December time in The Netherlands is a time where we cuddle inside, nesting our little houses and spaces with lights to chase away the darkness and fill our bellies with (plant based) Chocomel. We wait anxiously for the first snow and hope on a proper white Christmas. It is a time of cosiness and warmth, love, and appreciation to the people around us. While the love and appreciation certainly translate to other parts of the world, I grew up with a different kind of warmth in Christmas. The kind you had to shade from at midday as to not burn bright like a tomato. The kind of warmth that allowed us to go to the Kruger National Park and sun-bleached seaside towns in the middle of December. Without a coat.
Summers in South Africa were synonymous Christmas holidays and end of school of the year. Snow was paper cut-outs in the window displays of shops and the snowmen were built out of sand. People were buying swimming trunks and beach towels instead of ski jackets and gloves. Christmas was sometimes spent just with the five of us, but mostly we would visit the one set of grandparents first and the next day or week, the other set of grandparents in Pretoria. Christmases weren’t necessarily celebrated with lots and lots of family, since they were quite scattered across the globe, but there were always people from around the neighborhood, and ALWAYS good food in quantities.
When I think back to the way we would get together at Christmas, with family and friends, it feels far removed. Now, we celebrate mostly alone in the Netherlands. The family, though close are second cousins and further removed, we have here, usually spend it with their families. It is colder when the tree gets put up now, and the lights are visible from four in the afternoon.
Family also took on a different role for me at least. For the first few years, the five of us were all we had in The Netherlands. Christmas became cozier and warmer than it did in South Africa. Me and my sisters also grew up a lot in the past few years and our relationships with each other also changed. We’re not just sisters but friends, who rely on each other when things are tough in the big world. The Christmas traditions also changed over the past five years.
We have embraced the Dutch love for cheese fondue and “gourmetten”, while still holding on to our beloved garlic and rosemary stuffed mutton leg with butter sauce and lots of vegetables. Making place for a time to reminisce about the warmth of the summer days and Afrikaans music to drive the neighbours ever so slightly insane. It is filled with more laughter and appreciation than before. And a Christmas is never complete without a online call of some sort to talk to family far and scattered.
Family is a concept everyone struggles with at some time in their lives. When you realise your parents are also humans, they also make mistakes, they are not perfect. Just like you are. It is a hard realisation because for a lot of people they are the people who know us the best and we think we know the best. For me it has always been a place where I could go to. A mother to call when the world around me feels like crumbling, a father who will drive at 7 p.m. for two hours to Leiden to help me paint a wall because I called half hysterically at 4p.m., and sisters who can rely on my when the parents just don’t get it because they are from a different time in a different world. Family is accepting and love.
Family is not just mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, but friends far and near. It is board members and classmates. Family is Itiwana too. All from different places in the world and different stages in life, but at the end of the day, at the end of the year we can laugh and cry with each other. We can share our safe places and be ourselves without judgement, make new traditions and learn about old ones too. I hope you have a good one.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year