December is here! Are you starting to feel Christmassy? As soon as our American friends finish their Thanksgiving celebrations, the wreaths start to go up on the front doors around our neighbourhood, and it’s official – even in paradise, the festive season has begun. We’ve put up and decorated our Christmas tree and it’s twinkling at me from the corner as I sit down to write this, Micheal Buble crooning his velvety Christmas carols from the speaker in the corner.
Amidst all this merriment, these are the days I find myself riding waves of homesickness more than at any other time of year. I ache for my family in England and for the cosy “Christmassy-ness” of December in the wintertime (as it should be, some might say!) – lights twinkling, fires crackling, pubs beckoning and red wine tasting just as it should.
But there are also feelings of intense familiarity – having grown up at the tip of Africa, it doesn’t feel at all strange to be putting up the Christmas tree with the doors open and the hot sun streaming in. Christmas this year will be spent at “home” in the Bahamas, as it was last year, and there will be carols and turkey and pigs in blankets and crackers pulled and carrots on a plate for Rudolph and Santa’s footprints in the back garden on Christmas morning. There will also be beach sand and suncream and BBQ smoke and fruity cocktails – because, Bahamas.
But most importantly, there will be our little family, and the Christmas traditions we decide by trial and error to make ours, no matter where we are or what the weather. At the end of it all there will be another year in the memory bank. Because that’s what it’s all about after all.
When I look back at Christmases past, I mostly remember the comforting predictability of our Christmas traditions. I remember going with my dad and sister to pick out the Christmas tree and bring it home on the back of our “bakkie”. The ridiculous nervous pressure we felt – had we found the best one? I remember the wooden bucket my dad would prop the tree into with logs to keep it upright, and all the cursing that would go on as he was directed, “A little to the left. No, a little to the right. No, left again.”
I remember the Christmas carols that drifted through the house from the old stereo in the sitting room and my dad’s whoops of “GOT ‘IM!” as he watched the cricket on the kitchen TV set.
I remember the smell of roast lamb on Christmas Eve as my mum spent all day (or was it all month?) cooking, and it being my job to whip the cream for meringues with a dish cloth protecting my Christmas dress.
I remember Christmas packages spilling from under the tree even though our parents had sworn to us we wouldn’t be getting too many presents that year, and the pillow cases left at the bottom of our beds for Santa Claus even when we were far too old to believe in him.
These are the little things that flashed through my mind as our little family put up our own Christmas tree this week, far far from home. The intoxicating smell of pine needles brought Christmases past rushing back, with a sting at the backs of my eyes and a catch in my throat. Sometimes being so happy as a child makes looking back painful – or nostalgic at least. That life is past, and as they say the past is a foreign country.
The notion that you can never go back – only forward – is never stronger for me than it is at Christmas time.
So, forward we go, making our own traditions and our own sweet memories. I hope my daughters will look back on our Christmases here and smile at the memory of Mummy and Daddy in Santa hats drinking a daiquiri on the beach on Christmas Eve. I hope the smell of a Christmas tree in years to come brings them right back to here, and the corner of our little townhouse living room where Mummy and Daddy argued over the placement of the Christmas lights as they have and will every year for ever.
I hope the smell of meat cooking in the fire smoke on the barbecue will make them think of Christmas day with friends, as it does for me, and that “Jingle Bells” will sound out in their own homes one day – where ever they may be – and they’ll be reminded of how much their mummy loved Christmas carols and played them until everybody begged her to stop.
I hope Christmas is a time they reflect and appreciate all the places they’ve been and all the fun they’ve had, all the memories they’ve collected and all the traditions they’ve sampled.
Most of all, I hope they miss their dad and me on the Christmases we’re not together as much as I miss my own family. Then I’ll know we’ve done something quite fundamentally right.