? These are gifts you can share and enjoy.
This is the time of year that I begin visiting out of the way stores on the hunt for Christmas decorations. I add to my collection every year. Inexpensive Christmas lights hung in street facing windows really bring on that Christmas feeling. I love the soft glow, the friendly look of it to people passing by. Another inexpensive way to make the season special is to decorate your home with candles. They atmosphere they create is unbeatable! Making your own wreath for the front door can be fun – it’s always enjoyable to personalise your decorations.
Some of my favourite childhood memories are those of Christmas holidays spent with my family.
It always started with the long drive down to Cape Town.
On the way my dad would stop and buy boxes and boxes of fruit… nectarines, peaches, plums… to this day I always associate December holidays with fresh fruit. I think it might be where my obsession with watermelons started. We’d wind our way through the hot dry Karoo, explore the Cango Caves, overnight in strange places where the air was dry and everything felt different to home, stop at farm stalls along the way, cheer when we could see the Three Sisters (odd shaped mountains you could spot from the big Sasol garage) because it meant we were getting close. I’d fight with my sister because she’d crossed the imaginary line that separated her half of the back seat from mine whilst listening to Boney M Christmas carols. And finally, FINALLY we’d drive over the very last mountain and see the shimmering Atlantic Ocean laid out in front of us. We’d wind our way down the mountain and drive all along the sea to where our extended family was waiting for us.
My sister and I always enjoyed family holidays because there was what felt like a hundred cousins to play with. We spent endless hours at Fish Hoek beach, playing in the waves until our parents had to threaten us with hidings to get us out. I remember looking at my watch and being amazed that it was already eight o’clock at night and we were still swimming. Those long Cape Town summer days seemed endless! We’d burn to a frazzle because we were outside all day and no-one cautioned us about skin cancer or sun damage. We’d walk alone to the corner garage and our parents never worried about our safety. We’d come home famished, drink full cream milk, eat full fat food and no one ever cautioned us of getting fat. We were too busy burning off the calories all day anyway.
We didn’t know what video games were; we were too busy playing outside. And we never, ever watched TV – there were so many better things to do. We’d go on hikes up into the mountains, take a train trip all along the sea, visit Seal Island by boat, go for fish and chips on the harbour, visit Green Market Square when it was aimed at us, South Africans, and wasn’t simply a one-stop curio shop for foreigners. We took the cable car up Table Mountain and spent hours just enjoying the view. We’d enjoy ice creams on the beach, visits with longed for family, rides on my uncles rubber ducky, snorkelling attempts, visits to the grocery store with my cousins where my dad would instruct each of us to pick something to take home – anything! Oh the bliss! We’d come home and have midnight feasts, fighting our drooping eyes with everything we had so we could enjoy our spoils with no adults around to bother us. I’ll never forget the illicit joys of eating ice cream and sweets in the dark at twelve o’clock at night exactly. We took breathtaking trips to Cape Point – it felt like we were on the edge of the world.
We’d moan about having to stand still long enough to pose for the endless photos my dad took – today I’m so grateful to have those images recorded for eternity. Christmas Eve was always the highlight of our holiday, when there would be piles and piles of presents under the Christmas tree. Our parents knew us well enough to start laying them out just before we were to open them. The impatience of seeing what was in all those lovely boxes was unbearable. I have a video recording of me – at about four years of age – making all my cousins cry because I was ‘helping’ them open their gifts.
We got stung by blue bottles, scraped by branches, thorns in our bare feet, sunstroke, bee stings and all the ailments wild kids suffer on holiday. No one cautioned us to be careful, to be safe, and to remember the limitations of being human.
We were free, and we loved it.
My treasured memories are simply of time spent with family and the people I love. Holidays don’t need to break the bank! Where and what you’re doing is truly secondary to that. What makes a vacation meaningful is not luxury accommodation, pricey getaways or expensive activities, but on the connections made and bonds that are deepened with our loved ones.
Rather than concentrating on what you can and can’t afford, why not simply focus on the ones you’re spending your holiday with?