What Christmas means to me

My story is in many ways similar to that of other young women in many respects, but quite unique in others. The Christmas memories which have formed the "meaning" of Christmas for this young lady, consist of many early morning of prayers and singing but not carols or songs about the birth of Christ but rather songs of thanks for the coming of our Saviour and the impact that His love has had on my very large Zulu family.

Where I come from, my elders were never affected or even interested in the traditions of the world. Very few of our households have Christmas trees or any red and white ornaments. We don't do Christmas shopping nor do we even say Merry Christmas. Where I come from the Tooth Fairy is more relevant than Father Christmas... I know it sounds funny, but it honestly has always been this way and we have never yearned for things to be any other way.

Those who know me, know that I love my family above and beyond the average person. There is no other group of people that I would rather celebrate the coming of Christ with or have customary 5am worship sessions with on this day than my family.

Growing up in Gauteng with just my mother, family time with all my cousins, uncles and aunts was always something I look forward to more than any other thing. As an introvert I spend most of my time alone by choice and enjoy my own space.  But when I am at my grandparents home I want everyone around me all the time, doing the things we do because I feel more of myself when they are close to me.

And time in Newcastle is also very valuable but during Christmas time it is even more valuable. Christmas is when ALL of us are home, roughly about 40 people catching up on one each other’s lives, laughing, joking and doing a four hour road trip to Durban.

Even when we get to Durban we don’t do much. We spend about an hour at the beach, a few hours at a restaurant and go sit at the hotel catching up, laughing and being family until the next day.

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The most "valuable" of the little things that Christmas with my family means to me are these:

The Gift of Good Parenting

We have always been taught to love, to share, to laugh, to play, to sing, to dance, to be happy and to be optimistic in life. And this is the one day where we are not taught anything but we get to show our parents what they have taught us over the years. This is an opportunity to prove to them that despite the distance with other siblings and family members, when we get together we still value their teachings of love for each other. This is also the time where the young ones get to be involved in co-ordinating the events while the adults “guide” them and let them be.

The Gift of Presence

I received my first Christmas gift in 2010 - a journal from my cousin sister Gugu. We had planned to exchange gifts and even this was awkward because we didn’t know what to do next.

But I what appreciate more in life is having my family present with me more than the gifts. We were never taught to give "obligatory" gifts. We buy each other things but not for specific reasons. We do it because we want to and this is not for birthdays or anything like that. We are that family that is happy to see each other, hang with each other and enjoy each other’s presence. Being presently present with my big family is a big deal.

The Gift of Fatherhood

Until recently my mother was a single parent. I have 6 uncles from my biological grandparents and another 3 from my grandparents. My grandfather and his brother married sisters and raised their children as one huge family in two households.

Christmas is a time when my mom gets an opportunity to throw me to these ‘wolves’. Luckily for me my small size and constant smiling means I can wriggle myself out of getting punished for the things I had done throughout the year.

At 22, my uncles still treat me like a 5yr old and I still see them as strong towering Zulu men that I can manipulate for sweets, hugs and kisses. My uncles are the only reason I have no daddy issues. Everything that my father was to teach me, they taught me nine times over.

My cousins and I once managed to push over a concrete wall and we were punished three separate times for the same offence, each time someone else came home and found out about our mishap we knew we were in for more apologising.

The Gift of Choosing Happiness

Every year has its own obstacles yet regardless of these obstacles we always have a choice to either focus on our troubles or to be happy. Being a large unit means there is always someone who is not well, and sometimes we lose one of our own.

Christmas is a time where we feel the space that has been left by one of us yet we somehow manage to enjoy the good memories we have had with them and to be happy through the tears. In my family we always choose happiness in Christmas. Some years are harder than others but we pray through it, sing through it and love each other through it.

Christmas to me is about family. That is the time for unconditional, unwavering love to be given an opportunity to blossom for a day with the people that mean everything to me.

Written by Thobeka Nyathikazi

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