Recently I spent time thinking about some of my family’s Christmas traditions, most of which centred on food. Oh boy, are the Dutch good at food! And at Christmas they become exceptional.
My grandparents would arrive to spend our December holidays with us, laden with Christmas specialities. My favourite was probably the chocolate letters. I’d get a ‘J’, while Yvonne got a ‘Y’. I always had the sneaking suspicion that there was more chocolate in a Y than a J. But I figured a “W” would even trump a “Y” on chocolate content – it was the only time I ever wished my mother had called me Wilhelmina! There would be other delicious things too, things that tasted of almond, cinnamon and warm, foreign spices – banketstaaf, pepernoten and stollen.
Even as we feasted on Christmas fare, my mother would say, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas.” According to her, Christmas should be a cold, snow-covered, fire-warming affair, not our hot, bright, sit-around-in-your-swimsuit-as-you-fan-yourself-cool variety. But I always felt that I had the best of both worlds – South African weather and Dutch family, food and ‘gezelligheid’. I couldn’t wish for more.
The Dutch equivalent of Father Christmas is Sinter Klaas, whose trusty companion is Zwarte Piet. Recently there has been quite the uproar in Holland over Zwarte Piet, who just isn’t very ‘politically correct’ according to modern thinking. Yet my childhood was full of Sinter Klaas & Zwarte Piet stories and imagery. The fact that they were always portrayed in a snowy European setting did nothing to detract from the magic.
I went on to date an English speaking South African. I was introduced to Christmas pies and Christmas pudding. Once the latter even had coins in it, which – to me – seemed rather unhygienic and dangerous to dental health. Turkeys and gammon took centre stage, and at times – as I sat down to his family’s heavy Christmas meal – I would think, ‘this just doesn’t feel like Christmas,’ and long for hints of cinnamon and almond.
We have our own family now and our own traditions. The Dutch shop in KyaSands can supply all the Christmas fare my heart desires, although – lacking in the love, laughter and joy that Grandparent delivered goodies were infused with – it sometimes falls a little flat. Woolworths does fantastic Christmas pies. We’ve scrapped Christmas pudding (with or without coins), instead settling on light mousse-like puddings far more conducive to the climate. On Christmas day, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and the odd friend all descend onto our sunny patio, bringing (depending on their nationality) stollen, turkeys, salads and Christmas cakes, which we consume throughout the day, interspersed with swimming, music-making and gift-opening.
It’s not snowy and moody, but it’s still ‘gezellig’ and to me it feels just like Christmas should feel – a celebration of my faith, family and friendships.
This year we will be on the other side of the world at Christmas, far from our usual family and friends. Yet, as we celebrate Christmas with our missionary friends in Auckland, there will still be laughter, faith and fun (and hopefully no tooth-chipping coins)…another memorable Christmas in the making.
Please share some of your own favourite Christmas traditions with us all…
Image especially chosen to ‘feel just like Christmas’ for my Mom : Wunigard / Shutterstock.com