Forget the ghosts of Christmas past or future — for a fleeting moment when percolating this month’s column, I was visited by Ebenezer Scrooge himself. “Bah humbug,” I groaned, envisaging the consumer craziness that is about to seize most of us, whether we like it or not. Running around a packed mall, desperately trying to find a gift for that aunt you see once a year or the colleague you never talk to but got allocated in this year’s Secret Santa draw. Wretched!
There you are, gripped by the “festive spirit”, buying 3-for-2 chocolate gift boxes, synthetic lavender-scented bath salts, and a set of duck-egg-blue mugs in a fit of exhaustion and stress. You end up spending thousands in desperation — and honestly, who on this planet needs more mugs? Then there’s the manic food buying. Mad Max: Fury Road has nothing on a trip to Woolies the day before Christmas.
It is a dystopian wilderness of wild-eyed middle-class South Africans shopping like the stores will never open again, terrified that they’re going to wake up on the 25th and lunch will be ruined because there aren’t enough pomegranate rubies.
And that’s just everyone who’s stayed in Joburg for the summer. I once witnessed a brawl in the Knysna Woolworths between two trippers over the last bag of butter lettuce.
“It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!” I thought as I mooched around my cold cave high above Whoville. There I was, a bitter Grinch moaning about how we’re all hooked on wallet-eroding “happiness”, when something happened.
The makers of Netflix’s holiday content might identify it as a Christmas miracle. In early November (when Apple Music introduces carols to your recommended playlist), I was bombarded with Feliz Navidad. This premature Christmasification, courtesy of Boney M., was, to put it mildly, wondrous. You may be under the incorrect impression that this “German” foursome is not cool. On the contrary, these legends, adored for their dance moves, songs about bad Russian dudes, and spectacular outfits, are squarely responsible for the greatest snowflake-tinged Christmas album ever made.
Irrespective of your faith, if you’re able to walk through a grocery store where their million-selling Mary’s Boy Child is playing and not want to bust a move alongside the tins of tuna and canned veg, it’s time for introspection. Mariah Carey is marvellous and Bing Crosby nailed Xmas crooning, but the music these four giants of 1970s disco made is the Yuletide Pavlovian trigger — it instantaneously makes you merry.
In my car, by the time the quartet sang “Prospero año y felicidad”, I was a goner. Straightaway, I felt a craving for fruit cake with royal icing and marzipan and, in a flash, there we were, queuing at the Mariannhill Toll Plaza. Unpacking fragile, broken paper decorations that we’d made at nursery school, which had to go onto the tree irrespective. My mom glazing a gammon, and my dad explaining that Father Christmas was partial to a sherry and purple Quality Streets (this, of course, was when they were still made in South Africa and tasted good).
Perhaps you think of family bust-ups over Scrabble or your uncle who insists on playing Barry White’s Christmas album on repeat.
Perchance your festive memories are of watching the cricket, going to midnight mass, or having a braai — or not celebrating at all. Possibly you work the holiday shift in a quiet ICU, visit a parent at an old-age home or hit the pool with the kids and swim all day. Maybe you’re already in a flap over seeing the in-laws or nervous about someone you love being missing from the dinner table for the first time.
However, wherever and whatever you celebrate, I want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart.
• Sarah Buitendach is contributing editor to the Financial Mail
• From the December edition of Wanted, 2023.