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A Lump of (Char)coal for Christmas

As astute readers of this blog will notice, I am not from the northern hemisphere, I’m from South Africa. For me, Decembers are hot and sunny, punctuated by the occasional thunderstorm. So, it strikes me as particularly odd when shopping malls and online advertisements here start plastering snowflakes or frost-covered fir trees everywhere – all the hallmarks of a northern hemisphere Christmas.

However, seeing the juxtaposition of people in shorts and flip-flops doing Christmas shopping isn’t the only thing that is seemingly weird about South African Christmases to outsiders – it’s also the food.

I’ve spoken on my blog before about my husband’s Ukrainian-Canadian family and their plethora of traditions practiced on dark, frigid nights in late December. I think it was so mind-boggling to me because Christmas looks and feels so different in my corner of the world.

South African Christmas Memories

For one thing, I don’t picture snow and early sunsets on Christmas. My main memories of Christmas as a kid are scorching days and braais (barbeques) by the outdoor pool. My memories of Christmas are overwhelmingly sensory, and I have such a strong connection to them. Not only the food, but the feel of the entire day: the smell of sunscreen hastily slapped on my freckled shoulders while my dad restlessly pottered around the iconic South African kettle braai propped out on our patio in all its glory.

I remember the distinctive smell of the charcoal catching fire, the heat of the sun, the sound of the wind gently waving the branches of the willows at the bottom of our garden. These memories are punctuated by gigantic splashes in the pool, almost more out of necessity to cool down than the fun.

Boerewors and lamb chops were always the main fare in my house on Christmas Day, often paired with some cooling salads on the side, both green and potato. It would often be capped off by a big traditional South African dessert, like Malva pudding or Peppermint Crisp tart. I also have very fond memories of cold cuts of Christmas gammon being easily accessible as snacks throughout the day.

Christmas Day Differences

I also remember realising that my conception of Christmas Day was very different than others – my husband, on his first Christmas in Johannesburg, thought it an incredible novelty to go swimming outdoors on Christmas day of all things! And to have a barbeque!

While there is some small part of me that still romanticises the northern hemisphere idea of Christmas with a comforting blanket of snow, a turkey roasting in the oven, and many glasses of eggnog, I don’t think I’ll ever think of Christmas as anything different than what I grew up with.

And while it sounds a bit hokey, I also recognise that I was very lucky to have what I had on Christmas growing up, as there are certainly people far less fortunate than I was. Christmas, food, and giving are all inextricably linked for me. I hope that this year, whatever you can give people will create memories for them as strong and as positive as the ones I have.

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Tayla Blaire

Tayla Blaire is a South African writer, teacher, epicurean, and (most importantly) mother to all cats. Tayla has been thinking (and subsequently writing) about food since she was a tiny tot after her mother taught her that measuring ingredients was for the weak. If you’re interested to see what Tayla has whipped up recently, check out her Instagram profile @tayla.blaire to see the recipes that she has lovingly filmed in her very own too-small kitchen.

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