It is very strange living in a country that gets hotter as Christmas comes near. For 27 years of my life, the build up to our annual celebration has been marked by the temperature dropping.
The nights draw in, the Christmas tree appearing all the more bright as a result, festive candles illuminating the dark. And the social events: carol singing in a thick coat, followed by hot, freshly-baked mince pies and mulled wine; food that warms you up as it sinks down.
Here in South Africa, its been reliably 30+ degrees each day, with a few hitting 36. I’ve worn trousers twice in 3 months; and both times I was much too hot, and changed to shorts within hours. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” doesn’t have the same ring if the fire is a barbeque. But chesnuts are not mentioned tremendously often in the New Testament, so I guess I can live with that.
Ultimately, I know “Christ-mass” is about the birth of Jesus. And I believe it is, and I don’t think the weather makes any difference to how much we remember that God Is With Us – as Katherine said in her last post: Emmanuel! But “Christmas”? It’s kind of about hot figgy pudding, and hoping for snow, and laughing at people decorating their house with half of Brighton pier.
Thinking about it, I realise that the social event of Xmas, and the spiritual event of Christ-is-with-us are completely separate things. Which means that out here, where our normal festive extravaganza seems to fall rather flat, its actually a little easier to focus on Jesus.
Below are some of the photos from the Christmas meal we had last week with our friend Dorothy and her children. I think we did a pretty good job at our usual “Quorkey” (a pretend Turkey made from vegetarian substitute “Quorn”, the finding of which was a little holiday miracle in itself!). There were Christmas potatoes (I’ve shared the recipe on my blog), and cauliflower cheese, and gravy, and crackles, and a very cheery tinsel covered air conditioning unit! Most importantly, we managed to watch Muppet’s Christmas Carol: an institution in our family.
We’ve been honoured with the responsibility of running a carol service, at our local church. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the congregation was away on holiday, so when we opened the door, there were only two people waiting – Victor and Rachel – and Victor immediately got a call summoning him to the operating theatre! Happily, Rachel called the children’s home, and 20+ teenagers suddenly turned up to hear us attempt to fill the air with seasonal cheer.
We are going to be alone in our friend’s house in Cape Town on Christmas day. Given that we’ve done our best to uphold our British social tradition over the last month, on December 26th we plan to get takeaway pizza, go to the beach, and spend some time reflecting on how the world was changed forever by the first screams of a newborn boy.