Safari in South Africa

By: Helen Palmer

Say Safari in South Africa and one immediately thinks of hot, dusty plains filled with Mopani trees. And you wouldn't be wrong!

Add Christmas into the equation and the picture becomes a bit skewed. Surely tinsel, angels and carols, let alone Santa in all his red and white clothing, have no place in this land of wild animals, birds and sunshine?

No snow gently falling, no fireplaces filled with roaring, log fires, mulled wine and frost, but wide, blue skies filled with sunshine, white sandy beaches with warm water lapping the shores and photographs filled with - you've guessed it - tinsel, angels and carols!

Historically, South Africa has had a tremendous European influence, right from the early settlers from Germany, Holland, France and of course Great Britain, bringing with them their traditions of Christmas trees, holly, lights and turkey.

Many of these traditions survive with Santa visiting excited children in his grotto in all the big shopping malls in the run-up to the big day, large fir tree branches being sold beside the road for you to take home and decorate with shiny baubles and golden stars.

Carols blare from loud speakers proclaiming Good King Wenceslaus' trudge through snow-filled forests whilst the temperature soars outside to 30 degrees in the shade. It's certainly a different Christmas to those portrayed in the cards. Barbeques take the place of the fireplace and swimming in the sea is a must to cool the fevered brow.

Of course, over time, new traditions become woven into the fabric of the celebration, which only seeks to enhance this time of year. Instead of having the main meal of the day at lunchtime, in South Africa it is usually moved to the cool of the evening. The long summer days encourage friends and family to get together enjoying each others company.

The main message of Christmas is family. Spending the time together, re-connecting in this mad, harried world is what matters most. Remembering, giving thanks for tradition past and present, renewing our faith in one another.

Whether Christians, Muslims, Shintos, Buddists, Jews, Hindus or the many other religions - they all celebrate something at this time of the year and light plays a big part in most of them.

We all love to drape tiny, sparkly lights into the trees in the garden; candles flicker on the table; glittering jewellery given as gifts; the glint of sunshine on the spray of the wave crashing on rocks. It's a celebration.

And somehow that's right. It feels good to be a part of something that transcends colours, creeds, hot and cold, north and south. For at least one day in the year everyone can rejoice.

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