I’ll not deny it: in the context of Bloglandia it’s been an age since I last posted. I’m not sure how the past month went by so quickly, but it did and, by gum, we’re almost at the end of the year. Apologies if you’ve visited recently, especially if you came here from my post on the Guardian gardening blog, and found no-one at home.
Being away from home is not that far-fetched a metaphor, actually. At the moment I’m a hemisphere away from wintry Brixton, in the depths of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa. My soundtrack this evening isn’t the perpetual scream of south London’s emergency vehicles but rather a summer chorus of bats, frogs and night birds. To my delight, my feet, legs and arms are bare, even though I’m outside on the veranda.
What, then, does a picture of marzipan fruits and well-worn cake decorating accoutrements have to do with anything? Well, I’m home for the holidays, and this afternoon it fell upon us to decorate – admittedly rather belatedly – the Christmas cake. No matter that it was 32 degrees outside and that it would have been more appropriate to spend the afternoon in the swimming pool – there are some traditions that must be maintained at all costs.
We mutter about this, of course, because we know that eating vastly calorific food intended for northern winters, rather than southern summers, is peculiar, to say the least.
It’s also true that most ritualised practises shift over time and space, and I doubt our simple Christmas bears much resemblance to the original English variety, just as our childhood diet of fabled England – cream teas, If, the Famous Five, country houses, Colin Firths and Hugh Grants – leaves modern England wanting.
This year our wire tree is decorated almost exclusively with Zulu beadwork and I don’t think a Brussels sprout has ever graced our diningroom table. The timing of our meal was based entirely on the weather report and whether it would be cool enough at midday for a heavy lunch. Earlier in the week our neighbourhood carol singers arrived wearing Father Christmas hats and sang in beautiful Zulu harmony.
Yet to abandon our annual Christmas ritual, handed down over generations, would be unthinkable. At the very least it would loosen the roots that anchor us in the soil of our past, and link us to my family’s ancestors, who packed and unpacked their bags in India, Australia and most of southern Africa, and, in the spirit of that time, took with them and adapted to local conditions the small, comforting traditions of ‘home’ wherever they went.