Thursday, December 20, 2012

This Christmas ...

Christmas is just around the corner. This has always been my favorite time of year - a time of so many special family traditions growing up. I think it has a lot to do with the richness of old German traditions ... my family on both sides coming from Germany or Switzerland in the time of my great grandparents, but still holding on to the traditions and passing them down. I always felt that connection - when the candles on the advent calendar were lit, when we sang the old hymns in Church. When we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with the magic of darkness outside and candles flickering on the tree while everyone around me woke up to stockings and crackers at Christmas lunch.

When we were little we each had a fabric advent calendar and on the first day of December we woke up to find them heavily laden with tiny parcels, carefully wrapped so that none of us could take a peak inside. We weren't supposed to touch or feel any of the presents (we ignored that rule when no one was watching) and each day held a new surprise. Tiny outfits for our Barbie or Sindy dolls, carefully sewn by my mom ... a toy car, a chocolate ... five children and 24 gifts for each calendar, each one wrapped and tied on with string ... I often wonder at her love and patience. 

 Sometimes on a night in early December, the night of Saint Niklaus, we would leave our shoes lined up in the passage and the next morning they would be brimming with a gift, nuts, oranges, chocolate. Just like the beautiful illustrations in my tiny German children's books, pages dog eared and well worn. I still have those books and I love them even more today. They take me back to that time, crouched in bed, too excited to sleep. Waiting to dream of Santa and presents ... my world felt full of wonder and magic.

image taken from Apfel, Nuss und Mandelkern - ein pixi Weihnachtsbuch

And then came Christmas Eve ... baths and an early evening Church service. The tree lit and holding white candles as we sang. Home to my grandparent's house where the doors to the living room had all been sealed and closed and there was no way to see in at all. While the adults arrived from Church and fussed over plates of food and set the table, we children waited in a room at the end of a long passage where we could not see or hear what was happening and our excitement made us feel like bursting. Then we would be called to line up outside the big wooden doors leading into the lounge. Youngest to oldest, each holding a small candle as we walked into the room. I will always remember the beauty of the huge tree - sparkling and beautiful - the piles of presents underneath and the room bathed in soft light ... music playing ... doors open to the dark African night and inside the warmth of a house on a summer evening filled with candles. The opening of presents. The plates of baked biscuits and chocolates set out. The crystal bowl of my grandfather's punch. Plates of small meatballs and freshly baked rolls ... dinner was simple but delicious - finger foods perfect for eating in stages over chatting and glasses of punch and sitting talking while the candles slowly burnt. Cigars were smoked by the men in the family. Laughing over glasses of punch filled with fruit. The ritual of guessing which of the last three candles would burn the longest. Midnight arriving and the glow of food and presents and such wonderful memories.

They have stayed with me always. Even today, now that my grandfather has gone and that house is no longer a place where our family can gather. Even now where things feel a little different because I am all grown up. But I remember that magic and how special they made it - my grandparents, my parents, my aunt and uncle. And i try to bring some of that to my Christmas with Hayden and Lexi too. In our own way. Because we are far from Africa and the heat of summer nights. Because the German has become shadowed by the being South African, as it must when living in a new country where our common heritage, both Clint's and mine, is something we hold on to so tightly. 

We make our Advent wreath for the table and we hang a wreath on the door. We hang calendars although there are presents only on the days of Advent, and in between there are chocolates to open each morning. We make our own traditions and hopefully somewhere in there, there will be lovely memories for our children too. Hopefully they are feeling the same giddy excitement and anticipation we felt when we were small. Hopefully it will be OK that every year has been different and I sometimes wonder what traditions they will remember and pass on.

This year there has been such a vast shadow hanging over us. It feels a lifetime ago instead of under a week. Last Friday. Just six days today. Those of us here are still reeling, still in shock and finding ourselves dazed and not always sure where we were walking to, what we were going to say. We find ourselves in the middle of sentences, falling silent. Not able to carry on. Remembering. Trying to understand. We know that atrocities happen everywhere, every day there is death and sadness and suffering - somewhere ... But this was not a war zone. And they were innocent. It is so completely meaningless, senseless, so devastating. And that is what we cannot move past. We grieve as we turn on the news and it's right here in our backyard. Just a few towns across. And all across the country we are battling and some are saying prayers and some are having silent moments. Walking into Starbucks to buy a morning coffee and the staff are wearing white ribbons in memory and the grief is fresh. Seeing a video of everyone from The Voice singing Alleluia and holding up children's names as they sing. 

And so we hug our children extra extra tight. We breathe in their smell and we feel their little hands in ours and we know what that means. We feel the depth and the heaviness of it as well as the feather-lightness. We tuck them in and check on them more often that we need to while they sleep. We get emails from the school about extra police patrols and increased security measures and we are tempted to sit outside the school all morning long to keep watch. We look at them smiling and laughing and hold them when they cry and all the time we are thinking of the other mothers and fathers and grandparents. We feel guilt and sorrow and joy and wonder simultaneously and it's an awfully difficult place to navigate through. But we do. We have to.

We bake cookies and try tomato soup with goldfish (crackers) and cheese just like the advert on TV and we put extra marshmallows in their hot chocolate. 

We prepare for the holidays, however we celebrate, and we wrap gifts and decorate our trees or maybe we light Menorahs. 

We allow ourselves the laughter and the small pleasures and the extra hugs and we light candles and we imagine a better brighter world for our little ones. And that is after all what the spirit of Christmas is all about. Light in the Darkness. Hope. The candle wavering but not burning out.

Wishing you and yours all the merriest of Christmas's and may the New Year be wonderful and bright.



Heather Foust said...

This was beautiful Silvia!

Greg said...

Always enjoy reading your words Silvs. Have a wonderful Christmas.

Silvia Byrne said...

Thank you Heather x

Silvia Byrne said...

Thanks Greg ! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas too.